Living Sent in a Digital World
Scripture: Luke 10:1-20
Running parallel to our world is a digital world. If we follow the pattern Jesus gave to his disciples, we can engage in a way that acknowledges danger while still making an impact for the kingdom and learn how to “live sent” in the digital world.
Good morning, Church. I assure you I won’t fall in. Once upon a time, there was a city and a church who loved it. However, in one part of this city, a park, there were strange people who had strange traditions. They did things differently than the people who came before them. This park was a place where all kinds of unique things happened, and though the church continued to love their city, they were afraid of the park. They thought the park was too strange, too dangerous, too different. The people at the park do things differently than we do, they said. And we think their way is dangerous. Our advice is this. Stay away from the park. So the church continued to love its city, but they stayed away from the park. Over time, young people spent more and more time there. They met friends there, talked to friends there, started romantic relationships there, got jobs there, learned there, researched there, were entertained there and went there to self-reflect. More people were going to the park. Even older people were going to the park now, too. They were also spending more and more time at the park, but still the church stayed away and continued to disapprove. As time went on, people who loved the park started asking questions about God and wanted to find answers in the park. Being what they knew, what they understood and what they were comfortable with was the only place they were willing to look for answers. So that’s exactly what they did. Some of the answers were quite incorrect, but there was no one there to help them, so they did the best they could. The park kept growing, and because there were real people there with real problems and real questions, the park needed Jesus and the truth of the gospel. The church kept shrinking and no one knew why, and no one lived happily ever after.
The world we live in isn’t the same as it once was. There are parallel worlds that exis,. I mean, they’re not fully separate, of course, but we have the physical world that we’re all sort of interacting in right now. And then there’s this other world, the digital world. And of course, the thing that these two worlds have in common is, you know, people; and how people spend their time and what people do. And if you’re wondering about what that looks like in our world today, well,5 hours and 33 minutes, that’s the average amount of time 8 – 12 year old’s spend on a screen every day, 8 hours and 39 minutes is how much time teenagers spend on a screen every day. Adults don’t fare a whole lot differently. 85% say that they go online daily, and 31% say that they are online almost constantly. In a little bit of a different vein, 40% of American couples met online. So that’s kind of fun.
But social media, the Internet, not so much the metaverse. Rest in peace. These aren’t fringe things. They are at the center of our culture. They’re at the center of our hobbies. They’re at the center of our friendships. They’re at the center of our very existence, I would argue. And over the past several weeks, we’ve been spending time together in our Chat Rooms series, reflecting on the sorts of interactions we have online. And we’ve outlined some of the pitfalls and dangers, and rightfully so, because the Internet can be a pretty scary place. And these are important things to consider. But today I want to do something just a little bit different. I want to consider what the responsibility and opportunity is for followers of Jesus in our current cultural landscape, in our highly digital world. I want to push into the fears valid as they may be, about the digital world and ask What does it mean to live ‘sent’ in a digital world? What I want to challenge us to think about today is this: Where do you suppose is the harvest most plentiful? Where are the fruits ripe and ready for the gospel? And might some of those spaces be digital spaces? And I think the obvious answer is most definitely. If we ignore digital spaces as the church, where people spend a lot of their time, then we are missing the opportunity of our generation to bring the gospel where it’s maybe most needed.
And if this digital space is where the people are, who are we sending to reach them? And so the case I want to make to you is that our responsibility to live ‘sent’ extends to the digital world. Now, before we jump into our passage for today and some of the arguments I have, I just want to acknowledge something for some of you. Maybe this series has felt just a little bit distant, like some of you are too young to really have an online presence yet. And some of you lived most of your life without an online presence. And you’re kind of like, I don’t really know why I would start now, you know? And some of you looked at it and you were like, Nah, like that’s just not really for me. I’m not interested in that. And I just want to affirm that all of those things are real, and all of those things are valid. But. But.
