Jesus sent out seventy-two disciples into the towns where he was about to go. He said to them, “Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you’” (Luke 10:9). When they came back from their ministry, Luke tells us,
The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And [Jesus] said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 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. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:17–20)
Do not rejoice at your stunning power over evil (even in my name!), but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.
Written for Redemption
What does it mean to have your name written in heaven? The apostle John tells us that names were written in heaven before the foundation of the world. We also know that the book where these names are written is called “the book of life of the Lamb who was slain” (Revelation 13:8). In other words, it is the book of salvation, the book of the redeemed.
If your name is in the book, these things are true of you (or most assuredly will be):
- You are chosen by God in eternity.
- You are predestined for sonship in his family.
- You are ransomed from every evil bondage.
- You are purchased for God’s precious possession.
- Christ has taken your place under the punishment of divine wrath.
- God has caused you to be born again; he has taken out the heart of stone and put in its place the heart of flesh.
- He has made you alive in Christ Jesus and given you the gift of repentance and faith.
- He has forgiven you all your sins, and declared you innocent before God.
- You are irrevocably rescued from the terrors of hell.
- You stand righteous in the court of heaven and have peace with God.
- He has adopted you as his own child, and made you an heir of eternal life with the inheritance of all things.
- He has made his Holy Spirit to dwell in you, and brought you into the fellowship of his beloved Son.
- He is omnipotently committed to holding on to you so that nothing can separate you from the love of God.
- He will make every pleasure and pain work for your eternal good.
- He will lead you in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
- He will bring you safely to his eternal kingdom and present you blameless before the throne of his glory.
- He will grant you to see the glory of Christ and be changed into his likeness.
- He will give you a new glorious body for the enjoyment of all the endless delights of the age to come.
- He will grant you to sit with him on his throne, and share in his universal rule.
- He will give you access to the very presence of God, where there will be fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.
That is what it means to have your name written in heaven.
Joy of All Joys
Now, when the seventy-two returned rejoicing that powers of darkness, evil, and destruction had fallen before them in Jesus’s name, why would he say, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20)? Why would he say that?
“Be more irrepressibly thrilled that you are saved than that you are gifted — even in the name of Jesus.”
I don’t assume that Jesus was giving an absolute prohibition of rejoicing over the rescue of people from satanic evil. Because in Luke 15, in the parable of the prodigal son, he tells us to rejoice when we rescue a lost sheep (v. 6), a lost coin (v. 9), or a lost son (v. 32). So, when Jesus says, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but [do] rejoice that your names are written in heaven,” I take him to mean that rejoicing in our salvation — in the God of our salvation — is something more essential.
It is to be your most essential joy — that is, the joy with the deepest roots, the joy that is most durable, the joy with the greatest satisfaction, the joy that sustains and shapes all joys, the joy that is unmistakable to those around us, the joy that can’t be suppressed, but marks your ministry and your life. Let that joy be this: that your name is written in heaven. Let that joy be this: that you are saved.
Be more deeply, more durably, more gladly, more pervasively, more unmistakably, more irrepressibly thrilled that you are saved than that you are gifted, or competent, or productive, or successful, or famous, or powerful, or fruitful — even in the name of Jesus.
Do not rejoice that, with degree in hand, you are equipped to make a difference, but that your names are written in heaven. To be precise, when you take your diploma, and rejoice to enter the world for the good of others and the glory of God, do it in such a way that people say, “His truest joy, her truest joy, is to be saved. Those Bethlehem graduates are thrilled that their names are written in heaven. Everything flows from that.”
Seven Reasons to Rejoice
Now, back to our original question. Why did Jesus say not to rejoice in ministry success but to rejoice that your names are written in heaven? Why does this matter? It matters for seven reasons: legalism, authenticity, zeal, glory, love, death, and shame.
To the degree that we are not thrilled to be saved, we will move toward legalism. If ministry is not the overflow of joy in Christ, it will become the achievement of joy — and it won’t be in Christ. If our work is not coming out of joy, it will become the desperate striving after joy.
To the degree that we are not thrilled to be saved, we will not be able to commend Christ with authenticity as the all-satisfying Savior. There will always be a niggling sense of inauthenticity in our ministry and our witness: “If he does not satisfy me, why am I trying to show him to others?”
To the degree that we are not thrilled to be saved, our zeal for any worthy cause will be distorted, out of tune. The cause may be totally righteous, but it will be missing the melody of God’s all-satisfying presence. People may admire your stature as a warrior, but the music of your life will not sound like the pleasures of knowing Christ.
To the degree that we are not thrilled to be saved, God will not be glorified in our vocation the way he ought to be. Why? Because the fullness of his worth and beauty and greatness is known and shown only where he is manifestly felt as the deepest, sweetest, most durable joy in life.
To the degree that we are not thrilled to be saved, our love for other people will be compromised. Because what is love but to labor, at any cost to ourselves, to give people what is best for them, what is fully and eternally satisfying? That labor of love is weakened by every degree of joy we do not find in our own salvation.
To the degree that we are not thrilled to be saved, we will approach our own death without peace. We will be tormented late at night with the nagging fear that we loved service more than the Savior. (A precious parenthesis here: In my last interchange with Tim Keller, Luke 10:20 was the verse we reveled in. He wrote, “That book in heaven is the one that Lloyd-Jones was comforted by. You probably know the story of him quoting it near the end of his life.”) Dear young graduates, I promise you that sixty years from now, if you have spent your life reveling in the Savior more than in his service, you will be so glad.
To the degree that we are not thrilled to be saved, we will be afraid to face the Lord on the last day. When he asks, “What did you enjoy most in the life I gave you on earth?” how will we face him? How will we face him if we must confess, “You were not my most essential joy”?
Joy Now, Joy Forever
I say with Jesus to all the graduates (and to the rest of us), “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Make that joy your most essential joy. Let that joy be known to all.
Then you will be delivered from legalism, and you will minister with authenticity, and your zeal will have the melody of heaven, and God will be glorified in your life, and you will taste the sweetness of loving people, and you will face death without fear — and you will face the Lord without shame.