The following article was originally published in June 2020 on Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church’s blog, “Pastor’s Press.” Pastor Groff served as a pastoral intern at Woodruff Road Presbyterian Church before coming to Antioch as part of the current reorganization effort.
The months of May and June are bursting with birthday celebrations in my family. Colorful drawings of balloons representing grandmothers, aunts, sisters, brothers, cousins, and close friends adorn our wall calendar, and such is a cause for great rejoicing. Though these festivities had a common purpose – to celebrate the birth of a loved one – there was one big difference that stuck out to me this year: the relative importance of material gifts.
For most children, birthday gifts are critically important for making the party a success, even if those gifts are largely forgotten within a week or two. For adults, gifts may be entirely absent. The presence of loved ones ranks much higher on the scale of importance for making the celebrations of adult birthdays worthwhile. As we grow older, the importance of trinkets and toys dissipates entirely as we recognize the immeasurable value of our loved ones in whose company we delight. The more mature the birthday boy, the more mature the nature and grounding of his rejoicing. This reflects a central teaching of Christ’s earthly ministry: Christians are called to rejoice in their salvation as Christ rejoices in their salvation, for Christ Himself is their salvation. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in Luke 10:17-24.
At the beginning of Luke 10, Christ commissioned a group of seventy missionaries to go into the Galilean countryside to preach the coming of the kingdom of God. In verse 17, we read that they returned with joy, rejoicing in the fact that they were victorious against demons in the prosecution of their commission. As the divine authority on Christian faith and practice, Christ explained how it was that they experienced such wonderful success, highlighting the reality that they had been given authority to subjugate “all the power of the Enemy.” At this point, it is clear that these followers of Christ were right to rejoice in the gifts which God had bestowed upon them as laborers in His kingdom. However, Christ had more instruction to give as He promoted their maturation in faith and understanding.
In verse 20, He redirected their excitement and joy to something of infinitely greater significance by instructing them, “Yet do not rejoice in this, namely, that the spirits to you all are subject. Rather, rejoice all the more that your names are recorded in heaven.” This unexpected caveat on Christ’s part pushed His hearers to meditate on the source of any spiritual power and authority they possessed. Like a good father or mother, Christ was concerned about the maturity of those under His care. He would not let them get so caught up in the good things which they had received that they would end up neglecting the best thing about their spiritual status as the elect of God.
Having called them to consider their salvation, Christ then proceeded to model true Christian rejoicing in verses 21-22. Exulting in the Spirit, Christ gave wholehearted and unreserved praise to the Lord of Heaven and Earth. Christian rejoicing in salvation is effusive, exuberant, and exultant. He specifically praised His Father for choosing not wise or intelligent men, but rather “the simple.” The electing decree of God is not based on any merit of our own, but on the unconditional love of the Father, mediated through and by the Son Who reveals Him. Therefore, mature Christian rejoicing is in response to God’s great grace toward sinners, to His unshakeable decree to save them in Christ, and to Christ Himself.
The fact that mature Christian rejoicing is in response to Christ Himself is the point of Christ’s words to His closest students – the twelve disciples and perhaps a few others – in verses 23-24. Their ears have heard His words, and their eyes have beheld Him in action as He brought the kingdom of God to earth. Whereas prophets and kings of Israel’s past had beheld only shadows of He Who was to come, Christ’s small band of students had sat at His feet to receive His teaching. This seeing and hearing continues today wherever Christ’s Spirit is at work instructing His people in holiness and truth, namely, in the church
The Father has given innumerable gifts to His church, but the fountainhead of all spiritual benefits is Christ Himself, Who is Himself the sum and substance of Christian salvation. Like children opening birthday presents, you may for a time find great joy and excitement in the gifts which you have received from the Father’s hand. Such rejoicing is appropriate. Yet do not allow yourself to stop short in your growth in grace. As mature believers, “rejoice all the more that your names are recorded in heaven.” Rejoice that the Spirit of God Himself is present with you through Christ with Whom you have been mystically united. Perhaps you can envision the joy of a parent or grandparent at your birthday presence – of infinitely greater value than any birthday presents you may have been able to give. Such is the joy of a mature person, of one who knows what is of lasting value in this life. May we be mature in our spiritual rejoicing in Christ Who is greater than any benefit we might receive from His hand, to the glory of the Father, Lord of Heaven and Earth.