At one point during His earthly ministry, Jesus sent a group of His disciples out on their own to preach the gospel and to heal the sick and those who were under demonic possession. Luke writes:
After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable in the judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.” (10:1–14)
Jesus appointed seventy-two of His followers to go throughout the land of Palestine, to every hamlet and village where He Himself was about to go, to proclaim the coming of the kingdom of God. He warned them that in many places they would not be warmly received. As Jesus put it, they would be “lambs in the midst of wolves.” Of course, the commission to go out with the message about Christ now belongs to all of the church, and so this warning applies to each one of us. The world is not always glad to receive our message, and sometimes we feel as lambs being led to the slaughter.
These must have been sobering words for the seventy-two. Luke does not explicitly say so, but I imagine they went out with a measure of trepidation. However, Luke is very explicit about the attitude of the seventy-two when they returned. He writes: “The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!’” (v. 17). In all probability, they went out fearful and apprehensive, but they came back with exceedingly great joy. Why were they so happy? It was because they had been successful—God had used them and they had seen the manifestation of the power of Christ in their ministry. Also, they declared that they were happy because the demons were subject to them in Jesus’ name. So, they were filled with elation because of two things—success and power. These are the kinds of things that we typically enjoy, too.
But Jesus did not quite enter into their joy. He told 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” (vv. 18–20).
We need to ponder these words. Jesus obviously understood the excitement of His followers, who had enjoyed the success of ministry, but He warned them against having a misplaced basis for their joy. He said they should not rejoice that the demons were subject to them; rather, they should rejoice that their names were written in heaven. Here our Lord identified the supreme foundation for Christian joy. Our joy is to come from the assurance that we have redemption in Christ. The greatest joy that a person can have is to know that his name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he is saved and will live forever with Christ.