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|March 26 Lesson
Laborers still are needed for a harvest of souls
___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 a bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
___5 "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that house, 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 set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near 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 that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
___13 "Woe to you, Korazin! 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 up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths.
___16 "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who 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."
___By Marv Knox
___The movement of God's Spirit produced a bumper crop of souls during a spiritual harvest in White Settlement.
___More than 300 people made decisions for Christ in one meeting last year, when the 33 churches of the White Settlement Ministerial Alliance sponsored a community youth rally.
___The Spirit began to move during the performance of a dramatic group, Choice, from Dallas, reported Mike Tullos, pastor of Normandale Baptist Church in White Settlement.
___"You've got to picture this: Here is this black drama group performing for a totally white audience," Tullos explained. "As they acted out ... what Christ had done for his people, you could just feel the Spirit of God move. ... It was all 'go' from then on."
___A group of high school girls moved from the bleachers to the football field, near where the group was performing. Soon, teenagers filled the field, singing and praying.
___The preacher "didn't preach a lick, but just gave the invitation to accept Christ," said Jim Gatliff, pastor of First Baptist Church in White Settlement, noting teens and parents and others responded. "Everywhere you looked, there were parents and kids hugging and both getting saved."
___This is the kind of spiritual harvest to which Jesus referred in this week's Scripture passage--a plentiful harvest of souls. Unfortunately, it's the exception rather than the rule in communities across the state. Not that Texas does not have the need and the potential. About 10 million people who claim Texas as home do not claim a relationship with Jesus as Savior. For their sake and the sake of God's kingdom, "harvesters" need to be at work in the Texas mission field.
___Anticipation of the harvest
___Anyone who has lived in farming country at harvest time can relate to Jesus' sense of urgency regarding the harvest of souls. When the crop is ready--whether it's wheat, corn, cotton, fruit or vegetables--you'd better get the hands in the fields and bring in the harvest. Time is of the essence; delay could be disastrous.
___So, Jesus orchestrated a spiritual harvest, preparing a band of followers--some texts say they numbered 70; others cite 72--to go out ahead of him, preaching the gospel and claiming souls for salvation. He lamented a fact that has not changed from the first century until now: "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." According to the most recent statistics, 39 Texas Baptists are required to produce a single convert per year. Yet people who need Jesus live all around us; our challenge is to be faithful to Jesus' command to approach them with the gospel.
___"The fact and extent of the harvest is never in doubt, because it is determined by the sovereignty of God and is not conditioned by factors extraneous to that sovereignty," notes the late New Testament scholar Malcolm Tolbert. "This does not, however, obviate the need for laborers. They are the heralds of the kingdom, ... who announce it and call others to decision."
___Preparation for the harvest
___Jesus called out his harvester/heralds and prepared them to do his work. He gave them instructions that still guide us today. He told them to:
___ Travel two-by-two (v. 1). Witnessing partners strengthen each other several ways. They can provide courage and encouragement as they meet the challenges of the work. They can hold each other accountable before God for their actions. They can support each other in prayer. They can share insights and wisdom.
___ Lead with prayer (v. 2). Prayer is the most important asset a witness takes when she or he goes forward to share the gospel message. Jim Cymbala, pastor of Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York City, recently spoke to the Texas Baptist Evangelism Conference and provided a fervent testimony to the power of prayer. Years ago, when the church numbered only about 25 overwhelmed believers, they committed their ministry to prayer. Every Tuesday night, they band together to pray for hours. And they have grown to 6,400 worshipers on Sunday. They are Christians who proclaim the gospel all across their city. Prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit have enabled them to see a spiritual harvest in a hard, hard field, Cymbala says.
___ Go courageously (v. 3). Sometimes, we feel overwhelmed, particularly on occasions when evil seems rampant. Jesus acknowledged this. Christians enter the world "like lambs among wolves," he said. However, the lambs walk among the wolves in the power of the Spirit of God Almighty, and they need not fear ultimate consequences.
___ Rely on faith (v. 4a). Jesus charged the witnesses to travel lightly--"do not take a purse or bag or sandals"--but to depend on God to provide for them. Much about the world has changed since Jesus' day. When we travel, we stay in motels, not homes. But the principle of this advice remains the same--depend upon God, not our own resources. How often have we witnessed spiritual downfall, in ourselves and in others, when we relied upon our own means for success? By depending on God and moving in faith, witnesses will seek a spiritual victory that only can be won by God.
