7th Sunday after Pentecost
July 3, 2016
“Your Name is Written in Heaven!”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us is a portion of today’s Gospel lesson: “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
What makes you happy? What makes you really happy? Is it having family and friends around? Is it a loved dog or cat? A fantastic fireworks show on the 4th of July? Is it the feel of sand between your toes and a nice gulf breeze? You can buy “Happy” candles, golfers like me can watch “Happy Gilmore,” or you could sing the “Happy Happy Joy Joy” song. You can visit happiness.com on the Internet. According to the Beatles, happiness is a “warm gun”…whatever that means.
In the Gospel text for today, the 72 disciples that Christ sent out are also found to be happy – they are rejoicing. Jesus sent them out so that they could go before Him to places that He would later visit. The message that the 72 were given was a simple message: “The Kingdom of God is near.” In our Lord Jesus, the Kingdom of God was coming to these people in a very real sense in that Jesus, the Christ of God, was coming to them and with Him comes the Kingdom.
The 72 came back and they were happy…they were rejoicing. Why? What was the reason or the cause for their rejoicing? What made them so happy? It was because, as they claimed, “even the demons submit to us in Your name.” Well, who wouldn’t be happy by such a thing? The 72 had power and control beyond their wildest dreams…of course they were happy!
This isn’t an isolated phenomenon. The 12 disciples were often concerned about personal power and authority. The disciples argued about who among them was the greatest (Mark 9:34). In Matthew 19 the disciples reminded Jesus that they had left everything for Him and wanted to know “what will there be for us?” – obviously looking for their reward (verse 27). James and John wanted power and authority as a result of their following in discipleship when they asked Jesus if they could be the ones to sit on His right and left hands (Mark 10:35-37). People like having power and authority.
I wish the Church were immune, but it’s not. In our own Synod, in our own district, in our own congregation this is also not a new problem. Sinful people want to exercise power and authority over others. Wielding that power and authority makes us feel good, happy if you will. We can rejoice because everything is going our way and our desires are being followed. It makes us feel powerful. Look at how the Clinton-Trump camps are jockeying for position to gain power. Also, I guarantee that not everyone rejoiced when President Matthew Harrison was recently re-elected as our Synodical president (I was, though) because they wanted to see a shift in personal and collective power and authority. Yes, even pastors are found at times to be rejoicing with misguided motivation.
Jesus changes the perspective, mind and hearts of the 72 in our text today and, in doing so, he changes ours as well. He directs our attention away from earthly power and authority to one that focuses on the important thing – the reason that He came – the salvation of souls. He tells the 72 to not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but instead they should rejoice because their names were written in heaven.
What does that mean? Our names being “written in heaven” is a way of referring to those whose sins are forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. It is a way of recollecting that our names are written in the “Lamb’s Book of Life.” I grew up attending an Evangelical Free church and I heard that phrase all the time, but I thought the preacher was saying “lamp’s book of life,” and that phrase made no sense to me. In Revelation 21:27, God describes this book and what it records: “Nothing impure will ever enter (the new Jerusalem), nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Jesus told the 72, and us, to rejoice because our names are written in heaven. They are written there in blood; the blood of Christ given and shed for you. They are written there because Christ offered His life on the cross as payment for your sin and for the sin of the world. It is this blood of Christ, shed on the cross, that cleanses you from sin and unrighteousness – the same sin that makes us rejoice in our own power and authority. It is this blood, shed on the cross, that covers over all of your sins that you have or ever will commit. In a very real way, God has written your name in heaven with the blood of Jesus. Rejoice that God loves you with an everlasting love and has written your name in His book of life.
We know from scripture that there is great rejoicing in heaven whenever a name is added to that sacred book, just as there was when your name was written. Whether it was through the waters of Baptism or through the Word of God being proclaimed, whenever God adds a new name to that Book of Life, there is rejoicing in heaven. Jesus told several parables about this rejoicing – the parable of the Prodigal Son, lost coin, and the lost sheep among others.
Today we have an opportunity to redirect our focus from the things of this world, particularly earthly power and authority, to the real cause for rejoicing which is found in the Kingdom of God. How? We can invite neighbors, family, and friends to this place of worship where they will hear from this very pulpit about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.
Today we turn our focus away from the things of earth to the things of heaven. We rejoice that through the work of God our names, your name, and many, many more are written in heaven. We rejoice that we, yes even we, can be utilized by God in the process of adding many more names to that Book of Life. May He use us according to His purpose and to this end and by doing so may He make us truly happy both now and into eternity. Amen.