How important is it to exercise God's joy in our lives? What are some of the stumbling blocks to experiencing God's joy?
[Robin Webber] Let’s get right into the Scripture. I’d like to invite you to open up your scriptures, open up the Bible. Join me if you would in Hebrews 12. In Hebrews 12 and let’s begin in verse one. And let’s understand the message that was written over 2,000 years ago by the author of Hebrews. In Hebrews 12:1 Hebrews 12:1Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
American King James Version×, it says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” moving now on to verse 2, “looking unto Jesus, the author and the finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” An amazing couple of verses for us to consider on this Sabbath day. For what we read here seemingly offers up a human contradiction in terms of any natural human response.
It speaks of Jesus undergoing the excruciating experience of crucifixion. While at the same time it speaks of this joy that was His. A joy that was set before Him. Outwardly there were no external stimuli to justify such anchoring resolve. But I share with you this afternoon that joy. It was His. It is this recorded reality that creates a pathway for our spiritual consideration today, and our approach to the upcoming Passover of the New Covenant. It is understanding what joy is not and understanding what joy is that allows us to meaningfully imbibe of those symbols of the Passover that we’ll be partaking of, of that bread and of that wine as we come together. And at the same time, it allows us not only on one evening of the year but every day to be able to imbibe of life as Christians.
I have a question for you. How important is it for you to exercise godly joy in your life? I want you to think about it for a moment, because I don’t know if you were thinking that you were going to be asked that question this afternoon or not. So I like to engage the audience and allow you to think about it for a moment. Again, let me ask you the question. How important is it for you to exercise godly joy in your life? It is essential. In fact, when it’s all said and done, brethren, it really is everything, spiritually speaking.
I’d like to share some words with you from Andrew Murray. Andrew Murray was an early 20th-century South African writer. He wrote this. He spoke on this nearly 100 years ago, and he writes it in a very riveting manner as far as what joy should mean to you and me. To understand what the message of Hebrews 12:1-2 Hebrews 12:1-2  Why seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us,
 Looking to Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.
American King James Version×is. Murray says this, “Joy is not a luxury or a mere accessory in the Christian life. It is the sign that we are really living in God’s wonderful love,” we are living in God’s wonderful love, “and that love satisfies us.” Interesting.
Let’s make it plain and simple. Joy, and when we embrace it, when we internalize it, and when we express it, it is our personal witness upward to God, inward to ourselves in the corridors, those cavernous corridors of our minds and hearts, where all of our thoughts and all of our feelings, and all of our motivations are bouncing off of one another. It is a witness to God above, it is a witness to ourselves inwardly, and it is a witness outwardly to express that we understand and know that God loves us, and that love that only comes from God truly is enough. And as the shepherd of old said in the Psalms 23:1 Psalms 23:1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
American King James Version×, “The Lord is my shepherd, the Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.”
Again to bring home this point for a second, I’d like to borrow the words of Phillips Brooks. Phillips Brooks was a 19th century New York preacher. And he put it this way in one of his messages one time he said, “The religion that makes a man look sick certainly won’t cure the world!” And joy is more than a religion. It is not something that is organized. It’s a way of life. It’s a way of life. It’s a state of being that does not come from the outside in but generates itself by God living in us from the inside out.
With all of this spoken then, I’d like to share the title of my message this afternoon, and I hope it’s going to be a message that we pray to God might change your life and allow you to understand more what it means to have joy. And especially as we come up to the Passover of the New Covenant 2013. The title of my message is simply this, “For the Joy Set Before Us.”
Before we go any further, I’d like to give you a working definition of joy because all of us probably spell joy the same way. Yes? J-o-y and we can look that up and we all know how to spell but we might come at it with many, many different meanings and different definitions. And so we need to have a working definition so we’re all on the same page. This specific gift of God’s Holy Spirit is not predicated on good things happening to us, and thus and therefore we’re happy. That we’re all going to Disneyland and get to stay there free of charge. Not at all. If we equate joy just simply with happiness, good things happening to us, then basically we are into what we might call the Pavlov’s theory. Pavlovian theory cause and effect, stimulus and response. If you give a dog a bone, you expect that there will be a good response from the dog. If you do not give the dog a bone, you’ll expect that the dog will bite your foot. Thus so often in life, we think that everything has got to be… for every cause there is just this ongoing effect backward. That’s not the case. We have to move beyond the borders of the natural man, the natural woman, the natural person understand what this gift of joy is that God grants us by the bequeathing of the Holy Spirit.
