What joy fuels you for the Christian life? What joy fuels you for the gospel mission? We can be driven by the promise of things that are big and bold and spiritually adventurous, thinking they will give us joy. In the following passage, Jesus helps us see that it is the simple, yet important, things that bring us joy for the Christian life and the gospel mission.
17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”
18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. 20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.
22 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
23 Then he turned to his disciples and said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”
At the beginning of Luke Chapter 10, Jesus
sends out seventy-two people as “labourers in the harvest”, that is, workers
for the gospel! When the seventy-two labourers return in verse 17 they are
joyful because demons have submitted to them in Jesus’ name. They have joy
because they’ve been able to do something supernaturally amazing! This has
helped fuel them on their mission.
Sometimes we are enamoured or transfixed by the supernaturally amazing too. From the head-spinning scene in the movie The Exorcist (1973) to the mobile phone exorcisms of the Winchester brothers in the TV series Supernatural, popular culture holds those who “the demons submit to” in mystery and reverence. There can be curiosity in the strange, excitement in the danger, and pleasure in the prestige that are seductive and promise us joy.
Yet Jesus disagrees. He acknowledges that the seventy-two labourers had been given great authority, but encourages them to rejoice because “their names are written in heaven”. If I was one of the seventy-two labourers I would have been a bit confused. How could having my name scribbled in the heavenly notebook be better than putting malevolent demons in their place? Wouldn’t something big and bold and spiritually adventurous help me be captured by the gospel vision more than something small and simple and given? Yet it is the simpler thing here that Jesus says is more important.
Jesus has defeated all spiritual powers by
his death on the cross. Paul writes in the letter to the Colossian church that,
“having disarmed the powers and
authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). In the
department of the supernaturally amazing, Jesus trumps everything. There can
never be anything more exciting than that.
Additionally, when our names are “written in heaven”, we have been received into something that is far greater than the mystery or excitement of demon submission. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has painted a larger backdrop to Jesus’ statement: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:22-24).
To have our names written in heaven is to be with God on the last day! Having this assured hope for the future can give us joy to fuel our Christian life now. Having this knowledge now can fuel our gospel mission until the last day. And on that last day, it’s not those who the demons submit to who are saved from the lake of fire, but those whose names are “written in the book of life” (Revelation 20:15).
Head: What material things promise you greater joy than the cross of Christ? What things distract you from being Jesus’ labourer for the harvest? Specifically identify them. Compare them to the cross of Christ and its effects. Remind yourself why the cross of Christ brings more joy.
Heart: Read over Hebrews 12:18-29. Imagine what this kingdom is like. What aspect sparks most joy for you? Paint a picture or create a Wordle that helps you visualise this kingdom. Meditate on the Hebrews 12 passage using your creation.
Hands: By faith, our names are written in heaven. But we all know people whose names are not. Write down a couple of those names. Pray that the joy of having your name written in heaven will fuel a passion to see those names written in heaven. Can you share with these names why the cross of Christ brings you greater joy than those material things? Can you share with these names how you’ve been captured by the heavenly kingdom?
Prayer: Living God, Judge of all, thank you for the way you triumphed over the powers and authorities through Jesus’ blood shed on the cross. Help me to remember the power of your death. Fill my thoughts with the vision of the heavenly kingdom. May I long for this every day! Thank you for writing my name in heaven. Give me passion to see other names written in heaven. May you bring that last day soon, so I can be with you. In Jesus’ mighty name, Amen.
A song to listen to: “Rejoice” by The Modern Post (‘The Water & The Blood’ album)
Reuben Birchley – Living Church Creek Road