July 7 – Woe and Joy

Luke 10: 13 – 24

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. 14 But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you. 15 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No, you will go down to Hades.[b]

16 “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; but whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me.”

17 The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.”

18 He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.20 However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

21 At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

22 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

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

As the account of Jesus sending out the seventy laborers into the harvest field continues, Jesus pronounces “woe” on three towns in Galilee. Woe is an expression of grief and of judgment, of impending doom. It says “alas” or “oh no”. Jesus uses the word “woe” more than anyone else in the Bible. You can be sure that Jesus doesn’t use the word in an off-handed way. His words aren’t pronounced with vindictiveness or callousness, even though he knows they will deserve any punishment they receive, but with sadness.  If the ones who are being sent out are listening at this point, perhaps they are hearing it as a challenge to try to bring those towns to repentance, something like happened in Nineveh. Jesus points out to them that when someone accepts or rejects their announcement of the kingdom of God, it is he, Jesus, that they are accepting or rejecting.

In contrast to this sober message, the next two paragraphs are full of joy! The disciples return rejoicing at their successes. Jesus shares in the rejoicing, but cautions them against pride at all they had done “for” God. Successes and strengths can turn to pitfalls when carried too far. We can probably all think of examples of Christian leaders whose successes have ultimately become a trap for them. Jesus reminds them and us to value what is truly valuable and lasting, more than any ministry success—God knows my name and he has a place for me in heaven! On the other end of the spectrum, for anyone who feels unused by God or is in the midst of apparent failure or lack of results, we dwell on the same truth—God knows my name and he has a place for me in heaven!

The phrase in verse 21 jumped out at me, Jesus was “full of joy through the Holy Spirit”. Jesus was a happy man! He was happy for his disciples’ success and he was happy that Satan was being defeated and people were experiencing the love of his Father. Luke has already said that Jesus was full of the Spirit and led by the Spirit. We’re used to those phrases in connection with the Holy Spirit, but it is refreshing to think about our joy coming through the Holy Spirit as well. Jesus is joyful here, even while being sorrowful about those who have seen signs and still don’t believe. Jesus is our example of sorrowful rejoicing and grave gladness. Joy and sorrow are like the rails of train tracks that run parallel into the horizon. We should expect to experience them both as we look at the world around us with spiritual eyes.

Even though the term trinity is not found in the Bible, this is another instance, as when Jesus was baptised, when the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are found in the same sentence. It’s good to hunt for the Trinity in the Bible and when we find it, to take note. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in agreement that the kingdom of heaven turns the world upside down. It’s not necessary to be wise and learned and old in order to enter have your name written in heaven. That’s not to say we shouldn’t work towards knowledge and understanding and maturity—both the Proverbs and the apostle Paul encourage us to do that. But in this Jewish culture, these words coming from the mouth of a rabbi, would have certainly been revolutionary.

I remember how one of the elders of our church in Prague, who is now with the Lord, gave his testimony and told about how he had had question after question as he had searched for the answers to his philosophical and spiritual questions, trying to determine if the Bible was trustworthy and if he should become a Christian (this was during the Communist years so it was not a decision to be made lightly). He said he had spent 20 years asking questions and finally decided all of his questions would never be answered so he took a step of faith and put his faith in Christ. He did that when he was about 40 years old. When he passed away at age 73, he was probably one of the most knowledgeable and well-learned people I’ve ever known, but possessing a pure, child-like faith and I guess what could be only described as “full of joy through the Holy Spirit.”

Jesus tells his disciples how blessed they are to be living at the time they are. Prophets and kings and even angels longed to see the things they were seeing. (I Peter 1:10-12). How much more blessed are we to live as believers with the Holy Spirit dwelling in us and the word of God, the sword of the Spirit, so easily available to us. Go into your day making the most of those blessings!

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