Preached on 12/11/2011
Rev. Matthew Bell
Evangel Temple-20Twenty College Ministry
Good morning! How y’all doing today? For those of you who don’t know me my name is Matt and I’m excited to be up here today talking to you about a subject I care deeply about. Joy. If you know me you know that I love talking about joy. A couple of months ago at MidWeek live I taught on it. The name of my own personal blog is Joy Addict.
I am not the only one who has latched onto this subject and made it a life cry. C.S. Lewis says it was his pursuit of Joy (or joy’s pursuit of him) that led him to Christ. John Piper has made the pursuit of joy one of the main thrusts of his own ministry that he smartly entitled Desiring God. And let’s not forget that this time of year we see it everywhere around us. Joy is at Starbucks on your coffee cups. Joy is at Macy’s for 9.99. Old Navy even promises that joy can come by listening to those creepy mannequin commercials with a puffy sweater that makes you look like the StayPuff marshmallow man.
Christmas is synonymous with joy. And that is what we are going to look at today. If you have your Bibles open them up to Luke 2. We are going to be looking at a familiar passage that undoubtedly you know but I want to start here because it is good to remember the foundation of joy before we begin to discuss it.
A couple of months ago after I had finished teaching on Joy I was talking with a friend about the subject. He is not a Christian but is open to God and likes Jesus but is not ready to commit. I was explaining to him how C.S. Lewis described joy. It goes something like this:
“it is an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”
He really liked that definition and stated he wished more Christians would act like that. I found that statement really profound. He wished he knew people who were more joyful? Are not Christians supposed to be that?
After this conversation I went back to my journal and wrote the following story.
“This is a tale of Three People.
The first person in our tale is Overbearing Olivia. Olivia is religious. She is nice and she means well but she is rather pompous. She lives a strict life that avoids any situation where she might encounter sin. She thinks all entertainment distracts from the Great Commission. If you are vulnerable and tell her about a struggle you are having her reply is usually the same. Have more faith or stop doubting God. For her, right living is a set of rules. Rules she has to make sure everyone knows because they can’t live right if they don’t. Are you sick? What demon did you let into your life today? Are you poor? Did you forget to tithe? Everything stems from a negative cause and effect. Olivia claims that the joy of the Lord is her strength but when you look at her life you don’t see joy at all. She seems miserable!
The next person in our tale is Worldy William. When I first met him William he had just finished a modeling gig and I swear that timed seemed to slow down to Bay-Watch Speed at our introduction. He’s smooth and friendly but you can’t help feeling like he thinks you should be honored to be talking with him. He does not give time to charity because giving his money to them is enough. He loves women so much that he states he wants to share his love with as many as he can. For him the only wrong is what hurts others and he mostly means if it physically hurts them. Not emotionally, spiritually or any other “ly” you can think of. William is pragmatic and the only scripture he lives by is the song “All You Need is Love.” Although his definition of love is self.
Finally, the third person in our story is Dirt Poor Jesus. So poor in fact that while he was walking on a Sabbath he came to the edge of a field and he and his disciples were picking grain. An acceptable practice for those who could not afford their own. The religious folk saw this and cried foul. “It is the Sabbath” they said and claimed that Dirt Poor Jesus had broken the law. Jesus replied, “In the Old Testament, David entered the house of the Lord and ate the consecrated bread because he was hungry.” He then explained how man was NOT made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath was made for man. In one swell swoop he destroyed both the Overbearing and the Worldly. Jesus reminds us that the Overbearing lose sight of living while trying to keep rules and the Worldly lose sight of rules while claiming to live. Jesus’ way is better. Jesus’ way is Joy abundantly.”
It is here that I want us to begin to look at our passage today. The declaration of the birth of Christ. The birth that will brings Good News of Great Joy to all of mankind.
Our passage opens up with the location of the Shepherds who were watching their flock by night. They were in the same region of Bethlehem where Christ was born so they were there for the census and probably lived there themselves. To be a shepherd meant they were very poor. The Bible states in vs. 8 they were living outside with the sheep by night. It could have been possible they did not have a place to live at all. We don’t know how many shepherds were there those nights or what they looked like but the image I get of in my head is a group of men who looked like a cross between Dwarves and Hobbits from Lord of the Rings. Burly, short guys who burp and drink and probably were pretty crude. I was looking at my manger seen and the one shepherd in it looks like an Abercrombie and Fitch model. This was clearly not what they looked like.
Luke tells us that while they were watching their sheep that an angel of the Lord appeared and the glory of the Lord shone around them. This is common language for prophetic speech in Scripture and this type of event had not happened since the Old Testament save for the appearances of Angels to Mary and Elizabeth. The Bible states these guys were filled with fear.
The angel of the Lord tells them not to fear and then a whole host or multitude of angels appears. They were filled with fear with just one angel then 1,000’s of angels suddenly appeared. It is a wonder that these guys even remember what happened and did not pass out. I wonder what there sheep were doing?
I am always fascinated with why this happened. Why shepherds? Why pull out all the stops for them? God put on this divine light show for people who clearly would have been fine with just one angel? Why?
It wasn’t till later in Scripture that I started to see what God was doing. In Luke 15:7 Jesus says that the angels in heaven rejoice when the Gospel is proclaimed to unbelievers and that person repents. This Divine special effects event, while we may not see it, happens again and again for the last 2,000 years. The Shepherds were seeing into heaven. The joy of heaven was being shown on the Earth.
