What Were the Seventy Evangelizing About? - Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
Updated: Dec 19, 2022
My senior year in college at Valparaiso University, I lived in an off-campus apartment. One Saturday morning, a local pastor knocked on my door with his young son who was maybe 9 or 10. I invited them in, offered them some tea, and we talked. I told him I was a theology major at Valpo and was planning to go to seminary next year and become a Lutheran pastor. I expected him to be happy to hear that, but he didn’t seem too impressed. He offered some criticisms of Lutheranism, and told me the only way to be saved was to be born again. And if I was not born again, in the way he understood it, I would go to hell. I, in turn, shared with him the good news of God’s love and grace and some of my thoughts about how life is a school where we’re all learning how to love and become more Christ-like. My theology probably sounded too idealistic to him, and his sounded pretty fear-based to me.
After much conversation he invited me to repeat a prayer after him. So I did. He started off “Lord Jesus I need you in my life…” I repeated after him for a while until he wanted me to say, “I know if I died right now, I would go to hell.” I interrupted him and said “I can’t say that.” He quickly rephrased his prayer and we carried on. Afterwards, he seemed happy with the belief that he saved my soul. They excused themselves and I was left curious why someone would have such a concept of God. He honestly seemed to be a bit afraid of God. I wondered if different types of Christianity draw different kinds of people. Some who are more attracted to the optimistic good news about God’s love and grace, and others who are more attracted to pessimistic theology, afraid of what might happen if we believe the wrong thing.
Some former conservative evangelicals refer to this worldview as bullhorn Christianity, jokingly naming it after people who stand on street corners with bullhorns preaching about the wrath of God. Pastor and theologian Rob Bell, author of the book Love Wins, talks about being raised in that kind of Christianity and how his faith journey brought him to a more positive understanding of God. He notes that such people do genuinely care about others, that’s why they do things like knock on doors or stand on street corners. They do it out of genuine concern, because they’re worried about other people being punished by God. But their theology seems to suggest that human beings are actually more loving than God. At least humans care enough to stand on street corners with signs or knock on doors to warn people about God. At least humans, or most of us, wouldn’t send the majority of the world to be tortured in hell forever. But according to many Christians today, God is ready to do just that if people don’t believe the right things. So it’s up to Christians to evangelize: to protect people, save them, from this angry God before it’s too late.
I wonder if their understanding of God and what evangelism is supposed to be may be a little off. The Gospel reading today is about evangelism in the time of Jesus. In the previous chapter Jesus sent out the 12 disciples. Now he sends out the entire group who’s following him: 70 in total. Men and women, maybe even children. Going from town to town telling people Jesus’ Kingdom message. Thinking about the reputation evangelism has today, this story begs the question: Jesus hadn’t died for our sins yet, so what exactly were these 70 disciples telling people? Were they knocking on doors talking about hell and punishment? About being born again or damned forever? The first century version of bullhorn theology? Or were they talking about something else?
Much of Christian evangelism today contains a message that is more like bad news than good news. Is it really “good news” to hear that if you don’t choose the right religion you’ll burn in hell forever? When we ask that question I think it becomes clear that Jesus and the 70 must’ve been sharing some other kind of news with the people. Something worthy of the name Good News (which is the meaning of the word “gospel”).
Luke tells us Jesus told them to proclaim the Kingdom of God is at hand. This Kingdom message was at the core of Jesus’ life and ministry. It was this Kingdom message that the 70 were sharing. It was this Kingdom message that the disciples were so excited to tell everyone about. It was this Kingdom message that would change the world forever.
What was this Kingdom message? It wasn’t that you’re going to hell unless you believe what I say. It wasn’t about what happens after death at all. It was about God’s Kingdom being revealed on earth as it is in heaven. It was about a transformed world. A world aligned with God’s love, peace, and wholeness. And the church founded communities that sought to embody this way of being in the world now. Communities of unconditional love, radical inclusion, and amazing grace.
