Last revision: 01 December 2002
I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
THE JOY OF JESUS
By Edgar Jones
The joy of Jesus is the joy of a child. Have you memories of childhood joy such as, to give an example from my own childhood, when Mother announced that Uncle Zeke was coming to visit? Uncle Zeke, who always brought gifts seldom seen on our Depression Era farm? "Oh boy, Uncle Zeke is coming!" I would think and perhaps shout as I ran out of the house, the battered screen door slamming behind me. I remembered his last visit, when he brought our first radio, and the excitement of the whole family as we gathered round it that evening, straining for what we might hear using only a wash tub for an antenna and planning to put up a proper antenna the next morning. So likewise, the joy of Jesus is the joy of childlike anticipation of something wonderful in the future.
The joy of Jesus is also the joy of a child who has good parents on whom the child depends for everything, so there is no anxiety about anything because Mom and Dad have always provided every need, both for today and tomorrow. It is a carefree joy that comes from the trust in parents who provide, as did mine, even in the hardest times. It is the childlike joy of knowing the love of good parents who make every day a blessing, and provide no incentive to worry about tomorrow. This is the joy of Jesus, who said,Except you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:3)The joy of Jesus is therefore a two-fold joy. It is a present joy growing out of the immediate condition of trust in the heavenly Father and his love, in which there is no fear. It also grows out of anticipating the future blessedness of having a place in the Father's house where one has eternal life and an inheritance in the Father's kingdom. It is the joy of eternity, even as we appropriate it for the duration of this present life in time in the confidence that the heavenly Father will provide for every need, both here and there. It is the joy that comes to a childlike heart from a conscience that is clear and without guilt because Jesus has shown us how we can overcome evil in following him. It is the joy that comes from having hope of an Eternal Blessedness.
A child almost never thinks of dying; the end of life is no cause for worry, it is too far away. So also, the joy of Jesus is like the joy of a child in that it wipes away the fear of death and replaces it with a wondrous anticipation of an Eternal Blessedness; with a longing to go to the Father's house in his good time. Like a child who can hardly wait, every day that passes leaves us rejoicing all the more in the confidence that we will see Him just that much sooner.
But the joy of Jesus does not arise from an earthly focus. It does not come from the world or from any investment in this world. The joy of Jesus blesses all people that journey through this world in hope of an Eternal Blessedness. We are like pioneers in covered wagons crossing the plains of the American West, who willingly suffered extreme trials every day of their journey because they rejoiced in the expectation of a much better life "out there."
The joy of Jesus is aroused in us daily as we contemplate our blessings. It comes to us sometimes unexpectedly when we have been given an opportunity to assist a needy soul in distress, as did the Good Samaritan.
Jesus and his Gospel of the Kingdom are filled with blessing, joy and rejoicing, hope, expectation, optimism, freedom, contentment and victory. His are words of light and not of darkness; they are words of life and not of death, of hope and not of fear. His words are wonderful indeed! And, oh, I do not want you to miss the wonder! What a tragedy it is when one does not see and share the joy of Jesus.
When we lift Jesus from the pages of the gospels and present him to human beings as he really is (not as the church has presented him) the sight is unattractive to those with an earth-bound vision. This is only a reaction driven by a mistaken view of the purpose of our existence and results from the love of life in this world that compels us to place our faith in a temporal happiness and to expend our resources to that end. To enthusiastically commit a significant portion of our lives to the quest so as to make it an essential part of our self identification, and then to be told that the quest is vain – that is sour grapes to the max! Repulsed by the thought, we close our minds to it and press on, oblivious to the certain unhappy end that lies before us. This is the essence of the problem – our belief in a happy ending in time and our persistent attachment to that vision, all contrary to the reality that is ours. What a tragic misconception of life and values!
A Fundamental Problem
This does not at all mean that we are fated to be unhappy either in this life or the life to come. To the contrary, Jesus calls us to the experience of the hope of blessedness so wonderful that there is, in Truth and when our faith is strong, nothing in this life that can make us unhappy! We need only expand our view of reality to include, with equal clarity, the eternal verities that await those who put their trust in them. Then, stripped of vain aspirations, we rejoice and thank our Father in heaven for the joy of Jesus.
The very word that defines his message, "gospel" is a word packed with joyful hope and exciting expectations of mighty works of God. To those who heard him speak, the word indicated that he was the herald of wonderful good news. To the First Century Jews, a people downtrodden, despairing and crushed by the avalanches of cruel history, his good news of the kingdom was a call to take heart. God had not deserted them! The long awaited kingdom was coming, and it was very near. The multitudes heard him joyfully and he not only lifted their spirits with his gospel of hope and expectation, but also brought them great joy by healing their cripples, exorcising their demons, giving sight to their blind, cleansing their lepers and even raising their dead. He could turn a funeral dirge into a celebration!
The Mood of the Gospel
He launched his magnum opus, the Sermon on the Mount, with a series of nine blessings, saying,Blessed are the poor in spirit,"Blessed" here is translated from the New Testament Greek, makarioi, that summons up a vision of great joy. There are other beatitudes scattered through the gospels. When the Baptist sent word by his disciples asking, "Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?" Jesus responded by recounting his wonderful works:
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called the sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you
And utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,
For so men persecuted the prophets who were before you.The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me. (Matt. 11:2-6, Luke 7:18-23)When asked by his disciples why he spoke to the multitude in parables, he explained that the people were unwilling to see and hear the truth. Then he looked on his disciples and said,But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear. (Matt. 13:16, Luke 10:23,24)When Peter confessed, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God" Jesus replied,Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! (Matt. 16:16,17)He said to Thomas, the doubter,Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe. (John 20:29)Rejoice and be glad! You are blessed! That is the response he expected from the hearing of his words, for they promised rest for the weary, freedom for the enslaved, deliverance for the fearful, hope for the despairing, light for the blind and life for the dead.Therefore, do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. If God so clothes the grass of the field, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore, do not be anxious . . . your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matt. 6:30-34)Rejoice and be glad!
