22 So Paul, standing before the council,[e] addressed them as follows: “Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.
20 One day as Jesus was teaching the people and preaching the Good News in the Temple, the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the elders came up to him. 2 They demanded, “By what authority are you doing all these things? Who gave you the right?”
Parable of the Pharisee and Tax Collector
19 Jesus said, “There was a certain rich man who was splendidly clothed in purple and fine linen and who lived each day in luxury. 20 At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.
Jesus Teaches about Humility
17 When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”
David Brooks, who is an American political and cultural commentator, wrote an article for the New York Times early last year, called “The Self-Reliant Generation.” He was, of course, referring to the millennials born between early 1980s and early 2000s. In it, he identified some characteristics of the millennials, one of which was self-reliance. He wrote,
Another glaring feature of millennial culture is they have been forced to be self-reliant and to take a loosely networked individualism as the normal order of the universe. Millennials have extremely low social trust. According to Pew Research, just 19 percent say most people can be trusted, compared with 40 percent of boomers. This leads to detachment from large entities. Just 32 percent of millennials say America is the greatest country on earth, compared with 50 percent of boomers. Millennials are very suspicious of organized religion. 35 percent say they are unaffiliated with any religious group, compared with 23 percent of Generation X (born between 1965 and 1980).
Indeed, this is the reality. More and more teenagers are quitting church, believing that watching YouTube sermons is enough. Also, millennials have been brought up to think and judge for themselves rather than to go along with the established knowledge and tradition. They have been brought up in an individualistic society, where individual performance and satisfaction is more important than teamwork. Self-reliance became the norm of the millennial generation.
Nevertheless, millennials are hardly the first generation to introduce the concept of self-reliance in our society. In late 1820 and 1830s, just a few decades after the foundation of this nation, there was already a philosophical movement called Transcendentalism. Its core beliefs were that the people and nature were inherently good, that society and its institutions have corrupted the purity of the individuals, and that people are at their best when they are left truly self-reliant and independent.
This idea may have propelled the nation to grow rapidly as a whole. Since the forefathers of this nation decided to have its independent country 241 years ago, people were expected to take care of themselves as free and independent citizens. Self-reliance became the standard. And because of this, it motivated people to seek a better life for themselves, and likely fueled the Industrial Revolution during that same historical period. Based on such culture, the result is that, today, United States is one of the most advanced nations in the world.
However, this idea of self-reliance and independence has a detrimental spiritual side-effect. The idea that people were inherently good reduced the need for repentance onto God. Pursuit of self-reliance meant less reliance on God. Pursuit of individualism meant self-centered life instead of a life that seeks after the good of others.
One of the intellectuals who led this Transcendentalism was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was one of the champions of self-reliance and individualism. He started out his career well by establishing his own school and being the schoolmaster. He even went to Harvard Divinity School, and upon graduation, was invited to serve as the junior pastor at Boston’s Second Church. However, when his wife of only 2 years fell sick and was dying of tuberculosis, he began to doubt his own beliefs. After his wife’s death, he began to have disagreements with the church, and then began to think that the profession of pastoring was antiquated. Consequently, he left the ministry soon thereafter. A few years later, he was invited to Harvard to deliver the school’s graduation address. In his address, he discounted biblical miracles and proclaimed that, while Jesus was a great man, he was not God. This obviously outraged the establishment and the general Protestant community, and he was denounced as an atheist and a poisoner of young men’s minds. It was intellectuals like Emerson who advocated for self-reliance and individualism.
Self-reliance runs contrary to the biblical principle to rely our lives on God like a child. The self-relying world encourages us to be self-sufficient, while the Bible declares that our sufficiency is from God (2 Cor. 3:5). The self-relying world tells us to trust one’s own instinct and understanding, while the Bible calls us to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). The self-relying world tells us to get ahead of others by whatever means necessary, while the Bible calls us to be humble and regard others as better than ourselves (Phil. 2:3). The tension is clear between the self-relying culture that we live in and the God-relying principle that we are called to live.