___ Work urgently (v. 4b). Jesus didn't command his followers to walk stone-faced and silent, unfriendly to all contacts. Rather, he commanded them to refrain from ceremonious and time-consuming greetings, which were the custom of the day. Their task was much too important to dawdle. The same is true in Texas today. That's why Texas Baptists are trying to start 365 churches this year--in order to provide lighthouses of worship so every Texan will have the opportunity to hear the gospel. It's why we're working to heal broken homes, to present the gospel in every language spoken in the state, to share the good news of Jesus in prisons, to bring a gospel witness to apartment complexes and condominium high-rises. People need to know Christ.
___ Relate peacefully (vs. 5-6). Jesus instructed the witnesses to pronounce a blessing of peace upon each home they entered. They were on a mission of love and redemption, so their coming should mean benefit to those who received them. Unfortun-ately, many people in the world today associate evangelism with a message of hate. This is frustrating, of course, because we are misunderstood. But we cannot expect others to figure out our message on their own. We must live our lives peaceably and lovingly, so that they cannot help but understand the good news of our message.
___ Express courtesy and gratitude (vs. 7-8). The witnesses were to eat and drink "whatever they give you." Jesus allowed them to suspend strict Jewish dietary laws in order to be congenial and grateful guests. He also instructed them to stay in one place, not move around in search of finer quarters or more pleasant hosts. We, too, must be gracious.
___ Meet people's needs (v. 9). Jesus empowered his workers to heal the sick and to tell people, "The kingdom of God is near you." They were to be sensitive and faithful, passing on the abundant power of God to those who would acknowledge its presence and receive it. God has blessed Texas Baptists with resources to do this very thing. Through hospitals, child care facilities and senior care centers statewide, we have the opportunity to heal the sick, comfort the afflicted and help them feel the presence of God's kingdom in their lives.
___ Utilize discernment and move on (vs. 10-11). Jesus was a realist; he knew his followers would not be welcomed everywhere. So, he urged them to use judgment when they encountered people who would not accept them. He told them to move on, but also to pronounce judgment, saying, "Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near." How do we apply this teaching today? This is difficult, because we do not want to give up on any unbeliever. However, Christ would have us exercise compassionate stewardship of our time and resources. We must work diligently so that all people have an opportunity to hear the gospel.
___Judgment will come
___Jesus pronounces judgment upon the citizens of three communities who already should have been blessed by the gospel. Capernaum, the home of Simon Peter and Andrew, was Jesus' base in the region of Galilee. The people there had witnessed miracles and heard Jesus preach. The same goes for two nearby towns, Korazin and Bethsaida. These people had ample opportunity to believe, yet they did not. They were judged accordingly.
___We must take this judgment seriously. First, we must beware lest we ignore the clear teaching and implications of the gospel for our lives. Jesus told us, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked" (Luke 12:48). Second, we must live godly and upright lives so that those who are familiar with us will not have an excuse to ignore or downgrade the gospel.
___A powerful name
___At the end of our passage, we receive a joyous report: "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name" (v. 17). Sometimes, we're tempted to get discouraged. The spiritual obstacles seem so great, and our faith feels so small. Yet we work under the power of the Spirit of God, which can bring even the demons under submission. So, if God is for us, who can stand against us?
For thought and discussion
___ Jesus sent his witnesses out two-by-two. How has serving alongside another Christian strengthened your faith? How have you had the opportunity to strengthen and encourage another believer?
___ Brainstorm some ways your Sunday School class can work together to spread the gospel, declare the presence of the kingdom of God and bring about a spiritual harvest in your community or neighborhood.
___ What obstacles prevent Christians from participating in God's spiritual harvest in the world today? How can Christians overcome those obstacles and lead lives commendable before God?
___ Why do you think Jesus commanded his witnesses to "shake the dust off" their shoes in hard places? How do we decide where to invest ourselves spiritually and where to move along?
___ Jesus urged his followers to suspend their religious dietary practices in order to create a clear path for presenting the gospel. How do we apply this principle to our lives? Can we suspend certain generally acceptable practices in order to spread the gospel? What might they be? And how do we decide which practices can be suspended and which should be maintained?
___ The witnesses came back to Jesus and said the demons had submitted to Jesus' name. Do you think this still happens today? If so, can you cite some examples? And how can we go about forcing demons to submit to Jesus' name?
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