We have been considering in the past weeks the profound truth of what we might call the emotional life of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have been looking at the wonder of the incarnation, namely, that the Son of God was made in our flesh. The eternal Son of God, very God of God, not ceasing to be God, took to Himself flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary. He took a body, becoming fully a man, not a shell of a man, not a plastic man, not a replica of a man, but a true man, including human emotions of anger, love. He could sigh and have joy, yet always without sin. Whereas emotions in us are contaminated by sin, His were pure.
Today I would like to turn our attention to another emotion in Christ, namely, the emotion of joy. As we come to this truth, we must clear away two common and false notions. One is a false conception of our Lord based on an imbalanced understanding of what we read in Isaiah 53. There we read that Jesus Christ was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. An imbalanced understanding of those words would conclude that there was no element of joy or cheerfulness to be found in Christ during His earthly ministry – that He never laughed and that He never smiled. Not so. Although it is true that He was profoundly the Man of suffering, the Man of sorrows, yet He could say in Psalm 40, I come, I come; in the volume of the book of the law it is written of Me, I delight to do Thy will, O God. He possessed a deep and exuberant joy in fulfilling the will of God. Do not think that joy, God-centered joy, was absent from the Savior, that there was no radiance of a holy smile. For the Lord Himself said that His children would enter into the joy of their Lord. Still more, the whole purpose of His coming to take away our sins and to remove the curse which was upon us was in order to bring us to joy, the joy of salvation-to bring us to His joy. We read in Isaiah 61:3 that He was sent for those that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning. So the first common misconception that we must clear away is that our Lord’s life as a Man of sorrows was a life in which there was no cheerfulness and holy joy.
The second thing we must clear up is that we must distinguish the joy of the Lord from the superficial and artificial joy which is so commonly held up in the church-world today, a joy which is based on things going our way, on getting from God what we want, of being somehow worked up – groundless and merely fickle joy. The Lord said concerning His joy, in John 16, No man shall take My joy from you. His joy is the deep, spiritual joy of knowing the living God and being right with this God. It is the joy of the forgiveness of sins. It is the joy of belonging to Christ by pure grace of God. It is the understanding that even our trials are a blessing and that death is our servant. The joy of Christ was His holy happiness, His gladness and cheerfulness in God, God as His Father, a joy in doing the will of God even to save His people, eternally chosen of the Father, from their sins. It is this joy that Christ promised to us.
The Lord did not promise us a life in which there would be no tears, but He promised us a joy, a joy of knowing God as our God, a joy in the love and grace of God-not an empty, fleeting sentiment evaporating into mere feeling, but a joy based in the knowledge of the grace of God shown to us in Jesus Christ.
So, I’d like to speak for a few moments on the joy of Christ. We read, for instance, in Luke 10:21, the following: “In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.”
What was the cause of the joy of Jesus? We may say that the cause of His joy was the grace of God shown to His people. The Father’s grace, shown to His people who were made babes to receive the Word of God, that grace caused the Lord to rejoice. We read “in that same hour.” The hour referred to in Luke 10 was the hour when He had sent the seventy out to preach the gospel and to raise the dead and to cast out demons. These seventy have now come back to the Lord to report to Him. And they are filled with joy. We read in verse 17 that they returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name.” The Lord tempers this joy in verse 20. “Notwithstanding,” He says to them, “in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” He says, Here’s the real reason for joy: not so much that devils are cast out by you in My name, but because your names are written in heaven. The Lord sees the success of the preaching of the seventy, and in that He sees the grace of God opening the gospel to some and hiding it to others. Jesus’ joy, then, was caused by a fresh sight of God’s grace in the salvation of His people.
Then in verse 21 He goes on further to explain His joy. His joy was that the Father, out of an electing love, out of a sovereign love before the world began, had passed by the worldly wise and prudent and had chosen to reveal the gospel to those whom the world regarded as babes and foolish. The Father has hid from the wise and prudent, says the Lord, the things of the kingdom. Now the wise and prudent are men who are wise in terms of this world but not renewed in their heart. They did not believe. The Lord hid the gospel from them.
The problem that these men had was not in their minds, but in their hearts. They would not be convinced, for their hearts were hard. Atheism, the proud declaration that one does not believe in God or that there is a God, is not the beautiful flower of man’s intelligence, but it is the stinking weed of a hardened heart. The fool hath said, There is no God ( Ps. 14). But the gospel, says Jesus, has been revealed to babes, that is, to those whom God has made humble. As a child soaks up the words of instruction from a parent, so these have soaked up the word of the gospel preached unto them. Has the gospel been revealed to you? Has God revealed His Son to you? Do you know the salvation that is in Jesus Christ? The ground of our Savior’s joy was the sovereign grace of God. When He saw that God from eternity had willed to be gracious to some, that was His joy.
That means that His joy was caused by God and by His knowing God’s gracious purpose to save His people. Jesus stands as the One who has come to accomplish the Father’s purpose. And that purpose was that, of all whom the Father had given to Him, He should lose nothing but raise them up in the last day. He had appeared to execute the eternal plan of God, that God would have mercy upon whom He will have mercy. Out of His eternal love, God had willed to save His chosen. Now, seeing the grace of God at work, and bringing sinners through the preaching of the gospel to repentance and faith, Jesus rejoiced in spirit.
