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Power and Humility
L. R. Tarsitano—Saint Andrew's Church, Savannah
The Twenty Fourth Sunday after Trinity—November 14, 1999
"Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:19-20).
Our Lord makes this promise and gives this solemn warning, in the first place, to the seventy disciples that he had sent out to preach the Gospel in what amounted to the first mission of the Church. We should take special note of our Lord’s choosing seventy men to represent him, since this number corresponds to the seventy helpers of Moses (the Great Law giver) who became the basis of the Jewish council called the Sanhedrin. Seventy was also the number of bullocks offered during the feast of Tabernacles for the conversion and salvation of the Gentile nations.

When we consider that our Lord had already named twelve Apostles, his intentions become clear. The twelve Apostles were the fulfillment of the twelve patriarchs of the Old Testament. Jesus Christ is the Living Law of God himself, whose ministry fulfills that of Moses to the Old Israel. The first seventy missionaries are appointed as fulfilling and expanding the work of the old Sanhedrin. They are seventy, also, because they are a reasonable and living sacrifice, far more precious in the sight of God than the sacrifice of any bullock, for the conversion of the Gentiles. Their service is aimed, then, not just at the maintenance of the earthly Israel, but at the expansion of the New Israel of Jesus Christ, to which every person in the world is called that he or she may live eternally with God.

By these early appointments and actions, our Lord is laying out the foundation of his Church, of which he himself will be the chief cornerstone that holds all together. His promises and warnings, therefore, to this embryonic Church, are meant as much for us as for the men and women of those times. Even more so, since we have the great advantage of coming to Jesus Christ after his glorious resurrection and ascension and after the descent of the Holy Ghost upon the Church that Christ had founded. 

Under these circumstances, it is amazing how much of the Church today is so timid about the Gospel, if not actually apologetic to the pagan religions of the world for troubling them with the Truth of God. Christ has promised us his own power to tread upon "serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy," meaning, of course, all the powers of Satan himself. This promise belongs to us as Christians, as the members of Jesus Christ’s Church. It is necessary to us, and our use of the promised power is necessary to us, in order that we might be Christians.

But there is a difference between a true humility as the beneficiaries of the gifts of God through his Son, and a false humility that makes us falsely humble about the honor of God or about the absolute truth of his absolute claim on the life of every human being. Our Lord describes the true and proper humility by telling us not to rejoice that we have been given power and dominion over evil spirits, but that our names "are written in heaven." The profundity of this definition of true humility only becomes clear when we consider along side it the words the God gave earlier to the Prophet Malachi:

Then they that feared the LORD spake often one to another: and the LORD hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the LORD, and that thought upon his name (Malachi 3:16).
The primary divine gifts of life, repentance, and faith become visible in the praying, teaching, and witnessing of those who have submitted themselves to God. Those whose names are written in heaven are those who have made God the center of their thoughts, fearing to dishonor or to disobey God more than they fear anything else. It is only then that they are prepared to take up the gifts of power that allow them to oppose Satan, his evil spirits, and the powers of this world, and to overcome them in Jesus Christ.

But "fear" is the key. Each human being must necessarily choose between the life-giving fear of the Lord and the death-dealing fear of everything else. And here we confront the greatest Satanic lie—that death in this world is always his victory, that it is the total destruction of a life, the utter failure of the good, and the end of everything for that person. Thus, says Satan, it is useless to love and fear God in this world or in any other conceivable world. 

The antidote to such a poisonous lie is the truth. And the Truth is this—that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead victorious, and that he will come again in glory to judge the quick and the dead, bringing with him a new heaven and a new earth with no place for Satan and no place for those who do not honor his Father in heaven or fear displeasing him. There is no reason to fear, then, anyone or anything but God. 

When we tread on serpents and scorpions in his Name, one of two things will happen. Either we will receive the immediate miracle of passing over them harmlessly, because such a miracle serves God’s purposes of saving mankind by the revelation of his power. Or, if it should appear in the normal way of this fallen world that the serpents and scorpions may do us harm, the Satanic malice behind their power to hurt has already been defeated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we will rise and live as he has risen and lives now. Nothing can harm a Christian forever, but his own abandonment of God.

It should be clear, however, that we do not always have to wait for miracles. The following brief story appeared in the November 9th "Current News Summary," published by the editors of ReligionToday.com on the Internet. Its subject is the work of Christian missionaries in India:
Hindus think Christians are paid to convert because they observe them become more prosperous. Christians in the bush are better off because they wear shirts and pants provided by the church, as opposed to loincloths, Reuters said. Others have nicer homes and "lead a better life because they stop smoking and drinking and buy medicines for 10 rupees instead of paying 1,000 rupees to the witch doctor," Gladys Staines, wife of murdered missionary Graham Staines of Australia, said.
Here some of the poorest people in the world, often described by secular economists and so-called "population control experts" as "the hopeless poor," give their lives to Jesus Christ, and in the fellowship of his Church and in the discipline of Christian living, begin living a new life, a better life, immediately, just as our Lord has promised. This is no accident or coincidence, since the same drastic change in the life of a people occurred in the 18th century when John Wesley preached the Gospel in the slums of England. 

And what is the response of the pagans around them? The central belief of Hinduism, perhaps the most devil-ridden of all the "world religions," is that life is vain and hopeless, and that no one finds peace until he gives up life itself. Our Lord Jesus Christ, on the other hand, came that those who believe in him "might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly" (John 10:10). And so the pagans hate the new Christians who put the lie to their hopelessness and vanity, and they kill the missionaries that bring the only true hope, the Truth of Jesus Christ, into their world. 

Mrs. Staines, who testified to this change with the joy of faith, lost not only her husband, but also her two sons, in this glorious struggle for life and truth. Is she a failure? Were her martyred husband and sons failures? Not according to Jesus Christ, and not according to the lives of those to whom they brought the Gospel. Their names are written in heaven, and they will live with Christ forever. They will be raised on the Last Day as our Lord rose on Easter. Jesus Christ has given us power to live and to spread the Gospel. We have nothing to fear and nothing to apologize for, when we do so. We have everything to fear if we do not. 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Andrew’s Church and Dr. Tarsitano.