Digital spaces are a mission field, and if those places are where the people are, then we need to do some real soul searching as a community, not necessarily individually, but as a community, to determine how we might engage and equip others through technology, even if we don’t feel equipped to do so ourselves as individuals.
So we’re going to look today together at Luke chapter 10. It’ll be up here on the screen. Certainly you can follow along. “After this, the Lord appointed 72 others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way, behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no money bag, no knapsack, no sandals and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter first say ‘peace be to this house’. And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you and remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’. But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive, you go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you. Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near’. I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”
So when we approach Scripture, sort of a classic question we like to ask sometimes is, what would Jesus do? A lot of us have those bracelets in the 90s. What’s up? Right. And that’s a good question in a lot of ways. But I’m going to make a little bit of a bold statement. I’m not sure that’s the right question necessarily to be pursuing. And here’s why. We can’t do all of the things that Jesus did, or we shouldn’t do all the things that Jesus did. So here’s an example. There are some things we can’t do that Jesus did. Like you noticed when Larry went to step into the tub here, he didn’t walk on the water. He, like, fell in. Right? Like Larry doesn’t have walking-on-water powers. Jesus does. Not so much, Larry. And yes, Peter did that special anointing. Whatever. Yes, fine. We can’t calm the storm. Right. Just like, ah, bad weather, stop it. That doesn’t ever work for me. I don’t know if it’s worked for you. There are some things Jesus did we can’t do. There are other things that if we did the same thing as Jesus, we would be committing blasphemy. You know, if I got up here and I was like, I am the fulfillment of all Old Testament scripture, you would all throw things at me, and rightfully so, because that would be false and that would be blasphemy. That is not good. We should not do what Jesus did in that case. And then still, there’s other things that Jesus did that if we did them, it would be ineffective. You know, like you can die on like a Roman torture device if you want, but it’s not going to save anybody from their sins. We are not Jesus. So maybe a better question to ask is What did Jesus ask his followers to do? And we should try to do that. Because I think we’re capable of doing that. And so as we look at Luke 10 together, what I’m going to try to draw out from this passage, not all of it can be taken exactly literally because this was 2,000 years ago and we’re talking about the digital world. And so I’m going to pull out from it some of the applications we can take about going into the digital world.
So let’s start with this first part in Luke 10, starting at verse 1. So the first thing Jesus asks us to do here, I think, is to go on ahead of him. That’s what Jesus asked the 72 to do. He sent them ahead of him. He wanted them to be sort of the opening act, the warmup, as you were, the tiller of the soil so that seeds could be planted when Jesus came. And I think this is a worthy pattern to follow. We should see where there are places in our lives where Jesus isn’t. And of course, I don’t mean that Jesus isn’t. It’s just the awareness of him, isn’t there? Right. And we should, we should go there. We should be that opening act. We should be that tiller of soil that makes Jesus’s impact possible. Now he doesn’t need us to do that. But maybe it’s helpful, right? I Once was Lost is a helpful book. Efforts in shop are the authors of this and it argues that sometimes, sometimes in order for somebody to start their journey toward Jesus, it can’t start in a church or it can’t start at a tent revival or whatever, that it might be as simple as, you know, somebody knowing a Christian or somebody trusting a Christian or somebody having a friendship with a Christian, that these micro steps, if done intentionally, are a really good way to start and to draw people in to a relationship with Jesus.
