Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  “In that same hour, [Jesus] rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (Luke 10:21, ESV).[1]  “He rejoiced.”  Jesus rejoiced.  Such a simple statement, yet entirely unique in the Gospels.  We confess that Jesus was fully God and fully human—with a full range of human emotions.  At Lazarus’s tomb, Jesus wept.  In fierce anger, he overturned the tables of the moneychangers in the temple and pronounced woes upon the scribes and Pharisees.  He lamented over Jerusalem as the city that stones the prophets.  But there aren’t a lot of Bible verses that mention Jesus smiling or laughing.  Of course, it’s hard to imagine that he bore a stoic countenance when he healed the sick, raised the dead, or made jokes and puns in his preaching.  Nevertheless, so far as I know, this is the only place where Scripture states that Jesus rejoiced.  Jesus was happy, he was glad.  Yet this is no ordinary happiness.  He rejoiced with exceeding joy.  The Greek word is related to another that means to adorn or decorate something.  Jesus is so happy that he adorns himself with happiness.  How’s that for vestments?!

What was the cause for such rejoicing?  Salvation.  The verses immediately prior record that the 72 returned “with joy” (v. 17).[2]  They rejoiced at their apparent success in mission, marveling that Jesus’ charge to them actually worked.  “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!”  They proclaimed the Gospel of the kingdom and healed the sick.  They drove out demons.  The kingdom of God was coming in force.  The disciples were on Cloud 9.  God was making miracles happen, and he was doing it through them.  They saw immediate response to the Word they preached.  Everything was going swimmingly.

It is a very human thing to celebrate success.  In PLI, we learned that “you accelerate what you celebrate.”  It’s great to see the fruit of your labor.  And it’s great to find something that works.  We don’t always get to reap the harvest in the ministry, so we get pumped up when we actually get to do that—when we get to baptize adults or preach in front of a large congregation or have a thriving Sunday school or when a couple decides NOT to get divorced after meeting with the pastor.  These little wins remind us why we do what we do.  They give us a little second wind to run the next mile of the race that God has set before us.

But sometimes “our” success (or “my” success) becomes the aim instead of something incidental.  We worry about numbers and statistics.  We start to focus on target demographics.  We count nickels and noses instead of life change.  We use the same “ABC” metrics as the business world: attendance, buildings, and cash (ABC). We take our eyes of Jesus and start to imagine that we make miracles happen.  There must be something enchanting about our wisdom or witticism, our strategy or piety, something about us that compels people to come to church.  And as soon as we start thinking that, we are doomed.  “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36).

So Jesus needs to redirect his disciples’ focus.  First, he acknowledges the wonderful miracle of ministry.  “I saw lightning fall like lightning from heaven…” (Luke 10:18).  But then he adds, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20).  In other words, he wants them to rejoice in their own salvation.  It is wonderful that through them other people have come to believe and call on the name of Jesus.  They have dealt a mighty blow to the kingdom of the devil.  Sure, guys!  Well done!  That’s great!  But even more essential is to rejoice that they themselves have been saved by God’s amazing grace in Christ Jesus.

And so, because of the miracle of faith, Jesus rejoices in the Holy Spirit and praises God: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will” (v. 21).  “Little children”?  The 72 Jesus sent out were adults, likely men and women fully equipped by Jesus to share the Gospel.  But in the eyes of Jesus, they were still “little children”—merely infants in the faith with so much more to learn.

In the Christian life, our learning never ends.  We’re all children.  And even though there’s always more to hear, more to read, more to learn, and more to do, we must never get away from the basic beginning: the Good News that because Jesus died for our sins, our names are written in heaven.   Jesus loves me, this I know/for the Bible tells me so/Little ones to him belong/they are weak, but He is strong.   We, weak and little though we be, are enrolled in heaven’s cradle roll.  So rejoice!

Dear people of God, today is a day to rejoice.  The Lord has answered our prayers and sent us another pastor, another worker in the Lord’s harvest, a 73rd man to add to the 72.  God is doing amazing things in our midst.  Epiphany seems to be on a roll.  “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).  Do not celebrate success in ministry; rather, celebrate salvation.  For this is what gives Jesus joy: the return of the lost sheep, the lost coin that is found, the lost son who comes home.  “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7).  Jesus rejoices in salvation—when sinners are saved, when God gives the Gospel to “little children” instead of the worldly-wise.  That is his “gracious will” (v. 21).

Michael, allow me to address you.  Dear brother, you are about to reenter the Office of the Holy Ministry.  What an incredible blessing!  Eight years ago (2015), you never would have imagined that you would stand in a pulpit again, let alone feed Jesus’ little lambs with his Body and Blood or wash them through water and the Word.  But Michael, you are a pastor again!  You will be our pastor.  That alone is reason enough for all of us to rejoice.  You will preach the Word, baptize young and old, and handle holy things in the Lord’s Supper.  You will pray for hurting hearts and broken bones.  You will visit the sick and bury the dead.  You will cry and laugh and weep with God’s people.  And all of that is cause to rejoice.

Of course, success is not guaranteed.  The Lord sends us out as sheep among wolves (Luke 10:3).  Jesus warned the 72 that some people will reject the Word you preach, and you will have to shake off the dust of your feet against them (v. 10).  The authority to loose penitent sinners brings with it the authority to bind unrepentant sinners.  Yet even if, after overcoming all these obstacles by God’s grace, even if the Lord blesses your ministry abundantly—which I have no doubt he will—even if your coming to Castle Rock brings about the conversion of nations and you drive out demons and heal the sick, even then Jesus will tell us that success in ministry is not our greatest joy.

Jesus is our greatest joy.  Jesus, the Son of God, who reveals to us the Father that we might hear and believe and receive.  Above all, dear brother, rejoice that your name, Michael John Huntley, is written in heaven.  Rejoice in your salvation.  For such is the Father’s good and gracious will.

Michael, as you become a shepherd here at Epiphany, remember that you are still a sheep.  Even as you preach and teach the Word to seasoned Lutherans, do not forget that you are still a child of God.  And only those who receive the kingdom of God like a child will enter it.  As you probe the theological depths and expound upon God’s Word in your preaching and teaching, remember that you (and I) still have much to learn.  You still need to be fed.  And when you get yourself lost, you still need to be found, forgiven, and brought home on the shoulders of the Good Shepherd, who rejoices whenever a lost sheep is found.

God rejoices.  The angels in heaven rejoice.  Jesus rejoices.  So, my dear brothers and sisters, rejoice!  Because your names are written in heaven, in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  In the name of the Father and of the Son and of T the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

[1] All Scripture references, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version.

[2] That word is chairō, “be glad.”  But Luke uses a different word for Jesus’ joy in verse 21: agalliaomai, the same verb used in Mary’s song when she declares, “My spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (1:47). Nevertheless, according to TDNT (Kittel), these are “related terms” (same semantic domain?). Revelation 19:7 brings both terms together in a Hebraic parallelism: “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory…” (ESV).