Don't Tread On Me
"Don't Tread on Me" is a motto from the Revolutionary War. It was on the flag made or maybe promoted by Christopher Gadsden, a politician and patriot from South Carolina. In August 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said it could be as racist as the Confederate Flag (www.miamiherald.com/opinion/op-ed/article94090357html). It could also be poor theology.
Our text teaches that you do tread on evil angels and good angels too for that matter. Read the account of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed in Genesis 19. See what a putz Lot is in dealing with the 2 angels sent by God to rescue his family from the impending doom. See how Lot dithers and delays. In exasperation, one angel finally agrees to Lot's preferred place of refuge saying, "But flee there quickly, because I cannot do anything until you reach it" (Gen. 19:22). Think it's a fluke that a holy angel, a good angel, is subject to a sinful man? No, Heb. 1:14 agrees when it asks the rhetorical question: "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" Sinners inherit salvation. The angels are sent to minister to us. Even after the Fall angels are ministers to us, and in heaven, we don't become angels but judge angels. That's what Paul says to the benighted Corinthians, once again in a rhetorical question: "Do you not know that we will judge angels" (1 Cor. 6:3)?
All this is about good angels. In Christ you tread on them in the sense of walk on. With evil angels, you tread on them in the sense of trample. In our text, Jesus says, "Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy." This goes back to Psalm 91 where we find out this power to trample on all the things of Satan is connected to the ministry of good angels: "For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the serpent shalt thou trample under feet" (11-13).
Jesus specifically gave the authority over demons to the apostles when He sent them out in Luke 9: "When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons" (1). Our text from Luke 10 is about the first pastors. They were sent "as lambs among wolves" to say, "Peace be to this house" with the promise that they would be provided for and that those who rejected them would be judged. Nothing was mentioned about them having power over demons. They came back with surprised joy saying, "Lord, even the demons submit to us in Your name." The greatest thing about their first Gospel preaching was that demons were subject to them in Jesus' name. But that's like being excited about pavement in heaven. You know the joke? A rich man decided he would take it with him, so he has his coffin packed with gold. When he gets to heaven where Rev. 21:21 says the street of the city is pure gold, St. Peter says, "Why'd you bring all this pavement with you?"
Demons being subject to you is a "duh" when you're talking about Jesus' name. Already in the OT we heard that He gives His angels charge over you so you can trample over the Serpent and his minions. In Job 1 and 2, Satan is on the Lord's leash. Read what Jude 9 has to say based on an OT event. He says that even the archangel Michael did not dare to condemn the devil but said, "The Lord rebuke you!" Look how the NT relates the submitting of demons not to some power in you but to you to submitting to God. James 4:7 says, "Submit yourselves to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you." And John tells you that you have overcome all the evil spirits in the world because "You are from God andgreater is He who is in you than he who is in the world" (1 Jn. 4:4).
Jesus responds to their joy at the demons being subject to them in His name with, "I was watching Satan fall from heaven like lightening." Some think that's a warning that they were in danger of falling into Satan's sin. Paul tells Pastor Timothy not to make a new convert a pastor saying "lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation of the devil" (1 Tim. 3:6). A warning here would be in keeping with the way of Jesus. When His disciples get overjoyed with success, Jesus pops their bubble time and again. There is danger in reading your own press clippings; there is danger in being overjoyed at success even if it's in Jesus' name. Being surprised that "even demons are subject to us in Jesus name,", is like being surprised that "Even sins are forgiven in Jesus' name." Duh? The purpose of Jesus' name being given to us was for forgiving our sins, giving us life everlasting, and rescuing us from death and the devil.
Remember these aren't run of the mill followers of Jesus. Sure, they're not the 12 apostles, but they are the first pastors. They are the one's Jesus sent out saying, "He who listens to you listens to Me; He who rejects you rejects Me;" (Lk. 10:16). And these come back thrilled that in His name demons are submitting to them? So? What's wrong with that? Instead of dwelling on all that Jesus suffered and endured so that His name might be salvation, power, life, and forgiveness to sinners, they dwell on the power of Jesus' name over demons. They are in danger of being like the 7 sons of Sceva, who, so impressed by what Paul did with Jesus' name, tried casting out demons saying, "I command you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches to come out!" I won't go into details but that led to those 7 Jewish exorcists running for their lives naked and wounded. Read about it yourself (Acts 19:11-20).
