Key Readings: Exodus 3:1-9; Luke 10:1-16
The phrase ‘come near’ in verses 9 and 11 of Luke 10 is common across the Biblical text. One well-known early instance is in Exodus 3, when God calls to Moses from the burning bush, warning, “Do not come near here.” Moses must remove his sandals, discarding the dust of the earth his feet had carried to see this marvellous sight (v5), giving himself up entirely in reverence and respect to holy ground. Later, Moses alone is permitted to come near to the Lord, while seventy of Israel’s elders worship at a distance (Exod. 24:1-2).
In this phrase ‘come near,’ then, the Bible holds in tension these two: holiness and intimacy. In the former is a sacred Presence near to which no evil nor plague can come (Psalm 91:9-11), a God whose day draws near, comes as destruction (Joel 1:15). And yet in the latter is this same God, a loving father who comes near again to we who welcomed evil into humankind’s first sacred dwelling place.
Jesus’s words then, to seventy kingdom labourers, come ripe with all this meaning. Whatever city they enter, they are to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” Following Moses, these kingdom bearers were likewise instructed to remove their shoes (Luke 10:4) and all other worldly dependence, giving themselves up entirely to the hospitality of any person of peace. In the dwelling places of such people, the seventy are to heal the sick, a reminder that in God our refuge, no plague will come near (Luke 10:9). Our offering of peace will rest instead on this house.
This is no prosperity gospel, but rather that pure and undefiled religion, works of love that flow out of the gift of faith. As God’s people re-gift this spiritual and material refreshment, we share a glimpse of the kingdom come near, the kingdom to come.
Yet for those who do not receive Christ’s labourers in peace, “Who say, ‘Keep to yourself, do not come near me, For I am holier than you!’” (Isa. 65:5), the kingdom come near brings only judgement. Such people are smoke in God’s nostrils, “a fire that burns all the day” (v5b). The dust of their cities God’s labourers must wipe off in protest and leave behind, as Moses did (Luke 10:11). And whatever peace you’ve offered will return to you, Jesus says. None is lost.
We do not rejoice in this, only that our names are recorded in heaven. For this promise we labour, for the present life and for the life to come, fixing our hope on the living God (1 Tim. 4:8,10).