Pentecost 4 2022
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Vicar Kaleb Yaeger
July 3, 2022
Is 66:10-14, Gal 6:1-10, 14-18, Luke 1-:1-20


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The wolves' den is a place of teeth, claws and violence. It is a place for the hunter, not the hunted, the predator, not the prey. So imagine the wolves’ surprise when two small, gentle lambs step into their den. You’ve seen nature documentaries. You know how this ends. 

When Jesus sends the 72 into the world, He sends them empty-handed. He sends them without moneybags, without extra sandals, without even a knapsack to store food. He sends them with nothing. With nothing, they face dangers along the road. With nothing, the threat of bandits and starvation looms large. With nothing, they stand at a strange city gate, not knowing where they will spend the night. The 72 have nothing, and yet Jesus sends them with everything they need. 

            Jesus sends these empty-handed heralds of His kingdom into a hostile world. He sends them out as soldiers, yet gives them no weapons. He sends them out as gentle lambs into the den of the wolves. He sends them weak into a dog eat dog world, where the strong survive and the weak get devoured. 

            Jesus sends the 72 into town after town, city after hostile city. In each place, they face opposition. They face trials, hardships, fear and terror. Most of all, they face the wolves themselves; evil men, to be sure, but also evil spirits. Jesus sends His empty-handed army against the very forces of Satan. 

            This horrid, seething mass of demonic wickedness that stands against God’s kingdom looks up to see what force the Son of God has sent to destroy them, to see what legions of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven have come to drive them out by the sword. 

Then, they see the lambs. This must be a joke. All they can see are empty-handed soldiers, ill-prepared to fight. To the eyes of men, these are no warriors. They hold no weapons. The only sword they bear is the message they bring. These empty-handed soldiers make war by means of peace. They proclaim peace to the houses they enter. They proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God, not with trumpets, not with swords, not with the force of legions upon legions, but with nothing but the words upon their lips. 

            This horrid, seething mass of demonic wickedness that stands against God’s kingdom looks up to see what force the Son of God has sent to destroy them, to see what legions of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven have come to drive them out by the sword. 

The lambs enter the wolves' den. Snarling, gleeful, the wolves surround them. Already they eye one another, ready to take more than their fair share of the kill. Just when the wolves are ready to pounce, just when the lambs’ fate seems sealed, the lambs speak, not in cowardly, bleating tones, but in a commanding, triumphant voice. Opening their mouths, they speak words of peace. With those words of peace, the wolves are driven back. These are no ordinary lambs. These lambs come in the name of the wolves’ worst enemy.

As sheep, the 72 enter the wolves' den. As sheep, these men strive confidently into the very jaws of death. As gentle, helpless lambs, these men conquer the wolves. Yes, these lambs conquer the wolves. To the eyes of men, these empty-handed lambs seem weak and pathetic. But to the eyes of Satan and his demons, the words they speak are sharper and stronger than any weapon they could bear. These words terrify them. For these are not mere words, they are the very presence of Christ; the same Christ who came to earth to conquer them. The same Christ who won the great victory over sin, death and the power of the devil. That Christ is there in the lamb’s words of peace. 

            These empty-handed soldiers go into the harvest fields full of ferocious wolves. These little lambs, without swords, drive their enemies before them. These men with nothing but the words upon their lips proclaim peace to the world and judgment to evil. Some places accept them, and these warriors of the word spread peace to that house. But if a place rejects them, if a place stands against the word of peace that they proclaim, then that place has allied itself with the devil. Like the devil and all his soldiers, the wrath of God will be poured out upon it. Having stood shoulder to shoulder with evil, it will share in evil’s judgment. Even the dust that clings to the feet of the messengers of peace is cast off against it. 

            To the eyes of the world, this is a strange thing. Men unprepared for travel journey out into cities and towns. They conquer through peace, they make war with only words. These men, unprepared and ill-equipped to deal with the threats of the world; these weak men, succeed. They succeed despite themselves, despite their lack of preparation despite their multitudes of mistakes and wrongdoings. These men drive their enemies out before them. These men cast out demons, heal the sick, and trample upon their enemies. These men, preaching the message of peace, get results. Despite it all, against all odds, despite their very selves, the 72 go out empty-handed and return victorious. 

            Heads held high they return to Jesus, speaking excitedly, exulting in their triumph. These men truly bear the name of Christ. After all, could any man have done what they did? Could any well-prepared man, even with moneybag and knapsack, and an extra pair of sandals, have cast out demons, healed the sick, conquered by proclaiming peace? No. Not all the legions of Rome could do this thing. Truly, this is evidence of Christ’s power in them. 

            When the 72 return, Jesus responds to their exultation, saying that He saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. No longer can Satan accuse the faithful before God. No longer can he stand in opposition, for by this message of peace he was defeated. By this message of peace, the faithful need not fear. This message of peace contains all that we Christians need to stand against the evil one. We need not carry anything in our hands for Christ has carried it all. We need not lift a finger in the battle for Christ has already won it. Christ is He who fights on our behalf. Indeed, Jesus gives authority over all the power of the enemy. The battle is over. The conquering peace of the 72 only comes because of Christ’s victory through His death. Only because of His precious blood and His innocent suffering and death do you now stand as empty-handed soldiers staring down a defeated foe. 

            The enemy is defeated. Satan’s face is crushed into the dust. Victory is yours. But that victory isn’t everything. That victory is just a side effect of the real prize won. Jesus certainly went to the cross to overcome sin, death and the power of the devil, to crush Satan’s face into the dust; but He also went to the cross to write your name in His blood. To pour Himself out for the forgiveness of your sins. To shed His blood so that your blood need not be shed. The victory over Satan is a thing to be celebrated. But it pales in comparison to the fact that your name dear Christian, is written in the heavens. That is the thing truly worth celebrating. That is the reason you show up to church. You don’t come here just to hear that Satan is defeated. You come to this church to hear the message of peace. To hear the pastor speak the words of Jesus “I forgive you all your sins.” 

            Here, in this Christian congregation, you gather as lambs in the midst of wolves who need not die. For the Lamb of God has already died in your place. Here in this church, we gather to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus, the Lamb of God who conquered through His death so that your name could be written in the heavens. 

            So rejoice, dear Christians! Rejoice indeed that you bear the name of Christ. Rejoice that He has shed His blood for your sake. Rejoice that your sins are forgiven. Rejoice that you are empty-handed, for Christ has carried all your sins. Above all, rejoice that your name is inscribed by the very finger of God in heaven. Written in Christ’s blood, that is our true victory.