Allow me to share this thought the essence of joy… let’s boil it down so we’re all on the same page, are you with me? The essence of joy is based upon an abiding knowledge within you is that your life has purpose. And the essence of such a purpose filled life is even further distilled down into what I would call a very basic word that maybe you have not necessarily associated with joy. It’s a three syllable word and I would like to share it with you. Joy can also be defined or boiled down into common denominator essence as simply this word: contentment. The Greek root word from which contentment comes from means sufficient, means satisfied.
Thus, back to Murray’s statement, “Joy is not a luxury or a mere necessity in the Christian life. It is a sign that we are really living in God’s wonderful love, and that that love satisfies us.” To bring this fully into a Bible mode, again back to Psalms 23:1 Psalms 23:1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
American King James Version×, “The Lord is my shepherd and I shall not want.” Reads well, I think you and I can agree with that, very poetic, humanly hard to do. And thus, we need God’s help and God’s Spirit. In reading all that, you say, “Well I know that I’ve heard messages on joy and Mr. Webber I’ve got your basic definition down.” Now comes the next question that some of you might be asking. “I have grown up in this way of life” or “I’ve been in the Church for many, many years. Why don’t I have the joy that you are speaking about? Why?”
Well, because God isn’t just going to plug the joy bug into us. You have to do your part, and that’s what I’d like to talk about for a moment. I’d like you for a second consider the life of a farmer to understand where we’re going with this very vital topic of joy. Let’s talk about a farmer, and many of you here in southern Ohio, Northern Kentucky do farm. Farming is a work of faith. Here I am as a city slicker telling you that are farmers that it’s a work of faith. Please, I apologize, but I do understand that being from L.A. and we do even have farms in Los Angeles. It’s a work of faith, and it’s also a work of doing. The farmer has to get out there from beginning to end. The farmer has to, again, move away the weeds, move away the rubble, till the soil, prepare the seed. Plant the seed, tend the field. Perhaps even put different things on the material or on the vegetables or on the fruit as it is growing.
He has to do his part, but at the same time, he also has prepared for all eventualities of nature outside of his immediate control. The cold, the frost, the heat, the lack of rain. Here in the Midwest, perhaps a tornado coming through, in other areas, another natural phenomenon. The bottom line is this: the farmer in this work of faith, he is in partnership with God. And he will reap its benefits only when he has fulfilled his responsibilities.
Thus, I submit to you, farming is a joint venture. It’s a joint venture. There’s a “coworker-ship” as it were between God and the farmer. And here’s the bottom line for those of you that have not the had the joy bug installed, and wondering why you do not have it. Simply put here, the farmer can’t do what God must do alone. And God will not do for the farmer what the farmer should do. With those thoughts in mind then, let’s take it a step further. Let’s go one step further and then understand how do we then understand how precious the spiritual commodity of joy is, and our responsibility to seek it and to preserve it.
This is important. Can we talk just a second? Is that all right? Because sometimes you see people and it looks like they have the joy bug on steroids. They’re just happy, they’re happy shiny people like the song back from the 70s, “Happy Shiny People,” and you see them coming down the aisles of church or you bump into them in the hallways of work, or you run into them in the park and they are just, “Hahaha” they just… and you go, “Oh, they’ve got the joy bug.” I want to share something with you that are happy shiny people on the outside.
All of us ultimately in this way of life that happy shiny luster and glow that is on the outside of us will be tested, will be tested. God in His magnificence and in His a love and in His manner of molding us has to come to the point to recognize that we are not just simply affected by external stimuli. That we are not just Christians from the outside in, but that we are His disciples. That we are His followers, that we understand His love, and that that understanding of that love and that satisfaction and that contentment is so entrenched in us, and so ingrained by His grace, that nothing from the outside, not even a cross as we read in Hebrews 12, not even the challenges that you and I face today, can tamper with what God has given us. And that we recognize that the Lord is our Shepherd and indeed we shall not want.
