On this 4th of July weekend, we cannot but think of our nation and give our gracious God thanks for all the gifts and blessings He has given us in and through it. Although many will find much to gripe about–after all we’re sinners living in a sinful world–the vital thing this 4th of July weekend, especially, is to thank God for His gift of and to implore His blessing and help on our nation. To do that, is to simply do our duty as Christian citizens. The apostles are very clear. St. Paul writes [1 Ti 2.1,2]: Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. We pray for those in authority–no matter who they are, no matter how different their views may be than our own, no matter how contrary their views may be to God’s will. How much anger in our nation would be avoided if people instead simply prayed for our government and nation instead of tearing it and others down.
St. Paul writes [Rm 13. 1]: Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God. That simple act of prayer does something terribly important. It helps us recognize our vital God-given role as Christians and Christian citizens; and it also helps us realize that the worldly governments are not the end all. God is above them all–no matter how powerful–and nations and governments need the Lord. A great problem certainly in our nation is that politics has become a religion. This has become especially pronounced as people turn away from the holy Christian faith– something has to be supreme in their lives; it is a problem because people look to make their heaven on earth–this life has become all that there is–and politics has become the way to achieve it. To be sure, especially in our nation, people may try to put a “religious” veneer on it but at its heart and core is a “this worldly” view, not a heavenly perspective.
So not only are we as Christians to be subject to the governing authorities but we also pray for those in authority because why? –That we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. Christianity does not need a particular form of government; but the vital thing for us is that we may [be able to] lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. The vital thing for us is that we be able to quietly live out our faith as Christians. Notice: as we do that, our attention and gaze is directed not on this world but on heaven. Good government and the peace that results is a great gift of God and serves toward this goal and one we must especially thank and praise Him for.
Today’s Gospel shows us one point of that quiet and peaceable life [we live] in all godliness and reverence: mission work. Jesus sent out 72 disciples on a mission trip to prepare the people for Him. [T]he Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. What happened to those 72 disciples also applies to us; it still goes on today. Although mission work–be it on the mission field in some far off place, or be it as we tell others we know about Jesus–looks very calm and peaceful, it is really a great spiritual battle that is taking place. It is the expansion of Jesus’ kingdom into the devil’s kingdom–plundering it and rescuing souls out of it.
Our text: The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!” They had not expected such great results. Jesus told them that He is sending them out as lambs among wolves; they didn’t even have a money bag, bag or sandals; they had to rely on what was provided to them. With the command to preach, the only promise they had been given was healing the sick: Heal the sick who are in the town and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ The miracle of the healings confirmed their message, that what they were saying is true–that Jesus is the Son of God and the long promised Savior–and then as a further confirmation of that message to the people and to the missionaries themselves was: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!” Here we catch a glimpse of what Jesus’ whole work on earth was all about–the destruction of the devil, his works and kingdom. St. John tells us [I 1 3.8]: For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil. Jesus’ entire life was a victory over Satan and this victory is then transmitted to the disciples–they got to announce it and see the outward evidence of it: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name!”. Jesus’ entire life was a victory over the devil as Jesus never once sinned; Jesus came and destroyed the works of the devil as He not only never sinned but as He also took on the sins of the world and died for them on the cross. Now with the forgiveness of sins in Jesus, what can Satan accuse us of? –Nothing! Our sins are forgiven us in Jesus. The forgiveness of sins is the foundation of our lives as Christians; it’s the foundation of our mission work; it’s the foundation of what we tell others about Jesus. By His holy life, by His innocent, holy suffering and death Jesus destroyed the works of the devil and his kingdom.
When the 72 missionaries cast out the demons in Jesus’ name, that was a picture of what was happening already during our Lord’s life and a foreshadow of the devil’s ultimate defeat. It showed how powerless the devil was against Jesus–he could do nothing to stop Jesus from carrying out His saving work. That is a tremendous comfort to us in our lives as Christians. There can be no doubt that Jesus is who He said He is and accomplished what He came to do–to rescue us from sin and hell–because even here the demons had to submit not even to the person of Christ but simply to His representatives.
