Unfortunately the sermon this week wasn’t recorded but we have captured the notes. Click here to download the presentation and you can read the sermon notes below:
What characterises a Christian? What should people see in us? Jesus did say, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:35. So clearly love is one of the hallmarks. But another characteristic is JOY.
Shortly after this statement, in talking about him being the vine and we the branches he says:
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. John 15:11
In the nativity story in Luke 1 and 2 there is a lot of joy. It is mentioned on 4 occasions. The disciples were filled with joy when they returned from preaching and it tells us that Jesus was full of joy about this (Luke 10) but he told them to rejoice instead that their names were written in heaven. We also read that the disciples were full of joy when Jesus rose from the dead.
Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Paul also tells us that, “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17).
Is joy just a New Testament experience? No. We can learn a lot about joy from passages in the Old Testament. The word joy is used 242 times in the Bible, joyful 28 times and the command to rejoice is used 154 times.
David was a joyful person. He wrote about joy in Psalms 4, 5, 16, 19, 20, 21, 27, 28, 30, 33, 35, 51, 65, 68, 86 and 145. We know that he danced before the Lord in 2 Samuel 6: 14. However, we also know that David sinned. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed to cover his sin. When this was pointed out to him, he repented and cried out to God. We read his prayer in Psalm 51. He pleaded to be able to hear joy and gladness. Verses 10-12 are a central part of the Psalm.
Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
He asks for God to restore to him the joy of salvation. This says that joy is the natural state of believer and that it is possible to lose that joy. Remember when you first became a Christian? For most it is place of great joy. Have you lost your joy? The good news is that it is possible to get it back. Joy has been experienced many times in the church down through the centuries. One of the emphases of the Pentecostal churches was joy, but we seem to have lost it.
Like David we can pray, “restore to me the joy of your salvation.” In the Old Testament the various psalmists encouraged people to be joyful. To give examples from two of the most well-known psalms. Psalm 100 begins “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship him with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.” Psalm 47 begins, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”
About 500 years after David we have Ezra and Nehemiah. The nation of Israel had split into two nations and had been taken captive into Babylon because of constantly turning away from God to follow idols. After 70 years the people started to return and two men were to play a vital role in re-establishing the nation. Ezra was a priest, a scholar, a scribe, who could read and interpret the old testament law. Nehemiah was a leader who had the backing of the emperor, King Artaxerxes.
All the people gathered together and Ezra read the law to them while 13 Levites explained it to the listeners. The people began to weep. They realised that the reason their parents and grandparents had been taken into captivity was because of sin. They also realised that they were sinful. In Nehemiah 8 it says:
Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and teacher of the Law, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, ‘This day is holy to the Lord your God. Do not mourn or weep.’ For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.
Nehemiah said, ‘Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.’
The Levites calmed all the people, saying, ‘Be still, for this is a holy day. Do not grieve.’
Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them.
I wonder what it means, “to celebrate with great joy”? Think about it today as you have your Sunday meal.
Turning to the New Testament, we are going to look at one of the most ‘serious’ Christians there has ever been. Paul was converted on the road to Damascus, he was transformed from someone who was persecuting the young Christian church to one who was being persecuted for being a member of that church. In 2 Corinthians 11 Paul tells us about his life up to this point:
I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have laboured and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.
A pretty awful life and yet, we find early on the sort of person he is. In Acts 16 Paul and Silas had been stripped, severely flogged, thrown into prison in the inner cell and had their feet put in stocks. It then tells us that “about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns and the other prisoners were listening to them.” Singing after all that!
Mervyn Thomas founded the Christian Solidarity Worldwide. The organisation highlights the plight of persecuted Christians throughout the world. This is a quote from him. “I’ve met the most amazing people who have an inner joy. I can’t ever remember meeting a miserable persecuted Christian.”
So, when Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! He is not talking as someone who has had an easy life. He is encouraging us all to stir up the joy of our salvation.
We may be like David who sinned and so lost his joy or like the people in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah who started to weep at their failure. It doesn’t matter. We may be like Paul and can give a whole host of reasons for why we might not be experiencing joy. But again, it doesn’t matter. Our joy is not dependent on our past or on others. Rejoice and let the joy of the Lord be your strength.