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This charge to the seventy disciples very much resembles the charge to the twelve apostles, that we read some time ago. As it was necessary that the twelve apostles should be generally with their Master, Jesus appointed seventy other people to preach the gospel in various parts of the land.
He sent them to every place where he himself would come. Still he sends his faithful servants before his face. When they appear, we may expect to see their Master coming soon afterwards in the power of the Spirit. But as seventy men were too few to instruct all those who were perishing through ignorance, Jesus commanded them to pray that God would send forth laborers into his harvest. Is there not cause still to offer this prayer? There is too small a number of ministers and missionaries scattered over the world. When the Sabbath dawns, how few rejoice to see its beams!
Before the seventy went forth, Jesus informed them what to expect in their journeys. They were to expect sufferings, (v. 3,) "I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves." They were to expect their message to be sometimes rejected, (v. 10,) "Into whatever city you enter, and they receive you not." Those men who resembled wolves, would ill-treat the lambs of Christ. They were to expect that God would incline some to receive them, and to be kind to them. Were all to frown upon them, their spirits would be utterly cast down. But the Lord is too tender a Father to suffer his children to remain without any encouragement. At the needful moment a friendly voice cheers, and a friendly hand sustains.
The Lord Jesus also instructed his disciples what to do in their journeys. They were to carry no provision nor clothes with them, but to trust to God's promise to provide for them, (v. 4,) "Carry neither purse, nor bag, nor shoes." Missionaries who lived after Christ's ascension, thankfully received gifts from their converts before they set out to teach heathen nations. (See John's third epistle, 5, 6.) It is the duty of Christians to provide for the wants of missionaries; but these seventy disciples were placed in peculiar circumstances, and received peculiar aid. They were to use haste in delivering their message, and to lose no time in showing useless civilities. "Salute no man by the way." They were to pronounce blessings on everyone who received them, saying, "Peace be unto you." They were to accept the food offered to them; but they were not to seek better fare by going from house to house. They were to confirm the truth of their message by healing the sick. They were to warn their enemies by shaking off the dust from their feet in departing from their city.
The Lord concluded his instructions by denouncing woes upon the favored cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum. The traveler can witness how the Lord's predictions have been fulfilled in the temporal destruction of those cities, for their very names have perished. Why did he speak to the seventy concerning the guilt of those cities? To remind them how he himself, the Son of God, had been rejected by the cities in which he most frequently preached, and thus to prepare them for similar treatment. Our proud hearts are ready to rebel when we find that our instructions produce no effect upon the hearts of men. But can we repine at want of success, when we remember how our Lord seemed to toil in vain? Yet, there were a few who received him; the woman of Tyre, the weeping sinner, and the sorrowful father who cried, "Help my unbelief." How delightful to be permitted to strengthen one trembling believer, or to reclaim one wretched wanderer!
And this we should remember for our comfort, that if we do not behold the fruit of our own labors, those who come after us will reap the benefit; for the word of the Lord shall not return unto him void.