Defeating the Devil’s Despair

Luke 10:1-12, 16-20 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. 4 Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road. 5 "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' 6 If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay in that house, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house. 8 "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.' 10 But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, 11 'Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.' 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. … 16 "He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." 17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name." 18 He replied, "I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven."

The Supreme Court has once again dealt a blow to the pro-life movement by striking down a Texas law regulating the abortion industry.

A Wyoming municipal judge is being forced to resign her position because, as a conservative Lutheran, she has said she is unwilling to officiate a same-sex marriage – even though she was never asked to perform one.

England, which once gave the world the King James Version of the Bible, now for the first time in recorded history has less Christians in its population than non-Christians.

The devil is alive and well and active in our world.

As Christians, we feel these attacks upon our faith. We are tempted to keep our heads down, to hide our faith, to curl up in the fetal position and just hope that things get better for the Christian religion. We look out into the world and see the unchristian banners unfurled against us. We are tempted to lose hope. The devil is very good at causing us to despair. To just give up.

But the attacks of the devil are not just in the world. They are also right here in church. Worship attendance is low. Offerings are even lower. Members are active and busy with everything else except making use of the Means of Grace – the Gospel in Word and Sacraments. We have become lazy and apathetic and lethargic in our faith. And the devil loves it. And we pastors often blame ourselves for everything that goes wrong within the church. We could be doing extra. We could be communicating better. We could be expanding to newer programs.

The despair of the devil seeps into pastors’ hearts and ministries, as well.

The devil is trying to tear us apart. To create chaos. To undo all of God’s doings. To create doubt and fear and despair. Jesus tells us that the devil’s goal is to steal and kill, to hate and destroy. He is a liar and a murderer. But understand that’s all the devil can do – kill and destroy. He can’t build. He can’t create. He can’t institute.

So the way to overcome the devil’s destruction is to build up the Christian Church with the Means of Grace. The way to reverse the devil’s hatred for Christianity that he has spread in society is to share Christ’s love and forgiveness within society. The way to defeat the devil’s despair that plagues the hearts of Christians and pastors alike is to get off our sofas and pews and spread the seeds of the Gospel.

Remember, just like in Jesus’ day the harvest field is ripe. The Lord of heaven and earth has given you the same authority He once gave His first disciples. And, He has promised that the devil is already defeated! Jesus Himself watched Satan fall like lightning from the sky.

In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus sends out His larger group of 72 disciples to do mission work in His name. There is urgency in Jesus’ sending. The harvest field is ripe. And the workers are few. No time to waste. Jesus sends these 72 as laborers into the harvest field to grab what is ripe for the picking. There is danger. They will be like defenseless lambs among ravenous wolves. But they are not going alone. The perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, goes with them. He sends them out empty handed, dependent, nothing of their own to offer the world. No purse, no backpack, no extra pair of sandals. For in this battle in which they are about to engage, they will not need those things. The Lord will provide.

And so they go. And so they speak. Not their words, but His. Not their authority but His. Not their strength, but His. They are like lambs before the wolves. But they are not to fight the wolves, but feed them the Word of God. They are to preach peace, heal the sick and proclaim the kingdom of God.

We’re not told how long they are gone, but when they return we find out that in this battle of lamb versus wolf, the lamb wins! All 72 return – not one is lost! – and they joyously report: “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Jesus kind of blows them off and says, “That’s nothing. I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” In other words, this was no surprise victory to Jesus. St. Michael had already thrown the devil and his demons out of heaven after their rebellion in heaven. Jesus is also already looking forward to His cross and grave and seeing Satan’s future defeat as an accomplished fact.

The 72 disciples were rejoicing that they had great fun stepping on snakes and stomping scorpions, healing the sick, preaching the kingdom, casting out demons, recognizing that though devils all the world should fill, they can harm us none. Those things were great and visible evidences of God’s work in their ministry. But the greatest victory and cause for rejoicing was that their names were written in the Book of Life in heaven.

Our calling as Christians is to share the Gospel so that others may rejoice that their names are also written in the Book of Life. That is what we do every week by pronouncing absolution from the altar, reading God’s Word from the lectern, preaching God’s Word from the pulpit, baptizing and remembering our baptism at the font, and receiving the Lord’s Supper in the front of church.