This self-reliant culture has unfortunately affected the church negatively. Many ministries and missions rely on manpower and money rather than on God. There are often more Martha’s in the church doing work rather than Mary’s who humbly soaks in the word of Jesus at His feet. We sometimes see church volunteers who think that the church will come to a grinding halt if they ever step down from their service. Many of these well-intended believers operate out of such self-reliant and individualistic mindset of this world.
So, when Jesus was sending out his 72 disciples for missions, he made sure that they would have a God-reliant mindset. If you remember the sermon a few weeks ago, Jesus instructed His disciples in Luke 10:4, “Don’t take any money with you, nor a traveler’s bag, nor an extra pair of sandals.” In other words, don’t be self-reliant; be God-reliant! And when the disciples returned with great joy in their success in missions, Jesus instructed them on having a humble, God-reliant mentality.
Let’s look at that interaction a little more closely. Today’s message is titled “Fulfill God’s Mission (Part 4)”, which is the last part of this series. We’ll look at how our attitudes should be as we engage and fulfill God’s Mission. In Luke 10:17, it reads, “When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, ‘Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!’” You can sense a great deal of amazement and excitement from the disciples. The disciples were able to drive out demons from sick people in Jesus’s name, which is something they had never done before.
To be clear, when it says that the disciples used Jesus’s name, this is not about using His name as some kind of magical spell, but it is another way of saying “by the power of Jesus.” We know that using Jesus’s name merely as a magical spell does not work because of the story of the seven sons of Sceva in Acts 19. They tried to perform exorcism by invoking the name of Jesus without accepting Him as the Messiah. In response, the evil spirit said, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know about, but who are you?” And then, the man with evil spirit jumped on them and beat them so hard that they ran away naked and bleeding.
On the other hand, when a believer truly believes in the power and authority in Jesus, the believer is able to drive out demons in the name of Jesus. I had a seminary friend who, upon graduation, went to a 3rd-world country as a full-time missionary. And as you may know, there are more demon-possessed people accessible in public in those countries as opposed to America where demon-possessed people are usually locked up in mental institutions. One time, this friend wrote us a letter that described his experience of exorcising a demon-possessed girl. (Mind you, we were trained from a Baptist seminary, and so we didn’t get much training on exorcism.) At first, the spiritist of the village was called in to exorcise the evil spirit out of her, but it didn’t work no matter how hard the spiritist tried. Then, my friend thought that maybe he should pray for her. So, he went over and prayed over her in the name of the Jesus that the evil spirit come out of her. He was hoping that her mind would calm down and get healed. Instead, the girl began to scream with an altered voice and convulsed on the ground uncontrollably. And then, all of a sudden, the girl returned to a normal, peaceful state of mind. I don’t remember exactly what he said in response, but I believe his words could be summarized in three letters: “O.M.G.” He never experienced such a thing, so he had to write that in a letter and send it to us.
We see this same excitement from the 72 disciples who experience the power of Jesus. They were ecstatic like children because of the miraculous work that they did in Jesus’s name! Church, I want you to know that you, too, carry that power in you. As Apostle Peter puts it, those of us, who have repented and got baptized for the forgiveness of our sins, will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is the same powerful Spirit of God that Jesus had, and it is available to us as well.
What does Jesus say in response to the disciples report? In v.18, Jesus says, “Yes, I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!” What Jesus saw in the spiritual realm was the beginning of the destruction of His enemy. Satan fell from heaven like lighting! This almost gives me the imagery of Thor hitting someone with his hammer so hard that the opponent gets flung miles down the road. Satan is not completely destroyed yet and he can still be quite annoying in our lives, but the path of his destruction is set in motion.
