The Best Rejoicing
I wonder what it is that gives you the greatest happiness. Maybe it’s one of the following:
A great family get-together that goes well with nobody falling out with anyone else
The success of your team in the tournament
A lovely holiday
A great meal out
A new job or promotion
Longed-for exam results
We could easily add to that list but there are enough items there to show us I think that there are many different legitimate pleasures that bring us pleasure and give us joy.
But what is the best of all?
The Seventy (Two) Return
That large group of 70/72 of Jesus’ followers have completed the mission that Jesus had entrusted to them and now they have returned with some glowing reports of just what had taken place.
We don’t know how long the mission had taken them and we don’t know how they had been received and neither do we know where they met up with Jesus again but we do know that they were in good spirits – they were rejoicing.
The reason they were bubbling over with joy was because of what they had been able to do in carrying out their mission. Jesus had sent them to heal the sick and to pass on a message and when they went they found that they even had had the ability to cast out demons and they were ecstatic about it.
In their joy they did however remember to give credit to where the credit was due – they knew that the power and authority to do what they had done was not somehow their own but they had received it from Jesus – the demons had been subject to them, yes, but in Jesus’ name!
Jesus had sent them out on their mission and had equipped them for the task. The gifts they had received including this authority to exorcise demons was to be used only in the accomplishment of that mission; it was not a power to be used to promote their own personal interests.
We would do well to remember too that any successes we might enjoy on the spiritual front are also to be attributed to our Lord Jesus for apart from him we can do nothing but with him we are often enabled to do exploits. We too must remember not to abuse our privileges and pursue our own selfish interests.
But those are not the only things for us to learn from this little episode. When we consider Jesus’ response to his excited followers there is much more for us to understand.
Jesus’ Power and Authority
Our attention is immediately drawn to Jesus’ power and authority by the report his followers joyfully bring back:
v.17 "even the demons are subject to us in your name"
The way in which Jesus responded to this shows that he wasn’t the least bit surprised – he knew all about his power and authority and he knew it was operative in the spiritual realms.
Sometimes people try to dismiss Bible accounts of demon-possession suggesting that such accounts are nothing more than a naive approach to matters of mental illness that were not well medically understood in those days.
Doctor Luke, however, in his gospel narrative regularly distinguished between sickness and demon-possession and Jesus had no problem at all believing in the reality of Satan, nor of his lesser allies the evil spirits and demons.
When the 70/72 returned to Jesus with their impressive report he debriefed them and confirmed the validity of their interpretation of what has happened. He placed their experience within the wider picture of his own victorious battle with Satan.
Why I am drawing your attention to this? Because there is an evil spiritual world that really does exist – Jesus knew all about it. But there is no need for any of us to panic because Jesus was and is in charge – his power and his authority are far superior to anything the devil might try to use. What an encouragement that should be to us all:
if you’ve already put your trust in the Lord Jesus you’re in safe hands!
if you’re not yet a Christian then know that Jesus has the power and authority to save you!
This superior power of the Lord Jesus is a recurring theme through the NT.
Jesus came into the world in order to destroy the works of the devil (1Jn.3:8). This destruction was carried out in two main ways:
Through Jesus’ own direct ministry:
Jn.12:31-32 "Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."
(There is a specific reference here to the means par excellence whereby Satan is destroyed – by Jesus’ death upon the cross of Calvary.)
Through the ministry of his followers operating in his name (as here).
Satan’s destruction is variously described in the NT:
He falls from heaven (that is, from the height of his power). This fall referred to here by Jesus is seen as sudden and startling – it comes out of the blue as it were like lightening.
He is ejected or cast out
He is the strong man who is bound so that his house may be plundered
In responding to his followers Jesus did not for one moment dispute the way in which his followers had interpreted the events they had been involved in. They had cast out demons in Jesus’ name and this was, to Jesus, a demonstration of Satan’s fall and defeat.
Having thus affirmed his followers and given them a broader context in which to understand their spiritual successes, Jesus went on to describe more fully the authority that he has granted to them.
Jesus’ grants and promises
v.19 "Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you."
