“The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.'”
The Gospel of Luke is my favorite of the four accounts of Jesus Christ. It is also the one I tend to recommend to anyone who does not know Him, but is interested in reading about Him. I often term it “the skeptic’s Gospel” because it is a much more historically thorough account than the rest and does not overwhelm its reader with theology so much as factual accuracy. Luke was not a follower of Christ during His lifetime and probably never even saw Jesus in flesh, but converted to faith later in life. He spoke with eyewitnesses for his information, traveled with Paul during his ministry, and gave up a life of potential wealth and leisure (as a doctor) in order to serve the Lord with his abilities. His faithfulness gave us two of the most exensive historical accounts of the New Testament concerning Christ and the church (both Luke and Acts). Since I am quick to recommend this Gospel to others, I try to read it often and I recently ran across this passage. Jesus’ words struck me as being a beautiful reminder of our human tendencies.
At the beginning of chapter 10, Jesus sends out the seventy-two commanding them to spread the kingdom of God, the peace of His name, and the healing that is found in Him. In verse 17, they return with great excitement in the results of their obedience. Apparently they met great success and were even given victory over activity that was recognized to be demonic. They return overjoyed with what Christ has allowed them to do and desire to celebrate their success. Initially, I don’t see anything wrong with their reaction though. Granted, I have never confonted a demon (and have no desire to do so), but I have been granted moments to share the Gospel and I have seen people respond to His Word and there is no other feeling like it. An amazing sense of excitement is found in sharing the Truth and seeing people moved by It. So I think that I would have had a very similar response to that of the seventy-two if I were given the same level victory that excited them so much. I would be desiring to celebrate the accomplishment and I do not believe there is anything wrong with that. It seems to me that the problem Jesus is highlighting involves perspective.
He begins with Truth by affirming that their victories were given to them by His name as He granted them authority over the evils of this world. Anyone who professes Jesus as their Lord and Savior has this authority as well. He came into this world of evil and died a victorious death so that we might be given freedom from it. When we choose to believe that, we enter into a relationship with Him in which He not only frees us from the evil of our sins, but also calls us to stand in conviction against it. Because of our decision to believe, we enter into a spiritual battle that has been raging since the beginning of time. That is the truth of our relationship with Christ. We cannot be defeated because God’s Word proclaims that the war has already been won and Jesus’ death was that victory.
In this passage, Jesus follows Truth with perspective and it is profound. He cautions His followers against rejoicing because of the authority He has given them and encourages them to praise and celebrate because of the fact that God has saved their souls and given them an eternal place in heaven. This statement describes the human condition perfectly. Our world loves the ideas of personal empowerment and self-suffiency. We learn, practice, and perfect an ability, claim it as our own, and seek to provide for ourselves by using it. And we feel entitled to do so because we know it, we did it, and it is ours. All the while, we forget that it was God who gave us both the ability and interest to even begin to develop those abilities and interests.
I see something similar in this passage. Yes, Jesus gives us authority over evil, but that is not why we become believers, it is not the reason that He wants us to trust in Him, and it certainly is not the reason that He came to earth to die for our undeserving souls. If the story ended with Christ dying on the cross simply so that we might be more equipped to fight evil, I can assure you that my faith would not belong to Him. Luckily for us, that is not the end of it. Jesus does empower us, but not in a way that allows us to be independent of Him. Therefore, our celebration should not focus itself on the tangible victories of our lives, but on the fact that we are saved. I believe the point that Jesus is trying to hammer home for His followers is that of Ephesians 2:8 – we are “saved by grace through faith.”
We did (and do) nothing to earn His favor. In fact, He died for our souls “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). He gave us salvation as a gift so that we might celebrate both in victory and what we perceive to be failure. God gave us the ability to feel joy and experience it with satisfaction so the emotion itself is not a bad thing, but a beautiful gift. The difference is that when we believe that it comes from Christ and not our own abilities, it is infinitely perfect instead of being temporary. What Jesus is saying is that when our joy comes from victories such as these, it is not perfect because there will be times of trial and suffering. If our celebration depends on our tangible victories, it will vanish when we experience times of difficulty, which we will likely consider to be failures. Why? Because the perspective is on ourselves and what we see in our world. However, when our joy depends on the Truth that we are saved by God’s grace, it will never waver because that salvation (and the joy that comes from it) will never depart.
Jesus modeled this Truth well. His joy and confidence did not depend upon how many people He talked into believing that He was the Son of God. It did not depend upon how many demons he cast out of people. He was spit upon, mocked, hit, whipped, and eventually nailed to a cross where He choked to death on His own blood. Yet, when He entered Heaven to sit at the Right Hand of God, I can assume with confidence that He did not look back upon His life and see it as a failure like many of us probably would if we lived the same life. Our Father welcomed Him back into Eternity with a loving embrace knowing that He had conquered death and destruction forever. Jesus kept an eternal perspective that removed His purpose from being dependent upon the world’s idea of success. He stayed His mind on Heaven instead of His God-given abilities. He removed His perspective from Himself and He saved us all in doing so.
This is a Truth of which I need to reminded often. I know that Christ has given me authority to tread on the serpents and scorpions of this world, but that gift is not meant to invoke my pride or to proclaim to others that the authority is my own because it is Christ’s authority freely given to me in my belief in Him – not something I have earned or deserve. My joy is very bipolar when it comes from what I think I can do on my own. But it is everlasting if I trust it to depend upon what Christ tells us it should – our place in eternity.
“Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me. I, I am the LORD, and besides me there is no savior.”