This is why the angel said “I bring you good news of great joy.” The proclamation of the birth of Christ is the good news that brings great joy. Notice though that the Angel says in verse 10 that this “good news” is for all the people. And that right there is why God chose the shepherds. God loves to shows His grace in proclamation to the poor, probably homeless and the outcast from society. God declared Christ birth to people who were ceremonially unclean and would not have been able to worship in the temple. Yet, they were able to go visit the God of the universe wrapped in swaddling clothes. Do you see what Luke is doing? This event is not like any event that has ever happened before.
I’d also like to point out that verse 20 states the shepherds returned to being shepherds. They returned to being poor, homeless and outcasts but now they were glorifying God and praising him. They were filled with great joy for finding God.
The saddest thing that has happened to Christianity in the past 100 years is the tying of joy to happiness in the material sense. Joy has been trivialized to mean things like
(2) Freedom from Pain
(3) Freedom from despair
(4) Relationship health
(5) and the most despicable of all: riches and material wealth.
We see that the shepherds had none of this. Joy is not found in any of it. You see by tying Joy to these things if you don’t get them you fail at joy? That’s impossible! Joy originates not from some type of internal feeling of goodness or good things that happen to us but from an outward reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ that awakens in us the greatest desire a man can know. Desiring God. Joy is not a thing but a person. Any theology, worldview or religion that makes joy a thing makes an idol.
Thankfully, the Bible fleshes out what this joy looks like for us today. Now that we have looked at what joy is and what it is not I’d like to look at two different descriptions of joy. The first by Jesus Himself and finally how the Apostle Paul uses the term.
We talked earlier about how Jesus destroyed two opposing world-views and offered a third in the story of Overbearing Olivia and Worldy William. It is in the book of John we see this worldview fleshed out. In John 15:11. Jesus states:
“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”
The “things” Jesus is referring to is abiding in Him. Persevering in Christ. Jesus states that abiding in Him means abiding in his love for God and His love for the commands of God. Notice here that Jesus is stating matter of factly that His joy will be in you. It’s not something you have to make happen. It just is. In fact, here Jesus states your joy may be full because it is in Him. Again, the object of joy is a person and not an object.
Next, in John 16:24 Jesus states,
“Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
Jesus states that by asking in His name you will receive. Receive what exactly? This is one of the most abused passages of Scripture and misunderstanding this passage is the reason why people say you can live your Best Life Now. Once again joy is tide into material.
The reason He states you can ask in his name does not make the word Jesus some type of magical spell. Just simply add Jesus with a British accent to any request and you’ll get the car of your dreams, the girl next door or that dream promotion. That’s not what he is talking about. He is stating that you are going to suffer. The whole passage is about suffering. Jesus compares joy to childbirth. After a whole lot of pain the moment a mom holds a child all the pain doesn’t matter. She has great joy. Jesus is saying that this is what is available to you. Joy from suffering. This is perhaps the greatest paradox in all of Scripture and one that Paul picks up on again and again.
In Paul we see a comparison between Christian living and worldly living that looks something like this: in tune with reality One of my favorite speakers is Ravi Zacharias and he points out a very interesting thing about the Apostle Paul’s writing in the epistles. He states:
“Life is intended to be the thrill of wonder and the irresistible urge to share it with others. However, can life be in tune with reality and also be enchanting without being escapist?”
Ravi answers, “Yes!” And Paul would seem to agree.
In the Apostle Paul’s writings we see a comparison between Christian living and worldly living that looks something like this:
Child –> Growth –> Pain –> Less Wonder and Destruction/Death
Death to self –> New Birth –> Growth –> More Wonder and Life
The tendency I see in Christians today is to deny the reality of joy because the reality of pain seems stronger. This is the paradox Paul addresses again and again. That Joy can come from Suffering.
“Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” Colossians 1:24
“…but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way…through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.” 2 Corinthians 6:8-10
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Galatians 5:22-24
I see in Paul three things that speak to how joy is experienced by a Christian who has come to know Christ.
(1) Joy is experienced in the community of believers
(2) Joy comes despite suffering.
(3) Joy is a Fruit of the Spirit.
One of my biggest fears in this sermon was that I would be guilty of moralizing or be guilty of diminishing God and exalting our own feelings. One of the most amazing things about God is that the experience of Joy is different among each believer. There is a level of subjectivity to Joy and it scared me that I would be perceived as saying, “you must act like this” or “you must have these emotions” when you face different things in life.
I don’t want to do that.
What I will say is that there is an objectivity to joy and it is in relationship to the person of Jesus Christ. Joy is a Fruit of the Spirit because it is the abiding presence of Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit that believers live this supernatural joy. Joy is the result of walking in the Spirit. You don’t put Joy first and walk in the Spirit second.
Some of you today need to remember that. You need to have that angel choir hover over you again and pronounce the good news of Great Joy. You need to be like the Psalmist who prayed: “Restore unto me the joy of my salvation.”
Others of you might not have even experienced anything like I’m saying is available to you. You might not know Jesus. I’d love to talk to you. I’d love to introduce you to Christ. I’d love to try and hear the angels sing over you with you.
Finally, there is a group of you who are being bombarded by the world. You are suffering. Rejoicing is not easy. Christmas time makes it worse. I’d love to pray for you too! Paul states that one of the benefits of community is that we feed off each other’s joy. Let me be the conduit for God’s joy in your life. Some of you need to do that. Be that for your Christian brothers and sisters.