But now one more question. One more question, why then are some of us in a joyless prison of personal circumstances? I realize today talking to a number of Christians we probably have about 150 people here in this room, and others will be perhaps hearing this message in the future. Why do some of us that are followers of Jesus Christ, why are we in a joyless prison of our own personal circumstances? I think that’s a good question. I have been in that prison at times. I’ve been in that prison, all of us at that time are in that joyless prison. But what’s interesting is calling ourselves Christians and not having that internal contentment and peace of heart is in itself a contradiction if Jesus Christ is living in us. And if we believe that that bread and that wine that symbolizes our Lord’s death, and His life, and His resurrection ultimately, there’s a contradiction. So what’s happening? I’m asking a lot of questions and please trust me. We’re going to fill in the blanks over the next three hours.
You still have joy? Testing. I remember that old country song that says… what is it? That you’ve been “looking for love in all of the wrong places.” You see, I’m widespread with my musical background. Well, some of us have been looking for joy in all the wrong places. And I want to share some of the answers out of God’s word with you. And what I’d like to do, then, is to remind you on this day that our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ came to this earth that we might live and live more abundantly.
So let’s you and I go to work for a few minutes. To do so, I’d like to share some overarching points conveyed from a book entitled, “The Practice of Godliness.” I’m going to take some of the points, but then I’m going to fill in personal details from myself. Because I think, Mr. Bridges, who wrote the book, “The Practice of Godliness,” just nails it right on. And what is my goal for sharing this with you, you might ask? My goal is to help some of you to see this, to break up this ice jam of joylessness that stymies. God’s best, God’s perfection from being in us and being able to express it upward to Him, understanding ourselves and giving it to others.
I always remember a line from “Chariots of Fire” mentioned by one of the young runners who was being discriminated against. And he was talking about the Britain of his day and he says, “Well, they let us come up to the water fountain, but they don’t allow us to drink.” What frustration. Sometimes that’s how we are in this way of life, and as Christians, it’s as if we are coming up to the water fountain, but somehow that drink eludes us. And the goal of this message is to bring that which we see to be that which we experience.
I’d like to share some stumbling blocks when it comes to joy. Are you ready? I’d like to give you the first stumbling block that we need to consider here for a second. So that God’s best, God’s perfection, and God’s Spirit can fully bloom and grow in us. The first stumbling block of maybe why you are in that joyless prison when Jesus came to give us life more abundantly. The first stumbling block is sin in our lives, sin in our lives, and/or ungodly attitudes of our hearts. Why do I say that?
Again, coming back to what joy is, Christian joy is essentially the enjoyment of God. Christian joy is the enjoyment of God. It is the fruit of fellowship as the Greek word in the New Testament kainos [koinonia] and/or communion. The integration of ourselves with God and what He desires to give us it’s this fruit of communion with Him and no other, no other in between. That’s what joy is. Sin breaks that fellowship and the enjoyment of His presence. The lights go out. Isaiah 59:1-2 Isaiah 59:1-2  Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
American King James Version×talks about where our sense has cut us off from God.
And for a moment, friends, just think of what it was like in the Garden of Eden. When God created the man and the woman in that paradise, and why were we created? We were created to be in full fellowship with God. We were basically designed… are you with me? We were designed to give God His “worth-ship” or His worship. The bottom line with man and woman, we were designed to worship God, to have that fellowship, to have that union unbroken, and satisfied in none other than God Almighty.
That’s wonderful. That’s fantastic. And God made that available to the first man and He made it available to the first woman. And that tree of life was in the Garden of Eden, and yet you know and I know the rest of the story. That man chose for himself that joyless prison of experimentation, of touch, of feel, of see. Mankind decided to go through the university, the school of hard knocks.
Mankind decided that the best form of teaching is experience. Rather than obedience. Experience is not the best teacher obedience is the best teacher. Experience is the most memorable because none of you want to get the stink eye from Mr. McNeely. Just teasing. For those of you, that wonder what the stink eye is, you’ll have to listen to the message. No, experience is not the best teacher. Obedience and understanding that God wants to give us his best is the best teacher. So we’ve got a look at that.
