Rejoicing with the King
Passage: Luke 10:1–10:24
Rejoicing with the King
Our passage today is the other side of the coin, you might say, when it comes to Christian discipleship. Last week, we saw how discipleship is costly. To follow Jesus, we must expect worldly rejection, endure earthly hardship, and pursue kingdom priorities. Discipleship, according to Jesus, is costly.
Today’s passage, however, looks at the other side of that coin. Here we see that while discipleship is certainly costly, there is also great blessing for those who minister in Jesus’ name. For those who follow Jesus, the world’s rejection is countered by heaven’s security. Along with earthly hardship, there is also spiritual provision. And in pursuing those kingdom priorities, there is the incredible privilege of sharing in Jesus’ joy. That’s really the heart of this passage. To follow Jesus is truly a remarkable blessing. And in that sense, our text completes the picture of discipleship. Endure the cost – yes, that’s true – but also receive the blessing and joy and privilege of bearing Jesus’ name.
As we look at the text you can see right away in v1 that the context of the passage is mission. Jesus appoints seventy-two messengers to spread the word out into Israel. This should sound familiar to you. Remember back in chapter 9, Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to minister in his name. Now Jesus expands that mission from Twelve to Seventy-Two, and that means that Jesus’ message is being taken even farther into the world.
And that message is what Jesus calls the good news of the kingdom of God. This is what Jesus himself began to preach back in chapter 4, and it’s what he commissions these messengers to proclaim – notice the repetition of the kingdom in vv9 & 11. That’s the message – it is the good news that God’s redemptive rule is breaking into this age, that God’s promises are coming to pass, and they’re coming to pass in Jesus. As the Seventy-Two go out, that is their mission – to proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
For our purposes, brothers and sisters, the way we understand this passage is by paying attention to the features that define this kingdom mission. What privileges does this text attach to kingdom ministry? What are the blessings of ministering in Jesus’ name? And the text gives us four answers – four features, you could say, of kingdom mission.
The Call to Divine Dependence
The first feature comes in vv1-4, where we hear the Call to Divine Dependence. We’ve already noted how v1 expands the mission from the twelve apostles to seventy-two messengers. These messengers will serve as Jesus’ representatives, moving from town to town, preparing the way for Jesus to arrive. That’s a high calling, isn’t it? This is not a mission to be taken lightly.
In fact, it’s not a mission these messengers can accomplish on their own. Notice Jesus’ first instructions to them, v2 – “The harvest is plentiful,” Jesus say, “but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” Jesus envisions the towns of Israel like a field, and these fields are ripe and ready for the harvest. But there’s one problem, Jesus says. There are not enough laborers, not enough messengers going out, bearing the good news of the kingdom.
Now, at this point, we might think the answer is to rally our friends, to recruit other people to get involved. Makes sense, doesn’t it? But as he so often does, Jesus hits us with the unexpected. Jesus doesn’t say recruit. Jesus says pray – pray for God to raise up more workers. At the most important level, the mission of the kingdom is not dependent on us, the workers. The mission is dependent on God, who is the Lord of the harvest. The mission depends on God. Indeed, notice whose harvest it is, v2. It’s his harvest – God’s harvest, Jesus says.
From the outset, Jesus wants his messengers to understand that the call to ministry is really a call to depend upon God. The work is always beyond us. Our numbers are always too few, and our efforts are always too weak. And that’s why every fruitful gospel work begins not with us and our strategies, but with humble prayer that depends on God.
But as Jesus continues, we quickly see another reason why dependence is so important. Not only is the harvest plentiful, but at the same time, the fields are also dangerous. Notice v3 – “Go your way,” Jesus says, “behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” Now, to make the obvious observation, wolves eat lambs. This is perhaps not the best image for Jesus to use if he wants to inspire confidence in his messengers. “Can’t we be the wolves, Jesus?”
