The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!” And [Jesus] said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:18-20).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
On Monday, we celebrate Independence Day, the birthday of our nation. It is good and right that we give thanks to God for this nation and ask that He would continue to “bless our native land.” We also do well to remember that freedom is bought with a price. Millions of men and women have served with courage, selflessness, and sacrifice so that we might enjoy all sorts of freedom, not the least of which is the freedom to assemble here openly in worship of the one true God.
Sometimes we hear the stories of courage and heroism in service to our country. Often, we don’t. Sometimes, it’s because the heroes are quiet, unassuming types. Sometimes, because of security reasons, the details are labeled top secret and the heroes are not made public. Sometimes, it’s because it’s a matter of standing guard so that the enemy has no easy route of attack. But freedom requires ongoing vigilance, and when we forget the ongoing strength and stamina needed to maintain our freedom, we’re likely to take that freedom for granted.
We might say the same about the work of the Church. Strengthened and protected by her Lord, she stands guard and fends off sin, death, and devil. It’s the work of the Lord through His Church which rescues from hell, from eternal chains and loss of freedom. In a world beset by darkness and evil, Christ gives to one institution power over the devil himself. You guessed it: the Church. You and me.
In the Gospel last week, we read that Jesus has set His face toward Jerusalem. He is on His way to the cross. As He makes His way there, He sends out seventy-two in pairs to every town along the way, and He gives them specific instructions. They are to pack light, with no moneybag, knapsack, or extra sandals. They are to move quickly to their destinations, devoting no time to idle conversation on the road. When they arrive at a house, they are to greet it with peace; and if they are welcomed, they are to stay. They are to speak the message that Jesus gives them. If they are not welcome in a town, they are to leave, but not before declaring once again the message Jesus gives them: “The Kingdom of God has come near.”
If you ask me, it doesn’t look all that spectacular, this scene of two guys without a carry-on doing a little talking and a little sick care. Their words aren’t even their own. They’re repeating the words of another. Can what they do really matter?
Listen to the consequences for those who reject the message: Jesus says, “I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town” (Luke 10:12). And if Capernaum rejects them, Jesus says that town “shall be brought down to Hades” (Luke 10:15). But it’s not just the dire warnings; there’s the positive results. The seventy-two return to Jesus and say, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name!” (Luke 10:17). Jesus confirms, saying, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10:18). They’ve spoken Jesus’ Word, and the sick have been healed. They’ve even made demons flee. Furthermore, Jesus tells them, “I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you” (Luke 10:19).
People are healed and demons are sent fleeing. That’s stuff only God can do—which is exactly what is going on. The key to what’s going on here is this: “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16).
It’s the Lord who works these miracles, and He does so by His Word. And in His wisdom and according to His plan, he deploys these seventy-two to speak His Word. Sent by Him and speaking His Word, they’re speaking on His authority. It is as if Jesus Himself were speaking. They speak His Word of grace, and His grace gets rid of sin and its wages. They speak that Word to those who are sick, and they’re healed. They speak it to those possessed by demons, and the demons flee.
These seventy-two wield extraordinary power as they speak God’s Word as He intended. But it is His Word, and it is His power: they’re simply the messengers, and the power doesn’t belong to them. Thus, Jesus tells them, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The best news for them is not that Christ has used them to deliver that grace to others. No, the best news for them is that Christ has used His Word to deliver His grace to them.
So, seventy-two guys in thirty-six pairs, walking from town to town and talking. But their talk is the Word of God, and by it even the devil is sent fleeing.
The Lord entrusts that Word to His Church. He entrusts His Word to His Church, here. The Lord has not changed, and neither has His Word. So here, when the Word is preached and the Sacraments are administered according to that Word, when the Word is sung and spoken and confessed and shared, the Lord is still working those same miracles here as He did through the seventy-two in our text: sins are forgiven, disease is defeated, and even the devil is chased away.
Sins are forgiven. That’s the key to the other miracles. Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, dwelt among us and went to the cross to die for our sins. Risen again, He alone has the power to forgive, and His Word is the means by which He does the work. Only forgiveness delivers from sin. Therapy can teach you to live with it, time can get you to forget it and the right company will help you deny it’s wrong, but only forgiveness can take the sin away.
That’s the forgiveness given by Christ in His Word—the Word that He gives you to speak. Therefore, only that forgiveness can deliver from hell. Armies can stop invasions and organizations can provide relief from all sorts of hellish, disastrous situations on this planet, but man is powerless against hell. It’s inexorable, far too powerful. But the Word of Christ looses sins and sets you free; and if you are free of sin, the gates of hell are closed and the gates of heaven are opened. Only God’s Word can do that—the Word that He entrusts to His Church. Here.
