Sunday Service: 10:00am

When Five is More Than Four

When Five is More Than Four

Preached by Benjamin Vrbicek

Opener

This morning’s passage is actually a continuation of the story that began last week, a part two of a two-parter. Last week, a large group of followers of Jesus were sent out on mission to do gospel ministry. But not only a group in the passage. I mean them, but us too. As Jason preached that passage, on the authority of God’s Word, we were sent out on gospel ministry to do what Jesus called the those disciples to do: to go, to pray, to labor, to love, to warn, and to push back the effects of the curse wherever it is found. We were sent to this.

I bring up this up because parts of this morning’s passage make much more sense if, throughout last week, you were poured out in ministry: going and praying, laboring and loving. The temptation to be hearers of the Word and not doers is real. It’s possible to listen to preaching, even great preaching, without any intention of doing the things God instructs us to do.

But we do know that the disciples in Luke 10 went out. And now they come back in. And Jesus talks with them, encouraging them that whether the gospel message seemed to gain a foothold or it received rejection, Christians can still have great joy.

Scripture Reading

If you have a Bible, please turn with me to Luke 10:17–24. After I read, we’ll pray and then study this together.

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 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. 20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

21 In that same hour he 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. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Prayer

This is God’s Word. Thanks be to God. Please pray with me. “Heavenly Father . . .”

Introduction

Shel Silverstein is the author of The Giving Tree and A Light in the Attic and, of course, Where the Sidewalk Ends. One of my favorite poems is called “Smart.” It goes like this:

My dad gave me one dollar bill
’Cause I’m his smartest son,
And I swapped it for two shiny quarters
’Cause two is more than one!

And then I took the quarters
And traded them to Lou
For three times—I guess he don’t know
That three is more than two!

Just then, along came old blind Bates
And just ’cause he can’t see
He gave me four nickles for my three dimes,
And four is more than three!

And I took the nickels to Hiram Coombs
Down at the seed-feed store,
And the fool gave me five pennies for them,
And five is more than four!

And then I went and showed my dad,
And he got red in the cheeks
And closed his eyes and shook his head—
Too proud of me to speak!

It’s good isn’t it? The son is given one dollar. He goes out. He labors. And comes back full of joy. Look, Father!

We’re a lot like that kid. Our valuing ability is messed up. Sometimes we rejoice about the wrong things, and sometimes we rejoice in the right things but in the wrong proportion. Our valuing ability is messed up.

We don’t have what comes next in the poem. We’re left to imagine just what it is that the redness on the father’s face will produce. And that depends on what kind of character the father has. Will he lash out in rage: “You stupid, good-for-nothing, son! You’ll never be anything if you can’t figure out what matters most!”

Or will the father go down on one knee, pull his son in close, look him in the eyes, and say “I love you. And one day, you’re gonna laugh that you thought five was more than four. Let’s talk about the value of money. . .”

Well, we do know something about the character of Jesus. He pulls his disciples in close and tells them something wonderful: a Christian’s greatest joy is not in their power but in their rock-solid, secure status as a child of God.

This passage is full of expressions of joy; everyone it seems is rejoicing. Well, maybe not everyone. The demons are not happy. Satan is not happy. But the disciples, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and God the Father are bursting with joy. As we move back through this passage, let’s make four stops to see what all this rejoicing is about.

1. Rejoicing in power, vv. 17–19

Let me reread vv. 17–19 to see what gets the disciples excited.

17 The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” 18 And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 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.

A few things to point out. First, they know where their power comes from: in Jesus’s name. Even in their joy over their power, they know where their power comes from. They are children, dependent upon God to supply their needs.

And Jesus doesn’t disagree. In fact, he underscores and makes bold what they just said. They say, The demons submit to us. Jesus says, I’m watching, and by gospel ministry Satan is being thrown into a spasmatic, violent rage, and not only that, but you’ve got authority to put your foot on the neck of evil, and nothing—nothing!—will hurt you.”

Let me put in a parenthesis about demons that’s worth our time to point out every so often as we go through Luke’s gospel. I have many fears in life, but fear of demons is not on my top ten, though perhaps it should be. In many other places and in other times, this fear of evil, supernatural spirits has been far more “front-of-mind.”

