July 6, 2021 • Life for Leaders
Scripture – Luke 11:19-20 (NRSV)
“Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.”
When Jesus’s opponents accused him of doing miracles by the power of Satan, he responded by explaining that the finger of God was at work through him, and therefore the kingdom of God was present. Wherever God is at work – both in obvious miracles and in daily blessings and empowerments – God is ruling. We would do well to pay attention to how God’s “finger” is active in our lives, so that we might thank God and join in his work of healing, saving, restoring, and reconciling.
Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.
In the 1996 blockbuster film Twister, a group of storm chasers are explaining the measurement of the sizes of tornadoes to a novice. Referencing the Fujita scale, they talk about some impressive tornadoes they have witnessed, including F-2s, F-3s, and even F-4s. One of the storm chasers explains that an F-4 “will relocate your house efficiently.” The novice asks innocently, “Is there an F-5?” As chasers sit in reverent silence, the novice adds, “What would that be like?” One of the chasers answers, “The finger of God.” You don’t need to know anything about the background of that phrase, “the finger of God,” to get the sense of that comment. The finger of God represents something extraordinarily powerful, something that takes your breath away and could indeed take your life away.
The phrase “finger of God” has its beginning in Scripture. It occurs in the Old Testament account of the Exodus in a couple of places. The first occurrence comes during the third plague. Moses told Aaron to strike the ground with his staff. When this happened, “all the dust of the earth turned into gnats throughout the whole land of Egypt” (Exodus 8:17). Pharaoh’s magicians tried to produce gnats with their trickery, but were unable to do so. They explained to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” (Exodus 8:19). God’s finger has power far beyond anything else in the world. The second occurrence of the phrase “finger of God” comes in the description of God’s giving the law to Moses: “When God finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him two tablets of the covenant, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Exodus 31:18). In this case, God’s finger represents both power (to write in stone with a finger) and authority (to dictate the law).
With this background in mind, we pick up the story of Jesus in Luke 11. After he had cast a demon out of someone, his critics said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons” (11:15). Jesus responded by to this charge by noting that if demons are being cast out by the power of Satan, then Satan must be divided against himself, which makes no sense. Then Jesus added, “But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you” (11:20). Here, as in Exodus, the finger of God is God’s extraordinary, supernatural power.
What Jesus said about the finger of God is fascinating. Because he was casting out demons by God’s own power, “the kingdom of God has come to you.” This is an unusually strong statement by Jesus of the presence of God’s kingdom. In other contexts, Jesus said “the kingdom of God has come near” (Mark 1:15), with the sense that it is very close but not yet here. But Luke 11:20 uses a Greek verb that means “to arrive” or “to reach a position.” This verb is in the past tense (aorist). Thus, Jesus was saying that the kingdom of God had already arrived when he was casting out demons.
Remember that the phrase “kingdom of God” in the teaching of Jesus could easily be rendered as “reign of God” or “rule of God.” It points to God’s sovereign authority and power more than to the place in which God rules. Thus, when Jesus demonstrated the very power of God in his ministry, such as when casting out demons, indeed God had begun to rule. The kingdom was not fully present yet. That would come in the future. But it was truly present, even if not completely.
God’s finger is still at work today. Yes, we recognize the presence of God’s finger when God does exceptional miracles—healing bodies, casting out demons, and the like. But God’s finger usually moves in ways that are less dramatic, even though they are still workings of God’s power. When people who have been wronged choose to forgive, when divided groups act to reconcile, when the powerful lower themselves in order to raise up others, when people exhibit love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, we see evidence of God’s finger at work (Galatians 5:22-23).
So, you don’t have to wait around for an epic tornado or for a plague of gnats to witness the finger of God. Though God’s kingdom will come completely in the future, it is present now, especially when God’s people act in ways that demonstrate divine power, whether in casting out demons, binding up the brokenhearted, or loving enemies.
Can you think of a time (or times) in your life when you experienced God’s power in a particularly powerful and obvious way? What happened? How did you respond?
What does it mean to you to live right now under God’s authority and by God’s sovereign power?
Where do you see the finger of God at work in the world? In your workplace? In your family? In your neighborhood? In your city? In your church?
Set aside some time to reflect on that last question. You may even want to jot down in a journal ways in which God’s finger has been at work in your life.
Gracious God, thank you for exercising your power for our benefit. Thank you that your “finger” isn’t like a huge tornado, something from which we must flee for our lives. Thank you for using your power to help us, rather than to hurt us, to heal, rather than to wound.
God, I ask for your “finger” to be at work in my life, not just in the major miracles, but in my daily activity as I work, rest, learn, and play. May I be aware of what you are doing and how I can join you in your work.
All praise be to you, O God, for your awesome power and your amazing grace. Amen.
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Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: The Kingdom of God is Near!
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.