It is easy to imagine the joy and excitement. Seventy-two disciples return home from a preaching mission having seen the power of God. They had been warned beforehand that they would be like lambs in the midst of wolves. They had even been given instructions how to respond to rejection. But now they return and are overjoyed by what they have experienced. They have seen a mighty work of God. They have been welcomed into people’s homes, demons have been cast out, and the attacks of the devil have been thwarted. Nothing has been able to hurt them. We can imagine the outpouring of joy as they return home.
In September 1904, the ‘Forward Movement’ evangelist Seth Joshua, visited the towns and villages of Cardiganshire. He attended youth meetings in Blaenannerch where an unusually powerful stirring of the Spirit had been experienced. He became aware of ‘a remarkable revival spirit’ and the way in which a young man training for the ministry, Evan Roberts, was being used by the Lord. His journal entry for September 23 records his joy: ‘A precious time we had. The affection and love of the people is touching to behold. I thank God for His blessed time to my own soul. I am saturated, melted, made soft as willing clay in the hands of the potter.’
Unlike Seth Joshua, the seventy-two disciples were not sent into the mining valleys of East Wales or the farming communities of West Wales. They were sent by Jesus into the towns and villages of Galilee to prepare the way for his visit at a later date. It is a stirring event but most intriguing of all is Jesus’ response to their joy and excitement. He stops them in their tracks and reminds them of an even greater blessing:
‘Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven’ (Luke 10:20).
The third Monday in January is usually described as ‘Blue Monday’ as ‘all we are left with is a hammered bank account, a bulge around the waist, gloomy weather and a return to work.’ The third Monday in September has a similar effect. After the sun, camps, conferences and holidays come the winter months, with the rain, fog and endless weeks of work and toil. There might be a return to a difficult church or family situation. The good times do not always last. A couple of months after visiting Blaenannerch, and a few days after seeing remarkable conversions in Ammanford, Seth Joshua wrote in his journal that, ‘Satan has made many a special mark on me recently. Fearful conflicts. His fiery darts have pierced my armour at every point. The coward has been fighting me on my back.’
Circumstances vary, even from day to day. We might ride on the crest of a wave one day, only to be battered by roaring and foaming waters the next. A sudden bereavement will bring darkness into a home; an unexpected redundancy will generate anxiety and worry; warm and invigorating times of prayer can be replaced by a cold, unbelieving heart as sin takes a foothold. These are familiar experiences. Thriving churches can inexplicably splinter into factions.
The seventy-two disciples are overwhelmed with joy as they return in Luke 10:17. It would not always be like this however. Dark days would follow for these early Christians. Jesus’ words therefore are tremendously comforting.
Look! It’s my name!
A few months ago a friend approached me with excitement on his face and a book in his hand. ‘Look! It’s my name!’ he told me enthusiastically. He belonged to a historical society which had published a book and, to my friend’s delight, his name was included on the first page.
Jesus refers to an even greater book; a book in heaven. It is mentioned in Daniel 12 and the Apostle Paul calls it the ‘Book of Life’ in his letter to the Philippians. It is a figurative list kept in heaven of those who will be delivered from death and given everlasting life. The names are drawn from every nation, tribe and language, and their number is so vast that no one apart from God can count them.
‘Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.’
Jesus’ advice is clear. Do not find your joy in circumstances which fluctuate like the waves. Cling onto the unchanging promises of God. They will remain constant throughout everything. Specifically, rejoice that your name is written in the book of life. It was written down before the foundation of the world, confirmed by the death of Jesus, and shall never be erased. The earth might give way and the mountains moved into the heart of the sea, but your name will forever be in heaven. Let this truth be your source of joy.
I came across a wonderful description of heaven by Herbert Lockyer:
‘Where is there a country without sin, crime, lawlessness, bloodshed, disease, death, sorrow and heartache? Heaven. There are no barriers, no walls or curtains to divide; no race barrier; no soldiers because there are no wars; no policemen because there is no crime or sin; no undertakers because there are no graves; no physicians because germs, fevers, pestilences, diseases are unknown; no thieves because there is no darkness. Who would not yearn for this better and more desirable country in which there are no separations, no broken homes, no drunkards, no prisons, no hospitals, no persons who are blind, deaf, dumb or destitute? What a country! Are you not homesick for such a country?’
Have you repented and trusted in Jesus as Saviour and Lord? Rejoice! Your name is written in heaven. One day you will enter this glorious place and most remarkably of all, you shall be in the presence of our Lord and Saviour Jesus and will be able to see him, as he is, face to face.