Greetings or the Lack Thereof
It's strange that draft notices and lawsuits start with the cheerful word "Greetings!" It seems inappropriate. Likewise, it seems inappropriate for Jesus to forbid the first pastors from greeting anyone on the road. However, if we understand this prohibition we are guarded from making this text about us rather than about Jesus.
Does Jesus' command, "Do not greet anyone on the road" have more significance then they aren't supposed to speak to fellow travelers? Yes it does, but to find this out we must go to the Old Testament. In 2 Kings 4 we read about Elisha. Now remember Elisha follows the ministry of Elijah, and Jesus plainly says John the Baptist was Elijah. This makes Elisha a type of Jesus because He followed John. In 2 Kings 4, a Jewish woman receives Elisha as a minister of the Gospel showing this by providing him food and lodging. The Lord through Elisha rewards the woman's faithfulness by promising a son. This is too big of a blessing for the woman to believe Elisha can give so she says, "O man of God, do not lie to your maidservant." Yet her lack of trust doesn't prevent the Lord from giving her this gift.
So far so good. Then tragedy strikes. The child is in the field with his father and starts complaining his head hurt. Quickly a servant carries him to his mother. Surely it is among the saddest verses in all Scripture that reports, "When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her lap until noon, and then died."
This is a tremendous crisis. This is the end of this woman's world. This is jaws of death reaching into life and swallowing whole the very young. The woman immediately goes to Elisha, and she isn't polite. "Did I ask for a son from my lord? Did not I say, Do not deceive me?" Elisha responds by sending his servant immediately to see about the boy. Listen to how the first Elisha instructs his servant, "Gird up your loins and take my staff in your hand, and go your way; if you meet any man do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer him; and lay my staff on the lad's face." Elisha knows that this is a crisis. He is moved it. He will waste no time. He sends his servant with the symbol of the Lord's divine power and presence to go on ahead of him.
This is the background for the Lord's instructions to the 72. The Old Testament often uses physical pictures to help us understand spiritual truth. Anyone can see that there is a crisis in 2 Kings 4. A beloved little boy is dead. Pain, grief, sorrow are flooding into his mother's life. The crisis of the kingdom of God is no less real, but it's much less tangible. No one can see that the harvest of God is ripe. No one can see that at any moment the angelic reapers might descend and take a sickle to the grapes of wrath throwing them into God's winepress. No one can see that not temporal but eternal pain and sorrow are about to flood into people's life.
The Lord of the harvest sees all this, and it is His harvest not ours. Just as the corn in the field belongs to the farmer, so the souls in the world belong to the Lord. Just as it would be impudent, arrogant, and wrong for me to stop my car and go into a farmer's field and start harvesting, so it would be wrong for me to go into the Lord's harvest without being sent. The only command the Lord gives us in regard to the harvest being plentiful and the labors few is, "Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field." It is not a matter of our being willing to go; it's a matter of the Lord sending. Elisha's servant doesn't take it upon himself to go, but waits, as a good servant should, to be sent.
As Elisha could be trusted to handle the physical crisis of death, so our Lord can be trusted to handle the spiritual crisis of the approaching harvest. We must not think that we love the lost more than our Lord. Just as the woman was certain that if she went to the man of God he would help her, so we are to be certain that our prayers to the Lord of the harvest will be answered. After all it is His harvest, not ours. I'm sure that corn farmer in Pflugerville cares more about his harvest than I do. He was out there in March breaking the ground. He was out there in April planting it. He was out there again in May spraying it. While I only think about that corn when I happened to drive by, I'm sure that farmer thinks about it day and night.
This text is not about motivating us to care for the Lord's harvest, but about showing us how deeply, how terribly, how wonderfully the Lord cares about His harvest. He not us bore the heavy weight of the Law for them. He was a man of their sorrows and acquainted with their griefs all His days. He not us suffered, bled and died to pay for their sins. He literally sweat blood in planting this crop and watered it with His tears. You care for what you pay dearly for don't you? How much more does our Lord? Every now an then the fate of the lost might dance before your eyes in ghastly figures of the damned in hell. Such pictures were always before His eyes, and His whole life and ministry to this day are devoted to saving them. This is the One who tells us that when we're struck by the urgency of the harvest we are to pray for workers.
