The greatest all-time preacher was, of course, Jesus Christ. His messages came directly from God.[i] He couched them in eloquent stories that puzzled the masses who listened.[ii] Thousands rushed about the countryside looking for him. They forgot to take food for the long trip home, and Jesus miraculously fed them.[iii] Who is this man? They asked. We know his family![iv] And yet we heard John the Baptist![v] Can this be the deliverer, promised by our Scriptures to save Israel from our Roman oppressors?[vi] Even his disciples in the sinking ship asked fearfully, who is this man, that even the winds and waves obey him? [vii]
Yet the elite hated him. Blinded by jealousy they tried to kill him. Even the local synagogue at Nazareth,[viii] charmed by his words, turned against him, throwing him out. But it was not only jealousy, their hatred ran deep because he exposed their actions and hypocrisy.[ix] Who gave you authority? they demanded.
Jesus never explained his stories to the masses. [x] But afterwards, he told his disciples what they meant. There were, however, some things they never understood when he took them away to quiet locations for these intimate talks. He told them about his coming crucifixion[xi], about the end times when he would return in glory,[xii] and what he would be doing in the meantime: I go to prepare a place for you.[xiii] He spoke of the coming of the Holy Spirit who would remind them of what he had said, so that not only they, but succeeding generations, would understand.[xiv]
Jesus preached to the Jews first but also foreshadowed the world-wide Christian community: healing of the centurion’s servant,[xv] the woman at the well in Samaria,[xvi] the healed maniac.[xvii] Jesus came to the Jews and to us, Gentiles, too!
[i] John 14:10 NIV
[ii] 46 Parables. The Good Samaritan. Luke 10:25-37 NIV
[iii] Jesus feeds the 5 thousand. Matthew 14:13-21 NIV
[iv] John 6:42 NIV
[v] John 1:19-34 NIV
[vi] The Jews expected their Messiah would shake off the Roman oppression and establish a kingdom on earth. Acts 1:6 NIV
[vii] Mark 4:41 NIV
[viii] Luke 4:14-21; 28-30 NIV
[ix] Mark 11:27-33 NIV
[x] Mark 4:34 NIV
[xi] Crucifixion Matthew 20:17-19 NIV
[xii] Second coming. Matthew 24:1-30 NIV
[xiii] Preparing a place. John 14:1-3 NIV
[xiv] The Holy Spirit. John 14:26 NIV
[xv] The Centurion’s servant. Luke 7:1-10 NIV
[xvi] Woman at the well. John 4:1-42 NIV
[xvii] The healed maniac. Mark 5:1-20 NIV
If you have nothing to say, why say it? Elusive ideas floated like the soap bubbles I tried to catch as a child. MY MATERNAL GRANDFATHER floated by, next to it CONSOLATION, and then a big one like a banner in the sky, GOD OF COMPASSION, but I could not reach it, jump as I tried, and trailing behind, a little one with JOY wobbling on it. It touched my hand and I caught it!
Though elusive, Joy, I thought, might be worth a try. “Hello Miss, I am conducting a poll: do you have joy in your life?” “No! my boyfriend’s left me!” And you, sir, what gives you joy?” “Making money! Can’t talk!” And you, madam?” “ Baking cakes!” I could see that.
Seriously though, Joy is worth considering. It reminds me of a cartoon my daughter sent me: a man sitting on a chair plucking a harp. Underneath is a quote by Igor Stravinsky: Harpists spend 90% of their lives tuning their harps and 10% playing out of tune. People search for joy in all kinds of ways and some never find it. Their lives become rather like a Google search, an unending quest.
As a Christian, I turn to the Bible. It says a great deal about joy, an abstract noun, but much more about rejoice and rejoicing. The Bible is full of good news! There is much that we can learn about living a joyful and productive Christian life in the Bible which does not mention the word joy but joy results from it. Think of the joy of one’s conversion, of serving others, of following our Lord, of God’s help and peace in times of trouble.
In the Old Testament joy applies to God’s dealing with the Israelites, although Christians have taken many verses to heart. Here is a favourite.
“Do not grieve for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8:11 NIV).
Turning to the New Testament, it starts with the great joy of Jesus Christ’s birth and follows in his ministry, resurrection, ascension and second coming.
“The angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them…I bring you tiding of great joy which shall be to all people.” Luke 2:8,10
The wise men: “When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” Matthew 2:10
Jesus walked many miles in the three years as he preached “Repent: for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Matthew 4:17
“ …joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over 99 just persons which need no repentance.” Luke 15:7.
Jesus spoke to his disciples about his death. He said: “Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will be turned to joy.” John 16:20 NIV “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.” John 16:22 NIV.
After Jesus had told the parable of the vine and its branches, he said: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” John 15:11 NIV.
In Hebrews we read of Jesus on the cross: “Looking unto 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.” Heb 12:2
Jesus appeared, that is after his resurrection, “to the 11 and them that were with him.” Luke 24:33. “And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said to them, Have ye here any meat.” Luke 24:41.
The Ascension of Jesus: “While he was blessing them, he left them and was taken up to heaven. Then they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” Luke 24: 51, 52 NIV.
Jesus in Heaven: “To him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy…” Jude 1:24 NIV A wonderful Doxology!
The early church has much to say about Christian joy, how Christians felt, and how we can still feel today. It’s told in the books of Hebrews, Epistles and The Revelation.
After Pentecost “Every day they (Christians) continued to meet together in the Temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts.” Acts 2:46 NIV. Some other translations say “with joy.”
And then trouble and persecutions struck the early church and have ever since. Staggering numbers of Christians die for their faith every year. In the early church it resulted in Christians fleeing Jerusalem and spreading the gospel in places where they settled. In 2 Cor 6:10 NIV we read, “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing: poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, yet possessing everything.” Other translations use “joy” and “always rejoicing.” And James writing to the dispersed Christians says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you face trials of many kinds.” James 1:2 NIV
Peter adds his voice in 1 Peter 4:13: “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings, that when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding Joy. And Paul, writing to the Corinthian church says, “I have spoken to you with great frankness, I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds.” 2 Cor 4:7 NIV
And of course, the early church was dependent on the Holy Spirit. “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Rom 14:17 NIV. Paul writes to the Galatians, “For the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” Gal 5:22-23 NIV
This is what the apostle Peter said about joy.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” 1 Peter 8,9 NIV
The joy of Christians is knowing that after death their souls are carried to Heaven to await the second coming of Christ in spectacular glory with all the hosts of heaven when their souls will be given new bodies, bodies suited to live in the new heaven and new earth created for them. No wonder our joy is inexpressible and glorious!