The one comment I hear over and over again from people who visit or are a regular part of our congregation is this: “It is so refreshing that this congregation is not afraid to laugh and smile.” I always consider that a great compliment. Sure, we goof around, we have fun, and we laugh . . . but that’s because we have a good reason to have fun. Through Christ we have been introduced to the joy of living.
The church is too often seen as a bunch of uptight and sober sour-faced people who spend all their time pointing their fingers and trying to catch someone doing sin. (Which in reality is not that hard . . . the fact that they are looking to do so is sin in and of itself!) Unfortunately, the perception is too often accurate. Some people don’t feel like they have worshiped unless they frowned for an hour.
In our text this morning we see that joy and laughter . . . not soberness, should be the demeanor of God’s people. I think the words of Christ might lead us to believe that we are moving in the right direction.
THE BASIS OF JOY
In our text in John Jesus says, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” (V.17) This passage has popularly been interpreted in two ways:
- First, some see this as a reference to the Lord’s upcoming death and resurrection. The resultant joy would be from the fact of the resurrection.
- Others see the passage referring primarily to the Second Coming of Christ. They point out that Paul (in Romans 8) talks about all creation groaning and waiting for our redemption. That groaning (grieving) will not be stilled until we see the Savior face to face. How can we be joyful until we see Him as He is?
This second interpretation has much to commend itself to us but I believe the first interpretation is the right one. 1) Jesus said it would be a little while. 2) that day of “return” will bring access to God and the freedom to go to God with our prayers. Both of those things seem most naturally to fit with the resurrection.
When Jesus was crucified a good portion of the world rejoiced. It was not a sad day…. it was a joyful one. To them the crucifixion of Jesus meant: a heretic was dead; a trouble-maker was gone; a critic was silenced; justice was done. Meanwhile the followers of Jesus mourned. Their lives were caving in around them. All they hoped for was taken from them. Hope was gone.
The resurrection of Christ changed everything! The world could not stand the possibility. They worked to silence those who testified of His appearances. They sought to discredit the accounts. They did not want to admit that the Savior had come back to life. This strong opposition is a great proof that the resurrection was true. They could not discredit the accounts!
As a result of the resurrection we learn: “your grief will turn to joy” . . . “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” The result of the resurrection is joy. Not only joy for the disciples but for all who follow.
We rejoice because there is proof that there is life beyond the grave
The world works hard to bring hope for eternity. They have many theories for life beyond the grave:
- reincarnation. We will keep doing it until we get it right. Interesting theory . . . no evidence of truth.
- universalism. Everyone will go to Heaven in the end. It’s a noble sentiment. We’d all like to think God will open the doors to everyone. However, it is fantasy with no factual foundation.
- philosophical constructs. There are any number of theories of what things will be like when we die. The popular book EMBRACING THE LIGHT is a fanciful little fantasy that purports to give insights into eternity. But this too is one person’s dream . . . no evidence.
The believer has a distinct advantage . . . there is the fact of Jesus’ return from the dead. His resurrection is the irrefutable evidence we long for. His return from the grave proves that there is something more. It proves that Jesus can and will show the way.
Do you see how this stimulates joy. There is no fear in sickness or death. The worst that can happen to us is suffering that leads to death. That’s not a tragedy . . . it’s a blessing! Loss is not final, death has lost it’s power. We can live joyfully!
We rejoice because there is proof that forgiveness is REAL
Jesus tells us that we can be delivered from our past. He offers a forgiveness that makes us pure in God’s eyes. He says the failures of the past, those things that shackle us with guilt, can be forgiven. It is something we wouldn’t dare believe was true . . . except for the resurrection. The resurrection proves that the sacrifice Christ paid for us was sufficient and acceptable. Think about it:
- Peter’s denial . . . .forgiven
- Paul’s murder of Christians . . . forgiven
- Thomas’ doubt . . . forgiven
- The Corinthian man’s incest . . . forgiven
- The deception of the thief . . . .forgiven
Consider the joy this would release in your life if you could believe it!
- The shame of the past
- the stain of sin
- the foolish rebellion
- the acts of indulgence
- the reckless behavior
FORGIVEN. It’s possible through Christ!
We rejoice because we are reminded that present pain is leading to eternal glory
Yes, the world rejoiced. . . the disciples mourned but the pain led to joy. So is much of our life. Friends disappoint us; circumstances are difficult; the crowd is cruel . . . . . but this is not the end of the story! We KNOW the end of the story. This knowledge (not our circumstance) is the basis of our joy.
SO WHERE IS THE JOY?
If these things are true (and they are), why is the church lacking in joy? It’s because we keep trying to do what Christ has already done . . .and only Christ can do. We can never undo the past. We cannot make up for past mistakes. We cannot be good enough. We want to earn our own way. We want to be worthy of heaven . . . but it is impossible. We need a Rescuer; a Savior. We must depend on Him.
We know the truth in our heads but we have yet to apply it in our lives. I would suggest that every time we lose our joy we do so because we have forgotten the truth of the gospel. Not that we forget the facts . . . we forget that the facts have a practical application to our living! So here’s the question:
Are you willing to BELIEVE what you profess to believe?
