Pentecost 7 (Proper 9) – Manuscript
Text: Luke 10:1-20 (17-20)
“The Real Reason for Rejoicing”
Brothers and sisters in Christ – most of you don’t know this, but I hail from Minnesota. It is a land flowing with water and covered in trees. Most associate it with long harsh winters, but there is in fact a short, hot summer. And in that short, hot summer there is something most glorious – the Minnesota State Fair, perhaps best known as the place where you can get anything deep fried and on a stick. One year a young couple brought their son to his first fair. Brimming with joy he declared the Twinkie on a stick to be the best thing ever. Then, the bacon on a stick was his reason for rejoicing. That is, until his father showed him the real reason. Sure, those other things were great – but the real reason for rejoicing at the Minnesota State Fair is the Pronto-Pup. Not just a regular corn dog, it alone is the real reason to rejoice. In the text today the 72 disciples return to Jesus rejoicing over the authority given to them and the miraculous things they saw because of it. Nevertheless, Jesus tells them what should be their real reason for rejoicing. We learn today THE REAL REASON FOR OUR REJOICING – THAT OUR NAMES HAVE BEEN WRITTEN IN HEAVEN.
(I. After sending the Twelve, Jesus sends out 70 others to proclaim His Word.)
(II. They return rejoicing in the power it carried.)
(III. Nevertheless, Jesus tells them, the real reason for rejoicing is found elsewhere.)
At the beginning of Luke 10 Jesus appoints 72 disciples to go ahead of Him. As He had already begun His journey up towards Jerusalem, these would go two by two into every town and place where Jesus was about to go. They were sent to preach much in the same way as John the Baptist, saying to those who were healed, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” (v. 9) The 72 were sent out to carry Jesus’ Word to the people. He had given them this instruction, “Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” (vv. 3-4) Imagine being sent out today with no wallet, no phone, and no car. They were sent out with naught but what was on their backs into a world of drooling wolves, waiting in the dark corners to devour the seemingly helpless lambs. But, Jesus knows this – they are not unprotected. He sends them out carrying nothing but His Word.
“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’” (v. 5) Turns out, these sheep were heavily armed. I bet the wolves weren’t expecting that. The 72 carried in their mouths the very Word of God, the Word concerning the peace between God and us through Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. This Word was power. Whenever the sick were healed, whenever demons were cast out, it was because the kingdom of God had drawn near. Where the kingdom of God is, there sin and darkness, chaos and destruction, sickness and death cannot be. And so, these disciples sent out seemingly naked were, in fact, not. They were clothed, protected, and provided for by the Word of God.
So, these 72 are sent out ahead of Jesus to preach His Word in the villages and towns ahead of them. They were sent out without supplies, pretty much naked and defenseless. Some of them may have thought, what good could they possibly do like that. They may not have expected much. How surprised they must have been when people started being healed and demons started fleeing from the bodies they inhabited. Wow! What power they’ve been given! All of sudden their world is rocked. They aren’t some weak, defenseless sheep – they’re beef-eating, body-building sheep and those wolves should look out. These sheep have power! These sheep are rejoicing! Luke writes, “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” (v. 17) Not only did Jesus’ Word grant lasting peace to the houses upon which it rested, but it also moved forward. It pushed out darkness as it moved forward. Jesus describes it, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.” (v. 18)
Imagine seeing this happen yourself: there you are praying over your sick relative. Maybe you’re at home, maybe you’re in the hospital and as you read Scripture and pray your relative is healed before your eyes. What joy you would have! You would certainly rejoice; I know I would. We should always be thankful and rejoice over God’s good will for us through His Son. This is how it starts out though, with thankfulness over healing. But give it time, and pretty soon we are tempted to look for something else miraculous. Maybe a friend was spared a close-call accident; that must have been a result of our prayers. I wonder what else we can do; what else do we have power over? If we keep on that path, we run into phrases like, “advancing the kingdom of God,” and “prayer warriors,” that are so frequently tossed around among Christian groups.
Like the 72, each of us is driven to look for signs of our election. We are tempted or are told to look around for miracles to confirm that we are the redeemed, that we have been given the Spirit from on high. Instead of looking to God’s Word and the Sacraments, especially the miracles of new birth and the union of Christ’s own body and blood with the bread and wine, we sometimes rejoice in other things. The 72 rejoiced in the power given to them and the visible signs accompanying it. What do we rejoice in? Do we look to outward signs for our assurance? Maybe not power, but possibly being filled with the Spirit? Maybe not being filled with the Spirit, but many of us take pride in being a Lutheran and not being like those other “Christians.”
“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. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in the heavens.” (vv. 19-20) The 72 may have thought it was crazy that they were being sent out with nothing to back them up. Most likely there were many, many faithful among them who fully expected the power of the Word of God. That should show us how easy it is to rejoice for the wrong reasons. Jesus acknowledges to them the power His Word had, which He had given to them. His Word enables them to trample serpents and scorpions and to have power over all the might of the enemy. Because of His Word, nothing would ever hurt them. The 72 saw all that and rejoiced the visible signs of that miraculous power.
We too have had Jesus’ Word of peace put into our mouths. The name of the Triune God was spoken over us at baptism and in the Supper we are continually strengthened in the faith. Called by the Holy Spirit we are equipped with the same Word of peace and are lead to share it with those around us. Sometimes we may see miracles; or even if we do not see them, they may still happen. But, we are not to rejoice in what we see. After confirming the power of His Word Jesus says, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this…but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (v. 20)
Even though the Old Adam daily tempts us to rejoice in signs, we have been given something greater. Through Jesus’ meritorious life, death, and resurrection, and through His continual pleading our case before the throne in heaven, we have peace with God and our names are written in His Book of Life. We rejoice that no longer does God see sinners when He looks at us, but He sees His own Son, Jesus Christ. We have been adopted as sons and heirs of the promise. We have been given the right to eat from the tree of life. That is why we are to rejoice. Now notice, not all of those things are visible in this life. So then, it seems, that we should not look to visible signs, even as they may happen, for our rejoicing. Rather than rejoicing in signs, we rejoice in the fact that, through Christ and His Words, all of our names are written in heaven.