18He said to them, “I watched Satan fall from heaven like a flash of lightning.”
A Greek verb can tell you whether an action is simple and complete or ongoing. In English we would distinguish between “I played baseball” and “I was playing baseball.”
Jesus was watching Satan falling.
That’s how the Greek should be translated.
Jesus is not talking about something he had seen in the primordial ages when the devil rebelled against God and rent the forces of heaven (an idea that doesn’t come to us from Scripture but from later tradition and interpretation). Jesus is talking about what was happening as his followers went to their towns and villages and announced the dawning reign of God. Where people were touched by the grace of God, where sins were forgiven and outcasts welcomed, where hearts and lives were healed, where the peace of God was extended, Satan’s dominion fell. Like lightening splitting the sky, the gates of hell were cracking and Satan’s hold on human life was being broken.
Where the grace of God in Christ Jesus is proclaimed, the hold of guilt and sorrow and anger and bitterness and all that binds the human heart is thrown back. Where the compassion and love of God is lived and proclaimed the curtains are thrown open and light shines in. The bitter cold of winter yields to the sun rising ever higher in the sky. The crocus blooms. The trees leaf. The birds return. Frogs and crickets and creatures of every kind sing their song. Life is restored.
The mission of the church is not to make believers (that’s the work of the Holy Spirit). The mission of the followers of Jesus is to carry God’s grace and life to every town and village where Jesus is about to go. We declare the drawing near of God – drawing near to heal and free and renew. We point to the dawn of healing and hope. We declare the promise that the grave is empty and the world belongs to life not death. We are royal heralds proclaiming with joy that the “king” at his “ascension” has forgiven every debt.
In our proclamation, in our service, in our witness to the mercy of God, the Holy Spirit will work its work creating faith (trust in God’s goodness) and giving birth to lives that are themselves shaped by the Spirit of God.
Our job, our privilege, is not to “bring people to Jesus”, but to bring Jesus to people – to embody the grace and life we have known – and to speak the word of hope that the world belongs to the creator not the destroyer, to the one who unites not the one who divides, to the one who frees not the one who enslaves. We belong to joy.
“I was watching Satan falling.”