Rejoice Always! (2): Names Written in Heaven
November 30, 2014
Intro – The SS teacher was teaching the students the meaning of Hallelujah. When she finished she asked, “Now, what word do church members shout with joy?” “Bingo!” cried one child. Well, hopefully, our joy in Christ goes just a bit deeper than that, right? It did for the 72 as they returned from their successful ministry preparing the way for Jesus. But even they needed a critical mid-course correction. Jesus joined them in rejoicing over their success, but eventually He pointed them higher. Last week we saw:
I. Rejoice in Serving Others
God has a mission for every believer – something that will take advantage of their secular profession while at the same time bringing glory to Him. As there are no 2 snowflakes alike, so there are no 2 people alike. Our greatest joy will come in finding and doing God’s mission for us in serving others.
II. Rejoice in Subordination of Evil
The 72 were ecstatic to discover their power over demons. Jesus replied that in every such victory He saw Satan’s empire crumbling. Ultimate victory was won by Jesus at the cross where He paid the penalty for sin and snatched victory away from Satan for every person who would ever believe in Him. But what he won potentially is made actual in every soul that comes to Him in faith, in every demonic temptation rejected, even in every cup of cold water offered in faith. We can rejoice that we battle in a winning cause.
III. Rejoice in Security of Believers
V. 19, “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.” Not only are they participating in the destruction of Satan’s kingdom, but Jesus adds a new cause for rejoicing. “Nothing shall hurt you.” That’s a big promise.
The word “tread” means to stomp or trample underfoot. The word was used to describe the process of putting great bunches of grapes in a vat with an opening at the bottom. As people tromped barefoot on the grapes the juice flowed out while the residue stayed in the vat. Jesus is saying, I’m giving you guys authority to trample on and destroy serpents and scorpions.
The big question: are serpents and scorpions to be understood literally or figuratively. Some say they are literal. They use as example Paul in Acts 28 when, after a shipwreck, while gathering firewood, a viper attaches itself to him. Then Acts 28:5, “He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm.” They further point to Jesus’ comment in Mark 16:18, “they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them;” and presumptuously hold worship services that feature snake-handling acts, claiming God’s protection. This almost always ends badly; someone gets killed. Paul was protected by God from an accidental encounter with a viper, not while putting on a show. And most of your Bibles will tell you that vv. 9-20 in Mark 16 were not part of the original text, thus, not part of the God-breathed word. Even if they were, Jesus’ words, they infer protection against incidental danger, not an invitation to put on a circus act.
But several factors suggest a figurative, rather than literal interpretation of the serpents and scorpions. First, in the near context the disciples talk about demons and Jesus about Satan. This suggests that serpents and scorpion picture the evil of demons here. Second, in a discussion involving demons, Satan and serpents, the disciples’ minds would have naturally turned to Gen 3 where Satan approaches Eve as what? As a serpent. Thus we have biblical precedent for serpents representing demons. This analogy is picked up in the book of Revelation where 5 times serpents are referenced, always speaking of Satan or demons as in Rev 20:2, “And he (an angel) seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan.” Third, the subject here is victory over Satan. To suddenly introduce literal serpents and scorpion would make no sense. Finally, Jesus interprets Himself: “Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy.” Who is the enemy here? A den of snakes? Of course, not. Paul describes the enemy in Eph 6:12, “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” Over that enemy, Jesus gives His followers authority by faith.
In light of that He promises, “Nothing shall hurt you.” Great promise. Given to all believers in passages like Psa 91:10-12, “no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Or Psa 34:7, “The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.” Or Lu 21:18, “But not a hair of your head will perish.” Nothing can hurt you. Not a hair of your head will perish. Scandalous promises. YET we know that all 11 apostles (less Judas) were severely persecuted and all by John died a martyr’s death. So did Jesus’ promise of security fail? Is the insurance policy void?!
No! Jesus’ promise did not fail. So what gives?! What gives is God’s perspective is wider than ours. This is not a promise we will never suffer. It promises no pain without purpose! It promises meaning behind suffering. We think suffering is incompatible with victory over Satan; it is not.
The greatest example of this is Jesus. Why did He come in the first place? I John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Jesus came to destroy Satan. So how did He do that? By grabbing him by the scruff of the neck and casting him into hell? Is that how Jesus destroyed Satan? Just the opposite. Heb 2:14 says God became man, “that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Jesus destroyed Satan on the cross? Yes! How could that be? It could be because there the perfect and holy Son of God suffered the wrath of the Father for the sin of the world. It could be because having suffered in our place He was raised from the dead! It looked like Jesus was destroyed. Three days later He was back and it was Satan that was destroyed. And now He gifts us to suffer with Him to actualize the defeat of our enemy.
When Jesus says “not a hair of your head will perish,” He means though you die, you will not perish. When Jesus says, “nothing shall hurt you” He means nothing can happen to your ultimate detriment. Nothing. In light of eternity, you will not perish. In light of eternity, you cannot be hurt. Not those committed to Him. He will build a hedge around us like He built around Job which means that even if you suffer physical pain, it will be for God’s glory and our good. This is like no other insurance policy anywhere. No one else can make this guarantee.
From a human perspective, it often looks all wrong. The early church discovered this. Acts 12:1-2: “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2 He killed James the brother of John with the sword.” Jesus had invested 3 years training James, promised not a hair of his head would perish and now he’s killed. Has the promise failed? No the promise has not failed. James was already celebrating in glory by the time his head hit the ground. God used his martyrdom to further the spread of the gospel. James glorified God in His death and another nail was hammered into the coffin of the enemy. Meanwhile, Acts 12:3 “and when he (Herod) saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.” Only this time, God miraculously intervenes and arranges Peter’s release the night before he is to be executed. Why Peter and not James? God’s sovereignty! His ways are not our ways. His ways are different from one time to another and from one person to another. Don’t expect the same thing. Don’t expect what someone else gets. Trust Him. Not the way you think He ought to function. Just trust Him!