This text is about how deeply the Lord cares for His harvest, and how certainly He will bring it home. Not one grain of wheat, not one kernel of corn, not one grape of His will be lost. This is the idea behind the number Jesus sends out. Translations have either 70 or 72. Genesis tells us that the number of Israelites that first went down to Egypt was 70. This first mission of Jesus was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Jesus is sending forth His workers to find those enslaved in spiritual Egypt and bring them to the Promised Land. He won't leave one of them behind.
They go but it's all Jesus' mission. He shows them that by forbidding them to make any of the usual provisions for a journey. No purse, no bag, no extra sandals. Why? To make it harder on them? No, to show them that the Lord of the harvest will provide for His harvesters. How will He do it? Through some of the sheaves they bring in, by some of the grapes they pick, from some of the corn they harvest.
Like Elisha's servant they go with a life and death urgency about them. They have no time for greetings but only for proclaiming that the kingdom of God is here. Also like Elisha's servant they go in the name of the one who sent them with His power and authority. Elisha's servant takes his staff. The 72 take the words and power of the Lord. The Gospel message that God has put His wrath away against sinners for the sake of the life and death of Jesus, though spoken by men, has all the power of God. This Word of the Lord that the Law has been kept and that sins have paid for is what casts Satan out of heaven as sure and as fast as lightening falls.
This Word of the Lord gives His messengers authority to trample on sin, on death, and on the power of the devil. There is no sin they meet that they can't forgive; no death they confront that is more powerful than the resurrection, and no evil spirit that can harm them. Even though Jesus sends them out as lambs in the midst of wolves, the wolves don't win. The Lord's harvest isn't going to rot in the field. It will be fully and completely brought in. Doesn't that have to be the truth? It would be one weak earthly farmer who couldn't bring in his harvest. Let's not think the heavenly Farmer is weaker than that!
Now let's apply our text about what the Second Elisha does in light of the first Elisha to here and now. The Lord knew there was a life and death crisis at Trinity Lutheran Church. His harvest was here, and it needed bringing in. So He sent me in His name and in His place, by the command of and in the stead of. He sent me from Harvey, Louisiana to here. He didn't send me to Lake Charles, to Houston, or to Brenham. He didn't send me to Redeemer or St. Paul but to Trinity. The Lord was every bit as concerned for your salvation as Elisha was for the life of that woman's son.
The crisis is more critical than any of us know. We don't see the wolves circling, the Lord of the harvest does. We don't see the snakes and scorpions that would bite us with misbelief, unbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice, the Lord Jesus does. So He sends you His servant not to exchange pleasantries with you but to pluck you out of the clutches of not just death but of sin and the power of the devil.
I need to finish that story about Elisha for you to see how the fulfillment exceeds the type. Elisha's servant wasn't able to help the boy. He had to return to his master and the grieving mother with the sad news that the boy was still dead. The Second Elisha surpasses the first even as the Second Adam does the first. Elisha could only send a symbol of his power with his servant, Jesus, the Second Elisha, sends His actual power.
He sends me with His Word. Though it's my lips that move, it's Jesus that bespeaks you forgiven, righteous, holy. Though it's my hand that Baptizes, it's Jesus Water that rebirths, renews, and regenerates you. And it wasn't enough for your Lord to send you His Word and His Water. He also sends you His very Body and Blood to eat and drink, to bring you life in the midst of death, and salvation in the face of damnation. The Words I preach and teach cast Satan out of heaven and subdue demons. The Water that I apply drowns snakes and scorpions. The Body and Blood of Jesus I feed you with is that of the Lamb of God, and this is one Lamb the wolves must flee from.
Jesus doesn't send workers into His harvest to exchange pleasantries but to bring every last grain, kernel, and grape home. Our text shows Jesus knows enough, cares enough, and is powerful enough to do this through His workers. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost VII (20070715); Luke 10: 1-12, 16-20