Rejoice That Your Names Are Written in Heaven

1 After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go your way. Look, I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Do not carry a money bag or traveler’s bag or sandals. Do not greet anyone along the way. 5 Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ 6 And if a peaceful person is there, your peace will rest on him, but if not, it will return to you. 7 Remain in that same house, eating and drinking what they give you, because the worker is worthy of his pay. Do not keep moving from house to house. 8 Whenever you enter a town and they welcome you, eat what is set before you. 9 Heal the sick who are in the town and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ 10 “But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust from your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom on that day than for that town. 13 “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to heaven? No, you will be brought down to hell. 16 Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” 17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name!” 18 He told them, “I was watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Look, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. And nothing will ever harm you. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names have been written in heaven.”  (EHV)

Dear Friends in Christ,

It was wonderful for me to have my son Titus here to preach for my installation service. It’s always special for a pastor to talk to fellow pastors about the work of the ministry—its joys and its challenges—and it’s all the sweeter when that fellow minister is your own son.

Today, we hear how Jesus sent out 72 of His followers as a mission team to prepare the way for Him in the towns He was heading to across the Jordan river in the territory called Perea. There they experienced a joyful “high” as they witnessed the power of the Gospel and were eager to share their joyful observations with each other and with Jesus. On this particular mission trip it seems there were far more joys than difficulties.

 Jesus didn’t want to put a damper on their joy, but He knew they would face plenty of difficulties in their future ministries. Therefore, Jesus sought to refocus their joy onto a lasting truth they could remember when later they did face those ministry challenges and hardships. Jesus’ Words to them are equally important for us to remember too: Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but “Rejoice That Your Names Are Written in Heaven.”

The Harvest Is Plentiful

Jesus was approaching the end of His own earthly ministry. While some people had believed in Galilee, He had seen mostly challenges. In the verses hopped over in our Gospel Lesson, Jesus declares in disappointment and frustration, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon in the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to heaven? No, you will be brought down to hell. Strong, emotional words!

Not that Jesus gave up on all Galileans, after all, that’s where most of his disciples were from. And Jesus still wants all people to be saved, even in territories where there seem to be few Gospel fruits. But like missionaries today, sometimes you have to move on to a new territory. So Jesus headed to Perea where there were a lot more Gentiles. He sent the 72 disciples across the river ahead of Him with orders to prepare the way for Him. Unlike earlier, when He’d sent out the twelve for a training mission, this time Jesus didn’t tell them to limit their interaction to just Jews. After this, the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.

It’s still true today that “The harvest is plentiful.” There are still many to be called. There are so many who don’t know Jesus. While “many are called but few are chosen,” only the Lord knows who the “few” are that are chosen and he’s given us the joyful work of calling the “many.” It’s a huge task! Compared to the amount of work to be done, the workers truly are few! As baby boomer pastors are reaching retirement age, the numbers needed to replace them is a good bit bigger than those in training. In WELS, for example, there are well over 100 churches calling and praying for a pastor. I’ve heard professors at Martin Luther College express worry and frustration that the student body is too small for future needs. “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.

There are places around the world where large soul-harvests are being gathered—countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, even in Muslim countries—underground and under the radar. “The harvest is still plentiful, but the workers are few. Therefore, Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”

The Harvest Is the Lord’s Responsibility

While Jesus was disappointed in the results of His lengthy Galilean ministry, despite the many miracles He had performed there, the 72 were thrilled with the miracles Jesus enabled them to do in Perea. There’s no doubt about it, outward success like that is always thrilling. Some people get addicted to  it, to the point of ignoring important things like Bible doctrine. There are those that move from one new megachurch to the next. It can be like a sugar “high.”

A couple years ago when we were getting our childcare up and running at my previous church, the state fire inspector came by and he loved to talk about the church. Turns out, he’d moved to Missouri from Arizona where he’d lived and worked near the Apache Reservations. During that time he’d become friends with one of our Lutheran missionaries. For over 100 years now we Lutherans have been in it for the long haul there, doing the long-term work of evangelism, teaching, baptizing, building congregations and churches, operating schools and orphanages, teaching Apaches to read and write their own language…. It took 100 years of planting seeds of the Gospel and fertilizing with the Word to get where things are today. It’s tough work to lay a solid foundation and build on it with first rate materials. It was an amazing day decades in the making when Chief Alchesay of the White Mountain Apache tribe walked up the aisle of the church to be baptized followed by his men. But in recent years sectarians have moved in with no qualms about sheep stealing with flashy techniques and promises, just like the so-called “super-apostles” with contaminated docrine St. Paul was frustrated by. Just like Paul and just like Jesus, our missionaries and pastors face challenges and sadness, besides the joys.

You can see why Jesus told the 72 not to get too excited about the external circumstances. If we focus on short term successes as did the 72, or on short term disappointments—either way, we’re going to ride an emotional roller-coaster that in no way helps or strengthens our faith or our work. So Jesus tells the 72 excited evangelists, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but Rejoice That Your Names Have Been Written in Heaven.” He knew and even warned them what they’d experience in the future: “I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. … 10 … whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, 11‘Even the dust from your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this: The kingdom of God has come near.’ 12I tell you, it will be more bearable for Sodom on that day than for that town. 16Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.”

Jesus wants His disciples to remember that they are simply God’s spokesmen, His hands and feet and mouth. God alone takes responsibility for the harvest. Church growth is His doing and statistics are His concern. “How narrow is the gate, and how difficult is the way that leads to life, and there are few who find it,” Jesus said (Matthew 7:14). “Rejoice That Your Names Have Been Written in Heaven.”

True Success and Joy

5Whenever you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ 6And if a peaceful person is there, your peace will rest on him, but if not, it will return to you.…Tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ The assignment Jesus gave the 72 was to proclaim Law and Gospel—forgiveness and eternal peace for those who receive Jesus’ message, no peace for those who don’t. When they reported back what God had done through their message, Jesus 18… told them, “I was watching Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19Look, I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy. And nothing will ever harm you. Jesus could see the unseen battle that takes place behind the scenes whenever Law and Gospel is proclaimed. We disciples tend to focus on visible numbers in statistical reports. But Jesus sees Satan and His demons being cast out of individuals as they come to faith, and how the ‘Prince of this world’ loses power and is cast down every time another soul is snatched from His cruel grasp and brought into God’s Kingdom. That’s true success, and what ought to get us excited.

We get to wield the same powerful Sword of the Spirit today when we tell others ‘The kingdom of God has come near you.’ The Gospel opens a portal through the sky that brings the kingdom of God near to us on earth. Through His Word and Sacraments God Himself comes to us on earth from heaven and delivers us the forgiveness Jesus won for us on the cross. God stoops down —swoops down! —and reassures us we will spend eternity with Him. Because God Himself came down to earth as Immanuel, God with us, and redeemed us God can tell us and we can tell others ‘Peace be to this house.’ And every time we do, that snake, Satan, falls further and his scorpion demons are trampled underfoot. We may not see it in real time, but Jesus does.

The 72 got very excited over the visible miracles they saw. Jesus wanted them to focus on the unseen miracle of conversion and the hidden agony it caused Satan and his angels.

Outwardly, we’ll see good times for the church, and bad. But God’s Kingdom is near and touching you and others through you. Rejoice in that! And “Rejoice That Your Names Have Been Written in Heaven.” Amen.

One Comment

  1. Thank you through our Lord Jesus for this sermon. It brought me such encouragement!….. I am going to print this out and pass it along, so others can hear this beautiful Truth!

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