As Jason and I talked about this passage, he pointed out to me that as Christians in the Western church we often function as strict materialists (not meaning materialistic, though we often are that too). Too often we even function as practicing atheists in the way we relate to medicine and the body and suffering and injustices and calamities. We act as though this world, the world we can see with our eyes and measure with a ruler and place in a test tube and perform scientific tests on, this world is all that there is. Except it’s not. C.S. Lewis said well that we ought not to have an overly preoccupied fascination with demons and Satan, but we also ought not to live as though they do not exist. Because they do. But as Jesus points out here, in the power of his name, they can’t hurt us.

Or can they? There’s a tension in this passage when you hold up the verses we are studying this morning with the verses from last week’s passage. There we read,

2 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. 3 Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. . . . 16 “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (vv. 2–3, 16)

Wait, which is it? Nothing will hurt us? Or will there be rejections because we are like sheep among wolves? I mean, don’t sheep eat wolves? I just finished listening to the audiobook White Fang, and I think there were several times a wolf ate another animal and a few times a person. When Jesus says nothing will hurt us, does he mean to say that Christians have been given by God armor-plated steel wool?

2. Rejoicing in security, v. 20

Let’s read the next verse to see how this tension is resolved and what ought to be our highest joy. Look at v. 20,

20 Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

So Jesus says, “Yes, yes, yes. I know you’re excited because you think two is more than one, and three is more than two, and four is more than three, and five is more than four, but don’t rejoice over that. What has lasting, joy-producing value is not the power of a Christian, but the fact that a Christian is a child of God. This idea of having one’s name written in heaven comes up often in Scripture (Dan 12:1; Mal 3:16; Phil 4:3; Rev 3:5; 20:12–15).

The way the tension is resolved, I believe, is not to say it isn’t dangerous to be a Christian, but rather to say that whatever danger we might experience in this life—things such as tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword, as Paul mentions all these things in Romans 8—to know that for the Christian, nothing in this life is so tragic that it will destroy our bright future with God. Paul continues in Romans 8,

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

So, When Jesus says, Don’t rejoice about demons obeying you in this life, he does not mean don’t rejoice full stop; have zero joy that by your labors you’ll push back evil. Don’t be happy about that at all.

What he is saying is don’t be more happy that you found a dollar on the ground than you would be if you knew you had a glorious future inheritance awaiting you. Don’t mostly rejoice in the results you can see in this life; instead, rejoice that no matter what happens in this life, God will be your God in the life to come—forever! We have that saying about seeing our names in lights. Here, we have our name in the heavenly lights. So, so much better.

3. Rejoicing in salvation to the needy, vv. 21–22

Now, we come to the next section.

21 In that same hour he 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. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

Lot’s could be said about this. Many of you will be aware that there are theological viewpoints that should be talked about when we come to verses like this. Front and center is the interplay between human responsibility and the sovereignty of God in salvation, which is something Christians have been thinking and writing about for two millennia.

I won’t get into it too much. But I will say a few things. First something unrelated to that. First, notice how natural it is for Jesus to burst out into joy-filled prayer. “In that hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you Father. . .” Whatever else is going on, Jesus is happy to pray prayers of thanksgiving about it. Spontaneous, joy-filled prayer is the most natural thing in the world to him.

And what is it that makes him happy? He’s happy that the Father knows him, and he knows the Father. And he’s happy that those who think they have it figured out—the proud and haughty, the arrogant, the wise—they don’t get it. They can’t understand. In John 7, we read of Jesus winning over a crowd of people with his words. But listen to the hubris of the religious elite. “The Pharisees answered them [those won over by Jesus], ‘Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in him?” (vv. 47–48). In other words, we’re wise and we don’t see anything special in this Jesus fella, or in their own need.

But Jesus is happy, the Holy Spirit is happy, and God the Father is happy that the humble, the needy, the child-like, do get it. And oh do they get it! As one scholar has said, “God’s pleasure reaches down to those who seem to have nothing to offer but their need, yet he gives them everything in terms of spiritual blessing” (Block, Luke, 1010).

I’m not going to solve the theological issues here, but I do want to point out something about the context that will help us feel about these realities the way Jesus feels about them. Too often as Christians think about the sovereignty of God in salvation they find it only a troubling thing, a thing to bemoan, and a thing that produces great consternation.

How could this hiddenness and revealing be encouraging? Or perhaps more significant, how can this be something that brings the disciples joy and something they were to praise God for?