But think about it from Jesus’ perspective. When he sends them out as lambs, what is Jesus saying about himself? He’s saying that he is the Good Shepherd. Lambs can’t lead themselves, remember? If the lambs are being sent out, even in the midst of wolves, it must be because the Good Shepherd will care for them. It must be that the Good Shepherd watches over his sheep.
And now we begin to see Jesus’ wisdom. If the messengers went out with the ferocity and strength of wolves, do you know what they are less likely to do? They’re less likely to depend on the Lord. Wolves might attempt to drag people into the kingdom, or even use their superior strength to frighten people to respond. But lambs? Not so much. Lambs depend on the Shepherd, or they’re lost. And that’s the point. Don’t try to do this on your own. The mission requires dependence.
But just in case we’re slow to learn, notice Jesus’ clear instructions, v4 – “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” Now, on one level, this is a picture of urgency. There’s no time to delay, Jesus urges. Don’t go home to pack, and when someone stops you on the road to talk, just keep going. The mission is urgent, and therefore you must depend entirely on the Lord. The messengers should not go out burdened with extra stuff or worldly concerns. Instead, they must go with complete dependence upon what God will provide.
Brothers and sisters, one of the takeaways for us at this point is to recognize how countercultural Jesus expects his people to be, even when it comes to ministry. We tend to think that ministry for the Lord goes best when we have just the right resources, all the necessary training, and perhaps even the sharpest strategy. And while resources and training and strategy are not wrong, they are no substitute for dependence. In fact, sometimes things like resources and strategy actually keep us from dependence. We can look at the all the stuff we have for ministry – whether it’s ministry in the church, or the ministry of evangelism, or even the ministry of parenting – we can look at all the stuff we have, and we can think, “I got this.” And over time, we forget what Jesus lays out here. We forget prayer. We forget that even on our best days, we’re just sheep who need the Shepherd to guide us and keep us from danger.
And so, the call here in vv1-4 is not hypothetical. This is really how Jesus expects his people to live and minister in his name – with a sense of dependence on what God alone can provide. That’s the first feature of kingdom mission – it calls for divine dependence.
The Provision of Jesus’ Authority
As we come to v5 we find the second feature of kingdom mission. This will take us all the way to v16, and it is the Provision of Jesus’ Authority. In these verses, Jesus instructs his messengers on how they will be received. There are instructions about being received in people’s homes, vv5-7, and there are instructions about being received in an entire town, vv8-9. Now, some of these instructions sound strange to us because we’re not familiar with this kind of environment. In Jesus’ day, you would find religious teachers traveling the circuit in a particular area, and there were certain expectations of hospitality for such teachers.
But as you read these verses in Luke 10, it is very clear that Jesus is concerned with more than cultural practices. Jesus’ messengers are more than traveling religious teachers. They come with a message that rests on the authority of Jesus himself. Notice how this plays out in Jesus’ instructions:
First of all, notice the message they proclaim in v5 – “Peace,” Jesus says. What is this peace? It is more than the absence of conflict. Peace here is a summary of the blessing that comes to those who receive the gospel of the kingdom. In fact, think back to the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, when the angels announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds. What was the message? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom God is pleased.” The messengers here in Luke 10 stand in line with the angels from chapter 2. To announce peace is to announce that God’s promised salvation is coming in and through Jesus. It is more than hospitality or goodwill. Peace is the declaration of the good news of the kingdom, and therefore, it is an authoritative summons for people to respond.
But there is an even clearer indication of Jesus’ authority in v9. Look again. Jesus is instructing his messengers about what to do when they enter a town, and he makes a significant statement, v9 – “Heal the sick in [the town] and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’” Do you see the connection here between action and word, between deed and declaration. Notice that as the messengers heal the sick, they are also to proclaim that the kingdom of God has come near. That’s key, brothers and sisters. Remember, this is taking place before Jesus’ death and resurrection. The climactic sign of the Son of God being raised from the dead has not yet occurred. How, then, will God confirm the good news of the kingdom? How can people be sure that the kingdom of God has truly come near? Through the confirming testimony of mighty works done in Jesus’ name. Do you see the connection? It’s all rooted in Jesus’ authority. His authority is proclaimed in word, and then the authority of his word is confirmed in deed.
