There were times when Jesus called people to himself, and there are times when he sent them out. Mostly he called people to himself at the beginning of his ministry, and sent them out after that. When he sends them out, it’s always with good deeds or good news: heal the sick, cast out demons, and raise the dead. In Mt. 28.19-20, it’s with the message of good news (teach them everything I’ve taught) and the invitation to be part of it all both by participation, by nature (via metamorphosis) and by inheritance. In all cases, the message is absolutely and literally not believable: the sick can be healed? Demons can be cast out? The dead can be raised? I can be raised? And I can be a part of this by nature, inheritance, and participation??? Sign me up!!!
“After this the Lord appointed…” Again, as before and as always, it was not by volunteers. No one serves God by their own initiative. It is always God’s initiative. The idea of “God will use those who make themselves available to him” is a myth. God uses those He chooses.
(Just an interesting side note. In numerology [and the Bible drips with numerical significance], 72 represents universality and totality. Jesus sends 72. To me it signifies the totality of the nations. His intent and will are that EVERYONE will come. ALL are invited. No one is excluded except by their own choice.)
But he sent them out 2 by 2. Hmmmm… The animals came to the ark 2×2, so maybe this is a number symbolizing God’s salvation. Again, it works and makes sense. Fabulous book, this Bible. No one could make up all of this stuff to fit so well together.
They were to go “ahead of him.” He has every intention of following where they lead the way. It’s like Abraham: every place you step will become the inheritance. It’s like John the Baptist: your job is to make people ready for Him. His only limitation is their obedience and the extent to which they “go”.
And here’s how it works: “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.’ ” (1) A plentiful harvest is the result of a healthy environment created by God, (2) A plentiful harvest is the result of man’s work with what God has created in preparing the soil and planting the seed, (3) A plentiful harvest is dependent on the blessing of God to bring the crop to fruition. A perfect picture of what he expects from us in Mt. 28.19-20 and Acts 1.8.
“…but the workers are few.” With too few workers, the harvest will spoil. All the preparation and work will have been for nothing. A football team that can march down the field but can’t score still lose. A salesman who can’t close the deal gets no commission. But a farm field with no workers to harvest it turns out to be a total waste in every sense of the word.
“ASK.” It’s interesting that he doesn’t say, “So go,” or, “Do something about it.” Aren’t we all supposed to go? Haven’t we all received the command—the commission? Why do we have to ask? We’ve already been told. So why should we ask? Because the Lord of the harvest has to supervise the harvest. Like any farmer, you must choose when to harvest what. There’s a logic to it. A strategy. Some places aren’t quite ready. Other places need to be harvested today. There has to be a foreman. Once Paul was told not to go in a certain area; once he was told to go to a certain area. So even though we have all been commissioned, we have to follow the plan of the master. “The Lord of the harvest.” The harvest needs a foreman who develops his plan. Just like anything else, somebody needs to be in charge. It’s no different from any courtroom, business, or family. Somebody has to be in charge, and we all need to learn how to follow and submit.
“…therefore to send out…” Our God is a sending God, from the incarnation to the great commission, from Abraham to Paul. Before he can gather in, he must send out. Yes, we go to all the world, but we go with sense and sensibility, discernment and discretion. We go following his leadership, not just wherever we think. He’s the boss; there’s a plan. It’s just like when he sent out the 72: there was guidance about where to go, when, and how to handle various situations. We need to discern where the harvest is—follow God’s leadership. See where God is working and join him there
“..workers…” The need of this hour is not a larger staff, better facilities, better communication, transportation, health care, or literature. It is not an open door, more money, or more time. It is an army of soldiers dedicated to the cause of Christ. God doesn’t need any more secret, silent Christians. Notice he says “workers”, not critics, spectators, or freeloaders. He needs WORKERS.