It wasn’t a negative or pessimistic message at all. It was a promising, hopeful, incredibly optimistic message about God’s work in the world and how Jesus was initiating a whole new way of being for all humanity. God making a new creation, as St. Paul says in Galatians, a world attuned to the divine.
This was the good news that the 70 shared. The message of the new creation. The message of the Kingdom. And it’s the good news that Christians are called to share today. Not that the world is going to hell in a handbasket or that we better worship God so he doesn’t send us to hell. It’s the news that God’s love is transforming this world and we get to participate in that new world now by being embodiments of God’s love! We get to build little Kingdom communities called the church. Where we seek to align our wills with God’s will, and become embodiment of God’s love and peace, a community that manifests God’s unconditional love, radical inclusion, and amazing grace. Add to that, that God has forgiven all our sin and is healing all that separates us from Him. And that nothing can separate us from the love of God and we are free to spend this life growing into the divine image we were created to be. And when we die we are promised eternal life with the God of love.
Considering all that, it makes perfect sense why this Kingdom message spread around the world like wildfire. If you really grasp the significance of Jesus’ Kingdom message—why wouldn’t you want to tell people about it? It’s incredibly good news! Unfortunately it’s a message the church had essentially lost up until the Reformation. And most Christians still don’t really get it today.
But one thing about this message of unconditional love, radical inclusion, and amazing grace, one thing that the early church knew was that it be met with rejection. Lots of it. The scripture lesson doesn’t mention any rejection on this particular day, but certainly in the future they will be rejected just like Jesus was. And the reading says Jesus prepared them for it. They weren’t rejected for preaching their own version of bullhorn theology though, it was their message of God’s unconditional love, radical inclusion, and amazing grace that was rejected, and often got them killed. As author Rachel Held Evans said, “The apostles remembered what many modern Christians tend to forget—that what makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.” Let me repeat that: What makes the gospel offensive isn’t who it keeps out but who it lets in.
The Kingdom message was rejected by those who benefited from the status quo of their society. The religious establishment and political elites. Of course there were some notable exceptions, but by and large the Kingdom message was embraced by the poor, the oppressed, the sinner, the outcast. Jesus’ message of the Kingdom, of a transformed world, was offensive to those who were on the “inside” because it included everybody. And living out this Kingdom message, attuning one’s life with God, not only led to rejection but often great suffering. It’s what led Jesus to the cross. The true meaning of the Kingdom message was not desirable to those who benefited from the world as it was. And the same can be said today. Maybe that’s why the Kingdom message has been replaced with the more simplistic “join us or go to hell” worldview of bullhorn Christianity.
I hope we can see that the message of Jesus and the early church was a positive, incredibly optimistic message, something that truly deserved the name “Good News!” The gospel is the message of the divine becoming incarnate among us in Christ so that this entire world might transform into a physical manifestation of the divine. A new creation. God’s Kingdom come. This teaching is all over the New Testament, and it’s foretold throughout the Old Testament. It’s so amazing, yet so many Christians miss it. Because when we have a fear based worldview we tend to find something to believe in that expresses our own inner landscape, rather than the incredibly optimistic one of Jesus and the early church. That’s why aligning our inner landscape with Christ’s is such a fundamental spiritual practice. It’ll both change us and help us understand better what Jesus taught.
It takes faith to believe in such good news. Faith to believe a Kingdom message of hope and optimism, of unconditional love, radical inclusion, and amazing grace. But as disciples of Jesus, we are given faith by the Holy Spirit to believe this; and we are called to share this incredibly good news and to take part in transforming the world. To help people understand the meaning of Jesus’ message. The good news Jesus taught and Martin Luther rediscovered. The good news that’s still so uncommon and countercultural today. We get to be laborers in God’s vineyard. Creatures who attune ourselves to the Creator and act as God’s hands and feet in the world. Children who embody our Father’s forgiveness, peace, and harmony in the world. And together, as the church, to be a community modeling God’s unconditional love, radical inclusion, and amazing grace. To be a community that lives into truly good news. The Kingdom message. The message of Jesus. The message of these 70. The message we are all called to share.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Pastor Brian, 7/3/22