Intro: I don’t need to say much about sorrow. We are all born into a world with much of it, and we have all tasted of it in our own way, and to varying degrees. Jesus himself was described prophetically as the “man of sorrows” and we all know of his endurance of the sufferings as a man culminating in the cross of Calvary. Yet as Hebrews states, Jesus “endured the cross,” “for the joy that lay before him” (Heb. 12:2). So I will move along this morning to stress the joy that was set before Christ and is set before us.
I. Joy is the natural state of God.
We err when we miss this basic point about the Creator of the heavens and the earth. How easily we skim past the refrain of the creation story, “And God saw that it was good.” It is like the repeated chorus of a song. God delights in the goodness of creation. God’s heavenly creatures sing with joy over the wonder of it all. We are told that there is rejoicing in heaven over every soul that is saved, but there was also rejoicing before there were souls needing saving, because God’s joy was there for all creatures to see.
God lives in the full enjoyment of His creation. The Hubble telescope took pictures of the Eagle Nebula that consists of dust and gas clouds estimated at six trillion miles from top to bottom. God looks upon such things as part of the wonder of what he has done, and at the same time he enjoys the microscopic world of things too small for us to see. He, as Jesus said, notices even the death of a sparrow. He clothes the flowers of the field and when we enjoy their beauty we are reflecting the image of our Creator. Our small bit of enjoyment is a sample of the constant joy of God in all that He has made. Years ago I spoke with a missionary serving in the Brazilian rain forest. As a hobby he had taken an interest in Orchids, something that the rain forest has in abundance. He told me that one of the orchid species he had encountered grows and blossoms entirely underground. God enjoys the orchid blossom that is not visible to the human passing by the spot where it is blossoming beneath the earth.
Jesus lived in the full knowledge of the joy of the triune God. Even in the flesh facing the cross he dwelt in that joy. Think of some of his final words to his apostles in the upper room as recorded by John. He said: “I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” (Jn. 15:11) What things? Things like,
“I am the true vine” (v. 1).
“If you remain [or, dwell] in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you want it will be done for you.” (v. 7).
“AS the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you.” (v.9).
So hold these words near your heart. Knowing he was soon to be arrested and crucified he could speak of “My joy” and want that same joy for his own. Satan in Eden had cast doubts about the benevolent intentions of God for people. He continues to do so. But God has never wavered in His kind and generous intentions for humans, and indeed for his whole creation. But part of that generosity is his willingness to let us be truly free. The joy is for those who want to be the friends of God and desire to obey him (as the remainder of John 15 makes so clear!).
Luke begins his story of Jesus by telling us that he came to bring “good news of great joy” (Lk. 2:10). As we read the apostolic writings we soon discover that they are filled with references to joy. When Paul sets out to summarize the work of the Holy Spirit in us in Galatians 5 he calls that work the “fruits of the Spirit” and the second one after love is joy, joy that is surrounded by love on one side and peace on the other.
Nor is this just a New Testament emphasis. The Psalms are full of joy and rejoicing. The Prophet Isaiah frequently refers to joy. “Shout for joy, you heavens! Earth, rejoice! Mountains break into joyful shouts! For the LORD has comforted His people, and will have compassion on His afflicted ones.” (Is. 49:13) Speaking of a future day Isaiah wrote: “The humble will have joy after joy in the LORD, and the poor people will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.” (Is. 29:19).
IN a passage that Jesus will allude to in the Gospels (Is. 35 about the blind seeing an the lame walking) we read, “and the redeemed of the LORD will return and come to Zion with singing crowned with unending joy. Joy and gladness will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee.” (v.10).
The joyful God is here. He is always near. “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” are His words of promise. We are the ones to do not see this. Remember when Elisha was surrounded by enemies in II Kings 6. It is an interesting case to illustrate my point about seeing and not seeing. (Read 6:12-19) The king of Aram was at war with Israel. But here is the key part; to some Elisha said let them see, and to others let them be blind. God wants us to see His presence and know that He who dwells in light unapproachable also dwells with His people, and is available to all who seek him.
We want to be among those to whom he will say, “Share your Master’s joy.” (Mt. 25:21). And again, “Come you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Mt. 25:34).