Now, so far, Jesus instructions have focused on the positive response. The messengers should stay with those who welcome them, and they should eat what people provide. But what about when towns reject the good news of the kingdom? What about the people who don’t receive you? What then?
Beginning in v10, Jesus addresses that reality of rejection, and he does so with the same instructions he gave to the apostles back in chapter 9. Look again, v11. A town rejects the gospel, so what do you do? Go out in the streets, shake the dust from your feet, and say, “Nevertheless, the kingdom of God has come near.” It’s meant to be a very public warning of judgment. You may reject the King, but still, you will come under his rule. You will, one day, bow your knee before him. That’s the sense here in v11 – wiping off the dust is a way of saying, “You are responsible, and you will face the King.”
And it is this sense of accountability before God that informs the next few verses, which are some of Jesus’ strongest warnings in the entire gospel. Notice v12. Jesus says towns that reject the good news will face judgment worse than Sodom. Now, you know that in the OT, Sodom is the pinnacle of wickedness. Sodom stood for the worst of pagan opposition to God, the place where human depravity was on display in all its ugliness. And yet, Jesus says towns that reject the gospel will fare worse than Sodom. That’s alarming, but then Jesus names names – Chorazin and Bethsaida, v13. Even Tyre and Sidon, again wicked pagan cities, will face a more bearable judgment than these Galilean cities. Capernaum, v15, which was the place of so many of Jesus’ miracles – Capernaum will find its resting place not in heaven, but in the grave, with the wicked.
What is going on here? Why is Jesus issuing these woes? It’s an example of what is sometimes called prophetic reversal. It’s very common in the OT prophets, and Jesus employs here it as well. It’s where God turns an expected pattern upside down, and he does so in order to get the attention of those who are too complacent.
Imagine being a citizen of Capernaum – an Israelite town that has its rabbis and its synagogue; a town that at least attempts to be mindful of God’s law. Sure, your town has some issues, but at least Capernaum isn’t like Tyre. At least we’re not like those pagans who lived in Sidon.
But then Jesus hits you with the reversal. “Wrong,” Jesus says. “Your situation will be worse because you’ve received the greater revelation.” That’s really key here. The greater level of revelation received, the greater your expectation of judgment. Capernaum saw greater things than Tyre and Sidon. Bethsaida heard more of the truth than Sodom. And therefore, those cities that witnessed Jesus only to reject him – those cities will find the day of judgment to be worse than even Sodom.
V16 really sums up this entire section, and it explains why Jesus’ messengers come with such strong warnings of judgment. Look again, v16 – “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Note the chain of authority. Jesus’ messengers come with Jesus’ authority, and Jesus rules with the Father’s authority. To reject the messengers is to reject Jesus, and to reject Jesus is to spurn God himself. That’s why the mission is urgent, and that’s why the warning is strong. These messengers are not traveling religious teachers. They are emissaries of the King, and the King whom they represent is the Lord of all the earth.
You know, we’ve talked a good bit about the cost of discipleship. To follow Jesus means you count the cost and bear the cross in following him. There is a cost to discipleship. But do you know what has an even greater cost than following Jesus? Rejecting him. Ignoring his gospel. Thinking that you’ll be fine on your own, and that you don’t particularly need a Savior. Nothing in this life has a greater cost than that.
