We’re back to the New Testament this week, looking at a little grouping of verses from the Gospel of Luke. At the beginning of chapter 10, Jesus sends seventy-two other (i.e. not the twelve) disciples out in pairs ahead of him, to “all the towns and places he planned to visit” (Luke 10:1 NLT). He gives them instructions: to pray, to accept hospitality, to offer peaceful blessings, to heal the sick, and ultimately to let the people know that the Kingdom of God is near!
However, Jesus also makes it very clear that their ministry won’t necessarily be easy. While talk of Jesus was spreading, and many people far and wide were enamoured with him (or at least the miraculous works he was doing), there were also plenty who weren’t. And I’m not just talking about the religious elite—just two chapters before in Luke 8 we read about a whole region of people near the Sea of Galilee that begged Jesus to leave. They were terrified of him after he sent a legion of demons out of a man and into a herd of pigs.
So Jesus warns the seventy-two. He gives them instructions on how to deal with the inevitable rejection of their message (and even goes into a brief discourse about what that rejection will ultimately mean). I don’t know about you, but if that was my pre-game pep talk, I don’t think I would be too excited to get going. If my job offer at Oakridge four years ago came with the caveat “By the way, a bunch of people in the church are probably going to hate you,” I probably wouldn’t have been too eager to start.
But in many ways, what we often seem to forget (or perhaps choose to forget) is that this is our reality as Christians. The Bible reminds us time and time again that to follow Christ is to face adversity (Luke 6:22, John 15:18, 1 Corinthians 2:14, and 1 Peter 5:8 for just a few examples). The choice before each of us is “How am I going to respond?” Do I turn around and go home, or do I press on with faithfulness? Well at the end of what is probably my longest introduction yet, I want us to see how the seventy-two, empowered and sent by Jesus, responded.
We actually don’t know how the seventy-two initially felt about their mission. Luke, the only gospel writer to record this account, doesn’t see it necessary to include those details. Instead he jumps right to the results.
When the seventy-two disciples returned, they joyfully reported to him, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we use your name!”Luke 10:17 NLT
While we can only guess what these disciples were thinking and feeling when Jesus first sent them out, here we see that their return and report was quite positive. Rather than focus on the difficulty of the process or the discouragement of the rejection some of them no-doubt faced, the recorded and emphasized reaction is joy! Wow!
Now, some of you reading this might not be surprised at all by this reaction. Many of us have seen that same joy on the face of those who return from mission work, or maybe when someone has finally had a chance to share the gospel with a loved one they’ve been praying about for years. We know in our heads that faithfully serving the Lord is rewarding, both on this side of eternity and even more-so beyond (Matthew 5:11–12, 1 Corinthians 3:8, James 1:12). Yet sometimes, as we face into that adversity from the starting blocks, rather than looking back from the finish line, it can be hard to convince our hearts of that important truth.
I can’t help but appreciate the contrast here. The very last thing Luke records Jesus saying before the seventy-two go out is:
Anyone who rejects you is rejecting me. And anyone who rejects me is rejecting God, who sent me.Luke 10:16b NLT
And then, as we saw above, the very next verse is their joyful report. That isn’t to say there wasn’t very real happenings in between. There were no-doubt emotions and fears, challenges and difficulties. But by avoiding all of those details, Luke is making it very clear: what is important is the end result. The seventy-two served faithfully even in the midst of adversity.
What would it look like for us to face into the trials of life empowered and encouraged by the rewards we know are promised for faithfulness? I’m not saying it eliminates the pain or the fear, or makes the rejection less daunting. But Luke clearly makes a point of focussing on the joyful end rather than the challenging process. Maybe that’s something, through the power of the Holy Spirit, that we can do as well.
“Yes,” he told them, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning! 19 Look, I have given you authority over all the power of the enemy, and you can walk among snakes and scorpions and crush them. Nothing will injure you.”Luke 10:18–19 NLT
I probably could’ve done an entire post on these two verses, because they are definitely interesting. Who knows, maybe I’ll come back to them a little bit deeper someday! In the meantime, I’ll touch on them briefly, and encourage you to do your own study if you want to know more.
What’s clear on the surface here, is Jesus wants to emphasize what was accomplished by the faithful service of the seventy-two, as well as the power that enabled (and will continue to enable) it.
The work of these disciples struck a blow against the Enemy. Remember, a huge part of why they were rejoicing was the fact that “even the demons obey us when we use your name!” (verse 17). By the power of the name of Jesus, these faithful accomplished something great for their Lord! And that same power will be with them as they continue in their work, Jesus explains. The scorpions and snakes could refer to literal, physical protection on their mission, or more figurative, spiritual protection from the demonic who must submit to the Son of God. Perhaps even both (again, that is a post for another day!)
What’s clear is that through the power and name of Jesus, the seventy-two were protected and empowered to be involved in his earthly mission in a consequential way. However, there’s a “but” coming. And it comes in our final verse of the day.
“But don’t rejoice because evil spirits obey you; rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”Luke 10:20 NLT
This is the verse that initially drew my focus to this passage of scripture. It’s not because it’s particularly confusing or difficult, but because I think it is just so important. Jesus wants his disciples to understand what really matters.
Miracles are great, and should be celebrated! These disciples should be rejoicing in the result of their faithful service! The work that they are doing is important, and being empowered by the name of Jesus himself should not be understated! But. There’s more to it than that. Do not lose sight of what is most important. What matters most isn’t the miracles or the victories, the power or the protection. What matters most is that they are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
Now, of course this isn’t an “either/or” situation. It’s not like we can either celebrate the victories or celebrate our salvation. But, at the risk of repeating our study on 1 Corinthians 1 a couple weeks ago, I’ll just say we need to be cautious of allowing the former to overshadow the latter. Our greatest cause for rejoicing is not what God does through us, but in what Christ did for us.
Why Does it Matter?
I want to explore two practical reasons why it is essential to “rejoice because [our] names are registered in heaven” (verse 20). Our motivation and our celebration.
When we rejoice in our salvation, it directly affects our motivation. What I mean by that is, when we rightly understand that we are sinners saved by grace, that salvation “is the gift of God; not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9 NASB), that drives our obedience. We serve God not so that we can be saved, but because we are saved. When we spend time reflecting on and rejoicing in the grace of God that sent Jesus to redeem us, that is what motivates us to face into the adversity of the world to do what he has asked or commanded us to do.
Which leads to the next point, which is celebration. The reality is that sometimes (or perhaps often) we might not see the fruit of our labour. At the very least, we might not see the victories that we hope for or want. The seventy-two praised God that they saw the real-time effect their ministry was having. We don’t always have that privilege. But by keeping our eyes on our salvation, we always have something to celebrate!
Doing the work that God has set before us isn’t always easy. But when we rejoice in our salvation as the foundation, we can be motivated to faithful obedience in the face of difficulty, and we can celebrate even when we don’t see the results we are hoping for. Because at the end of the day, you and I can’t save anyone. We can’t die to erase the sin of another. But Christ has already poured out that love and paid that cost, and so we rejoice!