Woe and Rejoicing

Woe and Rejoicing

Grace, mercy, and peace
to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Woe to you, Austin! Woe
to you Round Rock! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in New York and Washington,
D.C., they would have repented
long ago. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for New
York and Washington
than for you. And you, Cedar
Park and Manor and
Pflugerville and Kyle and Buda and Lakeway, will you be exalted to heaven? You
will be brought down to Hades.

It sounds a little
different that way, doesn’t it? There’s a temptation for us to box
Jesus’ words of warning into a narrow historical and geographical
context. It’s far more comfortable to limit their application and
relevance to others who lived long ago in distant lands. We don’t like
to consider the harsh reality that they are enduringly true, and that we are
every bit as guilty as anyone else.

It’s to be fully
expected that those who don’t believe in a divine, eternal Creator would
reject any parts of Holy Scripture that don’t fit their worldview and
their agenda. To the extent they know and use the Bible at all, it’s
usually to ridicule the Christian Church and its members for our rampant
hypocrisy. They love to point out our frequent, deep, ongoing, and sometimes
catastrophic failures as individual Christians and as institutional Church to perfectly
practice what we claim to be the essential beliefs and behaviors of our faith.

Most often, they’ll
claim—usually in ignorance or in complete disregard for the historical
evidence—that Christianity is a concocted human religion. They’ll say
that a small group of deluded Jews merely took elements of Hebrew tribal
beliefs and wove in the teachings of their brilliant, charismatic, but naïve 1st
century rabbi—the One who was executed for being a threat to the political
status quo. From that, it is said, these followers formed a semi-cohesive ethical
system which was then spread throughout the Roman Empire.
This new teaching found an eager audience among pagans who were desperately
looking for hope beyond their miserable existence in a corrupt and sometimes brutal
world. From it, a powerful institution grew which became the uniting force in
European culture and facilitated its domination of the world over the next 2000

It’s bad enough
that those outside the Church oppose the words of Jesus and the words of
Scripture—words which are one and the same, of course—so very
strongly. What may be more dangerous to our faith are those who consider
themselves Christians, but refuse to hear Christ. We imagine that they are
somehow united with us in our struggle against the unbelieving world, but the
fact is they are attempting to tear down the biblical and apostolic faith, and
to replace it with their own patchwork quilt of theology. Picking and choosing
what they will and will not accept from the Scriptures, they harm believers and
unbelievers alike by misrepresenting Jesus and leading others astray.

So it is that we find
ourselves as lambs among wolves, surrounded on every side. It’s enough
to discourage even the strongest, most faithful believer. How can it not
discourage us—we who are so weak, so inconsistent, so easily distracted?
Jesus tells us how we can be strengthened for the journey and the task ahead,
all throughout His message to us today.

You may recall that a
chapter ago in Luke’s gospel account, Jesus had sent out His twelve closest
disciples to heal, cast out demons, and proclaim the kingdom of God.
Here in chapter 10, He does it again. This time, however, He doesn’t
send them out alone, and He doesn’t limit it to just the inner circle.
He organizes 72 of His followers into a trinity of twelve pairs: 36 groups of

Their mission is much the
same, though, as are their preparations. This time, though, Jesus elaborates a
bit more: They are not to take money, food, or extra clothing. They
aren’t to be distracted on the road. They aren’t to be
opportunistic and seek a better, more comfortable situation when they have been
provided for in the place where they are serving. They are to do God’s
work and give God’s message to the places in which they find themselves.

What’s more:
Before they do anything else, their first instruction is that they are to pray
earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send even more people into His fields
to reap the many, many souls that He has prepared to receive His salvation.
The meaning is clear: Jesus, by Himself, could not reach enough people with
the message so long as He has chosen to bind Himself to the limits of His human

The Twelve, devoted as
they might have been, weren’t enough, either. And now, even the 72 are
inadequate for Jesus’ purposes. He wants more messengers, more healers
of body, mind, and spirit.

They need not be
reluctant to share God’s gifts, either. The peace of Jesus’
reconciliation which they are to proclaim to their hosts will not go to waste.
For those who receive it, the supply of His righteousness is inexhaustible. For
those who reject it, it does not fall to the ground, spilled in the dirt,
corrupted and trampled. The Word is never lost, never given in futility, never
ineffective, even when we fail to see any results or noticeable outcome. God
has promised that His Word will not return to Him empty, but will accomplish
the purposes for which He sent it.

That’s the hard
thing about the Gospel. We don’t have the patience of God—either
with Him, with ourselves, or with the world around us. When we speak the word
of peace through Christ to the world around us, we want to see things happen.
We want to experience people coming to faith. We want to see lives changed,
numbers swell, souls moved to give outward responses, and visible, tangible
results. When we don’t see it happening, we begin to have doubts. We
think we have failed or been ineffective. We think our message isn’t
fine-tuned to the wants and preferences of those to whom it is being
proclaimed. Worse still, we begin to doubt the power of the message, or even
the love, power, and interest of God Himself. “Why
isn’t He blessing our work?”
we wonder. “Why aren’t more people receiving the
gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life that are offered in the kingdom of God?”

