How to Rejoice

"Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven." At that very time He rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, "I praise You, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight." (Luke 10:19-21)

Rejoice. Celebrate. Ecstatic. Euphoria. Gloating. Smugness.

Interesting list of similar words here likely to trigger some reactions in some.

This text was one of those that somewhat puzzled me growing up. Now with new tools of interpretation and fresh revelations of what God is actually like, I get rather pumped (filled with eager anticipation) when I stumble across such passages today. Nearly always I am in for an exciting surprise when I bring new tools to old problems to discover even more profound insights that are just under the surface.

When Jesus warns against rejoicing over the fact that evil spirits are suddenly subject to those filled with His power, He is tapping into a reaction that most of us would likely have if we experienced what those disciples must have just felt after they had been sent out to proclaim the kingdom of heaven on behalf of Jesus. They had been empowered to work miracles to reinforce the intensity of the message they were delivering to the world, and the euphoria such a venture produced inside them was in danger of amplifying their distorted notions about the kind of kingdom Jesus had in mind.

Most of us are familiar with the mistaken beliefs that the Jews held to as to what their expectations of the Messiah were for them. They embraced a theology of political deliverance and domination over their oppressors and they had forced all the prophecies about the Messiah to fit into that mold. Thus they set themselves up to discount and even attack the real Messiah when He showed up because most of what He taught and demonstrated was foreign to everything they had formed in their imagination.

Fast-forward down to our generation. We assume that because we are aware of their mistakes that we are in little danger of repeating them. Really? How ironic it can be to criticize and condemn the Jews for persecuting Jesus and His disciples while at the very same time cherishing similar attitudes and even parallel beliefs in our theology that distorted their thinking back then. We can be just as blind as they were to the true nature of the kingdom Jesus came to set up as they were, for the problem is not so much in having the right facts about the timing or the events predicted in prophecies but rather the spirit which motivates us.

From its very inception, the problem with sin has always been one of orientation. Lucifer moved his emotional center of gravity from calculating his personal worth based originally on a trusting relationship with his Creator, to basing it all on his external abilities and looks and influence with others. He transitioned from living in a dependent relationship on his loving Father to an orientation of selfishness which fostered the rapid growth of all the other problems that sin exhibits like pride, desires for control and eventually deception and violence. Sin is getting things backwards in our relationship to God and thus shorting out the very circuits meant to provide life for us and through us to others.

What I am seeing much more clearly now in this warning of Jesus to His disciples was over this very thing. He knew that they had very distorted notions about what they are talking about in regards to the kingdom of heaven and that those false beliefs would put them in danger of moving the wrong direction in their own spirit. Interestingly He referred to them as infants. He was speaking of their spiritual condition, but I believe we would do well to be more aware of our own spiritual immaturity if we want be in a position to begin to grow in the right direction under the guidance of Jesus.

I find some very helpful clues in this passage exposing some important things for me to learn here. First of all, Jesus is in no way seeking to discourage the indulgence of rejoicing. Now for me at least, the very word has such religious baggage attached to it that I find it hard to even relate to it in the real world. In modern day language outside of religion I can't recall the last time I heard anyone even use this word. So for me I find it very helpful to find alternative words that seem to fit what Jesus was trying to convey in situations like this. I have to attempt to uncover the original meaning of such a term and then imagine how a person might say this in plain and modern English now.

What I sense Jesus trying to say to His disciples is first of all a warning, but also an alternative option that He wants them to practice. He knows that they are naturally going to get really pumped up, excited, even enticed by this newly acquired power to displace demons from the lives of other people, and the temptation to abuse their power will be very intense. Power can have a very seductive influence over our hearts and can easily blind and mislead us which can prove fatal for anyone not willing to be corrected by God's Spirit.

A desire for power has permeated humanity today, both in and out of Christianity. To counter this it would be well to immerse ourselves in passages like 1 Corinthians 13 and Philippians 2 to remind ourselves of the vital necessity of keeping heaven's perspective of power clear in our thinking. Jesus came to expose the lies of the enemy about how to relate to power and did so with stunning clarity. Yet since that revelation the enemy has again so obscured His demonstration of true power in humility and love that we are now again wallowing in the same trap that the Jews had fallen into in Jesus' day.

It is hard not to view reality with an 'us versus them' mentality, especially when dealing with demonic activity. It is one thing to point out that we are not fighting against flesh and blood but against evil spirits so we should not consider other people as our enemies. Yet we can still get caught up in a wrong spirit when it comes to fighting against supernatural forces. Ironically we can be seduced by the very forces we seek to expel from other's lives by thinking that we are getting it right simply because of our apparent success, while all the while they are only setting us up for a huge surprise in our own lives that will prove not only to be a serious threat for us but also an embarrassment to the reputation of God.

Some years ago I heard a compelling story of just such a person who over several years had developed a very successful ministry casting out demons. Since the organized church didn't give their approval to his ministry, he operated independent of the church and developed quite a reputation for himself. Then one day he encountered a demon that laid a trap for him and instead of casting the demon out of the girl who had come for deliverance, he found himself taken over by the force that same demon and spent several agonizing hours of desperate confusion before he at last was released by the grace of God.

