Serpents and Scorpions

by Michael E. Brooks

“Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.’ And he said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven'” (Luke 10:17-20).

On one of my first visits to the eastern Terai (plains area) of Nepal, my host warned me about going outside at night. I must be careful, he said, because there were many cobras in the area and they were particularly active (and dangerous) at night.
Recently I visited the Ek Na Katarung Church in the Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. While the local preacher was introducing me, my wife pointed to the wall just behind his head where a very large spider was resting. In a picture she took it appears to be only inches behind him.
Sometimes I think it would be wonderful to have the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions like that which Jesus granted the seventy. It might prove a very useful gift for preaching in remote areas today, just as it was in theirs. Though it is certain that his emphasis in this saying is on their ability to overcome spiritual enemies, there are times when both temporal and spiritual powers threaten us.
Although we do not possess the same miraculous spiritual gifts in our age as those given in New Testament times, Jesus’ promise does have practical modern application to us, just as it did to them. At the very least we learn two important lessons from this text.
First, God gives us the abilities, resources and opportunities to do incredible things. Whereas we may not perform miracles, we can save souls with the power of the gospel (Romans 1:16), bring joy and comfort through ministering to those in need (James 1:27), and overcome Satan’s temptations by following the teaching of Scripture (Ephesians 6:12-17).
Additionally, we glorify God and proclaim his wisdom as we serve him and do good works (Ephesians 3:10-11; 1 Peter 2:12). Every believer is gifted to serve God in various ways (Romans 12:3-8) and by those gifts is enabled to live with great power (Philippians 4:13).
The second lesson is that no matter how much we are able to do for God, we are far more blessed by what God does for us. Unfortunately, many in religious circles seem to feel that what they do is what brings glory and honor. They extol their own spirituality, their generous gifts, their great Bible knowledge, or their regular attendance of worship assemblies.
We are reminded of the Pharisees in the New Testament whose prayers and alms were done that men might admire them, not so that God would be honored.
Jesus told the seventy to rejoice because their names were written in Heaven. That is, to rejoice because of what God had done for them, rather than because of what they were doing for God. We must learn the same attitude. It is not what we do that assures our salvation, or that of others; it is what God has done through Jesus Christ.
This does not deny the importance of trusting obedience. Salvation is conditional. What we do matters.
But no matter how much we do, we cannot earn salvation. We must depend upon God’s loving grace. Let us always rejoice that God loves us, and let our work for him be done in gratitude and praise, always honoring him in every way.

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