We should not get bogged down with a narrow literal interpretation of Jesus’ words and miss Jesus’ point. Here he declared that absolutely nothing that the enemy of our souls can do to us will prove to be ultimately effective against us!
There is no example in the NT of Jesus’ disciples actually treading on serpents or scorpions but the language is used in a figurative manner to affirm that victory and protection is the Christian’s lot.
Now at this point we could cause ourselves serious problems. If we read this verse in isolation from everything else that Jesus taught we might take such a promise and treat it as an absolute declaration. Were we to do that we would put ourselves on a slippery slope, our dangers will be compounded if we then assume that it is obvious what "nothing shall hurt you" means. Because we will in all probability begin to think about our physical and material, ease and comfort. That’s just the way we tick.
However if that is what Jesus meant he would have been promising every Christian a carefree and trouble free life and if he had promised that then his promise has been a manifest failure.
But are we obliged to interpret Jesus’ words as making that sort of all-encompassing promise?
If we were to interpret him that way we would be forced not only to say that his promise has failed but also that he has been inconsistent in what he said.
He who was to suffer so greatly warned his followers that similar treatment awaited them too:
Jn.15:20 "Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours."
Jesus spoke to his followers about the cost of discipleship making it very clear that being a disciple meant taking up one’s cross on a daily basis.
After his resurrection Jesus met with the apostle Peter who had so dismally denied even knowing Jesus. Jesus reinstated him and then proceeded to tell him what lay in store for him as a disciple:
Jn.21:18-19 "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.) And after saying this he said to him, "Follow me.""
After Jesus met Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road he sent Ananias to Paul to help him. Understandably Ananias was reluctant – after all Saul had been set on persecuting Christians! Jesus explained a little further to Ananias referring to Saul as his "chosen instrument", a chosen instrument who would notwithstanding have to "suffer for the sake of the name" (Acts.9:15-16). Saul, writing later as Paul the apostle, could list those sufferings:
2Cor.11:23-27 "imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure."
So the guarantee of safety and of protection from hurt that Jesus promised here must mean something other than a promise of a comfortable bed of roses. So what did he mean? The apostle Paul again gives us the insight we need in his letter to the Romans:
Rom.8:28, 38-39 "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose... For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."
Our treasure has never been meant to be laid up here on earth but in heaven when nothing can destroy or steal it.
We have no reason to be fearful of the devil or of his evil spirits because he cannot touch us beyond the body not being able to attain our soul. There is One who has that power – God – and it is him we are to reverence and serve in Jesus Christ.
When the 70/72 had returned to Jesus they were full of joy and Jesus did not tell them that they were in any way wrong to glad about the success they had experienced in serving him.
He did however caution against finding the source of their joy in such success, there was something far more important for them to focus upon, something that was far more important, significant and durable than the success of exorcising demons.
The time would come when the power to exorcise demons would no longer be necessary and then perhaps the joy associated with that would fade but there was another blessing that would never come to an end and which would never ever fade – the joy of salvation, or as Jesus puts it here, the joy of knowing one’s name to be written in heaven!
Names written here are not pencilled in on some kind of temporary basis but are rather written in ink, the indelible ink of divine blood that has been shed for us! Jesus’ life-blood poured out on Calvary’s cross.
The NT refers to this writing of the believer’s name in several places and in several different ways:
The believer’s name is written in heaven
Specifically in the book of life:
Rev.3:5 "The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels.
More specifically this book of life belongs to the Lamb it is:
Rev.21:27 "the Lamb’s book of life."
More specifically still this is the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. Our names were written there long ago – we are saved because our names were written there. We must think that they are only written there as a result of our believing. Our names were:
Rev.13:8 "written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain.
It is this security that flows from the salvation God has prepared for us, his people, that is to be the source of our joy. Our salvation is bound up with and totally depends upon the Lord Jesus Christ – now there’s a reason for rejoicing with great joy:
1Pet.1:8 "Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory."
Well, my friend, is that true of you? Are you rejoicing in the Lord Jesus Christ?
May God grant us eyes to see spiritually and grant us faith to trust in the One we see, the Lord Jesus.