READ : Luke 15:7, 10
Knowing Christ, suffering with him, and seeing his saving work brings heaven’s joy down to earth.
We’re talking in these days about the most beautiful book in the world, the Gospel according to Luke, and we’ve seen various facets of the Good News in this book. Today it’s the good news of heaven’s joy on earth.
During my college years I worked in Grand Central Station. One of my favorite pastimes was to go out in the station on my lunch hour just to watch the people. I especially noted the expressions on their faces. As they hurried by, none of them imagined that anyone was looking at them. They weren’t wearing masks and weren’t trying to conceal anything. Their faces, it seemed to me, reflected their inner state . . . some angry, some preoccupied, some afraid, some just empty, dull, tired. Some were quite sad. What impresses me most as I remember is that so few seemed to have a light of joy on their faces.
But you say, “Who in Grand Central Station would be feeling happy?” You may have a point there. But I’ve noted the same thing in other groups. Even in churches. I wonder if the people I look out on on Sunday mornings are glad to be where they are, glad to be alive, glad to be Christians. I wonder often if they have found heaven’s joy here on earth.
The Apostle Paul wrote to his friends in Corinth that he didn’t want to lord it over their faith, but he wanted to be a helper of their joy. Isn’t that a beautiful phrase? “A helper of their joy.” Someone wrote this to our son David after he died.
I will not wish you riches, nor the glory of greatness, but that wherever you go, some weary heart will gladden at your smile, or shadowed life know sunshine for awhile, and so your path shall be a track of light, like angel footsteps passing through the night.
To be a helper of people’s joy that’s a wonderful thing. It’s my desire today to further your gladness if I can, to see you rejoice more fully, and I with you, not just for our benefit but for others. The Bible says, “A merry heart does good like a medicine.” And for our witness as Christians, the joy of the Lord is our strength. There’s something really magnetic about joy. Jesus had it all the time.
Joy in Sins Forgiven
And we think, what could bring us genuine joy? Someone says joy is the fruit of the Spirit. That’s right. If we’re filled with
the Spirit, we’re filled with joy. Another adds, “Spell it out: J-O-Y when there’s nothing between Jesus and you.” But maybe we need to say more clearly and specifically how joy happens. What is it about being a Christian that leads to genuine joy? The first thing is the joy of sins forgiven.
Remember the message of the angel at the birth of Jesus? “Good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people, for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” He comes to save us from our sins, from guilt, bondage and condemnation.
Remember that woman in Simon’s home who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and anointed them with the ointment? What were her tears about? Penitence, yes, but more than that. Many of us cry more readily when we’re happy than when we’re sad. She is so grateful to be forgiven, so full of devotion to Jesus, that these are tears of thankful joy.
What about Zacchaeus, the little man that Jesus called down out of the tree and then visited in his home? Zacchaeus is glad to hear that Jesus wants to come to his house. He is despised and hated. He’s now found acceptance and forgiveness. So now this man, marvelously, is ready to give away the wealth he had schemed for and hoarded up for sheer joy.
Or think of the eunuch with whom Philip shared the gospel out in the wilderness. He’s heard the good news of Jesus, how he was wounded for our transgressions, how he died for our sins that we could be forgiven. He requested baptism and has been baptized. Now he goes on his way rejoicing.
And one of the chief ones who found the joy of sins forgiven was King David. After the worst, darkest chapter of his life, for awhile he tried to hide his sin. He tried to conceal what he had done, and then when he was finally awakened and confessed he found great joy. He sings about that in Psalm 32.
When I kept silent, my bones waxed old through my roaring all day long. Day and night your hand was heavy upon me. My moisture turned to the drought of summer.
How miserable he was when he didn’t confess his sins! But then he thought, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and God forgave the guilt of his sin. Now he sings, “O, the blessedness of those whose sins are forgiven!” How wonderful it is when our guilt is taken away, when we are in a right relationship with God. Joy springs up in a fresh and powerful way. The joy of sins forgiven!