It was this joy, His joy in God, which was the strength of the Lord. It was the strength which led Him and gave Him refreshment on the dark paths of His suffering. We read in Hebrews 12:2, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Realizing that the way that God would save His people would be the way of His own bearing of their sins upon the cross, our Lord’s joy was in beholding the Father’s grace in accomplishing salvation.
And this gift of Christ’s joy, He gives unto us. John 15:11, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.” That my joy might be in you! Again, John 17:13, “And now come I to thee (Father); and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
What does it mean to have the joy of Christ in us? It means that we have a profound understanding of the grace of God in our hearts. The truly joyful person is the one who has been brought to know the grace of God. What was the message of the angels to the shepherds on the night of the Lord’s birth? “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy…. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” Joy, true, God-given joy does not rest upon earthly things or earthly circumstances, but that joy is found when the Holy Spirit has revealed to you God’s grace toward you, a vile sinner. When the light of grace dawns upon your heart, the love of God in Jesus Christ, then an emotion is produced. One does not respond in a blasé attitude. But one responds in humility and reverence. We say, Lord, who am I? I am not worthy of this. But, by God’s Spirit, one also responds in joy, a joy that our sins have been forgiven, that our names are written in heaven with the blood of the Son of God.
Listen to what Paul says in Romans 5:11, “And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” Joy, the joy of the Lord, is the dawning upon our hearts of the wonderful grace of God in the giving of His Son to save us from our sins.
Do you possess that joy?
That gift of joy is made the possession of God’s children. That joy is not found under the Christmas tree. That joy is not found in a new dress or a new bike. That joy is not found in being the most popular guy in the class. That joy is found only at the foot of the cross. Only when, by the love of God, we are bowed with sincere sorrow at the foot of the cross and we see the Son of God who has died for our sins, only then can the child of God experience joy, lasting joy, real joy, the joy of a forgiven sinner, the joy of heart that my sins are gone, the joy of knowing that a payment has been made for my sin and I now appear spotless before God. The psalmist said, Thou hast put joy and gladness in my heart more than in the time when their wine and corn increase.
The joy of the world? Oh, that is centered in success, in drink, in one’s own pleasures, in breaking the law of God, in material things, in honor-and all of these things vanish as a dream; they are nothing.
The joy of the believer? The joy of the believer is Christ crucified for my sins. Thus the joy unspeakable and full of glory. Now, is this joy yours?
With that grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ comes all the blessings of salvation which cause us to rejoice in our spirits. They are solid. They are unalterable blessings. We may rejoice in them. We possess Christ. We belong to Him by the love of God. And, because we belong to Him, He has promised to lead and to care for us. Entrusted unto Christ we have His promise: I will not leave you or forsake you. Imagine this! In a joyless world, where men run to and fro for something to satisfy and to give them comfort in the midst of misery and ruin, what a portion we have in Christ, what a rest, what a joy! We rejoice in Jesus Christ and have no confidence in our own flesh.
Still more, through Jesus Christ, God is now our heavenly Father. We are welcomed at the throne of grace. Heaven is our home. We are looking forward to the return of Jesus Christ. Rejoice, Christian! Lift up your head. The child of God is the only one who has a reason to be joyful in this world.
It is very important that the joy of Christ be in us. In Nehemiah 8:10 we read, “the joy of the LORD is your strength.” When we are low and despairing and weak and fall into temptations, it is so often because we are not living in the joy of the Lord. When joy is full, we are strong against evil, we bear up under the burdens, and temptations seem to lose their power. But when that joy of the Lord is gone, we lose spiritual strength, and, like Samson of old, we lose our power against sin.
Do we lose sight of our Savior in this world? Do we look only upon the darkness and the sin and the death around us? It is only Jehovah’s kindly face in Jesus Christ that gives happiness and grace to all that are pure hearted.
How do we maintain that joy of the Lord? Well, we do that first of all by doing the will of God. This was how Christ experienced His joy. He said, My joy is to do Thy will. Obedience to God was the way in which the fullness of joy was Christ’s. So also for us. There are many people who live under the notion that following one’s feelings will bring them joy. They believe that emotions determine reality. If I feel it is so, it must be so. What I feel is the measure of what is. That is heresy! The measure of what is reality is what God says, the Word of God. How did Christ determine reality? He determined reality from the Word of His Father. He lived by every Word that proceeded from the mouth of God. So we also shall experience His joy, not by living as we feel like living, but by doing the will of God.
Let not your emotions determine the path of your duty. Obey the Lord God and enter into the joy of your Lord. Do not walk with half steps. But walk with full steps of obedience to Christ.
Still more. If we are to experience that joy of the Lord we must also constantly look by faith to Christ. He is the One who has suffered and died for our sins and has purchased for us the right of the Father’s presence.
When we see Christ and the grace of God to us miserable sinners in Christ, then we may repeat with the psalmist, At Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore-joy, abounding joy, knowing that the smile of God is upon us in Christ and that He has called us His children.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for our Savior whose joy it was to do Thy will. We thank Thee for Thy grace, that from eternity Thou hast willed to save us in Thy Son Jesus Christ. We pray that our joy may be that true and everlasting joy which is found in Him. Give us to walk as children of the King in this world. In His name do we pray, Amen.