That Word heals, too. It delivers from disease. Medicine can help with this life: often when a disease strikes, doctors can put a stop to it—and for the work of medical professionals we give great thanks because they are God’s gifts for the preservation of health and life in this world. But where medicine puts a stop to one disease, another will eventually come; and if it is stopped, another will follow. That’s the ongoing battle of preserving health in this world, and eventually one disease or other injury wins and brings death.
But the Word of Christ delivers from disease—maybe not immediately, but ultimately. When the seventy-two spoke, people were healed on the spot. This was not to teach you that God will always heal immediately whenever His Word is spoken, but that His Word has the power to deliver you ultimately from all disease. This is finally done on the Last Day when the Lord raises you from the dead. No matter how hard man tries, he can’t beat death—the best he can do is postpone it as the Lord allows. But the Word of Christ we speak here gives eternal healing and everlasting life. That’s the Word that Jesus entrusts to His Church. Here.
That Word delivers from the devil, too. It sends Satan fleeing. We’ve recently heard a Gospel lesson or two about demon possession, and how those possessed were terrifying to those around them—remember, for instance, the possessed man who lived among the tombs. What can man do to defeat Satan? Usually, all man can do is deny him as an old fable, which suits the devil just fine. As one of the characters on “Stranger Things” remarked, “How can you defeat the devil when you don’t even believe he exists?”
Of course, man can’t defeat Satan. Christ can and has. He defeated him at the cross when He died for the sins of the world. See, when Jesus took away all your sin, He took away everything the devil could use against you. Satan is called “the Accuser” for good reason, because Scripture records him going before God and accusing, saying, “So-and-so is sinful and unholy. He can’t be with You because of his sin, so he’s got to be mine instead.” But Christ died for all those sins, took them all away. Satan has nothing left to accuse with because Jesus took it all away. Thus, the Gospel makes the devil fall from heaven, because he’s got no accusations to bring against the people of God anymore. The Word of Christ defeats the devil and sends him fleeing. That’s the Word that Jesus entrusts to His Church. Here.
This service may look no more remarkable than thirty-six pairs of men walking from village to village. But the Lord is present here with His Word. And as long as He is present with His Word, sin, disease, death, hell, and Satan are all vanquished. They don’t stand a chance because Christ has defeated them all.
The Church is the Lord’s outpost and fortress against all His enemies on earth. Many would look at this service with contempt, but do not be deceived: the proclamation of the Gospel and the singing of Christ’s praises are what hold back sin and devil, because the Lord restrains such evil by His Word. The prayers prayed by the people of God in Jesus’ name are powerful acts as they entrust all cares to God and call upon Him to act according to His Word.
But all of that said, here is something better: “Do not rejoice in this, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
When troops stand guard against invading forces, they know that they may have to sacrifice their lives as part of their service. It is not so for you: you do not fight sin, death, and hell with the understanding that you may have to sacrifice yourself to God’s wrath to save others. That was for Christ to do on the cross, and He sacrificed Himself for the sins of the world. As you are one entrusted with His Word, you wield that weapon against evil with the knowledge that you do not have to die to save others. No, as you rejoice in the power of the Word, you know that it is for you, too. By His Word, Christ declares that He has written your name in heaven. Salvation is yours.
The devil hates the Church, but he knows that the Church will never perish. Since he can’t destroy either Christ or the Church, that leaves you. He’s fallen from heaven and can’t accuse you before God, so he’ll whisper accusations in your ear. He’ll keep reminding you of past sins, haunting you with past guilt, attempting to persuade you that there’s no forgiveness for you, that you’re lost. But you’re not lost because Christ has won. So against the devil’s temptations, you hold up Christ and His Word, remind the devil that he’s the loser and say, “Jesus’ Word of grace has sent you fleeing often before, and He has given that grace to me. I am not yours, Satan, because I am His. He’s written my name in heaven.”
It is the same when the devil tries to overwhelm you with grief or fear of sickness or death or hell. All of these are enemies far too great for you and me, but it is not left to you and me to fight them. Christ has fought and defeated these foes. He tells you so in His Word. So instead of trying to defend yourself, you speak His victorious, grace-giving Word. Sickness, death, and hell will not get the best of you. Sickness and death will plague for a while, but they’re already beaten, too. Christ will raise you up to everlasting life, because your name is written in heaven.
The devil will keep on attack, along with his allies of sin, death, and hell, until the Last Day. Although the war is won, the battle rages—and often it seems like evil has the upper hand. But here, and now, by the power of God’s Word, evil is beaten back once again. It cannot overcome you, because Christ does more than entrust the Church with His Word for others. He speaks it to you. He tells you that your name is written in heaven, because you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.