Luke 10 tells of the widening scale of Jesus’s mission: first the Twelve are sent to the twelve tribes of Israel and then seventy are sent out where Jesus is “intending to go“, with the aside “What a huge harvest! And how few the harvest hands. So on your knees; ask the God of the Harvest to send harvest hands.” There is more to do and further to travel…. And “seventy” is code for the nations of the world. Go into the furthest reaches. Go to the very end of the world…
Living as we do on the south coast of Ireland, the thought always strikes me that in the first century AD, Ireland would have been considered the “end of the world”! That was certainly how St Patrick saw it in his Confession a few centuries later.
And what a mission! Not a lecture-tour or a theatre-run but a blast of power. It represents God’s word and action against the ravages of evil.
So what are the ravages of evil? The Bible’s narrative is very clear: the ugliness of sin, the addictive control of evil forces, and the curse of sickness and disease.
Paul describes the situation in Romans 1 as a downwards spiral of chaos:
“Since they didn’t bother to acknowledge God, God quit bothering them and let them run loose. And then all hell broke loose: rampant evil, grabbing and grasping, vicious backstabbing. They made life hell on earth with their envy, wanton killing, bickering, and cheating. Look at them: mean-spirited, venomous, fork-tongued God-bashers. Bullies, swaggerers, insufferable windbags! They keep inventing new ways of wrecking lives. They ditch their parents when they get in the way. Stupid, slimy, cruel, cold-blooded. And it’s not as if they don’t know better. They know perfectly well they’re spitting in God’s face. And they don’t care—worse, they hand out prizes to those who do the worst things best!”
This is the “huge harvest” to which Jesus sends his people out as “lambs in a wolfpack.”
But he doesn’t send them out unprotected. They go as ambassadors, cloaked in his authority and wielding his power.
And on hearing news of their successes, Jesus responds:
“I know. I saw Satan fall, a bolt of lightning out of the sky. See what I’ve given you? Safe passage as you walk on snakes and scorpions, and protection from every assault of the Enemy. No one can put a hand on you. All the same, the great triumph is not in your authority over evil, but in God’s authority over you and presence with you. Not what you do for God but what God does for you—that’s the agenda for rejoicing.”
21 At that, Jesus rejoiced, exuberant in the Holy Spirit. “I thank you, Father, Master of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the know-it-alls and showed them to these innocent newcomers. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.
22 “I’ve been given it all by my Father! Only the Father knows who the Son is and only the Son knows who the Father is. The Son can introduce the Father to anyone he wants to.”
23-24 He then turned in a private aside to his disciples. “Fortunate the eyes that see what you’re seeing! There are plenty of prophets and kings who would have given their right arm to see what you are seeing but never got so much as a glimpse, to hear what you are hearing but never got so much as a whisper.” (Luke 10: 18-24 MSG)
I saw Satan fall! Was it a prophecy or a memory? Well, if the “lamb was slain before the foundation of the world“in the sense that God exists outside time, then, of course, it’s both -but our language is too impreciseto convey such mystery. It’s rather akin to the moment when Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I am” (and they took up stones to kill him for his blasphemy!)
And do you see the obvious consequence of this? It is that when we come against the ravages of Satan in the broken human lives around us, we are coming as ambassadors of a victory that is already complete.
But there is a fine line between assurance and arrogance. The moment we begin to assert God’s authority as our due right and privilege, then we step away from the very trusting childlike faith that makes the expression of that authority possible! As Jesus put it:
“I thank you, Father, Master of heaven and earth, that you hid these things from the know-it-alls and showed them to these innocent newcomers. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.”
God works with innocent newcomers like us because we have absolutely no confidence in our own ability to do anything right!
At the same time, Nouwens is perfectly correct when he says: “The great temptation is to use our many obvious failures and disappointments to convince ourselves that we are really not worth being loved.” That temptation is a stratagem of Satan to inhibit our effectiveness.
But children are happy when they know that they are loved.
And it is when they know that they are loved that they have the confidence to trust completely in their parents.
And this -this!- is the faith-world that we inhabit as children of God.”This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.” (1 John 5: 14-15)
So that phrase “I saw Satan fall” is the beginning point – it’s an invitation into an unknown but entirely wonderful future.
As Paul put it:
“‘What no eye has seen,
what no ear has heard,
and what no human mind has conceived’–
the things God has prepared for those who love him.” (1 Cor 2:9)