This humiliation at the hands of the very demons he had so long been successfully fighting was so overwhelming that he begged his friends and even some he had previously looked down on to pray earnestly for him. He knew that he must to get to the bottom to find the cause as to why the demons had been allowed to possess him. After much fasting and prayer and soul-searching, he related that one day the answer came to him as he looked into the sky and saw 'as in letters of fire the word, P-R-I-D-E.' Suddenly his mind was opened to see how for years he had allowed pride to secretly grow in his own heart even while having wonderful apparent success in delivering others from Satan's power.

This is just what I see Jesus wanting to head off in the lives of His own disciples. The problem of pride is so subtle that it very often cannot be detected by our own awareness without intervention from the Spirit of Jesus,. Pride is the greatest deceptive power that the enemy successfully uses to allure many into his traps and describes the very essence of his own character. Pride and selfishness are inextricably linked to each other, for where there is one there will always be present.

Like in the story of this man, the disciples and all the rest of us as well are in constant danger of pride being secretly fueled in our hearts whenever we are in possession of the power of God over opponents. What can then become confusing is when we begin to think that power itself is maybe sinful when in reality the true problem is in the kind of spirit that we cherish and allow to control us. God Himself is all-powerful but at the same time is completely humble, loving and respectful of the rights and freedoms of all His created beings. God is fiercely protective of the freedom He has given to all His intelligent children, for without that freedom love would be impossible to experience.

Power may be one of the most alluring enticements of the enemy and one of the most effective means of drawing us away from God's design for our lives. No wonder then that God has to be so careful in how much power He entrusts to us, for to impart too much power when we are out of tune with the Spirit of Jesus would only serve to endanger us more than facilitate the growth of His kind of kingdom.

In the case of Jesus' disciples, He knew that He needed to check the direction that this spirit would take them as soon as they returned from their trip, gloating over the fact that demons who had so long defied everyone now were fleeing at the mention of the name of Jesus. Yet like the man's story that I related above, unless the spirit of pride was checked in His disciples, Jesus knew that they too would be in similar danger as this man experienced. It is a hard but most vital lesson to learn, that we can never afford to use the weapons of our enemy when fighting spiritual battles. Force is one of the main tactics of Satan's counterfeit system, and it is a very alluring enticement to God's followers until they begin to see that God's kingdom can never be enhanced through the use of coercion.

On the other hand, Jesus wanted to encourage His disciples to rejoice and celebrate in ways that heaven could get excited about. He wanted their courage, their strength, their hope and confidence to all be securely based on a more secure foundation – the reality that they were redeemed from slavery by the Ransom Himself who had come from heaven to earth to rescue all who would be willing to trust in Him. He had come to announce that every human being has their name inscribed into the Book of Life by virtue of His redemption from the very beginning, and the only way they could be lost would be if they chose to have their name removed themselves. As long as they did not reject the provision God was making for their salvation and allowed their heart to continue to be drawn by the magnetic love of God displayed in the life and death of Jesus, they could have the assurance that they would be saved.

Religion has terribly distorted our perceptions of what Jesus was talking about here. It is easy to think that because Jesus was talking to His disciples that it was by virtue of the fact that they had chosen to follow Jesus that created the reason He said this about them. But I don't believe this is true at all. Based on other passages throughout the Bible I am becoming convinced that all of humanity has been inscribed in the Book of Life, and in the end it is only out of respect for the choices of those who insist on rejecting the gracious offer of God through Christ that anyone's name is ever removed. This view is more consistent with the real truth about God that I am seeing emerging from the pages of Scripture.

Because we have not embraced this understanding of the words of Jesus here, we have as a result too often felt inhibited from rejoicing very much at all about the kingdom. Some have even viewed it to be a sin of presumption to feel assurance that they have eternal life here and now. Yet the more I learn about the theology of Jesus the more I see that He longs for us to not only have solid assurance that will give us boldness before God and the world, but that He wants us to actively celebrate that reality whether or not those around us agree with this truth or not.

For many in my denomination, even the word celebration has become something along the line of a swear word. Growing up in that kind of environment it has been very difficult for me to feel safe enough do much of anything that might resemble celebration or rejoicing. Yet the closer I come to Jesus the more reason I see to celebrate as I find Him inviting me to trust Him, to relax in the security of His strong love for me and to become free of the fears that have suffocated my heart most of my life as well as the inhibitions that come from what I fear others may think about me.

As if to drive His point home, Jesus right away began to practice what He said by starting to rejoice in the Spirit. I really wish I could have been there to see and experience what that must have been like. When a Bible writer records that Jesus rejoiced, I sense that it may have been an experience that may have shocked many around Him. Jesus was a very out-of-the-box kind of person and challenged nearly every paradigm that humans had, especially when it came to their views of what God was like. And when it came to celebrating the goodness of God, I suspect that no one has ever done it with as much enthusiasm as Jesus might have done it – except maybe David getting so carried away before the ark that his wife accused him of playing the fool to the point of immodesty.

What is clear here to me is that there is both a warning and an invitation in these words of Jesus. It is important that we never allow pride to gain a foothold in our heart, although for fallen humans it is often well in place already. I suspect this is why Jesus had to say that if we want to follow Him we have to deny ourselves daily. It is this problem with pride which must be the focal point of our denial each day – not denying that we have it but denying its desires to base our importance on the wrong reasons.

But beyond the important warning we must always keep in mind, we must also be willing to move in the opposite direction by humbling ourselves enough and embracing the real truth about God's goodness to feel free to let our hair down and let our heart come unglued for God in ways that may likely embarrass our intellectual stodginess.

Ready to dance, anyone?

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