Of all the work we do in this world, how much of it causes Jesus Christ to rejoice?
We might hope that by doing everything as unto the Lord (Colossians 3:17), we cause Jesus Christ to rejoice. Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t confirm that aspiration.
We might hope that by faithfully fulfilling our callings as a husband or father, a sister or a mother, a neighbor or friend, we cause Jesus Christ to rejoice. Perhaps, but the Bible doesn’t confirm that aspiration either.
What work in this world causes Jesus Christ to rejoice? In Luke 10, we find an answer to that question. There we discover that Jesus appointed seventy-two others to serve as ambassadors of the Gospel. Their mission? To heal the sick and proclaim that “the Kingdom of God is near” (:9). Jesus sent them out two by two with the promise that the “harvest is plentiful” (:2).
The seventy-two returned from their mission with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” Moments later, 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” (21).
On November 17, 7136, Jonathan Edwards delivered a sermon based on that story from the life of Jesus. You may find this sermon among a collection of previously unpublished sermons by Jonathan Edwards entitled The Salvation of Souls. The volume was edited by Richard A. Bailey and Gregory A. Wills (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2002).
The occasion for the November 17 sermon by Edwards was the ordination service of David White, pastor-elect of a newly organized congregation in Lambstown (now Hardwick), Massachusetts. White served as pastor of the Lambstown church until his death in 1784.
As was his custom, Edwards described the doctrine around which he constructed his sermon: “When those ministers of the Gospel that have been faithful and successful come to give an account of their success to their Lord that has sent them, Christ and they will rejoice together” (76). From that premise, Edwards offered several reasons why Christ rejoices on such an occasion.
- Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers for their success yields praise to Jesus Christ (II Thessalonians 1:11-12).
- Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers because he loves them.
- Christ will rejoice in the success of his ministers because their success is his success.
In the application section off his sermon, Edwards reminded David White and all present of this truth: Christ rejoices when pastors faithfully complete their mission as ambassadors of Christ; their “success” in the ministry causes Christ to rejoice.
Edwards study of the text led him to offer the following statement: “What an excellent and honorable employment must that be which is concerned about that which is so great and glorious in its end and issues as the joint and mutual gladness of the laborers and of him that is the Great Head of the church and the Lord of angels” (85).
What other employment produces such a glorious and blessed effect? “The very business of those that are called to this employment is to do that in which Christ exceedingly rejoices: The work of ministers is to rescue lost souls and bring them to eternal happiness, which is the work that Christ himself came into the world upon and shed his blood for. It is to be the instruments of Christ’s success in the work of redemption, which God looks on and speaks of as the most glorious of all his works” (86).
Edwards adds, “Every time that a faithful minister is an instrument of the conversion of any person, it brings a soul to espousals with Christ and occasions gladness in his heart and adds a jewel to his crown off rejoicing. And hereafter when they come to give an account to their Lord of their success, they shall then behold this crown of joy which they have set on Christ’s head, and Christ will at the same time give the same jewels to them to be their own crowns of rejoicing. And thus they shall have communion in the same crown of joy, which shows the exceeding blessedness of this work” (87).
In that Edwards writes as a Protestant in the Calvinist tradition, we may assume that he would agree that every Christian is a child of God, redeemed by Christ, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. He would surely affirm that there is no distinction in status between Christians since every Christ-follower, both laity and clergy alike, have been called to serve Christ as prophets, priests and kings. He would agree that all Christians, both clergy and laity alike, have been called by God to serve in this world.
But he is not willing to say that every “employment” causes Christ to rejoice. Instead, he notes that the Bible portrays Christ rejoicing when the seventy-two returned with a report of their successful mission. He also notes that Christ invites those same ministers to rejoice that our names are written in heaven (:20). He could have also brought in a few parables recorded in Luke 15 by which Jesus encourages us to rejoice with him when the lost are found (15:6, 9) for “there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (10).
The purpose of this sermon by Edwards is not to minimize the contributions of those in “temporal employment.” Instead, it is to encourage pastors to complete their missions as ambassadors of Christ: “Though the work of the ministry be not ordinarily a work of such temporal advantage in this land as in some other places, nor as it has formerly been in this land, yet what cause have those that are employed in it and are faithful in it and in a measure successful to rejoice in it on account of these unspeakable spiritual and eternal honors and blessings that Christ has annexed to it” (87).
Truth be told, Edwards encouraged me when I read his sermon. He reminded me that, while every Christian has received one or more calls to service in the name of the Lord, few can claim with certainty that their service causes Christ to rejoice. As one who loves the Lord – at least, tries to – I love bringing joy to Christ.
I hope this brief summary encourages any pastor or any person considering pastoral ministry, as well as any person called to announce that the “kingdom is near.” While the work of the ministry doesn’t offer much in the realm of temporal advantage, Christ has annexed to it unspeakable spiritual and eternal honors. What we do as ministers of the Gospel causes Christ to rejoice – and not many people can say the same.