It’s tempting to think that doing a good job on our trip or seeing lots of fruit from our work is what makes us “successful.” But Jesus points out that no matter how well (or poorly!) our ministry is going, our relationship with him is what establishes our worth and identity. It is the foundation of our deepest joy.
1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.Luke 10:1–20 (NIV)
5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your town we wipe from our feet as a warning to you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.
16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but [continually] rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
THE BEST MISSION TRIP EVER!
Everyone wants to have a great mission trip, but it’s hard to imagine things going any better than they did for the disciples in today’s passage. It may have been the most perfect mission trip in history!
It was great because it was initiated directly by Jesus and open to those beyond his inner circle. Seventy-two new disciples are to go and prepare different areas for his arrival and further ministry (v. 1). Jesus instructs these disciples to trust God entirely for their provisions. His Father will meet all of their needs on the trip, even without their raising support or bringing supplies with them (vv. 2–8). Jesus also gives them power and authority to heal the sick as a way to announce that the Messiah’s kingdom is near (v. 9). He publicly condemns anyone who does not welcome them or accept their message (vv. 10–16). And when it is all over, Jesus is full of joy and offers a prayer of thanksgiving over the group (vv. 21–24).
This amazing mission trip produced results that were absolutely astounding. In verse 17, we see that the seventy-two returned filled with joy. Because they were pursuing the mission Jesus gave them, and because of his authority and power, even demons submitted to them. In the poetic language of verse 18, Jesus describes Satan falling from heaven in the same way that lightning appears to fall from a great height to the earth. The reason for this is revealed in verse 19: Jesus has given his followers his own authority, power, and protection to overcome anything that would oppose his message, whether physical or spiritual.
As impressive as all of this is—and it is impressive—Jesus goes on to make an utterly shocking statement in verse 20: “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Despite everything that has been accomplished, Jesus does not want his disciples to lose sight of what is truly important. He knows that in our fallen hearts lurks the temptation to define ourselves by something other than our relationship with him. In verse 20, Jesus warns both his disciples and us not to rejoice in the success of ministry, but in the fact that we are known by the Father and that our place in his presence is secure. The verb tenses here indicate that this rejoicing over our names being written in heaven is to be continual, ongoing. It shouldn’t rise and fall depending on how well our ministry is going. Likewise, when he says that our names “are written,” he’s using a very specific verb tense to let us know that although our names were written at one point in time, they will remain recorded forever. They won’t fade away over time. Success in ministry may come and go, but our connection to Christ is permanent.
It’s so easy for me to forget this. There are enough “sexy” false Jesuses out there—approval, control, success, self-generated righteousness—that my fallen heart is often tempted to define my worth by who I am and what I do instead of by whose I am. Failures can easily discourage me and make God seem distant and disapproving. Successes whisper that “Patric the god” is doing just fine on his own. No need for daily repentance and faith here, thank you very much. The truth is that whenever something defines me other than the finished work of Christ—be it my greatest achievements or my worst failures—it’s a sin. And as obvious as that seems, it’s a lesson I’m still struggling to learn.
SPEAKING FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
A few years ago, as part of a mission trip to central Europe, I was asked to teach about humility. I hadn’t spoken on the subject before, so I was hesitant to take the assignment. I didn’t think I would do a very good job. When I shared this with a teammate, he playfully responded that my lack of experience with humility was one reason they asked me to speak about it! I reluctantly agreed and started my preparation. But no matter how hard I tried, things just wouldn’t come together. I wasn’t sure how to apply what I was learning to other people’s lives. I didn’t know the culture well. My personal illustrations seemed too “American” for the audience. Plus I’d be working through a translator, which adds another level of complexity. Truthfully, if I could have gotten out of the assignment, I would have, because I just knew it wasn’t going to go well. But I trudged on with my preparation, largely because backing out would have been even more embarrassing than teaching poorly.
On the morning I was supposed to teach, I took my pile of scribbled notes up to the front, prayed, and started teaching. Lo and behold, the most amazing thing happened. Everything came together! For the first time, I saw how to approach the subject in a way that would make sense for the audience. My translator and I got into a good rhythm. God brought to mind a few helpful illustrations. By the time I sat down, I had gone from fearful and discouraged to smugly pleased with myself. “Well, Patric, it turns out that you are a pretty good teacher after all. Knew it all along.”
You can see the problem, can’t you? My reactions—frustration, fear, and discouragement when things weren’t going well, and independence and pride when they did—both have the same root cause. In each case, I was letting my performance determine my identity and my relationship with God. Instead of finding my worth, value, and security in Christ and what he has accomplished for me, I was looking to my teaching ability to establish my reputation. I was far more impressed with ministry success than with having a Father in heaven who knows my name and who is securely guiding my every step to bring me back home to his presence.
The reason Jesus’s warning in verse 20 stands out so starkly is because it comes after wonderful ministry success. The disciples had been given a mandate, they followed it and obeyed, and their trip had gone amazingly well. Likewise, my talk about humility had finally come together. My teaching had been clear and effective. But as verse 20 reminds us, Jesus isn’t fooled. He knows that we need to be saved from our successes every bit as much as we need to be saved from our sins. He understands better than we do how easy it is to get so enamored with “how things went” that we lose sight of “who we are.” And whenever that happens, it means that we’ve lost sight of the cross—the only foundation able to hold us firmly in place as the winds of success and failure swirl around us.
Excerpted from On Mission: Devotions for Your Short-Term Trip © 2015 by Patric J. Knaak. Used with permission of New Growth Press. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
On Mission: Devotions for Your Short-Term Trip
On Mission is an expanded daily devotional guide, designed to help you make the most of your experience by: spiritually preparing for your trip, staying connected to Jesus each day, and reflecting on what God has taught you and finding new ways to stay missionally engaged after you return home.