When we sever ourselves from full fellowship with God and that joyless atmosphere comes upon us, what does it feel like? The Psalmist talks about it in Psalm 32. Join me if you would there for a moment. Psalm 32, the words of David. In Psalms 32, and if you’ll join me in verse 3 notice what it says. Psalms 32, pardon me, here we go.
Speaking here, let’s actually well back up to verse one. “Blessed is he who whose transgression is forgiven, and whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity,” why? Because there’s full fellowship, full fellowship, full enjoyment of knowing God and understanding that His presence is in our lives. “Blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Now notice verse 3, “When I kept silent, my bones grew old and through my groaning all the day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my vitality was turned into the drought of summer.”
Now notice verse five, “I acknowledged my sin to You and my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the iniquity of my sin.” When David had separated himself from God Almighty by what he had done, and went outside the love of God thinking that he knew better, this joyless prison enshrouded him. The heaviness, the lack of communion, the lack of communication with God, was heavy upon him. It affected his bones. Like there was like there is a heavy, heavy cloud on him.
And yet we notice the words of Psalm 51. Join me there for a second. In Psalms 51:12 Psalms 51:12Restore to me the joy of your salvation; and uphold me with your free spirit.
American King James Version×, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,” the joy, there’s the word, “the joy of Your salvation and uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You.” If you go back to verse 3 at the beginning of this chapter, it says “For I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against You,” and yes, “You only have I sin done this evil in Your sight— that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge.”
David had some homework to do. Perhaps some of us as we’re coming up to the Passover of the New Covenant, we have homework. We have heart work. Perhaps it’s time to allow God by His grace, and by His intervention in our lives once we understand where we’re at, to help break us out of that joyless prison that we might be in. This way of life is about relationships. Yes, relationships with rules, but you can know the rules and not abide by them, then you don’t have the relationship. Relationships and rules go hand in hand, heart to heart, and to us to God, that we might have this fellowship with Him. Very important.
I want to also share another thought with you here. Notice what it says in verse 13, extremely important, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways.” Here’s the thing I want to… you ready for this? This is neat. Joy is not just for self. Joy is just not to allow the light to glow in you, but to share with others. The joy that the apostle Peter had as we heard in the opening message that when he experienced… where he was with Christ on that night of nights and how his sin and his denial cut him off from God. And yet to recognize that God was working a purpose as he says in Luke 22:31 Luke 22:31And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat:
American King James Version×, that “Peter, Satan has asked for you. Yes, he has and he wants to sift you like wheat. But when you return, feed My sheep.”
Do I dare say something to you, of course, Peter had a specific role as an apostle. But in this whole church effort that is within the United Church of God, it is not just simply what the ministry is doing, it is not just simply what the media department is doing, but it is what each and every one of you are doing as a light. And the light of God in you that you understand His joy that His love is enough. That we are reconciled, that we are restored, that we know we are His and that He is ours. And when people come into our midst, whether it’s in our house, in the office, at school, in this congregation. When people see that joy inside of us it is the most powerful magnet and witness that there is a God Almighty. That you by your countenance, you by your being, testified, point upward to God, and point outward to others, as David said, “That I might share with others that have transgressed that they might come into relationship and fellowship with you.” That is why when we speak of it being a whole church effort, each and every one of us are on the front line, not just simply for an organization, but for God Almighty.
Second stumbling block. Allow me to share with you the second stumbling block is misplaced confidence. The second stumbling block is misplaced confidence. And Mr. McNeely, he spoke to this and I’d like to build upon his very fine foundation. Join me if you would. Let’s go to Philippians 3. Philippians is as an entire epistle that is centered on joy. In fact, it’s often called the epistle of joy. Philippians 3, simple verse but with a profound meaning for all of us to embrace, Philippians 3. We look at this… and again, remember the second stumbling block is misplaced confidence. And you know… can we be honest? Is that all right? We have all put our confidence in all the wrong places at times. “Finally, my brethren,” it says to “rejoice in the Lord.” To rejoice in the Lord, “For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe.” That “I will not tire of myself” is what Paul is saying to remind you that joy and or rejoicing comes from being in Jesus Christ.
