How to Rejoice

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : Luke 10:20

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 have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

Luke 10:17-20 RSV

Remember when Jesus sent out seventy of His followers, two by two? Here’s what happened when they came back. Listen. I’m reading from Luke 10, beginning at verse 17:

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 have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

There’s a message here about the highest kind of rejoicing, about the deepest basis for our joy. Jesus tells us how to be really glad.

REJOICING IN FRUITFUL SERVICE

The returning disciples were elated. With great excitement, they reported to the One who had sent them forth, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” They seemed, to some degree, surprised. Overjoyed at what had happened, they came back shaking their heads in wonder. Had they expected less? After all, wasn’t it the Lord who had sent them?

Anyone who has gone through a period of preparation for Christian service can identify with these disciples. They were men of faith. They had found new life in following Jesus. They knew of His power to encourage people, to set them free, to heal and to save. They had confidence in Him, their Master. But they weren’t so sure about themselves.

When I taught in our denominational seminary, I had a number of students like that. They were true believers, devout and dedicated. They had committed themselves to the service of Christ and the proclamation of His gospel. They knew beyond all doubting that He was the answer to the world’s need. But they didn’t know how effective they would be as His ambassadors.

I remember taking a group of them one winter to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. They were to become part of an evangelistic team, seeking to share the gospel of Christ with those who had come to the festivities. Some of my students for the first time in their lives were out on the streets passing out Christian literature, talking to people about Christ, inviting them to a coffee house where the gospel was being presented. And their labors were fruitful. They saw first-hand the power of the gospel in the lives of many at the Mardi Gras. And they were jubilant.

If you had asked them beforehand about the saving power of Christ, they would have affirmed it, every one. But now they were sure of it in a new way. They had seen the power of Christ working through them. They had seen how the gospel on their lips could touch the hearts of people, and they were celebrating.

Remember the teams that manned the Patriot missiles in the Gulf War? It was their crucial assignment to shoot down incoming Scud missiles. They knew going in that their equipment was designed to do that. They had practiced using it, times innumerable, on the test ranges. They had seen it work. But to intercept a real live incoming enemy missile, that was something else. But the equipment, in most instances, actually worked. The Patriots did what they were designed to do. And the crews afterwards were really fired up. There were “high fives” all around. They had discovered on the battle lines that what they were working with was indeed powerful and effective.

THE GLADNESS OF VICTORY

When the disciples returned with the news of their success, Jesus affirmed it. He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” What these followers of His had seen in their encounters with the powers of evil was a sign of something immeasurably bigger. When the demons were subject to them by the name of Jesus, it meant that the entire kingdom of darkness was going down to defeat. Jesus, remember, when He came to be our Savior, had entered enemy-occupied territory. Because of our rebellion against God and our estrangement from Him, we human beings had become enslaved to alien powers. We were serving false lords. We were in the grip of sin and Satan. When Jesus came as our rightful king to set us free, that meant binding “the strong man,” as He said, and releasing his captives. It meant conflict with entrenched forces of evil.

In His temptations, Jesus had repulsed every advance of the foe. His casting out of demons was also a sign that the kingdom of God had broken into history with power. And now as the demons were subject to the disciples, who went forth in His name, Jesus saw fresh evidence that the dominion of darkness was being overcome. In a vision of faith, He saw Satan falling like lightning from heaven.

The warfare wasn’t over yet. Jesus would still have to walk the way of suffering and rejection. The hosts of darkness would have their hour, as He said, and bring Him to His death. But all the designs of the powers of evil would be foiled in the resurrection. So in the life and ministry, the death and rising of Jesus, the issue of a vast conflict was being decided. The disciples could know that they were on the victory side.

Jesus gave them this assurance for the future: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you.” They would be more than conquerors through the One who loved them. By the name of Jesus, they would be able to overcome every malignant power. They would prevail over the enemy. And although they would be persecuted, sometimes even tortured and killed, nothing could finally defeat them or tear them from the Lord’s keeping hand.

That’s vital for us to know who in our time seek to serve Christ and proclaim His gospel. The world is not friendly to the lordship of Christ and His exclusive claim to be Son of God and Savior of the world. Powerful forces in our time conspire to resist the preaching of the gospel and the advancement of God’s kingdom. But believers need to know that the decisive battle has already been won. Although enemy resistance is fierce, these are only “mopping-up operations,” as it were. Ultimate victory is absolutely certain. That’s why in the midst of the battle we don’t lose heart. Our Commander and our cause cannot ultimately be defeated. We don’t need to worry about our success. Our labor cannot be in vain in the Lord. And we don’t need to fear for our security either. We are “immortal” until our work is done.

