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Great Joy

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The joy is not always in getting what we want but in letting go of what we don't need.

   --James S. Hewett,

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." (Luke 2:10, NIV) [1]

"Be joyful always;" (1 Thessalonians 5:16, NIV) [2]

This is the third Advent Sunday and today “joy” becomes the subject of the message.  Never mind all the normal seasonal hub-bub, it seems that it is impossible to ignore that the scriptures introduce the long awaited Messiah in the context of “great joy that will be for all the people.”  If you can somehow find yourself exempted from that qualifier then I guess you can choose to be as “joyless” as you wish.  When I am talking about “joy”, I am not necessarily talking about “happiness”.

Happiness is caused by things that happen around me, and circumstances will mar it; but joy flows right on through trouble; joy flows on through the dark; joy flows in the night as well as in the day; joy flows all through persecution and opposition. It is an unceasing fountain bubbling up in the heart; a secret spring the world can't see and doesn't know anything about. The Lord gives his people perpetual joy when they walk in obedience to him.

 

Sometimes the simple fact that we are committed to our sorrow, or our despair, . . . or the fact that we dismiss the exhortations that we receive from others as insensitivity, . . . causes us to deliberately refuse to pursue this blessing that God wants to give us.

Because “joy” does come from God.  It is something supernatural.  It is something that we are invited to “experience” that is above and beyond the circumstances of life.  And yet it is something that impacts those circumstances and the way that we live in the midst of things. 

Joy is a “spiritual” presence.  The presence of joy may be more difficult to define that its absence.  You know it when a person is inwardly joyful, when they have some sustaining power about them, the kind that helps them to persevere and the kind that others draw strength and encouragement from.  This quality is obvious in certain people and we might not call it joy at first reflection.  Even more obvious is the absence of joy in a person’s life.  They become a cloudy presence in the lives of others.  They kill the ability that others have to laugh and rob them of this simple therapy.  Joy you know it when it’s present and you know it when it’s absent.  The point is that God intends for His people to be a joyful people. 

“I have everything I need for joy!” Robert Reed said.

 

“Amazing!” I thought.

 

His hands are twisted and his feet are useless. He can’t bathe himself. He can’t feed himself. He can’t brush his teeth, comb his hair, or put on his underwear. His shirts are held together by strips of Velcro. His speech drags like a worn-out audio cassette.

 

Robert has cerebral palsy.

 

The disease keeps him from driving a car, riding a bike, and going for a walk. But it didn’t keep him from graduating from high school or attending Abilene Christian University, from which he graduated with a degree in Latin. Having cerebral palsy didn’t keep him from teaching at a St. Louis junior college or from venturing overseas on five mission trips.

 

And Robert’s disease didn’t prevent him from becoming a missionary in Portugal.

 

He moved to Lisbon, alone, in 1972. There he rented a hotel room and began studying Portuguese. He found a restaurant owner who would feed him after the rush hour and a tutor who would instruct him in the language.

 

Then he stationed himself daily in a park, where he distributed brochures about Christ. Within six years he led seventy people to the Lord, one of whom became his wife, Rosa.

 

I heard Robert speak recently. I watched other men carry him in his wheelchair onto the platform. I watched them lay a Bible in his lap. I watched his stiff fingers force open the pages. And I watched people in the audience wipe away tears of admiration from their faces. Robert could have asked for sympathy or pity, but he did just the opposite. He held his bent hand up in the air and boasted, “I have everything I need for joy.”

 

His shirts are held together by Velcro, but his life is held together by joy.

No man had more reason to be miserable than this one—yet no man was more joyful.

 

His first home was a palace. Servants were at his fingertips. The snap of his fingers changed the course of history. His name was known and loved. He had everything—wealth, power, respect.

 

And then he had nothing.

 

Students of the event still ponder it. Historians stumble as they attempt to explain it. How could a king lose everything in one instant?

 

One moment he was royalty; the next he was in poverty.

 

His bed became, at best, a borrowed pallet—and usually the hard earth. He never owned even the most basic mode of transportation and was dependent upon handouts for his income. He was sometimes so hungry he would eat raw grain or pick fruit off a tree. He knew what it was like to be rained on, to be cold. He knew what it meant to have no home.

 

His palace grounds had been spotless; now he was exposed to filth. He had never known disease, but was now surrounded by illness.

 

In his kingdom he had been revered; now he was ridiculed. His neighbors tried to lynch him. Some called him a lunatic. His family tried to confine him to their house.

 

Those who didn’t ridicule him tried to use him. They wanted favors. They wanted tricks. He was a novelty. They wanted to be seen with him—that is, until being with him was out of fashion. Then they wanted to kill him.

He was accused of a crime he never committed. Witnesses were hired to lie. The jury was rigged. No lawyer was assigned to his defense. A judge swayed by politics handed down the death penalty.

 

They killed him.

 

He left as he came—penniless. He was buried in a borrowed grave, his funeral financed by compassionate friends. Though he once had everything, he died with nothing.

 

He should have been miserable. He should have been bitter. He had every right to be a pot of boiling anger. But he wasn’t.