This is important and in no other. This lays the marker that we need to understand. It is interesting then… and I’m not going to go through it all but it’s interesting then, that from verse 1 forward in this chapter, Paul basically warns the Philippians about false teachers, men that have come in amongst them. He says, “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” Which is dealing with the matter of circumcision. But then also we notice in verse 4, “And though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so.” And he goes on with a litany of all of his previous accomplishments before his life was, and are you with me? And in Christ. So Paul is basically laying out a marker, he’s saying this is it. If you’re going to have joy, it’s got to be in Christ. It can’t be in another human being, doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy people. But the ultimate joy cannot be in another human being. Very interesting.
Basically here we find that he goes through all this litany. Now, what is interesting, join me in one other verse Psalm 146 and picking up the thought in verse 3. It says, “Do not put your trust in princes, nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; and in that very day his plans perish. Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord…” not in the sons of men, not in the flesh those that are going to come and go.
Now, how many of you have ever read through that verse… confession is good for the soul. How many of ever gone through that section of Psalms? I have, anybody… am I the only one and this is a church crowd? Mr. Myers, Mr. Myers? Psalms 146 reading next week. I’ve gone through this. I understand it. God tells me very bluntly. Don’t put my ultimate trust in human flesh, whether it be somebody else and/or myself. Why is that? Because it’s natural for we that are human beings to do that. We naturally want to put our trust in political leaders, or religious leaders, in pastors, in Christian writers, in our spouses, in our neighbors and yes, as Paul said, in ourselves. And hopefully, we can grow in trust with fellow human beings. But as Ronald Reagan once said, famously, “Trust but verify.”
In God, you just simply can trust because He verified that. How do we know that He verified that? Because as they come up to the Passover the New Covenant, we know it’s verified because we know and that we believe that He gave His Son Jesus Christ. If we ever ask, “Does God love us?” He says, “Yes, yes I do. This is My son. This is the verification.” How can you even wonder? Now, with all of this stated and all of this mentioned, why then do we do this? Why do we put our… why do we try to find this new best friend, or why do we try to find this? We try to find all of these things that satisfy.
I want to share something with you. There’s only one thing that satisfies our craving. For total trust, for total love, for total fellowship. We seek this so often from this man, this woman, this husband, this wife, this employer, this pastor, this individual, this writer, this neighbor, this politician, and what happens? Are you with me? We become disappointed. We might even become disappointed in hubby. We might become disappointed in our wife, and they’re just human beings like we are.
God says you come and you understand what I want to give you and you will not be disappointed. And then as we come to Passover, we will be able to say as we partake of that bread and that wine in total joy, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Total satisfaction, total sufficiency. And even when I don’t understand that sufficiency, I trust God and I will allow God to be God and let God be God because He gave His Son for me and I trust in that.
The third stumbling block I’d like to share with you is simply this, that sometimes entraps us in a joyless prison. The third stumbling block is the discipline of God, the discipline of God. Now all of us… and I know you’ve heard that… you might not have gotten Psalm 146, but I’m sure over the year… are you with me? I’m sure you’ve heard of Hebrews 12 where it says, and we remember this, “Now no chastening for the moment seems pleasant.” No, it doesn’t, it’s painful. Ouch. And in that sense, we understand that even as Mr. McNeely talked about that glance across the courtyard and eyeball and eyeball and heart to heart meeting and total connection, Christ was disciplining even at that moment. Peter disciplining and discipline. Do they not come from the same base? Disciple, discipline, teaching, and at times God is teaching and molding us even when we don’t understand it.
No one ever said, “Oh you know, that really felt great.” None of you signed up at the local community college Punishment 101. None of us want to be corrected. None of us want to be disciplined. None of us, in that sense, want to be punished. It’s neither happy nor joyful for the moment. The reason why some of us in this room today, do I dare say, are trapped in that joyless prison is that we lose sight of the long-term goal. And if we lose sight of that long-term goal then we turn to self-pity and even depression. Why is that? Because God is working and molding and shaping us, and sometimes we don’t see ourselves. We do not see ourselves for who and what we are.
