Monday, July 04, 2022

Two Reasons to Rejoice!

[Below you'll find live stream videos of the 8:45 AM traditional and 11:00 AM modern worship services with the people and friends of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio yesterday morning, as well as the prepared text for the sermon of the day. Have a good week!]

Luke 10:1-20
In today’s Gospel lesson, Luke tells us about Jesus sending seventy-two of His disciples to places Jesus is planning to visit that haven’t yet met Him. 

Jesus sends the group, He says, “like lambs among wolves,” comparing the role He’s giving them as His followers and spokespeople to being like dumb, defenseless prey–sheep–among wolves, among the fiercest of predators. 

He tells them to, in His name, heal the sick, cast out demons, share God’s peace, and tell all the “wolves” that, in Him, God’s Kingdom has come into the world. 

And, if traveling among hostile people wasn’t daunting enough, Jesus tells them not to take a purse, a bag, or even sandals. They’ll have to depend on “the kindness of strangers” who receive their Word about Jesus.

Now, be honest. If you were among those seventy-two early followers of Jesus, wouldn’t you be tempted to approach Him to ask, “Lord, could I be excused?” 

But all seventy-two went, and later “returned with joy and said, ‘Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.’ ” (Luke 10:17)  They had stepped out in faith as Christ’s representatives in a sinful world and learned that evil, the devil, and the demons of hell were no match for the power of Jesus at work in them as believers

Jesus exulted with them! “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” Jesus tells the seventy-two. (Luke 10:18)

Then Jesus makes two stunning statements that will occupy the rest of our time this morning. 

First, He says: “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.” (Luke 10:19)

Now, this text has been misinterpreted and misunderstood by both well-meaning Christians and not-so-well-meaning through the years. 

Heretics like Joel Osteen use texts like this one to tell us that if we really believe, we'll be invincible, have good health, and enjoy wealth. According to this thinking, Jesus, Who was impoverished and crucified, would be counted as one who failed to believe in God the heavenly Father. All the apostles and every martyred, ill, or impoverished believer in Jesus over the past two thousand years would also be counted as faith failures.

“If you really believe in Jesus,” others will say, “you’ll handle this poisonous snake to prove it." In this, these either misinformed or deliberately disinforming people ignore Jesus' words to the devil, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." (Luke 4:12, c.f., Deuteronomy 6:16)

None of this is what Jesus is talking about at all here. In the Bible, serpents and scorpions often appear as images of evil. And, of course most Christians believe that the serpent that tempted Adam and Eve into sin was the devil himself. (Genesis 3:1-14) Instead, what Jesus is telling not just the seventy-two disciples in our lesson, but to you and me as modern-day disciples too is this: He has given us power over the devil and over evil right now.

We may find this hard to believe. There’s a lot of evil in our world. And, let’s be honest, there’s a lot of sin in each of us as well. 

I’ve been pursuing Jesus as my God and Savior for forty-five years now. But I am sometimes shocked at how easily I cave into temptation: how quick I am to judge people's eternal salvation, how easily I fall into gossip, and how thoughtlessly I slip into sinful thoughts and behaviors. 

Sin is such a part of my inborn nature and, because of it, I’m so thick-headed and hard-hearted, that it’s usually only after I've thoughtlessly sinned when I’m reading or hearing God’s Word, or about to receive the Sacrament–when, in other words, I come face to face with God and I see the chasm between His holy perfection and my unholy sinfulness–that I realize again that I am a sinner in desperate need of the grace and forgiveness God gives in Jesus

So, given all the evil that’s around us and all the evil that’s within us, how can Jesus possibly say that we already have the power to overcome our enemy, the devil and that the devil can’t prevent us from being part of His eternal kingdom?

If we constantly look at the world or ourselves, we will never be able to believe that Christ has given Christians power over the devil and evil. We’ll live in an enclosed feedback loop of evil that will lead us to doubt that Christ has forgiven us, that God loves us, or that we have been saved by God’s grace through Holy Spirit-powered faith in Jesus.

But, when we fix our eyes on Jesus and on God’s Word, we will see that as followers of Jesus, we do have power over evil. We have the power from Jesus to crush the devil under our feet. 

Back in the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had fallen into sin, God told the serpent that from Eve would come an “offspring,” Jesus. God told the serpent, “He will crush your head…” (Genesis 3:15) “

The reason the Son of God appeared,” we’re told in 1 John 3:8, “was to destroy the devil’s work.” And that’s exactly what Jesus, the Son of God, has done

That’s why Jesus’ last words from the cross–”It is finished”--aren’t words of defeat or despair. They’re words of triumph and hope! “I have accomplished what I set out to do,” Jesus is saying. 

He came as the sacrificial “Lamb of God, Who ho takes away the sin of the world!” John the Baptist had said of Jesus. (John 1:29) And that's what Jesus proved to be.

The preacher of Hebrews tells us: “Since the children [that is, the human race] have flesh and blood, he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.” (Hebrews 2:14-15) 

The threat that the devil constantly holds over our heads–the thing that drives us to act like gods with no accountability to God or neighbor–is the fear of death. (Which, in a pathetic attempt to elude reality, often leads us to the denial of death.) 

But through His death and resurrection, Jesus has set us free from death, along with the fear or denial of it.

Jesus has covered those who turn to Him with His power over the devil and death. 

So, in the power of Jesus’ grace, we can be sure that no matter how often the devil tries to tell us that we’re unworthy, unrighteous, or unclean, or how we may feel on any given day, or what random doubtful thoughts may cross our minds, we belong to God forever.

And when we confront the evil in us or the evil around us, we can, like the seventy-two who went among God’s enemies, meet...

the world’s skepticism with God’s kindness, 

the world’s hatred with God’s love, 

the world’s evil with the saving good news of Jesus Christ that all who believe in Jesus Christ have the forgiveness of sin, the presence of God in their lives today, and everlasting life with God!

Now, quickly, to Jesus’ second stunning statement to us today. He says: “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20) 

Our greatest source of joy as Christians is that, through Jesus, our names are written in heaven. We belong to God forever. 

The early Church baptized whole households, certainly including children and babies, in obedience to both Jesus’ baptismal command and His command that children be brought to Him. (Luke 18:16) But whenever we’re baptized, the apostle Peter says, “baptism…saves you…by the resurrection of Jesus Christ…” (1 Peter 3:21) In Baptism, God makes a covenant with the baptized, immersing them in Jesus’ death and resurrection, making them His child and part of His Church, calling the baptized to believe in Jesus, sending the Holy Spirit to empower the baptized to believe. 

I was baptized as an infant and I’m convinced that because God made a promise on that day to be my God, He made sure that there were always Christians in my life, calling me to believe in Jesus. That included my wife and the people of our home church wielding nothing but the Gospel Word about Jesus and the water of Holy Baptism and the bread and wine of Holy Communion. 

By these means coming from outside of yourself and not from the world or yourself, God assures you of His love for you, that Jesus died and rose for you, that He has rescued you from sin, death, and the devil, and gives you saving faith, and writes your name in heaven.

And so today, friends, Jesus gives us two reasons to rejoice. 

We can rejoice that He shares the victory over evil and the evil one He has given us through His cross and resurrection. 

But even more amazingly and graciously, we can rejoice that all who turn to Jesus belong to God forever! Amen