The second thing that happens in this Luke passage is that we see that Jesus wants them to go two by two. So he doesn’t send them out alone. I mean, the ancient world was not a safe place. It just wasn’t. And so on its face, it’s pretty obvious that going by yourself isn’t the best plan. Having somebody with you makes you inherently safer. And I think that has real implications for digital ministry as well. If you are going to traverse the world of digital ministry, it’s probably best not to do it alone. Right, because large parts of the Internet are not very safe places. And so going alone is probably not smart. If you’re considering doing digital ministry, a great place to start would be to sit down with your small group and talk and pray through what it would look like to share the gospel in the digital space somewhere. And if you’re not in a small group, we’re going to try to help get you in one soon. But that’s a whole other sermon. But there’s another reason why going two by two is very smart. Yes, it’s safer, but there’s something about two that creates legitimacy as well. One guy saying something bold in the village square doesn’t carry as much weight as two guys saying the same thing. And so I think it would be wise of us to think through who can we be a second for, whose voice is already out there in digital spaces, and how can we affirm that? How can we encourage that? How can we start growing a crowd of agreement? Because there’s legitimacy in that. Jesus also sent people everywhere he was about to go. And so as we’re shaping digital ministry strategy, we have to realize like the Internet is real big and it’s getting bigger and bigger by the moment. It’s constantly expanding. We can’t be everywhere. So I think we need to be thoughtful and prayerful about where ministry could be happening, where ministry should be happening, but also where ministry is happening. And maybe we can be a part of tilling the soil in some of these digital places to start penetrating into these new specific areas for ministry. It’s a great case for living sent in a digital world.
Moving on to verses 2 and 3, we see these two very rich metaphors of harvesting, and lambs or sheep among wolves. Now harvesting when the crop is ready. This is a fairly easy to understand idea. When it’s the right time, you know, go get the wheat right. And sometimes I don’t know about you, I have read this passage almost in a discouraging light, like, Oh, there’s a few workers, but there’s so much to do, you know? And it feels discouraging. It feels heavy. It feels like, how could we ever get all this work done? But there’s another way to look at it. If you join the harvesting, you get so much grain. And that’s an exciting proposition. The digital mission field is an exciting place because there’s a lot of places to harvest and not very many people doing it.
But also built into this passage is this imperative command. And I bring this to you today partially out of humility. I’ve been working with young people for almost 20 years now, and I have to say I’ve not prayed this prayer nearly enough. It says specifically to pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest. And the thing I know about young people is that they’re still forming, which is one of the things that’s so fascinating and wonderful to work with young people. But they’re figuring out their values, they’re determining their friendships, and they’re deciding the trajectory of their lives. And that is a very important time for us as the church to be coming alongside of them in prayer, and saying God, among our kids here at Calvary, would you raise up pastors? Would you raise up missionaries? Would you raise up mission-minded professionals of every walk of life, to be bringing the gospel into places where it isn’t? This is a prayer. We need to be praying Church. It’s a prayer. I wish I would have prayed more over the years. We want to send people to wherever the Lord is leading. And one of the places we should be praying specifically for is that people would be sent into digital spaces as well. But I do think that this isn’t specifically about children, and I would challenge us to think about another group we can be praying for. Sometimes, I’m just saying I’ve observed this over the years, not anybody specific, but sometimes I see people get to the point in their life where they’re, you know, launching children into adulthood, where they’re reaching retirement, and sometimes there’s a little bit of a fits and starts and that sometimes there’s this need and desire for purpose. And maybe, maybe we need to be praying for people in the autumn of their lives to be retiring to the mission field; either in the physical mission field or maybe even the digital mission field. There’s opportunity there and it’s something we can do as a church is be praying for those people. Further though, I don’t want to miss this. Also implicit here is the idea that who we are to pray to is the Lord of the Harvest. And that’s such a beautiful way to think about who God is, because even if we are farmers or gardeners in this little metaphor, and we put the seed in the ground, we didn’t make the earth that it went into, and we don’t bring the sunshine and we don’t bring the rain. The growth happens because God does it, not because we do it. And that’s a beautiful thing. And we can stand back and stand in awe of God because of that. That is something worthy to praise God for. But it also maybe takes a little weight off our shoulders. What we’re called to do here is be faithful and share the truth. God is the one who does the growing.