We echo the sentiment of a Peter or a Cain. We’ve heard about Peter. What about Cain? My punishment is far greater than I can bear. “Who me? I go to the Cincinnati afternoon church faithfully every week. I give my ties to God Almighty. I try to do this and I try to do that.” You see, God sees something else about you that He’s going to work on. That He wants to mold into the perfection and into the form of Jesus Christ in us. We’ve got to understand that. If we do not understand that, we don’t transform as Peter did but we stay in the mire of human nature as did Cain.
I want to share a thought with you. This is so important. The key between joy and despair is to remember that God has not gone anywhere and has something in mind. You say, “What’s He got in mind?” Join me, if you would, in Hebrews 12. Hebrews 12 and let’s pick up the thought in verse 6, “…For whom the Lord loves He chastens and He scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chastise?” Now let’s drop down to verse 11, “Now no chastening seems to be joyful,” there’s the word joyful, “for the present, but is painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness…” there’s a purpose being worked down here below.
Those that are not internalizing the gift of God’s spirit of joy are not mindful that there’s a purpose being worked down here below and got God’s putting His touch on us. And notice what it says here at the end of verse 11, “…the peaceful fruit of righteousness for those who have been trained by it.” You have to be trained in righteousness. It doesn’t happen overnight. It doesn’t happen by God installing a joy bug in you. That’s not how it works. Something we are trained, it takes time, it takes devotion.
Number four, last stumbling block. Stumbling block that sometimes is experiencing trials of faith, experiencing trials of faith. Let’s [not] misunderstand, this can be a joy killer. This is different from what similarly are trials of discipline. Let’s remember, trials of discipline are to eradicate sin. Experiencing the trials of faith is to exercise faith even when we do not see the answer in front of us. It is perseverance beyond what is humanly known to fix our sights on God alone.
Remember, dear brethren, as we began this message today “for the joy that was set before Him. He endured the cross.” I dare say to you and I submit to you that it was not only the joy that was set before him but was internalized by that satisfaction, and that completeness, and that contentment. That as He submitted Himself into God’s hands when He says, “Into Your hands I commit My soul.” He knew it was the best place to put his soul in the entire universe.
Some of these can be challenging. Such trials as health issues, financial setbacks, tragic accidents. We just had one maybe you heard about it out in California with a very dear friend of ours and a wonderful man. And you never know when these things are going to occur. It can come through criticism. It can also come even through religious persecution. Left by ourselves and looking to the mirror, trials of faith can humanly wear down people.
I remember good Job the patriarch. Remember when in chapter one, He says, “The Lord…” after his family had been taken away with them. Chapter one he was doing pretty good. He said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But by Chapter 34 he is saying, “What does it profit a man nothing when he tries to please the Lord.” Job’s faith was wearing out. Thirty-four chapters of tragedy is pretty tough plus the friends that were thrown in to help him get out of the tragedy. Lord, do you have any more friends?
As Job humanly withered in faith, God remained faithful, blessed him, and Job ultimately came to a conclusion, famous conclusion, Job 42:5 Job 42:5I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear: but now my eye sees you.
American King James Version×. You can jot it down. “I have heard You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see You.” You know God wants us to see with the same eyes that Job did. He wants us to come to that point of understanding what His perfect will is. He wants us to consider verses like Romans 8:28 Romans 8:28And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.
American King James Version×. To understand that “…all things work together for good for those that love God.” It does not… are you with me? You know this one. You’ve gone through this routine, right? It does not say that “All things are good.” No, no, no. But it does say that “…all things work together for the good,” because we do worship a good God.
You say, “Well, how do we know that we worship a good God?” It continually goes back to what we move through at the Passover the New Covenant. How do we know God is good? How do we know that we love Him? How can we feel His embrace even when we are going through the trials of discipline or the exercise of faith? And He constantly comes back with one answer, “Because I gave You My Son.” Is that not proof enough? And thus He wants us to remember that “…all things work together for good.” He wants us to respond to reading the Scriptures, putting our hearts and putting our heads into this book, and understanding words that I want to direct you to in 2 Corinthians 7 . Join me if you would there for a moment.
