Spiritual warfare

When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”
“Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning! 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. But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.” Luke 10:17-20 NLT

The disciples have returned from their second mission trip. They are excited at the results. Despite the failures of their first trip (see Luke chapter 9), they did not give in to despondency but went out again in response to Jesus’ instructions. They obeyed him, they persevered. The result? “Even the demons obey us when we use your name!”

There are a few things that stand out in this debriefing with Jesus, a few things to learn. Most of all I am impressed by the disciples willingness to enter into the spiritual battle, given their previous failure. I think I would have been extremely reluctant. They barely knew what spiritual warfare was all about, but they had seen Jesus successfully engage with demonic powers, so they knew that deliverance was possible. Reluctantly or not, they responded to his challenge to go and do likewise.

The obstacles for us to engage in this kind of activity are different? We live in a world where it is easy to ignore the deeper, spiritual reality that lies behind what we see and feel. One of the devil’s most successful strategies down through the ages, and now more than ever, has been to convince people that he does not exist, that talk of demons and angels and a world beyond, is all superstitious nonsense. This passage reminds us that for Jesus the spiritual world was as real as the physical world, and that confrontation of Satan and his demons was to him an important aspect of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth.

This kind of talk is foreign to the modern ear. We live in the “scientific age” – which promotes a worldview that tends to ignore, or even deny, the spiritual, because it is difficult to observe, measure or analyse. Because the whole scientific method relies on the existence of observed laws of nature, anything outside of that system, that is, anything supernatural, is deemed untrue, unreal, fantasy.

But just because something is supernatural does not mean it is untrue. It is hard to understand where this idea has come from, that natural is true and supernatural is false, that natural is real but supernatural is fantasy. Surely the two systems exist side by side, the natural and the supernatural. For Jesus the spiritual reality was as ordinary and every day as the physical reality. He spoke about Satan rebelling against God and falling for heaven the way you or I talk about the weather. It was simply an historical event for him, one that had dire consequences for the world, an event that should not be ignored. Indeed, as far as Jesus was concerned, addressing the consequences of the fall of Satan was an essential part of his mission. If we are followers of Jesus, this battle in the spiritual realms should be one of our chief concerns.

One senses from this short passage in Luke’s gospel that just as there are natural laws, there are supernatural laws. If we want to successfully engage demonic powers, certain principles must be followed. First and foremost is the need to “use the name of Jesus” when spiritual powers – demons – are engaged. Many have wondered what this means, but perhaps it can suffice to say now that an important part of confronting evil in the world is the words we use. Words are important because of what they mean. Jesus is called The Word of God. In this Word of God – Jesus the person – there is supernatural power. Does that mean that the word Jesus is magical? I don’t think so, at least not in the sense of spells and incantations. It is less mystical than that. It is simply that when we name Jesus in our efforts we are representing him, we are speaking on his behalf, we are speaking in his authority.

Perhaps this was the secret that the disciples needed to learn before they could successfully confront evil. They had failed to cast out a demon in their first mission trip. Perhaps that was because they had attempted to do so in their own name, their own authority, their own strength. That was a mistake. The demons took no notice. But when they came against them in the name and authority of Jesus, the demonic powers trembled and fled. The disciples were amazed and excited. The power of Jesus was being channelled through them.

There is much more that can be said about the “laws” or principles of spiritual warfare, but no more are mentioned here. Jesus is concerned for something much more important than the his power channelled through his disciples. He is concerned that their new found power might go to their heads, might become the focus. But for him, his power has never been the focus. His attention, his passion, is always for relationship, rather than power, friendship with individual human beings. That is why he came and that is the ultimate triumph of his life and ministry – the restoration of relationship between God and humanity, the jewel of his creation.

So he says simply, don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven. That’s the important thing, and that is the thing to get excited about. God is ultimately a relationship orientated God. Tasks are important, the mission is vital, building the kingdom on earth is a worthy cause to give your life to. But the purpose of it all is relationship with God, which is what heaven is all about. That is the greatest reason for rejoicing that there is.

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