Joy: Everlasting

You may have noticed I did not actually answer the initial question from last week. I did not address why the joy of the Lord might not be felt every day. For me to answer the question, I needed to establish the parameters of joy first. That is, what joy is and what joy is not. Since I didn’t want to drown you in definitions, word studies, and biblical references forever in a day, I decided to break this up into two posts.

Last week I set up what the bible has to say about temporary and false joy. This week l am going to focus in on everlasting joy; who it comes from and how to keep it in our hearts. Thereby (hopefully) answering the initial question.

We left off with the promise of everlasting joy from the book of Isaiah. The interesting thing about this promise is that it is repeated near the end of the book, word for word. “So the ransomed of the LORD shall return, and come to Zion with singing, with everlasting joy on their heads. They shall obtain joy and gladness; sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” (Is. 51:11 NKJV) The context of this promise in chapter 35 is looking ahead to God’s future deliverance of Israel. The context of chapter 51 is looking back at God’s past deliverance of Israel from Egypt. God is telling Israel, “I have saved you before and I will save you again. Every time I save you, there will be joy in your salvation.”

David says it a little more succinctly in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Thy presence, and do not take Thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation, and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Thy ways, and sinner sill be converted to Thee.” (Ps. 51:10-13 NASV) The joy of the Lord is closely linked to salvation. A salvation that He gives us. I also think it’s cool that David had a discipleship instinct. He promises to help others who are tangled in their sin and hurt to find reconciliation with God. That last bit is always left off on the inspirational card and the old worship song. David shows us that a natural response to freedom through salvation is to share that freedom with others. When we do this we help them find salvation as well. Salvation can be contagious.

Back to joy. Just like food and joy are closely linked in my mind. Joy and Jesus are closely linked in God’s mind. If everlasting joy is found in salvation from the Lord, the ultimate salvation is through Jesus. The ultimate source of our everlasting joy in the Lord is through Jesus.

There is a whole poem that leads up to everybody’s favorite Christmas passage, “For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given” (Is. 9:6) In the poem there is a promise of relief from gloom and oppression. It says in Galilee, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” (Is. 9:2 NKJV) Once the people see this “great light” the nation grows and God, “Increased its joy; they rejoice before You according to the joy of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil.” (Is. 9:3 NKJV) So when Jesus comes, there’s going to be growth, light, and joy for all who see the light.

Fast forward to Luke 1. John the Baptist is just born, and his father Zacharias, sings a song about the coming salvation of Christ and how his son will become a prophet who will go before Jesus and prepare the way. He describes the hope that will be found in the message of Christ, “To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Lk. 1:79 NKJV) Zacharias was a priest and knew the Old Testament by heart. I think he paraphrased the poem in Isaiah on purpose as a way of saying, “The Messiah is coming. Soon the Child Isaiah told us about will be here.” Luke 2, Jesus indeed is born. The angels appear before the shepherds and bring “tidings of great joy” about His birth (Lk. 2:10).

If the joy of the Lord comes from Jesus, what does Jesus have to say about joy? In the gospel of John we have a pretty detailed account of what Jesus said at the Last Supper when He celebrated Passover with the disciples. Over the course of that dinner He used the phrase “joy made full” three times. The number three is significant in the scriptures because it is the same number as the persons of God, the Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit).

The first time Jesus uses this phrase is in John 15, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” (John 15:11 NASV) The “things” Jesus is referring to His commandments that He taught the disciples all through their time together. Jesus is basically saying that His joy flows from abiding in the Father’s love, and He abides in His Father’s love by keeping His commands. So in order for the disciples to experience the same joy they too must abide in Jesus’ love through keeping His commands.

We find the second usage in John 16, “Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, that your joy may be made full.” (John 16:24 NASV) The verses leading up to this particular verse are about the resurrection. Jesus tells the disciples about His death and resurrection, but they don’t understand what He is talking about. So Jesus compares it to childbirth. His death and resurrection will be intense, painful, but short term. Once the ordeal is over their sorrow will be traded for a joy, a joy that no one can take away from them. From that resurrection day on they will ask for anything in Jesus’ name and God will give it to them. (John 16:16-23) When they receive what they have asked for in His name, their joy will be made full.

Lastly we see our phrase in John 17, “But now I come to Thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” (John 17:13 NASV) This verse is right in the middle of Jesus’ closing prayer. In this prayer Jesus talks about how He fulfilled the Word, glorified God on earth, and manifested God’s name on earth. He talked about how God gave Him the disciples and He has tried to give them what God gave Him so they could carry on His work after He returns to the Father. Jesus hopes that their work in the world will bring them into unity with Jesus and God as well as unity with each other.

Jesus’ prayer echoes the explanation of the resurrection. If they abide in God and keep His commands, just as Jesus did, they will find the same joy Jesus did. A full joy that cannot be taken away. They will experience the love of God, and see the truth of who Jesus is and what He has done. They will speak in Jesus’ name and what they have spoken will be done.

I always kind of wondered about praying in the name of Jesus. The first time I heard about praying in His name was on the 700 Club somewhere in the mid 90’s. Pat Robertson had worked himself into a lather about something or other and started to pray mid-sentence. He asked his viewers to join in prayer with him where we sat. He started to say, “In the name of Jesus” every other word and told us to do the same because when we prayed in Jesus’ name God would do it for sure. At the time I felt like Mr. Robertson was trying to twist God’s arm and get us viewers to help him twist it harder as if to ensure God crying “Uncle.” Maybe that wasn’t his intention, but that was my perception. Ever since, I’ve wrestled with the concept.

There have been plenty of times that I have prayed something “in the name of Jesus” and nothing at all happened. Other times what I prayed happened. When I read this passage in John for this post I suddenly saw something I hadn’t seen before. In John 15-17 Jesus is talking about living and speaking out of the life lived in God’s love. The words without the life have nothing to support them. The words without the life have no resurrection power in them. The words without the life are empty.

It is not through speaking that God answers prayers. It is through living. Keeping His commands is a lifestyle. Abiding in Jesus is a lifestyle. These require actions, and when we act out the lifestyle Jesus taught our prayers change.

This is describing the paradox of salvation. What I mean is when we ask Jesus to be our Lord and Savior we are saved in that moment. However, we also have to work out our salvation through sanctification. How can you be saved, and not yet saved at the same time? Hence the paradox.

Salvation is worked out through living in Christ, keeping his commands, and abiding in His love. The way you live in the middle of paradox tension is through action. Action pulls like a magnet. It pulls the not yet into the now, and in that moment salvation is both now and not yet. When we live out His commands through a succession of active now-s we live in His name and speak in His name. Our joy is made complete.

At Pentecost Peter gave a sermon in which he quotes Psalm 16, “You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.” (Acts 2:28 NKJV referencing Ps. 16:11) The ways of life are the teachings of Jesus, and our joy is made full in that life with Him. Yes we’re saved and that brings joy, but more than that we find Him and that is the greater joy.

When we participate in the paradox of salvation we commune with the actual God who is, right now (See previous post Actual God for more on this). When we commune with God in the present, and what we do in the now, we experience His presence. In that experience we are filled with the joy of the Lord. And that is how we can feel the joy of the Lord every day.

-Etta Woods

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