If you are not a Christian today – if you are not repenting of your sins and trusting in Jesus’ death to save you – if you are not a Christian, then I plead with you to hear the warning from God’s Word. There is a grave danger ahead for those who hear the gospel and reject it. The road you’re on only leads to destruction, and the way of life is found only by humbling yourself, confessing your sin before the Holy God, and then entrusting your eternal destiny to Jesus Christ. The Scriptures tell us that only Jesus’ blood is enough to cleanse sinners like us. The Scriptures tells us that only Jesus’ resurrection is enough to make us right before God. You are hearing that truth today, friend, which means you are accountable before God for how you respond. And so, I plead with you – trust in Jesus Christ. Believe the good news of his death and resurrection on your behalf. Jesus’ word is authoritative, and that means his word, right now, is calling you to respond.
The Comfort of God’s Protection
As we continue on in the passage, we see the third feature of kingdom mission in vv17-20, and it is the Comfort of God’s Protection. The messengers return in v17, and they are overjoyed at what they have experienced – “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” Once again, we see the authority of Jesus at the heart of kingdom mission. The messengers proclaimed the good news of the kingdom, and in Jesus’ name, they even drove out unclean spirits. Truly, then, the kingdom of God has come near in Jesus Christ.
And Jesus himself affirms the presence of the kingdom. Notice in v18 how Jesus describes Satan falling like lightning. What’s the point? It’s that the ministry of Jesus indicates not only the arrival of the kingdom, but also the beginning of the end for the Evil One. V18 is a symbolic picture of the Evil One being cast down, and v19 is a description of the result. Serpents and scorpions picture the dangers of a fallen world, a world where the enemy’s power holds sway. “But not any longer,” Jesus says. The enemy’s power has been broken, and Jesus’ followers have the confidence of his victory.
Now, to be sure, there are battles still to come for God’s people as they stand against the Devil, but overall, the war is won. That’s what Jesus is saying. Through Jesus, Satan has been defeated, and even Jesus’ messengers experience a taste of this triumph.
The messengers come back rejoicing in the authority and victory they have experienced. But then Jesus does something remarkable and very important. V20, Jesus redirects their joy. He calls them to rejoice not in what they have experienced, but in who they are. Listen again, v20 –“Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” It’s not power that matters most, Jesus says. It’s your position, your identity as God’s children. Jesus speaks of names being written in heaven’s book. The image recalls a citizenship roll, or perhaps even better, a family record. Those whose names are written in this book belong to God the Father. They are members of his family, co-heirs with Jesus, sons and daughters of the King, and citizens of God’s kingdom. Rejoice in that, Jesus says.
But it gets better. Since this book is kept in heaven, Satan cannot touch it. Remember, he’s cast out of heaven, v18, so there’s no way the Evil One can erase the names. He can’t get in there and scratch out the record. That’s the believer’s joy, brothers and sisters. It’s not the experience of spiritual power. It’s the privilege of our spiritual identity as children of God.
This is really the central takeaway from the text. It’s easy to read these verses and get caught up in whether or not healings occur today, or wonder why we haven’t experienced the same kind of power that Jesus’ messengers experienced. But those questions miss the real reason for joy, according to Jesus. The real joy is that we belong to God the Father, and whatever happens in this life, it cannot change who we are in the Father’s eyes. Whatever we face here on earth, it cannot alter one bit our identity as God’s children. We may lose all we hold dear – our families, our livelihood, our earthly citizenship, our physical health, even our lives – and still, our names will sign as bright as ever in the Father’s heavenly book.
Brothers and sisters, there can be no greater confidence than this. There is no greater source of joy. Perhaps you’ve come to church today weary or discouraged. Perhaps you’ve been looking at your Christian life, and it just seems to lack punch. It seems to be missing that thing you think will really bring joy and comfort. If so, I encourage you to hear the Lord Jesus at this point. Joy is not found in what we do or what we experience. Joy flows from who we are, who God has made us to be.
To say it another way, if you’re discouraged, don’t look inward for help. Look outward, to the gospel and to the grace of a heavenly Father who has written your name so securely in heaven’s book that not even Satan himself can erase it. There is no greater comfort than that. It is the Comfort of God’s Protection.
