Jesus told this to the seventy-two after they returned from there short “mission trip.” During there time, they cast out demons and healed the sick. They came back pretty excited saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name.” In other words, they saw the power of the Spirit of God working in them through the Word of God. God was kind to allow them to have a measure of effectiveness in their ministries. Jesus does not let the celebration last too long, however. He answers there excitement with a shocking statement. After saying that He saw Satan cast out of heaven he responds, “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
Jesus is pointing them away from their successes in ministry to the source and goal of their ministry: God. It is tempting, brothers, to take our giftings and make them something God never intended them to be. We must fight to develop our gifts, to be faithful to the gospel of Christ. If we posit false doctrine to the flock of God, they will not grow and God will be blasphemed. But it is a great temptation to look to past or current faithfulness on our end as our security and identity. God is kind to allow us to know Him and even know Him well. But the point is that we would know Him, not that we would be caught up in our ability to be effective in ministry.
Take as an example this story that Ian Murray tells about Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones. “The Doctor” left the medical field to shepherd a local assembly of Christ’s sheep. He is regarded by many to be the best preacher of the 20th century, not just in England but everywhere. His books greatly bless many even today. This man of God was used mightily in service to God’s glory being displayed in the gladness of His people in Him.
As he got older, Dr. Lloyd Jones fell ill. Dr. Murray was assigned to be his official biographer by the Doctor’s family. Lloyd Jones was afflicted with cancer and was a shell of himself. He could barely get out of bed to do a bit of editing, much less preach multiple times a week and influence so many. Murray asked him if it was hard for him to be invalid compared to his past power and ability to serve God. MLJ simply responded with the text, “rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” His worth and identity was not in proclaiming the gospel but in the gospel itself. Old and worn, Christ’s was His by faith, God His greatest gain. He faced death knowing this old enemy to be one conquered by the death of Christ on his own behalf. This great gospel man, blown away by the great gospel that God was kind to let him proclaim.