THE DISCIPLES HAVING been instructed in this way, the Lord still further extended the scope of the witness that had to be rendered in connection with His presence on earth, by appointing and sending forth seventy other disciples, two and two before His face. This saying as to the greatness of the harvest and the fewness of the labourers, seems, according to Matthew 9: 37, 38, to have been uttered on another occasion. There, the prayer is answered by the sending forth of the twelve: here, by the sending forth of the seventy.
The instructions which the Lord gave to the seventy are similar to those given to the twelve. There was to be the same simplicity and absence of self-seeking, the same dependence upon Himself for the supply of their needs. They had however additional warnings which indicated increasing opposition from the people. They were told they were to be as lambs amongst wolves, a very striking simile. Yet, in spite of refusal, they were to make it very plain that the kingdom had come nigh to the people.
These seventy had not the distinguished place of the twelve, but nevertheless they fully represented the Lord, as verse 16 makes manifest. This verse establishes the same principle as Luke 9: 48, only here the Lord carries the matter back to "Him that sent Me." Humble folk the seventy might be, yet much depended on the attitude of men towards their message. Capernaum and other cities of that day, having this testimony, would have greater responsibilities; and refusing it, would merit severer judgment than cities that had never had such testimony rendered to them.
No details are given as to what transpired during the service of the seventy, and one verse (9: 6) sufficed to sum up the earlier labours of the twelve. We note this because Luke was chosen of God to record the doings of the disciples in the Acts; but that was after the Holy Ghost was given. Before the Spirit was given their work had much less significance, and any light there was in it was eclipsed in the shining of the perfect light in their Master. In verse 17 we pass on to their return at the end of their mission.
They came back with joy, rejoicing mainly in what was more spectacular, the subjection of even demons through the Name of their Master: Now this was indeed a great thing, and a pledge of Satan's ultimate casting out of the heavens. The allusion in verse 18 is not, we believe, to the original fall of Satan but to his final dispossession, as predicted in Revelation 12: 7-9. The past tense is often used in prophetic utterances to describe future events. It is used in those verses in Revelation, as also in Isaiah 53: 3-9. So the Lord confirmed the authority which at that moment He had given them, exerted over all the power of the enemy, but at the same time He indicated something that went beyond all power exerted upon earth.
He said to them, "Your names are written in heaven." It is more than likely that at that moment they did not appreciate the wonder of that statement. Later on they must have done so, and we should appreciate it; since it applies also to us. The figure is a simple one. Our names are enrolled in the city or district, where we are domiciled. The Lord said to these men in effect, a heavenly citizenship is to be yours, and that is a greater cause of rejoicing than any power conferred on earth. Luke's Gospel specially gives us the transition from law to grace and from earth to heaven, and this verse is a distinct landmark on the way. It was the first intimation of the truth which comes fully to light in Philippians 3: 20, "Our conversation [commonwealth] is in heaven."
In that same hour-the hour of the rejoicing of the seventy-Jesus Himself rejoiced. He saw not only the coming fall of Satan, with the consequent overthrow of all his evil designs, but the Father's action towards the establishment of all His designs. At the basis of those bright designs lay this, that He Himself is to be perfectly revealed and known, and that "babes" rather than the wise and prudent of this world are to receive the revelation.
The Son had entered into Manhood that thus He might reveal the Father to men. And not only this, He is Himself the Heir of all things. The dependent Man on earth knew that all things had been delivered to Him of the Father. Moreover, the very fact that He had become Man adds an element in His case which defies all human grasp. He became Man that the Father might be known: as Man He is the Heir of all things: yet let no man pretend to fathom the mystery that must surround so infinite a stoop. If we esteem ourselves to be wise and prudent we may attempt it to our own undoing. If we indeed are babes we shall accept the mystery with humble and subject minds, and rejoice rather in all that He has revealed to us of the Father and of the Father's designs.
Having thus rejoiced in His own mission, and in the grace that took up the insignificant "babes," the Lord turned to the disciples to show them the greatness of their present privilege. They were seeing things which had been the desire of the godly of past ages. They saw and heard things which had to do with the manifestation of the Father upon earth, and the doing of a work which would result in the calling of a people for heaven. All this was for the moment private to the disciples.
Publicly there was nothing but conflict. The question of the lawyer, recorded in verse 25, apparently so sincere, was really asked with an evil ulterior motive. He asked what he should do, and the Lord who knew the man's motive, took him up on the ground of his doing. It was the law that demanded doing from man: hence the Lord's question. In saying that the supreme demand of the law was for love; firstly towards God, and then towards one's neighbour, the man answered rightly. Jesus had simply to say, "This do, and thou shalt live;" - not, "have eternal life," but just, "live." There is no life for earth except the law be kept.
The lawyer set out to entrap the Lord, and now found himself entrapped by his own answer. Desirous of justifying himself, he enquired who was his neighbour; as though he would infer that, granted he had sufficiently attractive neighbours, he would find no difficulty in loving them. This enquiry was met by the parable concerning the Samaritan, and the lawyer was left to judge who was the neighbour. Again the man answered rightly in spite of the antipathy felt by the Jew for the Samaritan. Thus judging, he answered his own question, and was left under the obligation of acting as the Samaritan on the one hand, and loving the Samaritan as himself on the other.
The teaching of this parable however goes beyond the mere answering of the man's question. In the action of the Samaritan we can see a picture of the grace that marked the coming of the Lord Himself. Priest and Levite, representatives of the law system, passed by on the other side. The law was not instituted to help sinners, much less to save them, and had the half-dead man died on their hands, both priest and Levite would have been defiled, and for a time disqualified from the exercise of their office. Like the Samaritan, Jesus was the rejected One, and yet He was the Minister of grace and salvation. If in verse 20 we see the transition from earth to heaven intimated, in this parable we see intimated the transition from law to grace.
In the light of this it is also plain that the Lord Jesus was the best and truest Neighbour that man ever had-the perfect Neighbour, in fact. He was also God, perfectly revealed and known. In Him God and the Neighbour were united, and in hating and rejecting Him, men broke at once and hopelessly both counts of the law.
But not all rejected Him: some received Him. And so there follows, in the end of this chapter and the early part of Luke 11, very happy intimations of the ways in which such are put into touch with Him. There is the virtue of His word, there is prayer, and the coming gift of the Holy Sprit.
Mary had discovered the power of His word. It opened to her a door of entrance into the thoughts of God, so she sat at His feet and listened. It would seem that, in serving, Martha was only doing the duty that rightly belonged to her. Her trouble was in aiming at much serving: she wished to do the thing in very special style, and this "cumbered" or "distracted" her. Her distraction was such that she spoke in a way that was an aspersion not only on her sister but on the Lord. Mary, she thought, was neglecting her duty, and the Lord was indifferent to her neglect. Martha represents distraction and Mary, communion.
Martha's distraction was the result of having too much service on hand, a thing which itself is quite good. She became careful and troubled about many things, and missed the one thing that is needful. Mary had discovered that all she could do for the Lord was nothing compared with what He had to convey to her. To receive His word is the one thing needful, for out of that will flow all service that is acceptable to Him. It is the good part, that shall not be taken away.
We believe that much of the weakness which characterizes present-day Christians may be explained by this one word-distraction. So many things from all quarters, and often enough harmless in themselves, are presented to us that we are distracted from the one thing of importance. We may not always be careful and troubled about them; we may be merely fascinated and occupied with them. But the result is the same: the one thing is missed. Then we are losers indeed.
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