The second metaphor we have here is the idea of lamb or sheep among wolves. And this was a common Jewish saying at the time that Jesus lived. And obviously there’s one piece in it that just sort of makes sense. Wolves are predators. Lambs are prey. So, you know, it’s dangerous out there. And I think that’s a fair reading. But this saying of lambs among wolves was also a common saying of Jewish people to refer to Jews and Gentiles. And so part of this was, yes, there’s danger out there. But part of it is also you are to live different. There’s a set-apartness that needs to be apparent within this. There might be a lot of wolves out there and not very many sheep. So as we’ve already covered when we’re thinking about digital ministry, yeah, it’s good to not go alone. That’s a good idea. But additionally, there’s this acknowledgement that it’s dangerous. And even though we might be in the minority of salt and light people when we go there, here’s the point. We should still go. Maybe not all individuals, but collectively, we need a plan here. Friends, good Americans that we are, we love our comforts and we love our safety. So much so that it’s probably a collective idol for us. And sometimes we look at the Internet and we say, that’s bad, that’s evil, that’s dangerous, and it is all of those things. But so was the world that Jesus sent the 72 into, and he told them to go anyway. Danger isn’t a deterrent for the disciples. It just helps explain the rules of the game. And let’s be clear about something, because we’ve seen this pattern repeat itself many times throughout our history, that maybe the reason the Internet is the depraved place that it is, is because too many Christians took their ball and went home and refused to engage in those communities. And so what was left wasn’t so good. We need to be thoughtful about that. We’ve seen this happen before, haven’t we? In our history? In different pockets. Sometimes it is tough sledding, but there are so many opportunities in the opposition. It just changes the way that we need to approach it. All right.
So moving on to verse four, we get into this whole litany of things, and some of these are only really applicable in the physical world. And so I’m just going to draw out those digital world comparisons. So here’s what I see in this passage. One is this: Jesus sends them out and he says, Don’t bring money. Don’t bring an extra change of clothes. Don’t bring extra shoes. Just go. And if I were the disciples and I were doing that, I would be praying a lot. Wouldn’t you? Like you got nothing to rely on. So you just have to trust God. And I think if we’re going into digital spaces, we need to have the same sense of dependency on God. It needs to drive us to our knees and we need to enter through prayer and we need to do it in community and seek with our community through study and prayer and consideration, how we are to go and what we are to do. There’s also this sort of weird phrase at the end of verse 4, ‘and greet no one on the road’. Does that sound super like not Christian to any of you? Like some guy says hi and you’re just like, you know, like, I’m not talking to that guy. I don’t think that’s what it’s talking about. What I think it’s talking about here is this this simple idea. Don’t get distracted. You have a mission. Stay focused on that mission. Don’t have long conversations with people that are going to take you away from the mission that you have. Don’t greet anybody on the road. That’s what it’s talking about. And if we’re going to do digital ministry, distraction is a part of the deal. The Internet is designed to distract us. That’s what it’s there for, right? So if we’re going to engage in digital ministry, we have to be careful that we’re not wasting time.
As it goes on. It talks about this idea of a person of peace and hoping that peace comes into this town where they’re sharing. And so what I would say is as we enter digital spaces, we must enter with good intentions. I think something a lot of followers of Jesus can be guilty of is they think they need to enter digital spaces to prove other people wrong. I don’t think that’s the way that’s supposed to work. Even if you are right. That said, as this passage points out, not everybody will be open. We should be seeking opportunities to talk with people of peace. A person of peace is somebody who is open to the gospel message. Not everybody will be. It’s worth spending time in places where people are at least open, even if they’re not in agreement.
And then the fifth thing I would just draw from this little bit of the passage is this focusing on relationships for a time is a shrewd move when it comes to sharing the truth of the gospel. I could probably just put John 3:16 on my Facebook wall at the end of today. I don’t really expect that’s going to have a kingdom impact, but maybe if I share that passage with somebody after a long-standing relationship, building into them, genuinely caring for them, and then share the truth of the gospel, that’s probably going to have greater impact. Physical going and digital going aren’t the same. But the pattern applies when we consider that both are people focused, and whether we’re interacting verbally or through a keyboard, there are truths to draw out of this passage.