These didn't really know the name of Jesus. They didn't know that perfect Jesus was subjected to fleeing for His life as a Baby from the murderous King Herod acting on behalf of his father the Devil, a murderer from the beginning. They didn't know Jesus' name is saving to all who give into temptation because Jesus endured being tempted in all the ways we are yet was without sin. That's too abstract. Read the accounts of Jesus' temptation by Satan in person. Then you'll know. Luke says Jesus was tempted under him. You just feel like the Devil is sitting on your head, heart, or conscience. He really was on top of Jesus with all His weight, guilt, and might. You just think Satan leads you around by the nose enticing you to every sin imaginable. Jesus allowed Himself to be led around that way. Satan took Him to the most exalted place in the world and to the holiest place even as Scrooge was led around by the spirits that plagued him. Finally, on that dark night in Gethsemane the Father betrayed His holy Son over to the powers of darkness but only after sending an angel to strengthen the Man Jesus to endure all the punishments our sins deserve.
All of this happened for what? To record your name in heaven. Again, that's too tepid. The word can mean record, but it's first meaning is engrave, inscribe. What is engraved, what is inscribed, is carved, etched, it's not on the surface but it's in it. And 2 things about this etching. It's a Greek passive and a Greek perfect. That means the etching is done by someone else not you and it's done now and forever. And it's not too much of a stretch to say that Jesus does the inscribing because His hands were engraved on the cross. Read Isaiah 49:14-16: "But Zion said, The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.' "Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of My hands." See the nail-pierced hands of Jesus dripping blood into the dirt. As they do they're spelling your name in heaven.
This is the object of your rejoicing says Jesus. Not that the evil angels are subject to you or even that the good ones are. That's like rejoicing in having pavement in a world covered with it. And Jesus is firm here. He says stop doing that, and make it your policy from now on to rejoice in your name being engraved in heaven. Because the latter is true, because your name has forever been written in heaven, all the power of the evil one arrayed against you be it by disease, worry, fear, politics won't tread on you. Actually, what does Jesus promise in our text? "Nothing will injure you." Again, the Greek is strong: "nothing in no way will injure you." That right there is crazy talk. Every single one of these 72 suffered and died and I would think more than a few in a brutal way. So, what's this promise of Jesus that "Nothing will in no way injure" them? Nothing, erases their inscribed name from heaven. Nothing eternally injures them. They, with Paul, are to count their sufferings here as light and momentary (2 Cor. 4:17) and as incomparable to the glory that will be revealed in them (Rom. 8:18).
Remember the promise of Psalm 91: you will tread on the lion and the cobra and the great lion and the serpent through the ministry of angels that you have for the Jesus' sake? That ministry is vouchsafed to you because the Promised One has come and trampled the Devil's head. Remember the first Gospel Promise? The Promised Seed of the Women would crush, would trample, the head of the serpent (Gn. 3:15). That has happened. As with any snake, when you crush it's head the body whips, thrashes, coils and uncoils looking still very much alive. But it's good and dead. He's judged the deed is done. So, the Covid-19, the political unrest, the weather threats, the fires burning are the Devil's thrashing and whipping in his death agony. And no matter how much he does it, he'll never wipe your name out of heaven.
Let me leave you with 2 pictures: one from Scripture and one from Luther. Remember while Jacob slept his exhausted sleep after a day spent fleeing from his murderous brother that the Lord sent His angels to ascend and descend right where he slept? Here's Luther, "'The dear angels sit in front of my bed and say to the devil: Let sleep come to [him] me'" (Peters, Confess. & Christ. Life, 246). So, the evil angels don't tread on us we tread on them, but the good angels are always treading about us even when we sleep, even when we can't. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
St. Michael and All Angels Observed (20200927); Luke 10:17-20