As I mentioned last week, we are stepping out of our sermon series from the gospel of Luke for a couple weeks leading up to Christmas – we’ll pick back up with Luke 6 in January. But what we’re looking at for the Advent season are these four words that we see a lot of during this time of year, whether it’s on marketing pieces, Christmas sweaters, Christmas cards, we sing them in carols – PEACE – HOPE – LOVE – JOY
Last week we talked about HOPE, how when the Bible talks about hope, it’s not an “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas” kind of hope, where it’s more like a wish. Wishes are founded on unpredictable things. If you’re a kid, 8-12 – are you guaranteed to get what you asked for for Christmas? No. Why not?
Parent’s are unpredictable, right? You tell them what you want, but instead of a new LEGO set, or sketch pad you want, you might end up with new socks or something you hadn’t thought of. So when you say “I hope I get this thing for Christmas” it’s more like a wish. It’s unpredictable.
But the Bible talks about HOPE as “unshakeable confidence,” and of course we have to say “in what?” What is our confidence in? It’s in God’s word, but even more than that – it’s in the character of the God who is speaking. In his word we read story after story of God’s faithfulness and care for his people, his heart for the lost, his passion for his own glory, and it’s meant to lead us to an unshakeable confidence in who God is, and in his word.
Today, we’re headed into our next word study, and the word we’re looking at is JOY. So I asked this question last week about HOPE, and going to ask it again this week: What do you think a person who has no desire for God, no concern for his word and or doing his will on earth, no desire to see his kingdom come or to pursue his glory – what does a person without a God-centered bone in their body think about when they hear the word “JOY”?
Here’s Webster’s definition: A feeling of great happiness
But if you look up the definition of happiness, can you guess what you find? An emotional state characterized by, you guessed it, joy.
So based on those two definitions, I think we can say joy is what you feel when you are really happy. And happiness is what we call the state you are in when you are feeling joyful. Any questions? Good. Let’s close with prayer.
But seriously, how will we define what Joy is? According to those definitions, joy is a good feeling or emotional state, which is true. Joy isn’t an idea or a concept. It’s not something we think up or play out in our head.
I’m sorry if you have a t-shirt or a mug that says “I choose Joy” but you don’t choose an emotion. You can’t just “decide” to be joyful. It’s a feeling. Feelings happen to you. We don’t choose them by thinking. The other night at my son’s basketball game, the ref made a call against Jackson that I didn’t think was even possible – and feelings happened to me. I didn’t choose them. Now, the words that came out of my mouth in regard to that call and the emotions I felt: I did choose those. And I just had a simple question for the ref – “can you see?”
No, I’m joking I didn’t say that. I am really thankful for people who give up their evenings to ref games. But those feelings happened to me instantly. The whistle blew, the call was made, I felt things that a second ago weren’t there.
Along those same lines, the other thing neither of those definitions take into account is that Galatians 5 says that joy is a fruit of the Spirit. It is evidence that the Spirit is present in your lives. You can’t force fruit to grow. A tree doesn’t “decide” or “choose” to bear fruit. It either does or it doesn’t. It doesn’t have a will like you and I do. Trees don’t have souls that tell the body what to do like you and I do.
In fact you know what kind of tree it is by the fruit it naturally produces. My natural self produces fruit that is bitter: Fruit like anger. Natural emotion. Fear. Natural emotion. Jealousy. Natural emotion. Pride. Don’t even have to try and it’s there. I can grow pride in my sleep. Lust. It’s just there. Indifference. It’s just there.
That’s the fruit that my natural tree with its default sin nature produces without any effort. If you see those things in my life, you know that I’m living in the flesh there. There is no love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, or self-control in the flesh.
Yet here’s where you really have to face up to what you believe about how God works in the world, and how one is saved, and how sin works.
Because Deuteronomy says God’s blessings are so that we serve him with joy and a cheerful heart, and goes so far as make joy a command in 12:18 – rejoice before the Lord in everything you do… And that’s not the last time you read that.