Joy in Suffering with Christ
Strangely there’s also a joy in suffering with Christ. Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you, revile you and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy.” How can that possibly happen when you suffer? There’s a mystery about that in the Scriptures. These things that Jesus talked about usually make us sad, discouraged and offended. But when it’s on account of the Son of Man, for the sake of Jesus, we are blessed. We are happy. We are to be glad in the assurance of great things coming. We take the long view. And in anticipation we rejoice.
You see that joy in suffering with the apostles time and again in the book of Acts when they are flogged and shamed. They go away rejoicing because they’re counted worthy to suffer shame for the sake of Jesus. That is just amazing as you ponder it. When they’re persecuted, when they’re driven away, when they’re rejected and cast out, yet they go away filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit!
This is a great new reality that came to the world in the gospel: suffering mingled with joy. People had known in the stoic tradition what it was to be unmoved in the face of disaster and loss, to keep a “stiff upper lip.” But to be happy in evil times, to rejoice when you are suffering, to celebrate when everything falls apart for you that combination was really shocking. Peter talks about a joy unspeakable and full of glory that comes to you even when you’re going through bitter trials. The gospel of Jesus produced that miracle in the lives of people. They had a capacity to celebrate even in the midst of suffering.
Joy in the Salvation of Others
There’s a third kind of joy that is especially noteworthy in the book of Acts and in the Gospel according to Luke: joy in the salvation of others. Remember Barnabas, that beautiful character in the book of Acts who was such an encourager to people? When the news came that people in Antioch, who were Gentiles coming to faith in Christ, the Jerusalem church wanted to check this out. So they sent Barnabas. When he came and saw how all these people had become believers in Jesus, he just couldn’t contain himself. He rejoiced. When he saw the grace of God, he was glad. For anyone anywhere, to become a believer in Jesus set the joy bells ringing in Barnabas’s heart.
In Acts 15 we read how Barnabas and Saul come back from their missionary work and tell about the conversion of many Gentiles. As a result, all the believers are filled with joy. But the most striking example of this joy is in the parables that Jesus told about the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son. In every one of these, there is tremendous joy when the coin is found, when the sheep is brought back, when the son returns. And Jesus says that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
That apparently is what sets off celebration in heaven. And it’s not only the angels but the One who is in the presence of the angels, the Lord himself. The heart of God is satisfied. Heaven’s joy on earth is especially pictured in the marvelous parable of the prodigal son. The father is one of the Bible’s most moving, revealing pictures of God. God is the one we have grieved, dishonored and turned away from. But in Christ he’s looking for us, longing over us, wanting us back. And when we turn our steps homeward, he comes running to meet us, showering love, welcome and forgiveness on us. God’s joy knows no bounds. The father says, “This my son was dead and he’s alive again. He was lost and is found.” That’s the greatest celebration both in heaven and on earth.
Questions for us
Questions for us arise out of this. Have we tasted the joy of confession and forgiveness? God wants that for each of us, not to be haunted by unresolved guilt but to freely acknowledge all our sins and failings to the Father, receiving his full forgiveness in Christ. Joy springing up because our sins have been forgiven has that been your experience? It can be today. If you put your trust in Christ and confess your sins to God, you’ll taste this wonderful joy.
And how about sorrow? Are you finding joy even in the midst of sorrow? All of us know sorrow, suffering and loss. Are we living in such fellowship with the Lord that joy keeps springing up even in the midst of pain? Jesus said “I have spoken these things to you so that my joy might be in you, and that your joy might be full.” We know that invincible joy, Jesus says, as we abide in him.
Now a last question. Does joy flood our hearts when others come to Christ? That’s the final test. Does it matter deeply to us that others should find new life in the Savior? Oh, a number of people I pray for have come to Christ and have filled my life with gladness. But some I still yearn over and pray for. I’m anticipating the joy that will erupt when they will believe. “Lord, let them come home soon!”
If we can’t rejoice in this, maybe it’s because we don’t know the joy of salvation ourselves. I pray that you today may have this great and lasting joy. Let me say this word of Samuel Rutherford to you. “Your heaven would be two heavens to me!”