The coach walks up and down the sideline in front of his players.
“Get your heads up! All of you! Take those stupid towels off your head! Let’s show some courage around here! The game is not over yet. You’re not defeated until you quit fighting. Lift up your heads! Look like champions!”
The disciples had returned from a trial run in which they had practiced preaching the gospel of Jesus. Since the time would come when Jesus would be absent and they would be doing this “for real,” the Lord wanted them to get a taste of what to expect.
They returned sky high. “Lord! It was wonderful! We saw miracles. Lives changed. People healed. It was great!”
Jesus agreed. “You’re right. In fact, I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.”
“However,” He said, “I do not want you rejoicing because of such.”
“Do not rejoice because the spirits are subject to you. Rejoice because your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
It wasn’t that He didn’t want them joyful and excited. He loves overflowing praise and exuberance in His children.
He just wants it based on something more substantial than the latest results.
The Lord knew what the disciples were going to find out. The days would come when they would return empty-handed from their preaching missions, their evangelistic trips, their revivals and door-to-door visitations, and their overseas outreach.
To be sure, there would be times of great successes and glorious testimonies. But at other times, they would return empty-handed, with no glowing stories, no big numbers, no sparkling testimonies of victories. Sometimes they would do well to get out with their lives, and sometimes they didn’t even manage that.
If their joy resulted from impressive victories and big numbers, it would be constantly fluctuating. Sometimes they would be happy in the Lord and overflowing with praise, and at other times, their spirits would be dragging, their hope vanished.
The Lord Jesus wants none of that.
He wants His children joyful from beginning to end. “In Thy presence there is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy….” (Galatians 5:22). “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
Joy. There it is. Joy is the constant refrain of Scripture.
C. S. Lewis famously said, “Joy is the business of heaven.”
God’s word is consistent on this subject.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4).
“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In everything give thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (I Thessalonians 5:16-18).
Hours before He was arrested and went to the cross, Jesus told the disciples, “In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
He’s about to go to the cross and experience the worst thing imaginable, something so horrible we can only imagine, a prospect that caused His body to sweat drops of blood. And yet, look at Him here, cheering up the disciples.
The plain fact of the matter is the Lord wants His children always believing and trusting and knowing the important things are settled and everything else is all right. We are “more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).
No hanging heads. No towels draped over our sorry heads to disguise our disappointment and hide our tears.
“Lift up your heads! Your redemption draweth nigh!” is how the psalmist put it.
Rejoicing “because your names are written in heaven” means a thousand things, these among them….
- Your salvation is secure.
- Your hope is steadfast.
- Your future is settled.
- Your faith is well placed.
- Your focus is upward and eternal.
- Your troubles are temporary.
- Your joy is constant.
- God’s promises are sure and certain.
- Jesus’ word is dependable.
- God’s enemy (and yours) is out of luck.
You will live and die with a smile on your face. People will come away from you saying, “He’s either a nut or he knows something.”
Stay with me a moment longer, please.
Do not miss the implications of the Lord choosing as the basis of your joy that “your names are written in heaven.”
Wishing to anchor our joy to something more dependable and more constant than the up-and-down vicissitudes of this life, wanting to secure our joy forever, and intending to settle the matter for all time, Jesus tied it to our salvation.
The strong implications are that you are saved forever.
Implications, nothing! It’s there, plain as the nose on your face (is “explication” a word? He wasn’t implying anything, but was as explicit as it’s possible to get!)
If we can be saved one day and lose it the next, then get it back the next day, then He chose the wrong figure of speech. The way some of God’s children believe about the temporariness of salvation–that “one little sin can send your soul to hell,” as I’ve heard it put–makes you wonder what it will take for them to start believing in Jesus and quit taking counsel of their fears.
The Lord Jesus actually thought that the born-again would live forever. “They shall never perish.” “Neither shall anyone pluck them out of my hand.” "I give unto them eternal life.” "So shall we ever be with the Lord.”
We pitiful humans. We resist believing that salvation is of grace and keep wanting our works to play the starring role in this divine production. Or, we play a little mind game with ourselves that says: I know we are saved by grace and Jesus paid it all, but if I sin after being saved, I’m lost again.
If that’s true, if one sin or a certain number of sins undoes what God did in Christ as a result of Calvary, then no one is secure in Christ, no salvation is settled, no forgiveness is permanent, and we are all in big trouble, and Jesus’ death settled nothing.
It’s time to start believing Jesus, people.
I love what some woman told Pastor Tim Keller upon realizing the gospel of grace for the first time….
“I know why I want my morality to save me. If I’m saved by my good works, then like a taxpayer, I have rights. I’ve paid into the system and God owed me a good and decent life, and there is a limit to what the Father can ask of me. But if I’m saved by sheer grace, then my life belongs to the Father, He owes me nothing, and there is no limit to what He can ask of me.”
Sheer grace. That’s it.
Sheer grace or we are in a mess of trouble, children.
But, rejoice. Your names are written in Heaven. In blood, actually. The blood of Christ.
“Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” (I Corinthians 15:57).
Now, let us go forth in joy.