Continuing on then in Luke 10, as we look at 9-12, there are a few things I think to consider here. There’s a message which all followers of Jesus are to be carrying. It’s a message of hope. It’s a message of healing. It’s a message of love and of salvation. And it’s the same message Jesus instructed his first century followers to carry. And it’s simply this; The kingdom of God has come near. In a way, I would even argue that the nearness of the Kingdom of God is closer worldwide than it’s ever been, because the ability for us to transmit that message now resides in the pocket of people in every village in the world. We no longer have to go town to town in order to share the message. There are two things that are in every town in the world, Coca-Cola and YouTube. Everywhere. They’re both everywhere. So I’d ask you to consider this. Some scholars talk about this idea of the fullness of time. And what they’re talking about here is this 400-year gap we have between the Old Testament and the New Testament. And people began to wonder and speculate, why would God be silent specifically during this time in history between the two testaments? Now, we can’t say that this is biblical truth, but a lot of people speculate, OK? So I just want to put this in its proper category. But the fullness of times is this that 400 years, two very important human developments occurred. We had the first written widely distributable alphabet and we had the development of roads. Those two things happened between the end of the Old Testament and the appearance of Jesus, so that when the message of Jesus needs to go out to the world, there’s an alphabet to write it down and roads to bring it. If indeed God did use the fullness of time and use that specific era of time in order to make sure that the gospel message was spread, what do you suppose he’s doing now? When the internet touches every corner of the Earth? What opportunities might be there? My wife and I spent a couple of weeks in the slums outside of Nairobi, Kenya in 2008, which is a while ago now. These people had one set of clothes and houses that did not have all of their walls and roofs, and most of them had cell phones. I don’t understand that. I didn’t understand it, but there’s an opportunity here.
Lastly, from this part of the passage, I would say this: faithful following of Jesus in this pattern means sharing the gospel and letting people decide, even if they reject. And then letting justice belong to the Lord. Our imperative is to go to tell the truth about Jesus. And if it and He is rejected, then so be it. We have done our part. We don’t need to oppose them any further. This whole idea of like wiping off the dust of my feet, I’ve always thought of that as this really negative idea. Like, I don’t know how to say that in words, but you know what I’m saying? Like that was the attitude. Like, you guys should know better or whatever. No, look at what it does. They come in and they say, peace to this house, peace to this town. They reject it and they say, okay, we’re going to wipe off the dust from our feet. But just so you know, the kingdom of God has come near. There is love going in and there is love exiting even these towns that reject Jesus. We need to go with love and care. We need to bring the message, but we are not responsible for the outcome – that is God’s work. And further, we do not have permission to judge them, feel superior to them or hate them. We need to follow this pattern, this simple pattern of sharing the gospel and walking away if it’s rejected, whether we’re in the physical world or the digital world.