 

He was joyful.

 

Sourpusses don’t attract a following. People followed him wherever he went.

 

Children avoid soreheads. Children scampered after this man.

 

Crowds don’t gather to listen to the woeful. Crowds clamored to hear him.

 

/Why? He was joyful. He was joyful when he was poor. He was joyful when he was abandoned. He was joyful when he was betrayed. He was even joyful as he hung on a tool of torture, his hands pierced with six-inch Roman spikes.[3] /

And what do the scriptures tell us about this man that is for our good all the time, all year round?

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." (Hebrews 12:2, NIV) [4]

You see in Jesus case, he was fully God and fully man.  Love would not allow Him to remain detached in heaven, in the face of human need.  True love is never passive.  True love should compel us to leave the church building as much as it compelled Christ to leave heaven.

I don’t believe that it was any easier for Christ to embrace the task before Him as it may be for any of us here today to face what may be before us.

But he faced, what he faced “for the joy set before Him”.  I believe that the same joy can help us in several areas today.

1.  He endured the cross.

When you think about joy as an endurance factor it is somewhat different – it makes it more of an “everyday” thing.  In this context it is not a “woo hoo” thing but something that is essential to a person in day to day living.

That’s hardly a frivolous thing is it.  So many times people hear joy advocated as denial – not so.  Jesus was not in denial.  The joy of a mission accomplished allowed Him to “endure” the cross.

I know for me there are many days when I don’t want to be a preacher – I don’t want to be around preachers.  As a matter of fact my early morning sanity comes from the fact that I don’t have to be a preacher between about 5:00 and 8:00 each morning. 

In those days when I’m not so happy about being a minister, I find strength to function, to do my job from the fact that I do what I do for God alone.

I do it because of a “joy” that is set before me as well.  I want to hear God say, “Well done thou good and faithful servant.”

There are days when people make life difficult for me.  I find that I am more vulnerable emotionally to Christian people who in my mind should know better than to behave as they do sometimes.  It’s not wild and raucous living that disturbs me so much as the obvious disregard that some followers of Christ seem to have when it comes to the ways that we treat one another.  The scripture seems fairly strong to me that you can’t love God and hate people.  You can’t act lovingly toward God and act hatefully or spitefully toward people.  The scripture indicates that a person who does this is a liar when it comes to their profession and they have no hope of heaven.  I think that there are “snarly” saints who may be as saved as anyone else and they will probably find their way to heaven.  But in the back of my mind, I hope that when they walk through the pearly gates, that God gives them a great bug hug and then gives them the spanking of their eternal life and sends them to their room for a thousand years.

There are days when the presence of joy does not necessarily bring happiness.  It brings the ability to endure – to press on.

2.  He scorned the shame of the cross.

Joy is a pride combatant.  It is something that facilitates humility and servanthood.  Not only was the death of Christ a horrific experience physically.  It must have challenged everything that was within Him as He was accosted, ridiculed, mocked by people that he came to save.  By people that He could have destroyed with a thought.

That’s everyday life as well isn’t it?  There’s nothing worse than being misjudged.

Jesus suffered a “shameful” death.  It would be akin to our being imprisoned for a crime that we did not commit and executed for that offense.

It is so human to want to rush to our own defense.  There are times when the best thing that we can say is “nothing”.  There are times when arguing just makes things worse.

Pastor Buckingham used to say, “Never argue with a pig because when you do, you both get dirty and the pig loves it.”

Jesus was fixed on something greater than His own identity as God clothed in flesh.  There was something far greater at stake.  He saw a grander picture – a picture of redemption which allowed Him to suffer the “shame” of the cross as well as the pain of the cross.

3.  He accomplished His mission.

Hebrews 12:2 calls him the author and the perfecter of our faith.  He finished what he started.  Joy can help us to finish well also.  It’s not as though it depends solely on us.  The opposite is actually true.

I believe that joy helps people to finish well.  If we look around us too much we can find ourselves in jeopardy.  The writer of Hebrews suggest that we “fix our eyes” or “lock on” to the example of Jesus.

You are not perfect, . . .  I am not perfect.  If I watch you and you watch me then that is not a good recipe for joy.  But if you remain “fixed” on the example of Christ there is joy to be found. 

I’ll tell you this for certain, without joy none of us will ever finish well.

There is a world of difference between what motivates us to do something and what keeps us on task.

q     Guilt

q     Fear

q     Obligation

These things can cause us to begin a religious experience but they can never sustain one.

Joy is love exalting and peace is love at rest.

Patience, love enduring in every trial and test.

Gentleness, love yielding to all that is not sin.

Goodness, love in actions that flow from Christ within.

Faith is love's eyes opened, the loving Christ to see.

Meekness, love not fighting but bowed at Calvary.

Temperance, love in harness and under Christ's control.

The Christ is love in person, and love, Christ in the soul.

 -- Missionary Dr. Kenneth Moyner, quoted by John Stott, "A Vision for Holiness,"


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[1]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[2]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

[3]Lucado, M. (1996). The applause of heaven (6). Dallas [Tex.: Word Pub.

[4]  The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

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