Will you dare to believe it’s true and begin to live on the basis of that truth? That’s the key to our joy.
THE CHANNEL OF JOY
We have access
Our Lord tells us that as a result of His resurrection we will now be granted ACCESS to God. No longer do we need someone to intercede for us. We don’t need a priest, a godly person, or even Jesus Himself to pray for us. Because of our faith in Christ we have been made a CHILD of God.
It is said that President John Kennedy used to allow his children to come into his oval office at any time. They didn’t need an appointment . . . they could come in and sit on dad’s lap whenever they desired. God operates by the same policy.
We should utilize our access
We sing “Sweet Hour of Prayer” but let’s be honest: doesn’t the idea of an hour in prayer sound like a great burden? Isn’t it true that most of us spend more time on our personal hygiene than we do talking to the Father? Don’t we spend more time eating that we do enjoying His presence?
We don’t understand the privilege that Jesus gives us. We can turn to the Father and get help with ANYTHING at ANYTIME. Yet it is a privilege we generally ignore. Is something robbing you of joy? Take it to the Lord in Prayer. Is something weighing your heart down? Talk about it with the Father. Is there a mountain that you can’t seem to overcome? Then talk to the Mountain-Mover.
Prayer is a privilege and a tremendous resource. Through prayer we tap into:
- God’s comfort for painful times. His strength is perfect.
- God’s guidance in uncertain times. He has promised to guide us into all truth . . . but we must let Him.
- God’s fellowship at any time. Prayer stokes the fires of joy. If the flame begins to die down spending time with the Father will enable joy to blaze again.
- God’s power in impossible times. Someone has said, “Lord, help me remember that there is nothing you and I can’t face . . together.” It’s true. The most impossible situation can be overcome through prayer.
Evelyn Christenson shares how she and her pastor husband learned that things can happen when you don’t plan at all but just pray. “A long distance call came to our church after one of the Sunday morning services. It was Arthur Blessit calling from California. `May I use your church building for a meeting on Tuesday night?’ he asked. `You won’t have to do a thing. I just want to reach some hippies for Christ.’
“My husband said, `Fine, you may use our church.’
“Arthur arrived on Tuesday morning. There had been no time to advertise the meeting in local newspapers or in other churches. The only means of communication had been word of mouth, but Tuesday morning was our prayer time. The entire kitchen area of the church was `wall to wall’ with women who had only one prayer–that somehow the hippies of the area would hear there was to be a meeting for them in our church that night.
“As we were praying, our church secretary, Carolyn came flying downstairs and interrupted our prayer with, `The religion editor of the newspaper came to interview Arthur Blessit; now they’re on their knees praying!’ The religion editor received Christ. The meeting that night had front page coverage in the afternoon edition. How else would you get newspaper advertising in such a short time?
“We had 1,100 hippies in our church that night. They had come from as far away as Chicago (90 miles) by thumb, by motorcycle, by car. Some were on hard drugs. These characters, and I mean characters, came en masse to the service. When Art gave the invitation that night over 100 of them accepted Christ. As the Christians came forward to find a place to pray with these young people, there wasn’t a closet or a hallway or a side room anywhere in the church where people weren’t already praying!” [What Happens When Women Pray by Evelyn Christenson. Victor Books, 1975. Pages 12-13.]
We have been granted the privilege of prayer. It is time we took advantage of this gift.
Let me ask you something. What emotion best characterizes your life? Do people look at you and see an attitude of joy? Or do they see: Anger; Depression; Fear; Frustration; Emptiness; Guilt?
Are you trying to “make” happiness and completeness happen by your efforts? Are you hoping to work yourselves to joy? It won’t happen. You can enjoy life but you won’t know this joy that only Christ can give you.
Is it time for you to make that decision to trust Christ for forgiveness and for direction in your daily living? Is it time to stop pretending so you can get serious about a relationship with God?
Here’s another question: Who’s perspective governs your life? Do you look at things from the world’s perspective or from the Lord’s? Jesus tells us that they are at odds with each other. One is a mirage . . . the other is real. One promises much and delivers nothing. The other promises joy and eternal life and delivers on it’s promise. Which mindset it yours? If you are in the wrong group maybe it is time to adjust your thinking. Maybe it is time to start believing what you claim to believe.
Finally, what is your practice in regard to prayer? Do you see prayer as a “request-line” or as a “life-line”? Prayer is our access to the one who brings joy to living and hope for eternity. Is prayer something you talk about . . . .or do? This week I challenge you to work at your prayer life. Make quiet time to talk to God about YOUR life. Seek His perspective. Bask in His love. Maybe a good goal would be to give as much time to your inner life as you do to your outer appearance.
My challenge is to receive joy. The world cannot take our joy away . . . .be we can refuse to draw upon it. Stop being foolish. . . let go of the anger, discouragement and guilt and grab hold of joy.
And the next time you see a group of unbelievers or sour-faced church members . . .try something bold . . . give them a smile, share a laugh, respond in joy. It will probably make them wonder what is going on with you. And maybe, just maybe . . . you’ll get the opportunity to tell them.