While disappointment and
even discouragement and despair might be a natural part of our fallen nature,
we shouldn’t be surprised that we won’t always see the results of
our labors in God’s harvest fields. Sometimes we won’t even see
any evidence of the seed sprouting at all. That’s OK. Jesus predicted
this. He told the 72 that they would not be received everywhere, and in the
rejection of them there would be the rejection of God and His Messiah, too.
The same proclamation of “the
kingdom of God has come near”

can be a word of comfort or a word of warning. To put it another way: Jesus
can be your Savior and your Advocate with the Father, or He can be your Judge.

In our corrupted,
dead-in-our-sins state, we have no ability to “choose Jesus” or to
move ourselves toward Him and His offered salvation. That much is clear. Our
only spiritual abilities without the work of the Holy Spirit are to reject
Jesus, to choose evil, to embrace the death and eternal destruction we fully
deserve. We tell ourselves otherwise, of course, because our egos want to be
in control. We want to have some part in our righteousness. Let me know the
next time you propel yourself out of a dark, churning, storm-tossed ocean into
the cabin of the Coast Guard search-and-rescue helicopter, will you?

Jesus summed up our
spiritual state when He said to those He was sending out, “The one who hears you hears
Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects
Him who sent Me.”
Notice it doesn’t say, “The one who accepts you accepts
The world doesn’t always hear us when we proclaim
the message of Jesus. More often than not, people will close their ears as
tightly as they close their minds and their hearts.

That brings several
important questions to the forefront.

First of all: Are people
in your lives getting the opportunity to hear you as you speak to them of the
forgiveness and salvation found in Jesus Christ? Are they being invited to
come to this place where His gifts are freely given, week in and week out,
especially in the Divine Service but also in Bible Studies, Sunday School, and
if they have children, in our pre-school and day school? If not, why not?

Secondly: If they are
hearing about Jesus from you, are they hearing rightly about Him? Are you
giving them the Jesus of the Scriptures, the Jesus of both Law and Gospel, the
Jesus crucified for them so that their sins—which are many, even as your
sins are many—may be forgiven them? So that they may not have to face
judgment without Him as their righteousness? Are they getting the Jesus that
calls us and them to discipleship, sacrifice, cross-bearing, and rejection and
ridicule by the world? Or are they getting some sort of watered-down, generic,
Americanized pop-culture pseudo-Jesus who doesn’t offend, but is just an
encourager, moral compass, and source of life discipline, so they can have
their best life now and to hell with them for eternity?

Thirdly: Is your journey
to the places Jesus sends you each day undertaken in trust that He will fully
and generously provide for you? That He will give you all that is necessary to
sustain this body and life? Do you accept what He lays before you, taking only
what you need and returning the rest to His work? Or do you cling tightly and
ferociously to the moneybag, knapsack, and sandals of the material and monetary
things of this world, not only carrying them with a tight grip, but constantly
seeking to upgrade to a larger moneybag, more stylish knapsack, and the
designer-name sandals?

God prospered the work of
the 72 in prompt and dramatic ways, but it may not be so quick or obvious when
you do it. But, like them, you can return to Jesus over and over again,
rejoicing in what He accomplishes in you and through you, even when it’s
hidden. With His powerful Word, you cast out demons in His name each time you
communicate the forgiveness of sins to others, and each time you remember the
work He has done in you by your baptism. Satan is cast down like lightning
from heaven each and every time God’s absolution is spoken, for the evil
one cannot stand in the Lord’s presence and accuse you of what has been
eradicated and expunged from your record.

Your loving Lord and
Savior has given you much over which to be thankful and in which to rejoice,
indeed: A plentiful harvest of needful souls you encounter each day. The
provisions and hospitality of His bountiful Creation, so that you do not have
to fret over the status of your moneybag, knapsack, or sandals. The peace of
His reconciliation, which you may freely share without fear of it being
depleted from your own life. The Word of the kingdom which has not only come
near to you, but is here in the midst of us. The power to cast out the demons
of others, and the casting out of your own demons, through the power of
forgiveness of sins for Jesus’ sake and in His name.

But the greatest of His
gifts and promises is the joy of our assurance of life eternal. You are lambs
among wolves in this world, indeed. But the one, true, unblemished Lamb who
suffered and died for you has also been raised as the Good and Powerful
Shepherd. You name is written in the Lamb’s book of life in heaven, for
all things are under His authority. The kingdom of God
has come near. The kingdom ours remaineth.

In the name of (
) Jesus, Amen.