“Man is made for joy and joy is for man,” wrote the 16th-century Catholic bishop Francis de Sales.
“I think joy is not joy at all unless it is in man’s possession,” de Sales continued. “The human heart is so dependant upon joy that, without joy, it cannot find rest. Joy is true joy only in so far as it is possessed in the heart of man.”
The word “joy” or “rejoice” is found 357 times in our English Bibles. Through the years I have written and preached a good deal about the importance of joy in the Christian life, and rejoicing in the Lord. At times, I’ve felt a bit like the preacher who once addressed a somber, sad, and forlorn-looking group of congregants and quipped, “You people look like you have received a life sentence in prison instead of eternal life with Jesus.”
Among the various exhortations, admonitions, and promises that Jesus spoke to the disciples in His final hours on earth, is this wonderful assurance: “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11).
The Bible speaks of many situations, circumstances, and events about which we ought to rejoice. The Psalmist even says that we should simply rejoice in this day the Lord has made (Ps 118:24). However, in the early morning darkness, the words of Jesus from Luke 10:20 jumped off the page and resonated with me in a fresh and exciting way.
The occasion was Jesus’ sending out the 70 on what we call “the limited commission.” Jesus gave them power to preach the Word, to exorcise demons, and to heal the sick. When they returned to report their successes, they were filled with joy. As we would say today, “they were pumped!”
Jesus, however, tempers the joy of their successful ministry with these cautionary words: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Success in any endeavor is an exciting feeling. Currently, the NCAA basketball tournament, dubbed “March Madness” is in full swing. Having played the sport, I can vicariously feel the joy of these young men celebrating their wins.
Life offers so many wonderful occasions for joy. A newborn baby. A promotion. A pay raise. Graduations. Weddings. Grandchildren. And certainly the spiritual victories we achieve in our ministry bring much joy and personal fulfillment. Yet, there is a higher level of joy. A greater blessing. A more far-reaching joy that ought to captivate our attention. And that’s the joy of knowing our name is written in heaven.
Warren Wiersbe writes that the word translated “written” means “to inscribe formally and solemnly.” He says, “It was used for the signing of a will, a marriage document or a peace treaty, and also for the enrolling of a citizen.” He further says it is written in the perfect tense which literally means “it stands written.”
Neither preachers, pastors, nor our relatives can write our name on this heavenly document. The book of Revelation speaks of our names being written in “the Lamb’s book of life” (Rev. 21:27). The book is His. And He knows who belongs to Him.
When we celebrate the life of a faithful Christian at their funeral service, our sorrow is assuaged with joy because of the faith by which they lived and the hope in which they died. While we’re not privy to the Book, we have solid reasons to believe their names are written in heaven. That’s cause for joy.
In The Weight of Glory, C. S. Lewis reminds us that we, too often settle for less than the unending joy the Lord intended for us to possess. “Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered to us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
What about it, my friend? Can you rejoice that your name is written in heaven?
Ken Weliever, The Preacherman