THE BEST CELEBRATION

Now comes the word about our best rejoicing. “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Jesus is not saying here that they shouldn’t be glad over what has just happened. He’s not pouring cold water on their excitement. He’s saying, rather, “Don’t keep on rejoicing in this [it’s the present tense]. Don’t make this your constant source of joy. You have even greater reason to be jubilant.” Successful service will always give us deep satisfaction, and to see God’s cause and kingdom prevail through us will always bring joy to our hearts. But there’s something more wonderful ahead, Jesus says. “Rejoice that your names are written [are engraved] in heaven.”

I’ve been pondering what that means, that our names are written in heaven. It was the custom in ancient times that when a baby was born in a given town or city, the child’s name was formally recorded in the public register. For those who believe in Him, says Jesus, something like that happens in the heavenly city.

That must mean, at least, that we are known there. At our local congregation in Michigan, we have an unusually gifted and dedicated minister of music. He has had phenomenal success in organizing choirs of all ages within the congregation. His singing groups of children may number 50, 60, or 70 in each group. He has a special knack for communicating with children and giving them a love for music. They thrill at being a part of his choirs. And a large part of this man’s remarkable spell with children is the personal interest he shows for each child. They often say about him in happy wonderment, “He knows my name!”

That makes any of us feel good, doesn’t it? Our identity is affirmed. We feel ourselves to be significant persons. Someone important to us knows our name. Think of it. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, your name is known among the hosts of heaven. That’s something to celebrate.

Yes, and loved, as well as known. That’s what every human heart yearns for. What do our successes mean, or the little victories we may win, if there’s no one to share them with who really cares.

Maybe you felt with me the poignancy of that when some of the U.S. forces returned after the Gulf War. For the allies, it had been a remarkable victory. The troops returned amid cheers and were greeted by parades. But some who came back found that things had not gone well at home. A sweetheart had taken another lover. A marriage had been torn apart by divorce. A home had broken up. Somehow success and victory seem hollow when there are no faithful, loving hearts waiting for us at home.

To have your name written in heaven means that God has set His love upon you. He has given His Son for your sake. Your name is not simply on a list somewhere. It’s written on His heart. He cares for you, and nothing will ever separate you from His love. Oh, rejoice in that!

You see, if your name is written in heaven, it means that you’re known there, you’re loved there and that you belong. Have you ever gone to a special conference that you had been keenly anticipating? You’ve been invited to come. You’ve registered in advance, and now the time has arrived. You’re standing in line to get a packet of materials that will tell you about all the good things in store and will provide you with tickets perhaps for special events and meals. You’re finally at the head of the line and you give your name.

But there’s been a mistake, let’s say, a kind of computer glitch. The lady at the desk says politely, “I’m sorry. I don’t have your name.” You wince with anxiety. Your spirits sag. What can have gone wrong?

There’s a flurry of activity now. They’re checking all the records while you stand waiting. After some delay, the lady returns and says with a smile, “I’m so sorry, Mr. So and So, your registration was somehow misplaced. Now we have your name and everything is in order.” You breathe a sigh of relief. All the uncertainty is gone now. You belong.

The Bible says a good deal about some kind of book in heaven on which names are recorded. Sometimes it’s called “the Book of Life” or “the Lamb’s Book of Life.” Sometimes God calls it His Book. Once your name is written there, you’ll never be turned away. There’s a room, a place reserved for you. When your warfare here is over, when you’ve breathed your last, when you’ve said good-by to life, it will be like a coming home. And there will be no confusion about it, no clerical error, no misspellings. You’ll be welcome in the Father’s house. You’ll belong there, known, loved and welcome.

The apostle Paul once told his friends that he didn’t want to lord it over their faith, but to be a helper of their joy. That’s a role I covet as I speak to you today. I would love to enhance, to help, your joy. I’d like to bring you the Lord’s word that He has won a great victory in His life, death and resurrection, and that His kingdom of love and justice will finally prevail. I’d like to assure you that any effort you put forth in His service and any witness you bear to His name can never be for naught. And I hope you will celebrate that assurance, even in the midst of the battle.

But I hope you’ll remember that your ultimate joy is in the Lord Himself, in the fact that through Christ you are known by Him, loved by Him, and will always belong. That’s not true of you because you were born into a certain family or because you’ve had a good record. It’s a gift of God’s grace through Christ. It becomes real for you when you simply acknowledge your sin and need, when you call upon Jesus as your Savior, and commit yourself to His lordship. Then you can know beyond all doubting that your name is written in heaven, as the hymn says, “On the page white and fair.” And that’s enough to make anyone deeply glad!

Prayer: Father, may every person sharing this broadcast today so trust in Jesus Christ, so commit themselves to You, that they may know that their names are written in heaven, that they are known there, loved and that they belong. In Jesus’ name. Amen.