2 Corinthians 12. For what we go through is not uncommon. Every human being goes through this. Everybody that God is working with down through the ages. But I want to point something out to you out a story that you’re familiar with, but maybe bring you to an expanded point. In 2 Corinthians 12, it’s the story of the apostle Paul, a man that had given his life to God in full service. And we come to this episode and you’ll be familiar with it. “And lest I should be exalted” in verse 7, “above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me.”
So here’s the warrior of God, the servant of God through that Mediterranean basin of antiquity. Having suffered this, having suffered that, “Lord just give me this respite. Give me this reprieve. Please take this away.” Now, what is interesting how often have you heard people say I wonder what that was that struck him three times? Have you ever gone through that exercise? I see some ministers down here. I’m sure we talk about it, given messages on it. And everybody surmises what Paul went through. What was it actually a person or was it something wrong with his eyes? I got news for you folks, you don’t know and I don’t know. Sorry, weren’t there, 2,000 years of historical fog between this. And we do this so often we get stuck on the details of things that we will never know. Interesting, but will never know. And we don’t come to the conclusion of what God revealed to the apostle Paul, and we find that here as we look at it.
And we look down and we see this because this is the answer that we can know. “… ‘My grace is sufficient for you, and for My strength is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul, a man that wrote about joy, said, “God above, Your grace and Your grace alone, not what I might get from man, but Your grace alone is sufficient, is complete, is satisfying. Knowing Your love, and living in that love and experiencing that — is that indeed not enough?” Paul says grace is sufficient.
I’d like to read a little bit to you it’s from a short paragraph called, “The Way Grace Works.” “Grace does not make everything right. Grace’s trick is to show us that it is right for us to live; that it is truly good, wonderful even, for us to be breathing and feeling at the same time that everything [evil is] clustering around us is wholly wretched. Grace is not a ticket to Fantasy Island; Fantasy Island is dreamy fiction. Grace is not a potion to charm life to our liking; charms are magic. Grace does not cure us from all cancers, does not transform all of our kids into winners, or send us all soaring into the high skies of sex and success. Grace is rather an amazing power to look earthly reality full in the face, see its sad and tragic edges, feel its cruel cuts, join in the primeval chorus against its outrageous unfairness, and yet, feel in your deepest being that it is good and right for you to be alive on God’s good earth.”
“Grace is power, I say, to see life very clearly, admit it is sometimes all wrong, and still know that somehow in the center of your life, ‘It’s all right.’ There is one reason why we call it amazing grace… Grace is the one word for all that God is for us in the form of Jesus Christ.” That is by a lady… excuse me a gentleman named Lewis B. Smedes, How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is [So] Wrong? Again, allow me just to read the last portion of that to bring home the point. “Grace is power, I say, to see life very clearly, and admit it is sometimes all wrong, and still know that somehow, in the center of your life, ‘It’s all right.’”
“There’s a reason why we call it amazing grace… Grace is the one word for all that God has for us in the form of Jesus Christ.” Is that not what you and I are going to say some weeks hence when we come assembled at that annual festival called the Passover that of the New Covenant, that the great Lamb of God? And that as we partake of that bread and as we partake of that wine, even what we are going through in our daily lives, it is sufficient. What God has given us is, all in all, He has given us no less than Himself. And when you partake of that bread and when you partake of that wine and you have that joy of God in us. We are indeed saying, again, “The Lord is my shepherd in whom I shall not want.”
I do not need to look any other way. I don’t need to start looking for joy again in all the wrong places. When God has granted it in the form of Jesus Christ. It’s very interesting. When you take the word grace and joy, they come from the same Greek root. One is called charis translated grace meaning graciousness. And the other is chara translated into joy. This basic Greek word is where we would grant the term or gain the term charisma or charismatic.