The Joy of Sovereign Grace
The final feature of kingdom mission flows right along with this comfort, and it closes the passage in vv21-24. Here Jesus calls his disciples to savor the Joy of Sovereign Grace. It’s Jesus’ turn to rejoice now, and he does so in v21, breaking out in joyful praise to God the Father. But it’s the reason for Jesus’ praise that is so significant. Listen to Jesus’ joy, v21 – “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Did you catch the reason for Jesus’ praise? Why is Jesus joyful? Because God saves whom he will save! Because God reveals his truth not to the wise and powerful, not to those who are sure of themselves and confident in their own abilities. No, God reveals the truth to little children, that is, to the least and lowly in the world’s eyes. God reveals himself to the those who have nothing to offer expect their profound need and absolute inability. That’s who God delights to save, and amazingly, that sovereignty is the reason for Jesus’ joy.
And so, before we go one step further here, let’s just pause and note this fact. According to Jesus, divine sovereignty is not a reason for argument or debate. It’s not an idea or a philosophical position to be defended. No, divine sovereignty is a reason for worship. It’s a reason for joy. It’s a reason to lift up your praise to the God who graciously reveals his truth to whomever he will, even the least likely, even sinners like you and me.
If you affirm the doctrine of election but it doesn’t produce joy in your heart, then you may not understand that doctrine. If you are quick to get into it about divine sovereignty but slow to praise, then there may be some disconnect you need to address. If we want to be like Jesus, brothers and sisters, we can’t simply affirm that God reveals and conceals according to his will. We’ve got to rejoice in that truth as well.
Still, Jesus is not finished with his praise. In v22, he goes further and declares how he is the One through whom God’s sovereign will is accomplished. V22, Jesus says – “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no 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.” Now, that is as clear as Jesus gets this side of the resurrection. Who is the King over God’s kingdom? “I am,” Jesus says, “for the Father has given all things to me.”
But then notice how the final line brings sovereignty back into view and connects it with Jesus. How is the Father made known on the earth? Through the sovereign work of God the Son – anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. The Father and the Son are mutually and exclusively known to one another, so that to know the one, you must do so through the other. And since Jesus is the only Son of God, he alone is the One who reveals the Father. And Jesus does this according to his will. Don’t miss the language. It’s right there at the end of the verse. Who is it that comes to know the Father? Anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.
Brothers and Sisters, there is a world of theology in this verse, but the essential piece that demands our attention is this. In order to know the Father, you must come to him through the Son. And that process of knowing the Father through the Son, the Bible has only one word to describe that process. That word is grace. In his grace, the Father reveals his truth to little children. In his grace, the Son reveals the Father to whom he chooses. If you know the truth today – if you rejoice in the gospel of Christ, then the word that stands as the overarching theme of your life is grace – sovereign, almighty, amazing, filled-with-joy-inexpressible grace.
That’s why the passage ends where it does – vv23-24, with Jesus telling the disciples how blessed they are to see the things they see. It’s grace. What Isaiah and David and Jeremiah longed to see, Jesus’ disciples now see, and they see it by grace.
Church, this is the great blessing of knowing and serving Jesus Christ. It’s to know each day that you are a recipient of sovereign grace. Oh how I pray we learn to share in Jesus’ joy, brothers and sisters. Discipleship is costly. There is rejection and hardship to be endured, and there are lofty kingdom priorities that reorient our entire lives. Discipleship is costly.
But in the end, is there any greater privilege than this – to be known by God, to have received his grace, to share in Jesus’ joy, and to rest in the reality that our names are written forever in heaven’s book? That is a blessing that cannot be described, and it is a blessing that ought to stir our hearts to continue on with the mission of proclaiming that God’s salvation has come in Jesus Christ.
Let’s rejoice with Jesus, brothers and sisters, and let’s carry on in his name. Amen.