The text below is largely as preached this morning at MacAlpine Presbyterian Church in Buffalo, New York. The basic theme is that while we might think that a miraculous healing or casting out of demons would be something worth rejoicing and thanksgiving, but we have far greater reasons to rejoice and give thanks. The sermon then lays out the three main reasons we have to rejoice and give thanks according to Jesus. Sermon audio is available here.
You have many good reasons for rejoicing and giving thanks every day no matter how happy or depressed you might be at any given moment. Yet it may seem a lot easier to rejoice and give thanks when you are happy and the blessings you want most are overflowing. It also may seem a lot easier to rejoice and give thanks when you see something amazing happen that fills you with joy. I imagine if you or I were one of the seventy-two disciples that Jesus sent out two by two we too would return rejoicing with great joy that the demons obeyed us in the name of Jesus Christ. I know that I would rejoice if I laid hands on someone and prayed for them and they were miraculously healed or if I prayed and a demon left a person who was possessed. These kinds of flashy miracles are the kinds of things likely to bring us a joy ”high” and lead us to rejoice. But Jesus says that we have far better reasons for rejoicing in the Holy Spirit. Let’s hear what He has to say to us:
- Jesus Himself rejoiced in the Holy Spirit (v.21) that our Heavenly Father delights to save the most unlikely of people.
- He gave thanks to our Father in heaven, the Lord of heaven and earth, that these things were hidden from the wise and understanding and revealed to little children. Little children could be translated as infants or very young children. He said this in a culture and society that often valued their elders but ignored their little children. That is, certain elders were considered very wise, by contrast little children had a lot to learn in life. The surprising thing then was that God delighted to reveal His salvation in Jesus Christ to those who were like little children while the powerful elders of Israel were plotting to arrest Jesus. Jesus prays at the end of verse 21: ”for such was Your gracious will.” God graciously chose to reveal these things to little children and He chose to hide them from the wise and understanding so that the wise in the eyes of the world would not understand and believe in Jesus and those who were like little children, ready to learn from God, would understand and believe in Jesus.
- If it were up to us, we might think that God should prefer to save those in power first because they could use their power to influence people to trust Jesus. We might think that God should save celebrities in our culture because then He could influence people through the movies, music, and the media and those who are disciples of celebrities could become disciples of Christ. We might think that God would save the best educated in the world – even the wisest among them – so that they could influence many young minds in various schools from elementary age to colleges and universities. But Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit that His Father delights to save the most unlikely of people. Sure there are many poor, uneducated, unpopular, and powerless people who remain dead in their sins. And there are rich Christians, Christians with post-graduate degrees in the sciences and arts, celebrities who follow Christ and even a few politicians who are genuine believers. So this is no hard and fast rule to say, for example, that every poor person will become a believer or that every rich person will miss heaven. 1 Cor 1:26 says, “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” The Countess of Huntingdon, Selina Hastings (1707-1791), once said, “I owe my salvation to the letter “m.”” Her point was that it doesn’t say, “not any of you were of noble birth,” it says not many; it doesn’t say, “not any of you were powerful,” it says not many. So, as I was saying, it isn’t a hard and fast rule. Yet many who we might think are the brightest minds do not understand, for example, why God would chose to reveal Himself only through Jesus Christ. They believe all religions are basically the same. Then we listen to Jesus, ”no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and ANYONE TO WHOM THE SON CHOOSES TO REVEAL HIM.” In all of man’s religions you have to work hard to save yourself. But the truth revealed to those like little children is that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ. Truly that God delights to save the most unlikely of people is a reason for rejoicing. (But this leads me back to the reason Jesus told the seventy-two that they should rejoice).
- You have great reason to rejoice if your names are written in heaven.
- Jesus told the seventy-two not to rejoice in having demons subject to them, but to rejoice that their names are written in heaven. There is an invisible dimension to everything happening in the world – heaven. Indeed, we are this morning gathered in heaven with Jesus and the angels. So we know there is this invisible dimension. And as the rule of God became manifest on earth through Jesus Christ there was also an outbreak of demonic activity visible on earth. Jesus describes it as a battle in the heavenlies where Satan fell like lightning from heaven. Satan’s defeat had already begun and Jesus was sending out the seventy-two to plunder the stronghold of Satan. He told them that they had authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, symbols of the powers of evil, including political rulers who would soon seek to harm and even kill them. But the seventy-two were not to rejoice in how cool it was to be able to defeat evil spirits. Their real ground for rejoicing was that their names were written in heaven.
- Yes in general we can rejoice that God delights to save the most unlikely of people, and we may think that being able to defeat evil spirits is cool, but we have an even greater reason to rejoice if we are one of those saved in Jesus Christ. If you know God personally it is not because you had or did not have wisdom, popularity, power, wealth, prestige or anything else. You cannot even presume you are saved because you cast out a demon in Jesus’ name. In Matthew 7:22f, Jesus says, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” Thus just because you cast out a demon in Jesus’ name doesn’t mean you know God in Christ Jesus. If you know God it is because He has been revealed to you in Christ Jesus by the gracious will of the Father. Thus you cannot boast in your own wisdom for your salvation, or your successes in life, or your popularity among people, or your good looks, or your good works. All you can do is respond in gratitude to God. Truly this is a reason for rejoicing. (And we can add one more major reason for rejoicing in this passage.)
- You have a reason to rejoice because your salvation has already been accomplished on the cross.
- Salvation has always been in union with Jesus Christ but not all of God’s people have been so blessed as to live after it has been done in history. Jesus called, ”blessed” those eyes that saw what His disciples were seeing. And He explained, “For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” Many Old Testament prophets and kings were saved. Indeed, many among the rank and file of the nation of Israel believed. They had no reason to boast or to look down on other nations. After all, God did not choose the nation of Israel because it was the most powerful, most popular, or the wisest nation. The Lord said in Deuteronomy that He was bringing them into a land with “seven nations more numerous and mightier than” the people of Israel (Deut 7:1). He elaborates, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that YHWH set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples” (Deut 7:7). In many ways, they were the most unlikely of people. Still God chose the nation of Israel. And indeed God chose to give a saving faith to many in Israel. But they did not see that day it would be done. They had a saving faith but, in the words of Hebrews, “they did not receive what was promised” (Heb 11:39).
- But my friends we live in the best of times to believe in Jesus Christ. The record of eyewitnesses has been preserved for us in the Scriptures to show us not only that Jesus died as a historical fact but that Jesus died for our sins in our place. Even the disciples who saw this in person didn’t understand what they were seeing. But we see and hear and understand Jesus by faith after He has already accomplished this great salvation. If you are counting as reasons for rejoicing and giving thanks today that our Father delights to save the most unlikely of people, and that you are one of those people to whom God has revealed Himself in Christ Jesus, then you can add to those that your salvation has already been accomplished by Jesus Christ on the cross. May these always be your chief reasons for rejoicing and giving thanks to God. You may have noticed the November challenge – people might post something they are thankful for on Facebook, for example, each day in the month of November because the American Thanksgiving holiday is in November and people understand that one day isn’t enough. So let me encourage you to take some time every day for the month of November, or perhaps some time every day between now and Thanksgiving, and give thanks to God that He delights to save the most unlikely of people, that you are one of those people to whom God has been revealed in Christ Jesus, and that your salvation has already been accomplished and secured by Him on the cross. These blessings are far more valuable than anything else you might count as a blessing. Even if you were to cast out a demon or perform a miraculous healing, even still, these blessings are far more valuable. So no matter how happy or depressed you are at this moment, or the days this week or the weeks to come through Thanksgiving and beyond, may God be praised.