What I want to share with you as we begin to conclude is simply this. Grace and joy are inextricably bound, not only simply by Greek root word but by the Spirit of God. You cannot experience the joy of God, that full fellowship that He desires for us to return to that Eden-like experience before man’s choices and before yours and my choices. We can’t have that joy and that full sense of communion and fellowship and worship that you and I were created and to feel God’s full flavor. We can’t have that joy until we understand grace. You must understand God’s grace. You must understand God’s grace, that His invitation, and His involvement, and His continuing faithfulness to us that all flows from Him out of His desire to we that are undeserved, always remains intact through Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord.”
Let me move to the conclusion of this. Join me, if you would, in Philippians 4. Thank you for your patience. But again, the book of Philippians is about joy, and I hope that you’ll hear this as we conclude. And understand one man and one time a brother in Christ who was indeed the apostle Paul who spoke about this in Philippians. I will have more joy when I find the book of Philippians up here. I heard that laughter out there. Philippians 4:4 Philippians 4:4Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.
American King James Version×. “Rejoice…” notice “in the Lord.” You cannot rejoice outside of understanding Jesus Christ’s life and death and resurrection and ascension, and that He is now Savior and qualified High Priest in that tabernacle, which is above and at the right hand of God. “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say rejoice!” Almost like joy on steroids. This does not let down.
“Let your gentleness be known to all men.” Notice “The Lord is at hand. And be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, and with thanksgiving, let your request be made known to Me.” Thanksgiving when the bondage of sin is broken. Thanksgiving when the shackles of misplaced confidence are broken. Rejoicing, when we understand that God is not working against us but for us lovingly even when He molds us through the tool of correction. And rejoice in Him always in the Lord in Jesus Christ when God stretches us as He did Job so that at times we will come to a point where we know not other than we know that God wants His best for us. And we do need to allow God to be God.
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God,” that contentment, that joy “which surpasses all understanding.” That’s kind of Elizabethan, “all understanding.” What Paul is saying through God’s Spirit is what God has in store for us that joy that is set before us, is better than the facts that are on the ground in our marriage, on the job, in school. Do I dare say at times even the home office? Because last time I looked it’s filled with human beings. In our local congregations that are filled with human beings; better than the facts that are on the ground. Notice what it says here, and that this peace “will guard your hearts and minds through Jesus Christ.”
As you and I conclude, let’s think about this for a moment. Here is a man, Paul, trusted servant of God, served God for decades, and he is writing about joy, this confidence in God. This abiding in Christ, this contentment, the satisfaction of what God has purposed in us, and that he wants us to remember he’s writing this from prison. Maybe house imprisonment, maybe a Roman jail, maybe tethered to a Roman soldier. You don’t know and I don’t know. There’s all sorts of thoughts and that’s my commentaries are written. But he says, “Rejoice in the Lord always and I say can rejoice.” Paul never looked… and here’s what I want to share. Paul never looked at himself as being a prisoner of Rome. Did you know that? He always looked at himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. He looked at himself as a prisoner of the Lord. Just read the book of Ephesians. It mentions it twice. He did not look that his life that was to be filled with purpose was to be shackled from the outside, but he cut those shackles.
And are some of you ready to cut the shackles of your joyless prison? And understand that God awaits you as you come to that table of Passover and that those symbols are there. And are recognized like Job, they have your eyes opened that you and I worship a faithful God, that you and I worship the God of this universe. That you and I are recipients of the love of God, the grace of God, that love of God embodied in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The love of God that is embodied by the purpose that He has given you and me. No, no, no, no, God will not put a joy bug in us. We like that farmer must be in this joint venture together. We must do what only we can do before God can do what only He alone can do.
Are you ready as we move towards the Passover? Can you understand that there is a joy that is set before us, but it is only set before us if we’ve internalized that joy inside of us. As I part, may I say something to each and every one of you? May that peace of God, that peace of God, be visited upon each and every one of you. May each and every one of you, may each and every one of you, experience that grace, understand that you are a recipient of that. And may, as Jesus said on that night of nights long ago out of the book of John, say, “I am going some place, but where I go do not worry, for I have come that your joy might be complete.”
I look forward to seeing some of you in the course of the week here at the home office. God bless each and every one of you. It’s been a privilege to share some of His words to each and every one of you this afternoon.