- In 1 Chronicles Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice…
- In Psalms let all who take refuge in you rejoice; let them shout for joy forever;
- Philippians 4:4 says rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice!
So according to scripture, Joy is not optional for the Christian. It’s a command.
But how do you get a pear tree to produce peaches? How do you get a walnut tree to produce apples? The same difficulty exists when we ask how do we get our natural selves to grow joy and rejoice in the Lord, when that’s not the kind of tree we are?
Love, joy, peace, patience… Those are fruits of a different tree – fruit that is produced by the Holy Spirit. So joy isn’t something you just decide to have. Something has to happen to us before we can have joy. It has to be a work of the Holy Spirit in us.
And what is that work? What is the primary work of the Holy Spirit? To make much of Christ. To open my eyes to see Jesus where in my natural abilities I would not, whether that is in his word or in the world. The Holy Spirit can soften a hardened heart, reorient my will so that I want to see Jesus, and then cause me (actively working in my heart, mind, and soul) to see Jesus and all that he has done and is still doing. And when he does this work in you or in me, joy is one of the byproducts. The fruit.
So here is how one author wraps it all up into one neat package:
Christian joy is a good feeling in the soul, produced by the Holy Spirit, as he causes us to see the beauty of Christ in the word and in the world (Piper).
So is it any surprise that in Luke 2, when the angel band shows up to announce the birth of Christ that joy is present?
Joseph and Mary end up in Bethlehem about 80-90 miles from home, she gives birth to her son Jesus. Animals were nearby, the baby was placed in a manger instead of a proper crib… not what you would expect with the birth of a king, but this is no ordinary king to begin with.
Meanwhile, shepherds are out in the fields doing what shepherds do, and in Luke 2:9, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. The word there literally means, “they feared a great fear.” This would be “wet your pants kind of fear.”
We talked about this a couple weeks back that fear sells. Fear is very impactful. Fear moves units off of shelves. You don’t want to end up looking like this, do you? DO YOU?! So buy this product. You don’t want to look like an idiot, do you? Buy these clothes, this car. You don’t want the country to go down the drain, do you? Vote this way.
Even when we were in photography, we sold fear. You don’t want to live with the regret that you didn’t get a professional wedding photographer, do you?
Advertisers use fear obviously. Governments of all kinds use fear to get people to do what they want. Parents sell fear. You’ve heard this one before, right? I’m going to count to three. You don’t want to know what happens when I get to three. One…. Two… 2 ½ … Or anyone ever heard this one growing up – “so help me if you guys keep it up I will pull this car over.”
Religion sells fear too, you know. Some of you are sitting here today out of fear. If I don’t go to church, God won’t be happy with me. I better put something in the offering box.
Some of you maybe even made a decision to follow Jesus out of fear. Someone painted a very vivid picture of hell for you, or made you hold your hand over a campfire or a candle at youth camp, and said “You don’t want to go there forever, do you? Do you!?” And so you quickly walked down the aisle, said the prayer and got baptized out of fear. And can I just pause right there and say – if that’s how you were introduced to Jesus, I’m really sorry.
According to the scriptures, yes hell is real. Yes it is for eternity. Yes it is not somewhere you want to be, and yes you could die tonight. All great points.
Jesus talked about hell a lot, but he didn’t talk about it to try to scare people into following him. He was patient. Kind. Compassionate. So the message of the angel in verse 10: “Don’t be afraid…
This isn't a message of fear. In fact, staying afraid would be the wrong reaction. Actually, don’t be afraid. Fear might cause you to miss the beauty of what I’m about to say, because...I proclaim to you good news of great joy for all the people.
And here’s the good news: “Today your Savior, your King, the Lord. The Messiah. He is here to establish his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.”
If this were a message of fear, he would show up on a white horse with a sword and an army. That would inspire fear.
