A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com
Presented at Trinity Fellowship on 3/19/95
In the last few weeks we have been studying passages which speak of the rigors of discipleship: the hardships and rejection that Christ's followers may have to endure, the total commitment demanded of them because of the very nature of who their Lord is and because of the urgency of the task he has given us, for the harvest is plentiful and the laborers are few. Today we catch a glimpse of what makes it all worth while. For along with the pains of discipleship come the privileges of discipleship. The Lord in this passage speaks of three joys of Christian discipleship, in ascending order of importance.I. VICTORY OVER SATAN (vs. 17)
And the seventy returned with joy, saying, "Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!" They realized that Christ's power over the minions of Satan was one of the signs that the kingdom had come in him, and now they were being included in his victory. That is a joyous thing indeed. And while Jesus wanted them to be even happier about more important things than this, he affirmed their joy by pausing to celebrate it with them. And he said to them, "I was watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven" (vs. 18). When did he see this? Is it a reference to Satan's original fall from grace? Certainly that fall is not irrelevant; from it indeed the imagery of the statement is taken. But I find the verb interesting. It is in the Greek imperfect tense, and it could very well be translated, "I've been watching Satan fall." Not the aorist, "I watched him fall long ago" (though of course he had), but "I've been watching him fall" at a more recent time in the past--during the mission of the seventy itself. Our Lord is implying that the original fall of Satan, the defeat of Satan, the thwarting and frustration of Satan's rebellion against God, is recapitulated or repeated in the activity of the Church. Therefore the disciples are right to take joy in their victories over the demons in their ministry.
Jesus goes on to say in vs. 19 that "Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you." Probably this was not intended as an invitation to the disciples to literally go out and start stomping with impunity on snakes and spiders, though the various snake-handling cults of the American South have taken it literally that way indeed. I have two reasons for rejecting the literal interpretation. First, miracles were never intended to be the kind of "show" that one sees in such groups. Second, the Greek conjunction kai ("and') can also be used as the adverb "even," which makes good sense in the middle of this verse. I would translate, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, even over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall injure you." The serpents and scorpions are then not meant literally (though God could certainly grant a literal fulfillment when it was needed, as he did with the Apostle Paul when he was stung by a viper hiding in the firewood), but as a symbol for the power of the enemy. The point of the passage in context is not a promise of protection from poisonous creatures but a promise of spiritual victory over the forces of Satan.
What then does this passage teach us? When the Church marches forward in faith and obedience, in the name of Christ, it can expect to experience substantial victory over sin, darkness, evil, etc. The Lord's teaching here is very much parallel to his promise that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against us. That is a much misunderstood passage. Usually when I hear people quote it, they mean something like, "Whew! We're safe! The Gates of Hell will not prevail against us!" Well, when was the last time you saw a pair of city gates leave the walls and start chasing the enemy away across the battle field? Gates are not an offensive weapon. They are defensive! When we attack Satan's kingdom--in faith and faithful obedience--its gates will not prevail against us! We will knock them down and liberate the captives they hold inside.
Why then do we see the Church in retreat? Why don't we see more of this kind of victory? Well, maybe it is because the army of Christ has adopted a defensive posture on the field, not an offensive one. Maybe it is because she is unwilling to face hardship and rejection. Maybe it is because she has put her hand to the plow and turned back. Maybe it is a combination of all of these things. But we have Christ's promise that when the Church moves in faith and unity under the banner of the Cross, the fortress of Satan will fall. Now, that is something to rejoice about. But Jesus says it is overshadowed by two blessings that are even greater. The next one is . . .II. VINDICATION FROM SIN (vs. 20).
"Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." It is surely not wrong to rejoice in success, in life or ministry. But in comparison to our own salvation, it is nothing. Why? At least three reasons are implied. First, we ought to be rejoicing in Christ's victory, not our own. Do not rejoice that the spirits are subject to you. In other words, we should rejoice in the Lord's success, and in his graciously allowing us to have a part in it, but we should beware of rejoicing overmuch in the fact that it came through us, lest we fall into pride. Second, only if I adequately realize the depths of my own sinfulness will I be adequately impressed by the miracle of my own salvation. The fact that I came to faith is a greater victory for the Holy Spirit, a greater accomplishment for God, a greater testimony to the riches of the glory of his grace, than anything I have achieved for Christ since coming to faith. To forget this is not only to have a false perspective on the work of Christ and a false evaluation of myself, it is also to fail to appreciate the wonder of the fact that my name is written in heaven; it is to miss that greater joy. And third, we must remember the surpassing value of salvation, not worthy to be compared to anything else. "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8). And that leads us to . . .III. THE VISION OF THE SON (vs. 21-22)
At that very time he rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit and said, "I praise thee, oh Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and intelligent and didst reveal them to babes. Yes, Father, for thus it was well pleasing in thy sight. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal him." What did God hide from the wise and intelligent and reveal unto babes? Ultimately all the blessings and joys of this passage, ultimately focused in the revelation of Christ himself. And so great is this joy that this is the only time in the Gospels where it is specifically recorded that Jesus rejoiced. What is a greater source of joy than the frustration of Satan? What is a greater source of joy than the forgiveness of sins? That which made the other joys possible: the grace of God in Christ, through which we know both the Father and the Son.
There is a Peanuts comic strip where Charley Brown has gone to Lucy's booth for counseling. "The trouble with you, Charley Brown," says Lucy, "is that you don't know the meaning of life." Charley Brown thinks about this for a moment and then asks, "Do you know the meaning of life?" "We're not talking about me," Lucy replies. "We're talking about you."
Well, what is the meaning of life? The stoic finds it in self control and indifference; the Epicurean in pleasure; the Buddhist in the nirvana of non-being; the humanist in the progress of mankind. How do they know? Which is right? It is no accident that the existentialist would eventually conclude that there is no universally valid meaning for everyone, that in fact life is absurd. Yet what the great intellects, philosophers, prophets, mystics, and kings all sought but could not surely find, a child can know in Christ through faith. What a privilege is this! The meaning of life is to know God, to glorify him, and to enjoy him forever. And in Christ you can not only know what it is, you can know it through faith.
And God revealed this to babes. Our Lord rejoices not only in the "things" of the Gospel, its substantive content, but also in the method of it. That Man in his intellectual pride missed it but God has freely given it to "whosoever will" is wonderful to contemplate. Because otherwise, you and I would not be rejoicing in it today! When you really begin to understand the Gospel you will adore the Father not just for the benefits of it, but even more for the wonder and glory of it. You will find satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy just in contemplating it. I hope you are finding it even now. "I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ" (Phil. 3:8).CONCLUSION
This is a lot to rejoice in. No wonder Jesus closed this passage by saying, "Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, for I say to you that many prophets and kings wished to see the things which you see and did not see them, and to hear the things which you hear and did not hear them" (vs. 23-24). Well, we cannot see Jesus himself in the flesh as the disciples did. But we have the next best thing in the reminder of his incarnation and his death that he has left us. Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see, the hands that touch the things that you are about to touch, the lips that taste what you are about to taste, if indeed you know Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior and can therefore participate with us in Communion! So let those of us who know him rejoice in the victory, the vindication, and the vision as we draw near to the One who is the source of them all.
Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams