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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Joy In Action

The precise linguistic distinction between joy and rejoicing is a matter I’ll leave to others, but it is fair to say that joy is most often understood to be an inward response of the spirit, a feeling we may or may not have.

So it is that David can say, “Restore unto me the joy of your salvation.” David rightly recognizes that a full and trusting reliance on God ought to produce an inward joy, a joy which sin mutes. So too in the New Testament we read, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”

Lingered Upon and Magnified

In contrast to that inward (and perhaps quiet) joy of salvation which is to be the hallmark of the Christian experience, scripture speaks often too of “rejoicing”; a joy that has been lingered upon and magnified beyond the bounds of the unobserved inner life. The word used for rejoice in the New Testament means “full of cheer”. Rejoicing is what happens when joy has filled us entirely.

Naturally, when something fills us entirely and continues to increase, it’s bound to overflow. Rejoicing, then, is joy in action, joy that finds expression in word or deed and has spilled out of a full inner life. Throughout a reading of both Old and New Testaments we find many references implying action, exhortations like: “Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem.” Joy properly appreciated should produce an outward effect — singing and shouting in this case. It’s hard to imagine a better picture of rejoicing, of joy made full and then overflowing, than that of the once-lame beggar we find in Acts 3:8; a man who literally jumped for joy.

Perpetual Rejoicing

We should also note here Paul’s injunction to the Thessalonians, “Rejoice always”. That’s pithy enough to commit to memory quickly and easily, but despite its brevity and simplicity, it remains a verse that we rarely apply with any consistency. We are instructed to rejoice in every circumstance and at all times; instead we grumble easily. The world — and perhaps more importantly, our own Christian family — should instead see a visible and consistent manifestation of gratitude to God in our daily lives regardless of trials we may face. Rejoice always.

Of course that is exactly the example we have in our Savior. C.I. Scofield notes that while the Lord Jesus was well spoken of in the early days of his earthly life, he had virtually nothing to say on the subject of joy. But on the night of his betrayal and in the sure knowledge of his impending crucifixion he spoke clearly and frequently about joy. His request in the upper room that night was that his joy would fill his disciples too, a joy that he held even in the face of multiple betrayals and his own impending death. The Psalmist refers to a strong man “rejoicing to run his race”, which in hindsight speaks eloquently of our Lord on the night he was betrayed.

Rejoicing Over God’s People

We are enjoined to rejoice evermore. We have been provided the best possible example of remaining joyful in the life of the Lord Jesus. It should not surprise us then to find that scripture often speaks of God the Father rejoicing.

It was certainly the case with his people Israel. Moses told God’s people:
“The Lord will again take delight [rejoice] in prospering you, as he took delight [rejoiced] in your fathers.”
The suggestion is not that God will be simply satisfied or content, nor even that he will be mildly pleased. The idea is that God will be so filled with joy over his people that his joy will find expression: He will “abundantly prosper” the work of their hands. Joy in action. A similar passage is found in the prophecies of Jeremiah, where again the Lord will rejoice over his chosen people and the result of that rejoicing will be their planting in the chosen land. Again, joy in action.

Rejoicing Over One Sinner

But God does not simply rejoice over Israel, nor does he confine his exuberance to the Old Testament. The parables of Luke 15 feature a lost sheep and a good shepherd, a lost coin and a diligent searcher and finally the lost son and a waiting, forgiving father. There are many wonderful lessons within those parables, but if we pause for a moment we’ll notice that all three end in shared joy: “Rejoice with me” is the repeated idea. The Lord’s words are almost too wonderful to be believed, but no matter how often I read the text they remain, and so I simply take them at face value:
“There will be … joy in heaven over one sinner that repents.”
It is a shared joy, a rejoicing in the presence of the angels, it is God’s joy over people just like us.

Slinking About With a Downcast Gaze

Groucho Marx famously quipped that he would never want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. The quote is repeated so often because it is so universal — it speaks directly to our sense of inadequacy. Once while traveling and tired and facing a long wait, we were providentially ushered into the airport’s first-class waiting area by a helpful baggage clerk. The amenities were wonderful and the rest was appreciated, but the ticket marked “coach” in my pocket was a constant reminder that I did not really belong and was not truly welcome there.

Often in the grip of conviction about some recent lost battle with sin I have imagined that heaven will be just a little like that feeling: it will be a wonderful place but I will slink about with downcast gaze — much like the prodigal imagined himself — constantly aware that I do not belong. Those sorts of thoughts do a grave injustice to a Shepherd who carries home the lost sheep, the diligent Searcher who wouldn’t stop searching, the Father who waits hopefully for the worst of sons and to the God who rejoices over repentant sinners.

Many Mansions and Repentant Failures

We often miss the context due to an unfortunate chapter break, but in John 14:2 the Lord Jesus is speaking to Peter — the same disciple who will shortly deny Christ three times in rapid succession with an oath. When Peter later reflected on his own failure and guilt, how comforting must the words of Jesus been to him: “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” For you. Even for those who deny, there is a place — there are, after all, many mansions; mansions reserved for sinners and failures who have repented.

We often dwell on that lovely opening phrase from Matthew 25: “Well done, good and faithful servant.” We emphasize that, and make it our goal to be faithful stewards. But the closing phrase of that passage is worth consideration too: “Enter into the joy of your master.”

The Best of All Possible Homes

Finally, among the closing sentences of scripture we find these words in Revelation:
Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”
What makes God rejoice? Repentant sinners fill the heart of God with joy — so much so that he is determined to share that joy with us. Repentant sinners are exactly who heaven was made to house, and we are not unwelcome guests there for a moment. We will spend eternity with the One who rejoices over us and has carried us to the best of all possible homes.

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