1After this the Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. 2He said to them, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. 3Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. 4Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.5Whatever house you enter, first say, 'Peace to this house!' 6And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. 7Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. 8Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; 9cure the sick who are there, and say to them, 'The kingdom of God has come near to you.' 10But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11'Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.' 12I tell you, on that day it will be more tolerable for Sodom than for that town.
13"Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14But at the judgment it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon than for you. 15And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades.
16"Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me, and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me."
The devotionals for this week will be good. I'm not promising anything but looking ahead at the passages in Luke the topics invite good meditation and reflection.
I will come back tomorrow with comments about the seventy (or seventy-two) sent out to heal, deliver, and preach.
For today, I want to talk about what's underlined in verse 13, "For if the deeds of power done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes." Basically Jesus rebukes two Jewish villages, Chorazin and Bethsaida in Galilee, which resisted Jesus' proclamation and demonstration of the good news of God's Kingdom. He says that had Tyre and Sidon, two pagan cities (now in Lebanon), witnessed what Chorazin and Bethsaida witnessed, they would have responded far differently by repenting.
Now did Jesus say this loosely, much like a dad would say to his kids, "Had Tommy and Jimmy gotten all those gifts I gave you, they would have been most appreciative. But you, Johnny, you are a little ingrate." The dad in this scene does not truly know how Tommy and Jimmy would have responded. He is merely guessing that Tommy and Jimmy would have responded differently. So, when Jesus said those things about Chorazin and Bethsaida, did Jesus say this loosely? Of did He say those things more strictly, that is, with a confident knowledge that Chorazin and Bethsaida would have in fact responded differently by repenting?
A 16th century Jesuit, Luis de Molina, took such statements by Jesus as evidence of God's "middle" knowledge. God has all sorts of knowledge which we can classify: (1) God's knowledge of necessary truths, including all logical possibilities. We can call this His natural knowledge, (2) God's knowledge of His own decisions and actions. We can call this His free knowledge, and (3) God's middle knowledge which includes counterfactuals. A counterfactual is a subjunctive conditional statement containing an if-clause which is contrary to fact. Example: "If the Nationals won the series against the Giants in the NLDS, the Nationals would have gone on to beat the Cardinals in the NLCS." Another example: "If Elvis did not record "That's All Right (Mama)" at Sun Studios under Sam Phillips, Elvis never would have become famous." Last example: "If JW never married Esther, JW would have become a much lonelier man." (Sorry, JW. If I had said someone else, they would have been much more sensitive.)
Why is this devotional about God's middle knowledge and counterfactuals? Molinists (those who follow Molina) believe that we can reconcile God's providence with human free will. Using His middle knowledge, God places us in situations where we would freely choose one course of action rather than another. God's knowledge of our strengths, weaknesses, and propensities inform Him about how we would respond in a given context. Therefore God exercises His providence without tramping on our free will.
If Molinists are correct, then we are offered an appealing picture of how the Providence of God and Human Free Will can be made compatible. (Then again, for those pessimists, they would complain that God in fact does not place us in the right contexts since so many people choose wrongly or are not happy. If God had made me taller and more handsome, then I would have been more happy.... If God had given me a better family, I would have been less miserable .... If God had me marry so-and-so, I would have been better off ... And so on.)
The middle knowledge of God makes sense. We ourselves operate with this type of middle knowledge or middle educated guess. As parents, we are confident about how our kids would respond in certain situations. We know if we take our dog-loving kids to the dog kennel, the kids would ask for a dog. We know if we take our shy kids to a new place with new people, our kids will feel anxious. Etc.
God knows every facet of our being. Everything good, everything evil; everything strong, everything weak. That's why we can be sure that God is molding and shaping us through different contexts. Some contexts encourage us. Some contexts discourage us but we learn to pray and lean on Him. Some contexts stretch our ability to endure or overcome. Some contexts clearly reveal our blind spots and weaknesses. Some contexts clearly show the grace of God at work in our lives.
More than anything, God's middle knowledge encourages us to trust in His sovereign ability to place us in places and situations where we can look to Him. As 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us:
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
So no matter our situations in life, God knows who we are and how we are. In every situation there is "a way out." There is a God-ordained way to honor Him, to help ourselves, and to help others. Let's be reminded of God's middle knowledge for our comfort and assurance today.
Let's pray: Father God, we thank you that we can trust you in every situation in life. No context is foreign to you. No response on our part surprises you. You know the number of hair follicles on our head (and some of us are losing a few every year). You know our strengths and our weaknesses. You know what encourages and inspires us. You know what we need to grow in You and to thrive in You. So today, we look to you in your goodness and love and in your middle knowledge, that give us deep assurance of your wisdom, power, and love. In Jesus' Name, Amen.