Jesus continues in v.19, “Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you.” Now, if you take this literally and try this out, you will most-likely end up in an Emergency Room. The reason why you don’t want to try this is because A) the Bible says, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test,” and, more importantly, B) the snakes and scorpions refer to the spiritual enemies. Just like Satan appeared to Eve in the form of a serpent, these snakes and scorpions also refer to the demons of the spiritual realm. That’s why Jesus said, “I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy,” not the power of poisonous creatures. The reptile is not our enemy; Satan is. Jesus promises that his demons cannot harm us, but rather we can crush them with the power and authority of Jesus.
Church, this encouragement of Jesus to His disciples is an encouragement for us as well, who has the Spirit of God indwelling. There is nothing - no spirit of fear, no spirit of anxiety, no spirit of evil – that can withstand the power of our Lord Jesus. And with His Spirit in us, we are invincible with eternal life and powerful to do the works that Jesus did. In fact, we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
But before Jesus’s disciples got all puffed up for the powerful work that they did, Jesus gave them an important word of caution. In v. 20, he says, “But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” What is he saying when he says, “But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you?” He is telling His disciples not to get arrogant that the evil spirits obey them. Without the power and authority of Jesus, the disciples have nothing. So, in a word, Jesus is reminding them to be humble. There is nothing to brag about. We must be quick to confess what Apostle Paul confessed, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
So, Jesus tells his disciples not to get puffed up, but he does say, “Rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” In other words, He says to rejoice for fact that they are confirmed to be part of the Kingdom of God. The fact that the power of God was manifested in the disciples’ ministry confirmed that they were legitimate children of God, and that was something to rejoice over. This doesn’t mean that a person is not saved if he/she hasn’t performed a miracle, but it is saying that the miracle work is a confirmation to his/her faith. So, Jesus’s cautionary words to His disciples were this: Don’t be cocky when God works through you. Stay humble and just rejoice in the salvation you have in Christ.
This message is very important for us today. In an individualistic world that we live in, we can easy become self-reliant in God’s ministry and self-promoting when things happen to go well. Jesus is cautioning us not to be like that. The Pharisees were famous for self-reliance and self-promotion. They would attempt to perform all the religious duties out of self-reliance for salvation and expect honor and esteem from others out of self-promotion. Jesus hated that. Instead, His instruction for us was, “When you have done everything you were told to do, you should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” And when God works miracles through us, we must be quick to turn the attention to God and give Him the glory. Apostle Peter’s response to Cornelius should be that of ours as well. After the Pentecost, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit and did great wonders in his ministry. So, when Cornelius met Peter in Acts 10, Cornelius fell at Peter’s feet in reverence, but Peter made him get up and said, “Stand up. I am only a man myself.” The lesson for us is the same: be humble and stay humble, especially when God works through you in amazing ways.
In the following section of the passage, Jesus lifts up a prayer of thanksgiving to His Father. Let me just go over the first part of it. He prays in v.21, “O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Yes, Father, it pleased you to do it this way.” To be childlike doesn’t mean to be juvenile and immature, but means to be God-reliant, not self-reliant. It means to have faith in the power of God, not skeptical of His power. As it is written in Hebrews 11:6, “it is impossible to please God without faith.” In other words, faith is essential to please God. And, to have faith is to take risk and depend on God. That is a God-reliant mentality. And when we take that approach like a child, the work of God can be done through us.
Brothers and sisters, would you like to experience God’s power in your life? Would you like to be used by God to touch others’ lives in powerful ways? Then start by having a humble, God-reliant attitude. This afternoon, we’ll have our summer mission trip orientation, and the cost may be a little daunting, but again, have a God-reliant mindset. Fully trust that God can provide all your needs, and that He can powerfully bring about the good works He has planned for you and those you minister. It is my prayer that, as we humble ourselves and have a God-reliant mentality, God would bless us and bless others through us in unimaginable ways. And when God does some amazing work through us, I pray that we would be quick to say “To God be the glory!”
Pastor Daniel Kim