|Luke #40 Overcoming the Evil One
Overcoming the Evil One
Reading: Luke 10:17-23
Introduction: One of the unique sayings of Jesus found in Luke’s gospel is this phrase from chapter 10: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” What’s Jesus talking about at this point? A scene from his pre-existent days? Something he just now witnessed perhaps? Or is he even looking ahead to that which has not yet happened, but is imminent? Our view of Satan otherwise governs how we read this passage. If Satan is an angel that went bad and was expelled from heaven before humanity came into existence, then we must assume this is some kind of primordial statement by Jesus. But in that case, what sense does it make to say that in this context, and is that view consistent with Jesus’ own run-in with Satan earlier in Luke, or with the rest of scripture for that matter?
One of the most intriguing parts of all Scripture to me is the conversation that takes place in the first chapter of Job. You remember Job, this man of impeccable righteousness, as he is described in the opening 5 verses. Great family man, “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” Job had seven sons and three daughters. He would offer sacrifices for his children on feast days, just in case they had sinned. But then comes this conversation between God and Satan:
Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “Whence have you come?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD, “Does Job fear God for naught? Hast thou not put a hedge about him and his house and all that he has, on every side? Thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. Job 1:6-10
We could dismiss all of this as some fictional short story, or we can ask ourselves how the Satan of this text fits with our traditional understandings. The fact is that our traditional understandings do not come from Scripture. In this account that is from Scripture, Satan does not appear to have fallen from heaven or from God’s favor and presence at all. But he does have a particular function. He is the prosecuting attorney who has both the authority both to accuse humans and also to entrap humans into disobeying God. If you think about the serpent story in Eden, the serpent had the power to entrap and persuade Eve and Adam to disobey God. In this text Satan is a heavenly being who has the freedom to go in and out of God’s presence and to accuse humans before God.
In the rest of the story of Job, Satan strips Job of every material good that he has; strips him of all the family he has except his wife; and even destroys Job’s health. Most disturbing however is the fact that God grants the power for Satan to do this. So whatever else Satan may be, in this context at least, he has not been expelled from heaven. His function is to accuse, to create a scenario in which Job is tempted to deny God.
That is exactly what Satan attempts to do with Jesus in the temptation narrative, isn’t it! He is still the great prosecutor whose power is directed toward getting even the Son of God to deny him. When the devil, as he is called in chapter four, fails to make a convert, Luke says he departed until a more opportune. But throughout the story since, every demon-possessed person has recognized Jesus as the Son of God. While other people including the disciples struggle to understand who Jesus is, demons and demon-possessed people always know. These people captured by powers of Satan experience cleansing at the word of Jesus. When the 12 were sent out, they too were given power over all demons, and in their initial mission were quite successful. Now in the sending out of the seventy or seventy or seventy two, these come back celebrating the fact that even demons were subject to the name of Jesus. That leads Jesus to make this statement: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. See I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
I suggest to you that the meaning of Jesus’ statement is that for all whose names are written in heaven, Satan and his minions have lost the power to prosecute before God. Satan falling like lightning from heaven is not a reflection of what happened before the earth was created or even something that happened at that moment in the life of Jesus, but is Jesus’ recognition of what happens for all people who are his disciples. Satan loses his power to prosecute and accuse before God. John says it this way in Revelation 12:10-11: “And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.’”
For John and for Luke the great victory over Satan was one at the cross. John could write earlier in Revelation 5:5: “Lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah has conquered”--the victory has already been won. In Luke it is clear that neither Satan nor his minions are any match for the Christ of God. Death on the cross will be accomplished by Satan and by the people in the end, not according to their will but by the will of God and his Son. Ironically, that event will be the crushing blow to the powers of evil.
Remember the mission and ministry of the seventy, these who were sent out as sheep in the midst of wolves. They were given a task of proclamation in which they were defenseless by human standards; sent out with no means of taking care of themselves; sent out totally dependent on other people, risking rejection of themselves and their message. Last week we asked the question, who wants to preach under those conditions? Who wants to be a sheep in the midst of wolves? Who wants to lead that kind of dependent lifestyle in the name of proclaiming Jesus? Who wants to face rejection?
When these men return there is no talk of rejection, but they are filled with joy as they report that even the demons are subject to them in Jesus’ name. Unlike the twelve earlier, they recognize that the power is authorized by Jesus. Jesus reminds them of what the point is. The end they are pursuing is not power over snakes and scorpions or the enemy. The goal for which one strives and therefore rejoices when victory over the enemy is given is having one’s name written in heaven. As would occur in the life of Jesus himself, Satan could still kill the earthly body, but he could not take away the victory, only seal it.
Jesus, in that same hour, rejoices in the Holy Spirit and gives God thanks. “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’” (10:21-22). This victory is not given by God to the wise and understanding, but to infants! It is not what you know but whom you know. It is not by human accomplishment or human insight or human choice by the choosing of God and his son. The Son chooses to reveal himself. It is that choosing that sets the disciples apart and gives them a vision to see and ears to hear what kings and prophets wished to see and hear, but it is these commoners from Galilee who have been chosen.
What is the power source for your encounters with the evil one? Does he still seem to have the power to accuse? What’s your armor and weaponry--right answers, good intelligence, right living, right church practice? Or as these people were empowered and authorized by Jesus, has the victory already been won for you as well? The human will says, “I don’t want to be a sheep in the midst of wolves.” The Spirit says, “I saw Satan fall like Lightning from Heaven.” The human will says, “As soon as I know enough I’ll go.” The Spirit of Christ says, “It is not those who know enough, it is those infants who trust enough who see and believe and act.”
My guess is that much of the time, the victory over the Great Accuser seems far removed from us. If we really believe in Satan then we also probably feel much more like Paul in Romans 7 than like these disciples in Luke 10; that there is a war going on in our bodies between good and evil, and more often than not we aren’t fairing too well. Paul understood that as long as flesh and blood waged the war, death would always be the outcome. “Wretched man that I am,” he said, “who will deliver me from this body of sin and death. Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The next chapter begins, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." We like that, but we often fail to read on and hear Paul talk about the Spirit-filled life of those who are in Christ Jesus. For those people there is no more fear. Children of God have overcome fear; they have conquered the enemy, which is death. They may still suffer as Christ himself suffered, but the enemy has been defeated. Nothing; nothing can separate one from the love of God in Christ Jesus because Satan has fallen like lightning from heaven. In Jesus’ name, the principalities and the powers are subject to us. We are no longer subject to prosecution. For those infants who have been chosen by God, all the risks that we spoke of last week, all the fears that keep us from acting in Jesus’ name, have been dealt a fatal blow.
If we are waiting to proclaim the good news until we get more knowledge, or until we get more wisdom, or until we overcome fear by our own intellects, has the light really dawned for us yet? God has revealed himself not to the wise and understanding but to infants! Satan has fallen like lightning from heaven for those who are in Christ Jesus. We can’t earn our way into his presence. We can’t write our names in heaven by our good works. We can receive the victory by receiving Jesus and by going where he sends us.
Is the victory already yours this morning?
Delivered at Brentwood Hills, December 4, 1994 a.m.
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