But instead he shows up in one of the most joyful of all human experiences – a healthy little baby, held in his mother’s embrace.
So I can’t help but believe one of the threads of the gospel (which means good news) is that God intends to move people from fear to joy. From being afraid of everything to rejoicing in anything. From being afraid of death to rejoicing in death. From being afraid of weakness to rejoicing in our weakness. From being afraid to confess our sin to rejoicing that we’re forgiven. From being afraid that if people found out the kind of person I really am when no one is around, to rejoicing in that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. From being afraid that I’ll live the rest of my life alone to rejoicing that in Christ, I’m never alone.
And this child, the angel announces, will make all the difference.
The angel’s announcement is that this child is the Messiah. That word doesn't mean much to you and me, but to the Israelites, the Messiah is the coming king that was promised in Genesis 3 to Adam and Eve.
The devil, that ancient serpent, weaseled a lie into their minds that said “you get to define joy. You get to decide whether you live happily ever after, or stay here in this garden under God’s thumb. So choose what makes you happy.” And when they fell to that temptation by their own choice, the bitter fruit of shame, guilt, and suffering entered the world, and by virtue of the fact that we are their descendants, we have only expanded the orchard by growing more and more bitter and sinful fruit.
But God’s intent was to redeem and restore. So he promised them that it wouldn’t always be this way. God promised the devil that an offspring of the woman would crush his head one day, even though that offspring would be wounded in the process.
So the Messiah is this wounded king who would put an end to evil and death, and restore the world back to what God intended it to be, a luscious garden producing good fruit. And so the work of this Messiah is redeeming. Restoring. Transforming us by the power of the Spirit to produce different fruit than just what comes naturally.
And the goal, as he does this work in us, is that God is glorified and the same peace, love, joy, patience, goodness, etc that exists in heaven would exist here on earth in Riverside, in River City Church, in your home, your workplace, etc. So his kingdom exists on earth as it is in heaven anywhere that the Spirit is growing good, spiritual fruit in the lives of someone who has been redeemed.
During his ministry, Jesus told parables about the kingdom of heaven, saying that when we are invited to share in his father’s kingdom, it is a kingdom of joy. There is joy in heaven when a sinner repents, and this might blow your minds a little bit, it did mine: Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 25 that says to the servants who serve their Master well, the Master says “Well done, good and faithful servant – (do you know what comes next?) – ENTER INTO THE JOY OF YOUR MASTER!
Friends, that means invitation to follow Jesus isn’t just to avoid hell. This isn’t a fear-based conversion where you are scared into following Jesus. It’s also not just an invitation to enter the pearly gates and find your name tag that will tell you where you sit and where to pick up the keys to your mansion.
What God is inviting us into when he sent Jesus to be the sin offering for us, to cleanse us from sin and make us righteous, is his JOY! What God will say when those who are in Christ die and get to heaven is: Well done, good and faithful servant: enter into my JOY!
I promise you won’t even notice the pearly gates or streets of gold. You won’t be blown away by the size or the beauty of the city. I don’t think you’ll be looking for saints of old to ask them burning questions. You will be so overtaken and overwhelmed by JOY, that you will be beside yourself for a trillion years.
And Jesus says, oh you don’t have to wait until heaven to start into that.
- In John 17, He invites us to pray in his name and ask for him for anything, so that we would have joy now.
- After his resurrection and his ascension into heaven, the Church was marked by joy, even in the way they shared meals together. They witnessed with joy, and brought joy to each other through encouragement and providing for each other’s needs. Paul’s prayer for the Roman church is that God would fill them with JOY.
And just like HOPE that we talked about last week, JOY isn’t based on current circumstances. Paul also wrote that even in his affliction, he was overflowing with joy. The Apostle Peter wrote that the joy of being born into a living hope can’t be swayed even if you suffer grief in various trials. James the brother of Jesus goes so far as to say we should consider it joy when we face trials because of what good they are working in us.