God’s plan doesn’t guarantee physical safety; but it guarantees unity with His divine purposes and will. It guarantees eternal safety. We’re in far better hands than All-State. Far better. You’ve probably all heard about the golfer who swung mightily at his ball which had landed on an ant hill. He missed the ball and killed hundreds of ants. After a couple more frustrated attempts there were only 2 ants left. One of them hollered to the other, “It looks like if we want to get out of here alive, we’d better get on the ball.” Similarly, there is no security apart from the Father. But when we commit to Him, the shield goes up; His invisible hands surround us and nothing can ever harm our eternal destiny or touch us here but what He allows for His glory and our good. “Not a hair of your head will perish.” “Nothing shall hurt you.” I’ll even give you authority to trample on the devil himself. That’s cause for joy.
IV. Rejoice in Salvation
But now the Lord issues a solemn warning. The red flag goes up. There is danger that our joy may yet settle below the pinnacle. V. 20, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Jesus fears that in rejoicing in lesser things we may forget the ultimate thing. He has been rejoicing with His disciples in their ministry success. But in that very success, He does see a danger. And so He is quick to say, “Guys, great that the demons are subject to you – but don’t stop there. That is nothing – nothing compared to this: your names are written in heaven. Revel in that! Everything else issues from that.”
Jesus knows how easily we get enamored of the blessings rather than the Blesser. He knows our tendency to love the miracles rather than the miracle-giver. And so He directs their attention away from the mundane to the truly spectacular. “Your names are written in heaven.” Every city had enrollment records providing citizen’s rights and privilege. Jesus reminds them, and us, our names are written in the most privileged place in the universe – heaven!
And here’s how critical that is. Turn to Rev 20. God shows John what the final judgment of unbelievers will be like starting in v. 12, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life.” The book of life is the book Jesus is talking about when He says, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” At the final judgment, that book is checked first to see if the accused’s name is in it. When it is not, the other books – all the deeds and thoughts of his life – are opened. He can demonstrate that his goodness meets God’s standard of perfection. Not one person will be able to do so. Their fate will be sealed as described in v. 15, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Their goodness fell far short of God’s righteousness, and they did not have the righteousness of Christ to cover them. Only those in the book have that. You must be in the book to escape a judgment you cannot pass.
For those written in that book there is no judgment to determine eternal destiny. How do I know? The Bible says so. Rom 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We are all born under a spiritual death sentence, but the moment we invite Christ in to rule our lives, the sentence is lifted. There’s no condemnation now; there’s no condemnation ever! John 5:24, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” The death sentence is lifted; the pardon is issued; the doors open and the believer passes in a moment from death to life.
So, is that the moment our name is entered into the Book of Life? Good question, but the answer is no. It happened long before that. It happened long before time began. Rev 13:8 describes those who will continue to reject Christ in the last days: “everyone whose name has not been written before the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who was slain. 9 If anyone has an ear, let him hear:” What God both knew and determined before time began, He wrote into the book of life. Are you a believer? He knew your name long before you were ever born. In the words of Eph 1:4, “even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world.” God chose you before ever you breathed – before even the universe was created.
But what God has known from eternity must still be worked out in time, combining His sovereignty with our free will in a manner known only to Him. And that moment is precious to God? Lu 15:10: “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” I used to work for a company that made automated fingerprint identification equipment. It was an amazing technology when it first came out because suddenly police could search crime scene prints against millions of records almost instantaneously – work that would have taken years before now took seconds. So we used to have a bell that rang whenever any of our customers got a hit using our equipment. It meant all the hard work was paying off. Every success celebrated. Multiply that by a billion times and you begin to see what heaven is like every time someone comes to faith in Christ.
But look at Lu 15:10 again, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” I always used to think it was the angels who were rejoicing. And they no doubt are, but look what the verse says: “there is joy before the angels.” Not among the angels, but before the angels. The word means in front of, before the face of, in sight of. Someone is rejoicing in front of the angels. So who is that? Believers who are already there? Probably. But that’s not all. Look at one of the most amazing and overlooked verses in Scripture. Zeph 3: 17“The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” That verse still staggers me. Who is rejoicing when God mightily saves someone? It is none other than God Himself – Father, Son and HS. And they are not just rejoicing; they are singing, and singing loudly! A holy, sacred trio. Because someone repented.
Do you begin to see why nothing compares to having your name written in heaven? The truth is, God exults more over us than we do over Him. That is a travesty. That’s why Jesus says, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” He is telling us we need a daily dose of the gospel to keep our priorities right; to live our lives by and to rejoice our spirits in.
Conc -- A brilliant young lady crammed 4 years of high school into 3 years in her small town and still managed to graduate at the top of her class. It was a tough act to follow for her younger sister who graduated a few years later with very average grades. Twenty years later the younger sister attended a high school reunion and was delighted when she ran into a couple of teachers who seemed to recognize her. She said, “You remember me?” They nodded, “You’re one of the Barber girls.” “Do you know which one?” she asked eagerly. The two teachers put their heads together before they replied, “You’re the other one!” You’re the other one! No one wants to be the other one.
But here’s the good news. There is are no “other ones” in heaven. God told Moses, “I know you by name” (Exod 33:12). And so He knows every one of His children by name. And He has written every one in His book? Are you in the book? You can make sure this morning by exercising your free will to accept His free gift. Don’t put it off. If church only excites you because of Bingo, you have a lot to learn – and a lot to begin to rejoice in. Let’s pray.