The Power of the 72
By Jon Teter
How many of us believe that “the harvest is plentiful”? We look with our unaided eyes and see so many people going through the motions of life, pushing through the same routines, trying to live good lives. The kingdom of God is neither a priority nor a reality to those whom Jesus says are ripe for harvest. His perspective and vision are greater than that of the 72. I wonder if the original 72 rolled their eyes a bit and whispered to their neighbors, “What harvest is he talking about?” His eyes are very different, because he sees the spiritual dimension.
Jesus boldly trained and declared that some people are already open. I wonder what the tone in his voice was when he taught his friends that the harvest really is ripe. Fruit is present, full and falling off the trees. It’s absolutely great in quality and quantity. I think of the amazing image in Numbers 13, when Joshua and Caleb arrived back from the Promised Land carrying branches that bent under the weight of the fruit. So the problem is not a lack of fruit. The Holy Spirit has already been at work, sometimes for decades and decades, preparing unbelievers to the point that they can be described as ripe fruit. They are juicy, colorful and waiting to be picked.
But there aren’t enough people to pick the fruit. We might believe and live as though the problem is that people aren’t open to the gospel. But the real problem is the labor force. The product of the gospel is incredible, and the demand for the gospel is overwhelming; unfortunately, the distribution channels are very limited for delivering the gospel to sinners on whom God is at work to redeem.
What is the biggest problem in the New Testament? Is it sin? I think not. We can all affirm that sin, with all of its insidious, destructive and demonic ways, causes ruin throughout our world on a daily basis. But theologically Jesus has taken care of sin. He has made the perfect one-time offering to the living God. John’s Gospel reminds us that it is indeed finished.
Is the biggest problem in the New Testament broken relationships? Unreconciled relationships, estrangement, unforgiveness and bitterness may be present and powerful in our lives. As Paul teaches in Ephesians 2, Jesus in his flesh has broken down the dividing wall of hostility (Eph. 2:14). Is the biggest problem in the New Testament financial greed and injustice? Paul taught that the love of money is the root of all evil (1 Tim. 6:10). As we study our world today, the gap between rich and poor has never been greater, but God is powerfully at work to lift the low and bring down the proud, sending the rich away empty-handed. Luke instructed that God’s plan is doing just fine, and having faith means finding ourselves on the right side of history.
No, the greatest problem in the New Testament is a labor distribution issue. It’s as though doctors, scientists and the smartest people in the global medical community have finally broken through with a cure for cancer. The medicine has been tested and proven, and the results are a clean bill of health for all infected. They have even figured out how to mass-produce the cure. But no one is there to deliver the message.
The great English preacher G. Campbell Morgan reminds us that Jesus, the wise leader, called on the 72 as his distribution plan: “That mission was something quite new in the method of Jesus. It was a planned campaign. In the first three years of his ministry, there seems to have been an absence of what we should call organization. Here, on the contrary, is the account of a carefully organized work.”
So there’s enough medicine for every single person on planet Earth who is sick. But there aren’t enough people who believe in the medicine to devote their lives to getting it to those who need it. The biggest problem in the New Testament is there are simply not enough workers for the plentiful harvest. This is why, on that amazing day in Capernaum, Jesus trained the 72 to be part of his distribution mission. And this is why Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is doing the exact same thing today.
In teaching the 72 to pray this way, Jesus instills a mind-set of sovereign hope. To be effective, like the 72, we have to believe that God is already at work. Evangelism is not going into newly formed relationships doing all we can to create a hunger for God. Evangelism is becoming flesh in a situation where God is already at work. The hard work has already been done.
As we pray like this, at least two spiritual developments will occur. The first is that God will use our prayers to increase our sensitivity to the Spirit and boldness in the gospel. Over and over again, I have seen those who pray for more workers become the answer to their own prayers. As you pray for more kingdom workers, God will help you become a kingdom worker. And you’re likely to be sent to those you are praying for.
The second development is that we become more sensitive to where God is working. As we consider who God has strategically put into our lives, and as we pray with great zeal for the Lord of the harvest to send workers, we will be quicker to take notice of his work in their lives. Without prayer, we can’t see spiritual realities that are present but often invisible. Without prayer, we won’t be led to ask question that help us see that the person is ripe fruit waiting to be gathered. And without prayer, we walk around our cities with our heads down instead of walking with our chins up, expectant and eager to meet whomever God has prepared for us.
I’ve seen great joy in the 72 who pray this way. And there’s no greater joy than seeing the Holy Spirit work through the consistent and passionate prayers for the people in our lives. There is no greater hope than believing that our churches and our cities are mission fields that are ripe for harvest. Do we live as though we might meet the next great convert to Christianity right around the corner? Because the Lord of the harvest was at work long before the 72 received the summons to their day of training, hope is our reality.
Taken from The Power of the 72 by John Teter. ©2017 by John Teter. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove IL 60515-1426. IVPress.com