WORDS OF SALVATION
© Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2002
STUDY TWELVE: JOY
We now have come full circle in our studies on Words of Salvation. In the first study we saw that salvation is about incarnation: that great and incredible act in which the almighty, eternal God, stepped into time and space clothed in human flesh, revealing himself to us in a way that we can see and understand. If he had not done this we would still be in the darkness, ignorant of his true nature, worshipping, serving and fearing gods created by our own minds.
That point in time, that point at which God came to us, was a cause of joy:
- The wise men knew this: 'When they saw the star, they were overjoyed' (Matthew 2:10)
- The angels knew this: 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.' (Luke 2:10,11).
Here is a twofold cause of joy: firstly, that God has come to us and made himself known, and secondly, that he has come to us as the one who saves us. These two foundations of our faith: true knowledge of God and the accompanying knowledge of salvation are historically linked in the Bible as the basis of true joy.
David experienced this joy:
'Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD
and delight in his salvation' (Psalm 35:9).
Isaiah knew this joy:
'I delight greatly in the LORD;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness ... ' (Isaiah 61:10).
Habakkuk, surrounded by every reason to despair, stated:
'yet I will rejoice in the LORD,
I will be joyful in God my Saviour.' (Habakkuk 3:18).
' ... we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation' (Romans 5:11).
Grounded in knowing God and knowing his salvation Christian joy is an eternal joy. Isaiah told of 'everlasting joy' (Isaiah 35:10; 61:7) and Jesus promised 'you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy' (John 16:22). Paul calls us to centre our joy exclusively on the Lord: 'finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord! ... Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!' (Philippians 3:1; 4:4). The Lord is the source, the cause and the focus of Christian joy; because he does not change, neither does the cause of Christian joy change.
There are things that change:
- earthly conditions - physical, economic, social - change, but Christian joy is not based on earthly comforts or success (Habakkuk 3:17,18).
- personal relationships change and cease, but Christian joy is not the absence of earthly sorrow (Romans 12:15).
- our ability to obey moral and religious laws fluctuates, but Christian joy is not based on human moral or religious achievement (Philippians 3:1-11).
It is good to enjoy any good gift that God gives us and to thank him for it with joy, but it is wrong to make them the source, cause and focus of joy. Such joy is temporary and insecure. It is interesting that one of the New Testament verbs for 'rejoice' is also the word for 'glory' or 'boast'. This raises the question: what do we rejoice in? What do we glory in, or boast about?
Is the source, cause and focus of our rejoicing, our glorying, our boasting human (our possessions, our relationships, our abilities, our religious performance) or divine (God and our salvation in Jesus Christ)?
Jeremiah expressed it this way:
' "Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom
or the strong man boast of his strength
or the rich man boast of his riches,
but let him who boasts boast about this:
that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness,
justice and righteousness on earth,
for in these I delight," declares the LORD.' (Jeremiah 9:23,24).
The joy that Jesus both promised and prayed for - 'that they may have the full measure of my joy within them' (John 17:13), this fullness of joy, this everlasting joy promised by the prophets, is ours. It is part of the salvation we have in Christ Jesus. It is 'an inexpressible and glorious joy' (1 Peter 1:9). It is a grand, confident joy, too great for words.
Why then ... behind their sometimes smiling faces and joyous expressions of worship ... do so many of today's Christians live with deep inner fears and insecurities, spiritual despair and depression, condemnation and guilt, and joyless disillusionment?
Why this despairing lack of true joy that permeates the lives of so many Christians? Why has this fear supplanted the joy promised by the angels?
Is salvation just 'pie in the sky' after all, with no present cause for joy? Does Jesus Christ have no relevance to our relationship to God here and now, but merely a rain-check hope to be cashed in at some distant and currently irrelevant future date?
- Now, we are the children of God. (1 John 3:2).
- Now, we have eternal life (1 John 5:12; John 3:36; 5:24).
- Now, we both see and know God in Christ (John 14:6-10)
- Now, we are not condemned (John 3:18; Romans 8:1).
- Now, we are blessed with every spiritual blessing that heaven has to offer (Ephesians 1:3; Colossians 2:10).
- Now, we have bold and confident access into the very presence of God (Hebrews 10:19-22; Romans 5:2; Ephesians 2:18; 3:12).
Well might Isaiah cry out to this generation of the people of God:
'Do you not know?
Have you not heard?' (Isaiah 40:21,27).
And then remind us
'Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The LORD, the LORD, is my strength and my song;
he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation. ...
Sing to the LORD, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.' (Isaiah 12:2,3,5,6).
Nehemiah said it well:
' ... the joy of the LORD is your strength' (Nehemiah 8:10).
There is another, unexpected, aspect to joy: God himself rejoices in us:
'The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing.' (Zephaniah 3:17).
' ... for the LORD will take delight in you,
... as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride,
so will your God rejoice over you.' (Isaiah 62:4,5).
The Lord rejoices in us: for this reason he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). Let us then rejoice in him, with hearts full of joy and gratitude let us exult with David:
'Then will I go .. to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you ... O God, my God.' (Psalm 43:4).