Joy is so closely attached to hope that really the definition is the same. Joy is that unshakeable confidence in the character and nature of God, that not even the circumstances of life, no matter how difficult, can rip joy away from us. Why? Because joy isn’t something we produce on our own. It’s something the Spirit produces in us as he shines the light of Jesus into the dark corners of our hearts, our lives and our world.
And even when this life is over, and the Lord Jesus our groom returns to earth to gather up his bride the Church, Revelation 19 says, there will be a thunderous song sung by the host of heaven that says “Let us be glad, rejoice, and give him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come.”
And there won’t be a single person around that table who has to work to be joyful or glad. And we’ll have new bodies where rejoicing in the glories of Jesus our Savior will be as natural as an apple tree producing apples.
You might be here thinking, yeah that all sounds great, but you don’t know me. You don’t know my story.
- You don’t know how much I’ve messed up over the years. There is no way it’s as easy as “welp, Jesus took my sin and I’m free to go.”
- You’re wrong – it is that easy. Jesus really did take your sin and you are free.
- You’re right – it’s not that easy. There is something you have to do as a free person: Follow him. Wherever he leads you. Your life is no longer your own. Your story will look like Jesus’, complete with suffering and hardship. You might even be crucified like he was, either literally or figuratively.
- Even Jesus cautioned people before they followed him – hey, this means you take up your cross too. Count the cost before you decide to follow Jesus.
- But when the Holy Spirit shines the light of Jesus into your heart, takes out your heart of stone and puts in a heart that’s receptive to the good news of great joy – you will see Jesus as a treasure worth selling everything else to have.
- You don’t know how hard my life is.
- Great, Jesus paid for my sin, but that’s not really my biggest problem right now. I’m not sure what’s happening with my job. My kids. My marriage. My bigger problem right now is that I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. How does Jesus help me with that?
- Well, first of all, Sin is our biggest problem. Sin isn’t just oops, I know you said load the dishwasher and I forgot. Sin is anything I do that replaces God with something I love more than him. Sin is trusting myself more than him. Sin is when I take something good and creative that God has given us, and use it for my own pleasure instead of for his kingdom.
- Your broken marriage can bring you closer to God. Your sickness or losing your job can bring you closer to God. That’s why James says we should count it all joy when we go through trials like that. They don’t define you, and they certainly don’t push us away from God.
- But your sin does. Sin marks you as an enemy of God. Sin separates us from God, Isaiah tells us.
- Secondly, God does know how hard life is. Jesus came to earth, and lived just like you and me. I knows what it’s like to be a kid, a teenager, a young adult, a single adult. He knows what it’s like to be in business, what it’s like to have a family, what it’s like to be rejected, alone, abandoned. He knows what it’s like to have his own family against him. He knows what pain feels like. And for the JOY set before him, he endured the cross.
And what Jesus prayed for moments before he was crucified was that you and I would have HIS JOY completed in us. The same joy that says “even when I am beaten and whipped and bloody and alone and crushed for the sin of the world, I am so deeply loved and cherished and welcomed by my Heavenly Father that he will resurrect me, and restore me, and I’ll be with him, and he will be glorified by my life and my death…” Jesus prayed for you that you would have that kind of joy, both now and until the day you enter the joy of your Master.
And right this second, he is sitting next to the Father God in glory, working tirelessly as our mediator, our advocate, our intercession – constantly speaking to his Father on our behalf, so that our pain and suffering and sorry doesn’t have the final word in our story… JOY does.
Father God, would you grant us the joy of Jesus today. There may be many in this room who feel as if JOY is unreachable. That in the face of suffering or sin, JOY seems like a dream. But I thank you that in that manger 2000 years ago, salvation began to break through our sin-darkened world, and JOY was back on the table. God would you grant us the JOY of Jesus today, for the sake of your name. Amen.
- John Piper, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/how-do-you-define-joy (accessed Dec 2021)