And then notice what Jesus said after the 72 disciples came back with joy and reported that they cast out demons: He told them, “I was watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” With every demon being cast out, Satan was falling. His kingdom was collapsing; it could not resist Jesus who had come to destroy/ undo the works of the devil. His fall is as sudden and absolute as a lightning bolt coming down from the sky. It happens quickly–it descends in a flash and is suddenly extinguished; the foul flash of Satan reached its end. Hearing Jesus’ words, how can we also not be reminded of the ultimate judgment of the devil and his demons on the Last Day when, as Scripture records [Rv. 20.10]: the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire sulfur. Satan and his demons on the Last Day are cast into the place where they will suffer eternal punishment, that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels [Mt 25.41]. Then we are finally rid of the devil and all his demons forever. That these disciples cast out demons in Jesus’ name points us forward to their final, ultimate destruction and punishment.
He told them, “I was watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” By the casting out of demons at Jesus’ command and by His power/ by this great miracle and divine blessing/ this beginning of the destruction of the devil’s kingdom we see another great thing happening. Remember–what was the context of the disciples going out? Preaching! They were announcing to the villages that Jesus would be visiting: ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ So here we get another tremendous insight and comfort: by the preaching of the Gospel, that good news about Jesus, the devil’s kingdom is plundered and his power over souls is taken away. Without the good news of Jesus, that He is the Son of God and our Savior from sin, that He has come and destroyed the works of the devil, the devil has people firmly in his clutches; he has power over their souls. He can accuse us of sin and drag us down to hell. He can lead us into all kinds of wrong belief away from the true God. But as soon as the Good News about Jesus goes out, as soon as the forgiveness of sins is announced, the devil’s stranglehold is broken. He cannot deceive us into thinking that there is no hope for us. He cannot make us think our sins are no big deal. He cannot deceive us about God–who He is and what He thinks about us. When the word is preached, the Holy Spirit is working in it and through it to create and to strengthen faith–and where there is faith, that soul has been rescued out of the devil’s kingdom; Satan is defeated; he fell like lightning.
Are you a Christian? Do you recognize your sin and trust in Jesus as your Savior from that sin? Do you know God as your dear heavenly Father? Then the Holy Spirit has worked this faith and knowledge in you. Then you have been rescued out of the devil’s kingdom. Then, even with you, Satan fell like lightning from heaven. He no longer has power over you! He cannot accuse and condemn you and drag you down to hell. Jesus has forgiven you your sin and brought you into His holy family/ Kingdom, the Church. Look to and remember your baptism. That’s the time/ moment for you that you can point to with certainty and say: there I was given the gift of faith and rescued out of Satan’s kingdom! Then/ there Satan fell like lightning from heaven! Now in baptism I am united with Christ! Now in Holy Communion I am united with Jesus, receiving Him bodily into me!
And then Jesus continues on in our text: “Look, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. And nothing will ever harm you.” Dear Christian, united with Christ by faith and in baptism and the Holy Supper, no enemy is dangerous. This is not to say that now that we are Christians nothing bad will happen. Jesus in our text warns of rejection; He warns elsewhere of persecutions. Church history has shown that to be true over and over! It is not easy for us once we are rescued out of the devil’s kingdom. He is always working to drag us back in by trying to destroy our faith. Even Jesus couldn’t avoid the devil during His earthly life. He was tempted to sin; the devil tried to get Him off the path leading to the cross and the salvation of the world. We won’t have it any easier but what does Jesus promise here? I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. And nothing will ever harm you. Here are images of demonic power, of hellish powers. The snakes and scorpions are the delusions, deceptions, spiritual falsehoods that slither into our hearts and minds, sent by the devil to draw us away from Jesus and to destroy faith. They are the bites of worldly thoughts that tear at us and try to infect us with the venom of a worldly/ secular way of looking at the world. They are the malicious desires that sting us. They are sin stinging the conscience; the dredging up of sin to try to get us to despair of Christ and forgiveness. But the glorious promise of Christ: I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. We have the word; we have the holy sacraments. Through these Jesus strengthens our faith and keeps us in the faith so that we can trample on these our spiritual enemies and attacks. That we can do so, that we have the power to do so is because Jesus has crushed the head of the serpent.
And Jesus gives this most glorious promise to us, dear Christian: Rejoice that your names have been written in heaven. Here is our chief joy and comfort: God has chosen us to salvation. He wants to save us. We are His dear children and He will take care of us in all our needs. To have our names written in heaven is the greatest victory over Satan. Rejoice in what God has done for us in Christ from all eternity: Rejoice that your names have been written in heaven. INJ Amen