We also find unique and creative ways of sharing the Gospel in various settings. Maybe it is sharing God’s Word with people who have disabilities like the Jesus Cares Ministries at New Hope. Or it is sharing God’s Word with 75 children at our New Hope Soccer Camp. Or it is making use of School Choice so that unchurched students can learn the truth of God’s Word at Wisconsin Lutheran School or Shoreland Lutheran High School. Or perhaps it is starting a second site ministry in Sturtevant for Epiphany. You’ll be hearing more about this unique ministry opportunity at our Pig Roast in October.

Too often we rejoice when the church is full for a worship service, or when we have 75 kids at Soccer Camp, or if we make budget, or if we have some cool program that everyone is talking about. Those things are important and fantastic and visible evidences of God’s work in our ministry. We may rejoice in those things, but Jesus doesn’t.

And when those things don’t happen – when the church is more empty than full; when budget meetings go long; when people stay home instead of attending Bible class and Sunday School – then it is easy to give in to the despair of the devil.

We should not rejoice in bigness or discernible success. We should not despair when numbers are small or difficulties increase. We do not rejoice in large visible victories. Nor do we despair when these visible victories are absent. Instead we rejoice in the little, mild, often unnoticeable victories. Someone who comes to our soccer camp because a WLS child put a flyer on a door downtown. Giving eternal life to an infant at the baptismal font. Giving Christ’s body and blood to a homebound member. Giving Gospel comfort to a nervous patient and his family in the E.R. Ministering to a 103 year-old Christian woman shortly before God calls her home to heaven.

It may not always look spectacular or glamorous, but don’t be fooled. It is through these smaller victories that Jesus is writing names in heaven. Whenever God’s Word is shared, He is retracing those names over and over again in His blood.

Don’t be fooled. There is no reason to despair. The devil is already defeated. All the attacks against Christianity – the lawsuits, the media bias, the shouts of bigotry – they are nothing to be concerned about. They are the last ditch effort of a desperate demon. They are the final, flailing swipes of the red dragon. They are the sad whimperings of a once roaring lion.

Satan has fallen from heaven. The serpent’s head has been crushed by the cross. The Lamb of God has defeated the great dragon. The power of the enemy has been removed. Nothing will harm you.

This happened because the innocent Lamb of God came into a world filled with ravenous wolves. He felt the fangs, suffered the worst the world had to offer, entered the abyss of death and rose to life again. He appeared conquered by sin, but is now the Conqueror. He appeared devoured by death, but is now the Devourer. He is the crucified who is now the Victor. Not for Himself, but for you. That His death be your death and His life be your life. To reach out to you. To forgive you in His name. To wash you in His baptismal waters. To cover you in His blood. To nourish you with His body and blood. To convert you, change you, save you. To write your name in heaven.

And now Jesus is inviting you, calling you, sending you out as one of His nameless, countless 72. You don’t have to go into the farthest corners of the world. Just reach into your own family, your workplace, your neighborhood. Share the love of Jesus with the scared, pregnant teenager. Share the miracles of God with the cancer patient. Share the resurrection with your dying grandmother. Share the perfect Bridegroom with your friend whose marriage is falling apart. Share peace in Jesus with your grumpy, old neighbor. Share the truth of God’s Word with your child who is attending a church with all kinds of false doctrines.

You don’t need to be afraid. Jesus is going with you. You don’t need to be nervous. Jesus is sending you with His authority. You don’t need to be worried about people’s reactions. Some will reject you, but others will hear your message and believe. You don’t need to take anything with you – only your Bible and your faith. The Holy Spirit will do the rest. You just need to do the work. And Jesus will bless your efforts.

The devil is vigilant in his attacks. They will not stop. In fact, they will get more vicious the closer you come to Christ. They will become more virulent the closer you bring others to Christ. Don’t let that get you down. Don’t give up hope. Don’t despair.

You can defeat the devil’s despair by shoving the Gospel of Christ right down the throat of the ancient serpent. He can’t stand the Gospel. He will cower in fear for you have the power of God’s Word and the authority of Christ Himself. Defeat the devil’s despair by giving another precious soul the good news of Jesus Christ. Then, instead of despair, you can rejoice. Rejoice, because God used you to write another name in heaven … right next to yours. Amen.