Consider the context. They are laboring in the harvest. And in the labor and the harvest of Christian ministry, some don’t get harvested. You share the gospel and some reject it. And to switch the metaphor: sometimes wolves kill the sheep. If you’re engaged in this kind of emotional ministry rollercoaster, and you feel like you’ve done everything right but it still goes wrong, is that your fault that some people reject the gospel? Is it your fault that you couldn’t help people see the solution for their greatest need when they don’t think they have a need? Is that on us? Is that on me as a preacher?

I think, in this context, the sovereign work of God over the revealing and hiding is something I rest in. Okay, we went out, we labored, we preached, we warned, we held out the goodness of the Messiah to a world that desperately needs his grace. And some received it, and others did not. By itself, that would be crushing. But it’s not because we can rest in the fact that we played our part well. And God is the one who brings the harvest. To the laboring farmer, I think what Jesus rejoices over, could also be encouraging to us.

4. Rejoicing in the redemptive moment, vv. 23–24

Finally, Jesus tells the disciples to rejoice in their redemptive moment. Vv. 23–24,

23 Then turning to the disciples he said privately, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”

Not “few people” have been longing for the redemption of the Messiah, but many. Not merely the ordinary masses of faithful believers in God throughout time, but even the prophets and the kings who had a special relationship with God, they longed to see the redemption of their Messiah, but they didn’t see it or hear. But you do.

Can you imagine an orphan child lying in bed, night after night longing to hear not just the promise that one day they will be adopted, but to actually be tucked into bed by his father and to have his special song sung by his father and to be kissed on the forehead by his father. Longed to hear that, longed to see that. Christians, in Christ, we have this love. We see this love. We hear this love. And we are blessed. And we should rejoice.

Applications

Three quick applications, then I’ll close. First, labor in gospel ministry. If the disciples went out laboring hearing when they were promised “you’re sheep among wolves,” how much more ought we to go out joyfully hearing that no matter if we’re eaten, our names are written in heaven? Let’s be gospel laborers.

Second application: be humble. All this gospel joy is for people who know their need. At Christmas time we often reflect on the words of Mary at the beginning of Luke’s gospel, but we often don’t see the way they set up one of the key themes for the whole book. Mary says,

50 And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
(1:50–53)

The proud, he scatters. The humble and the child-like, he loves and teaches. Let’s be humble.

Finally, application: be filled with the joy of knowing the ending is bright. Sometimes we don’t like to know the ending. My wife and I read books differently. I read every word at the front of a book, sometimes even the copyright pages. I know that makes me weird. My wife is far more normal and doesn’t do that. For a while I teased her about skipping forewords and prefaces. So she stopped skipping. And then there was Anna Karenina by Tolstoy. It was a classic addition, and some scholar wrote a preface and gave away the ending. Somehow it was my fault she had to read a long Russian novel with the ending spoiled. With novels and movies and television series, we, generally speaking, don’t want to know the endings. We want to experience the joy and pain and surprise as the characters experience these things. It’s the same with riding a roller coaster at Hershey Park. Some of you love the rush of fear and joy as the ride does a double corkscrew. Woah! How’s this gonna end?! This is crazy!

But I would submit to you that we enjoy this because it’s a virtual fear and joy and surprise. If there was actually uncertainty about whether we could make it to the end of a roller coaster alive, let me just say the lines at Hershey Park on a Saturday in July would be much shorter. To go back to stories, I loved the show 24 from back in the day, where Jack Bauer pushed back the forces of evil, but that’s because I’ve watched from my couch eating ice cream. But to be actually be kidnapped and tortured, not knowing if you’d be rescued, not so fun.

I think of a friend of mine. He doesn’t live around here, but we were friends in college. We poured ourselves out in gospel ministry on the campus. Now, he’s now in full-time ministry. Now, his wife has breast cancer and recently had a double mastectomy. We’re the same age. He’s got three boys. That’s a real rollercoaster. That’s not fun to not know how the ending after the ending ends.

Except he does know. We know. Church, in Christ we know the ending. The war has been won.

Church, in the death and resurrection of Christ, he has loved you and cared for you and saved you and as we trust him and repent and cling to him with child-like dependent trust, then he wants to send us out on mission in great joy, knowing that no matter what happens, he will be with us, and though many things can shake us in this life, nothing—nothing!—can shake our bright future.

Prayer

Pray with me as Scott and the music team comes back up. Let’s pray . . .

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