Take a look at the beginnings of Luke chapters 9 and 10. Essentially, they’re parallel texts, the details vary slightly here and there … but the only major difference is a number.
From chapter nine where Jesus calls the twelve together in order to send them out into his mission, to chapter ten and Jesus appointing seventy-two others for the same purpose.
|Luke 9: 1-6
|When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal those who were ill. He told them: ‘Take nothing for the journey – no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.’ So they set out and went from village to village, proclaiming the good news and healing people everywhere.
|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. 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. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road.
‘When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.
‘When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. Heal those there who are ill and tell them, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, “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.” I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.
From twelve to seventy-two in one chapter! I often wonder ‘how many did Jesus send in Luke 11?’ We’re not told, but we’re observing something which belongs to the nature of the kingdom of God: reproduction. It’s built into the very nature of the seeds of the kingdom to re-produce themselves.
I can never resist checking though, can you?
6 x 72 = 432 x 6 = 2592 (chapter 12?) x 6 = 15552 (13?) x 6 = 93312 (14?)
So my question is this: if it’s the nature of the seeds of God’s kingdom to re-produce and multiply why does the multiplication factor appear to slow down over time both in the life of the individual and of the church?
For the individual those first waves of passion and enthusiasm on becoming a Christian all too often wane and can become ‘lukewarm’ (Revelation 3 has something to say about that one!).
In my case, the early indications that my life had changed were evident (I thought); I announced to my friends ‘I’m a changed man’, and it’s true they did see some changes … I stopped swearing completely, I stopped drinking to excess, but I also stopped spending as much time with them – this must surely have impacted the multiplication rate in my circle of friends! I’m still in touch with a number of them, and at our next school re-union I’ve decided I’m going to ask them what they observed back then, and now.
Churches too often reflect the seasons of vibrant spring-like growth, right through to the long nights of winter – and the winters seem to last longer than the summers!
Whenever I dig into the statistics, they reveal (in the vast majority of situations) the larger the church, the less the proportion of new Christians. Since I’ve become a part of a small church, for the first time in my life, I realise that if we see two people come to know Jesus this year we can get into the Premier League of the church growth statistics! On the contrary though, without reproduction, without this multiplication, we shall die out.
Prayer is vital, both for the individual and for the church. I’m still praying for five friends to become Christians on a daily basis, I’m hoping one might attend an exploring faith course at our church. I’d love them all to become Christians, very soon, so I don’t even have to go through the embarrassment of inviting them to a carol service, but I recognise they might just need to know me better before they say ‘yes’ to anything.
In the same way that Jesus sent out the seventy-two, he is sending us too, to multiply his kingdom. So next time you’re being welcomed over the threshold of someone’s home, and you find yourself looking at your watch as they’re getting out some food and a cup of tea, imagine that you’re one of the seventy-two and remember Jesus’ words: ‘stay there eating and drinking whatever they give you’; make a decision to be in this for the long haul and watch God grow his kingdom through you.