If you, then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matt. 7:11)
Jesus is the enemy of all fear and anxiety, which are blight on the lives of the multitudes.Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.He spoke of the trivial worth of a sparrow, but then said,. . . not one of them is forgotten before God. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.So, whether it be a deadly enemy, or uncertainty about ability to pay one's bills or even having something to eat today, or the approaching shadow of death, Jesus calls on all to be of good cheer. We can rejoice in the confidence that our Father ever looks upon us and will never hide his face from us. I can say with great pleasure that it is most wonderful and full of joy, this confidence in God that confronts all uncertainty with trust in my Father's love and care. I would not want to face a single day without this confidence in my Father, yet untold millions do. It is therefore no cause to wonder at the fear and anxiety of the multitudes that have never responded to Jesus and his joyous message. This world is so very full of worry – and so needlessly! Listen to Jesus – really hear him, then you, too, will rejoice and be glad!
Do not fear those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. (Luke 12:4-7)
He promises many wonderful gifts that purge our lives of fear, anxiety, worry, dread and despair. These gifts are available to all that take up the cross and follow him.
His Wonderful PromisesCome unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.Most wonderful of all, of course, is his promise of eternal life.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you . . .. (John 14:27)
I have said this to you that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
So, if the son makes you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:36).I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25,26)I joyfully testify to everyone: he keeps his promises! In him there is rest, joy, freedom, peace, and eternal life – yes, and also our daily bread.
I came that you might have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)
Jesus loved to tell a story with a happy ending. There was the wretched beggar, Lazarus, who arose to the bosom of Abraham. There was the glad reunion of the prodigal son with his father, and the five wise virgins who joyfully entered into the wedding feast.
The Happy Ending Jesus
He tells the Parable of the Talents, in which the "good and faithful" servants receive a wonderful reward from their master announced by the words, "Well done! Enter into the joy of your master!" Of course, the happiest ending of all crowned the story of his life – his exaltation to the Father! Wonder of wonders – this is the ending he has promised to all his faithful disciples when, at the last judgment, he says to those at his right hand,Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. (Matt. 25:34)Rejoice and be glad!
I would be deceptive, however, if I did not acknowledge that in the message of Jesus there are also unhappy endings. He did not, he does not, distort the reality that confronts us. Yes, poor Lazarus rose to the bosom of Abraham, but the rich man descended into torment. The five wise virgins rejoiced at the wedding feast, but the five foolish ones were turned away. While, in the Parable of the Talents, the good and faithful servants enter into the joy of their master, the "worthless servant" is cast into the "outer darkness, where men weep and gnash their teeth."
We all love the happy ending. To this end Christendom's multitudes focus on the "happy ending now" Jesus to the neglect of the other side of his message, which is the happy ending in eternity. We cannot know Jesus apart from the whole, and those who neglect the other side are being deceived and deceiving themselves.
I think this goes a long way toward explaining why some will find the full message of Jesus to be not joyful. It is a matter of perspective, and their perspective radically differs from that of our Lord. They are looking to a temporal fulfillment and for a happy ending here and now. But this is not compatible with the reality with which we have to deal -- at least, not for the multitudes. Jesus’ perspective was different. Like one standing atop a high mountain, he could see beyond history and mere creation to the ultimate consummation of all things in Eternity. There is his happy ending, sure and everlasting for all that respond positively to his word of absolute Truth. His Truth is absolute because he framed it in the light of the totality of reality, whereas we tend to opt for conceptions of reality defined exclusively in terms of relative temporal entities. Unlike Jesus, we do not now stand on that high mountain, which greatly limits our vision. While we are fitted for eternity, and have the lust for it in our hearts, we do not see it in prospect and too often settle for visions of temporal happy endings that are unrealistic and unfulfilling.
A Matter of Perspective
Jesus’ perception of reality, seen from his high perspective, differs radically from that of human beings. Seeing that the only realistic happy ending is in Eternity, to lead us to attain it he willingly accepted time's most unhappy ending. Furthermore, he clearly understood and taught that all those that invest themselves in the quest of the happy ending in time must forfeit the eternal one. He has Abraham say to the unhappy rich man in his torment,Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish."He once said to his host, a Pharisee ruler who had invited him to a feast,
"When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just. (Luke 14:13,14).It is in the light of the last beatitude that he said, "Rejoice and be glad." Here we are returned to the joy of Jesus, and it is ironic that it stands in the shadow of persecution and calumny. Why are the "blessed" blessed? Jesus explained immediately, "For great is your reward in heaven." From his high perspective he could see over and beyond the reviling, the persecution and calumny to the joy filled house of the Father in heaven with its eternally happy prospects. It is to that goal alone that he calls us, so that as his disciples we will truly become heavenly minded. It is in the light of this vision that he calls us to purge our hearts of earthly treasure and all vain ambition and to lay up our treasures in heaven.
It was the vision of an Eternal Blessedness that inspired the joy of Jesus, and that will do the same in the experience of his followers. It is our hope of an Eternal Blessedness beyond the veil of affliction that inspires our joy as well, so that even in the face of adversity we are enabled to rejoice daily, whatever our lot.Be patient!Listen, now, to the holy angels who appeared and spoke to the shepherds. They said,
Rejoice and be glad!
Blessed are you!
You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just;
Rejoice, for great is your reward – in heaven!Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10,11)Oh, do not miss the Joy of Jesus! Let the joy begin now, enriching our days on this earth with the peace and contentment born of confidence in an eternal blessedness!
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