So just to summarize what we draw from this passage, I would say a few things. I think they apply both to the physical world and to the digital world as we think about it. Jesus sends out people in pairs for safety and legitimacy. He tells them that their sheep among wolves, that there’s danger out there, but also that they need to live differently. He encourages them by telling them that there is much to harvest. He warns them about getting distracted. He implores them to be kind and loving and speak the truth, but also to move on if the message isn’t being received. And he reminds them that justice belongs to the Lord. Faithfulness, not outcomes or what God is asking of His laborers. This outline for ministry or mission work is a great pattern for us to follow. Whether we are engaging in either the physical or the digital world. With that being said, if we are going to jump into this digital world, it is full of problems. Absolutely. And so we need a tool to help us think through what are the proper places to be. Just like we make safety assessments when we’re walking in downtown Minneapolis. We need to do the same thing in the digital space. And so I think what’s important is that we do these things intentionally. And I heard a pastor share this about ten years ago, it stuck with me that whole time. So I think it bears repeating. He would argue that when it comes to Jesus followers and culture, we need to put things into categories. We either can receive those things, we can work to redeem those things, or we can reject those things. And that everything culturally needs to be put in one of those places. Here’s an example of receiving. Public parks are a part of our culture. I think they’re delightful, and I don’t see any spiritual reason to not just receive those with joy. Let’s go run in the grass and play on the playground and have a grand old time. That’s something we can receive. I think parts of the Internet can be received as well. There’s a delightful website called Calvaryefree.Church. It’s great. You can go there anytime, and I think it’s pretty stellar, so you should check it out. There are parts of culture, both physical and digital, that can simply be received. There’s other parts of culture that maybe need to be redeemed. Maybe the thing itself is somewhat neutral, maybe nefarious. People are using it for nefarious purposes, but maybe it can be redeemed. We see this with music all the time, right? Like there was, you know, rap music and then there was Christian rap music and there was screamo music and then there was Christian Screamo music. Even fun fact, whole bunch of the hymns that we love. The melodies were old drinking songs, and they just made them about Jesus. Like, we’ve been doing this for a long time. Okay, so there are things that can be redeemed. I have seen people using Facebook and Instagram and YouTube, not so much Twitter, that’s kind of a cesspool, but anyway, using these things and you laugh because you agree with me, using these things in a redeemed way, and I think that’s good. This third category is reject, just like there’s parts of culture we need to reject. There’s parts of Internet culture we need to reject. Nobody needs to be doing outreach on Pornhub. That’s not really a thing that needs to happen. Okay? Like there are parts of culture we should reject. You can’t be a Christian business owner who cheats people like that’s just not it doesn’t work, right? So we can receive it, we can redeem it, we can reject it. But as I was thinking about this, I think there’s kind of a fourth category. And y’all, I want it to be an R word so bad, so I did my best. This regard and just really stressed the R. I think we can disregard some things. Some of you are like Brian, this internet thing is just not for me. And I’m like, okay, that’s okay. I don’t think you individually have to do this. I think we as a church have to think about this.
You know, I think we need way more gospel workers in Japan than we have right now. But not all of you are called to be missionaries to Japan. You see what I’m saying? It’s the same kind of thing. We need to think about it and it’s okay to disregard certain parts of culture as well. So I want to conclude with a bit of a confession. I do believe that our responsibility is to live sent and that that extends to the digital world. That’s my conviction. And what I’d really like is like a neat, tidy way for you to do that. And I don’t really have that for you today. I like to do that if I can, but I think that digital ministry is really complicated. It’s kind of new in like if you think of a long enough timeline of how long we’ve been doing Christianity. Digital ministry is real small, right? So we’re still figuring it out. But my goal today is simply and was simply to say this: it’s essential that we care about this because that’s where the people are and people matter to God. We don’t need to care about digital ministry to be cool. That ship has sailed for me long ago. It’s not about being cool. It’s about being where the people are. Because God cares about people. And that’s why we need to care about this.
And also because I think there’s a huge opportunity here. When Jesus told his disciples to go to Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the Earth, friends, the ends of the earth have never been more accessible. ever before in history than they are right now. And I think that makes it an extremely exciting time to be a part of the family of God. So I don’t know how this is supposed to look. There’s lots of ways you could think about it. I know places like the Gospel Coalition have been working really actively to expand their offerings in English, in languages other than English, and that that’s growing at a rapid rate. Maybe that’s something you want to support. Maybe you know of some amazing Instagram based ministry that you want to support or join up with what they’re doing. That could be a wonderful thing. I don’t know what to tell you to do, but I know that we need to think about this. I think this series has encouraged us to probably stop doing some things. Maybe we’ve been convicted to delete some apps from our phone or to stop doing certain behaviors related to technology. And today I would ask you to also consider what you maybe need to start. Are you being called to be a digital missionary? Are you being called to support a digital ministry or are you at least called to be praying that God would send people to the harvest? There’s a lot of wheat to collect. Let’s pray.