The True Source of Joy
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As Christians, how can we be joyful in adverse circumstances? What is the difference between happiness and joy?
Good morning. If you have your Bible today, I Encourage you to open it to the Book of Zephaniah, it's one of those books that's so short and to a certain degree so overlooked, commonly overlooked that you may even struggle with where to find it. It's the fourth book from the end of the Old Testament, just three short chapters. And we'll just be popping through it very briefly and dwelling on Chapter three. I thought it would be helpful to step back for a moment and give you the big picture of in my remaining time here what it is that I hope to do on Sunday mornings. And it begins again with what we believe the mission of Calvary Evangelical Free Church is the mission of Calvary.
Evangelical Free Church is we exist to glorify God by making disciples of Jesus, disciples of Jesus who live our passion for Christ and compassion for people. That phrase make disciples, of course, it's Jesus's final commands to us before he ascends into heaven. It's his mission statement to all the church and every church has to wrestle with - What does that mean? How do we go about making disciples? What even is a disciple? So we have some way of knowing how we're going about it and how we measure how we're doing. We have as Calvary leadership, we have attempted to bring into more of a focus - What does it mean when we talk about discipleship, as we're thinking about making disciples and we are using something called the Christian Life Profile. It is it is a tool that has been used here at Calvary for the last number of years, certainly prior to me coming as part of our leadership development cohorts here at Calvary. And the Christian life profile defines a disciple - at least the way I would condense it - as somebody who is being transformed by Jesus, allowing Jesus to transform them in three ways. First of all, in their beliefs, in their their convictions about what is actually true. We think of that as the head. And then secondly, a disciple is allowing Jesus to transform them in their virtues, their inner disposition, as the Holy Spirit does his transforming work in our hearts. And that's why we use the heart to signify virtues.
And then thirdly, a disciple is someone who is allowing Jesus to transform them in in their practices, in their their behaviors, how they actually go about from their beliefs and their virtues to live out their life. And we signify that by hands, our behaviors, what we do and what we practice. So with that in mind, what I have been doing, at least started in February, is we'll slowly, month by month work through some of these beliefs and some of these virtues and some of these practices. We won't get through all of them in my remaining time here. But it is something that I think even as the next lead pastor comes, that the board is going to ask that that he continue to bring out and the preaching and in a way that is appropriate to him. So the way I've chosen to do it, we started in February as we took the first belief. In February, if you were here during any of those Sundays, we worked through the first belief, and that is our belief in the Trinitarian God. God, the self existent one. God, the creator. God, the one who makes himself known to us as the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This month, March, we will be moving from beliefs to virtues, and we will be looking at the first virtue, and that is the virtue, the inner disposition, of joy. And I need to tell you right up front, that is not the one that I would have picked that is not one that I believe is a strength in my life, although it is certainly one that I desire for the Lord to transform me more in.
I took it because its first on the list. But that's what we're going to be looking at in the month of of March: Joy. Joy, Galatians5:22 says is a fruit of the spirit or an aspect of the fruit of the spirit. So it is something we expect to see developing more and more as the Holy Spirit, once a person surrenders their life to Christ and the Holy Spirit fills them, that the Holy Spirit is producing more, is ripening more in their lives, but joy is something that remarkably we see clearly in the early believers. And I think, first of all, I think of of Acts 13:52 that's up there on the screen. This is said about two early disciples, Paul and Barnabas, Paul and Barnabas, it says, and the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the spirit. What you have to understand is the context of this. This is not written when everything is going well in Paul and Barnabas Ministry. They have just been kicked out of Antioch of Pisidia. The persecution against what they were preaching against the Christ that they represented rose to the point that a mob formed and physically threw them out of the city.
And yet the very next verse, this is what is said, that even in the midst of that, that opposition, they were filled with joy. That's how people perceive them, filled with joy, I think, as well -
it is not up on the screen here today, but I think of the early believers and the churches that made up the churches in Macedonia, II Corinthians 8. Paul tells us that these believers in these churches in Macedonia, they were being tested by many troubles, by many afflictions. They were very poor. They were suffering extreme poverty. And yet, he says in the very same breath, but they were filled with abundant joy.
So the first thing that I would make an observation about Joy, is is joy is unnatural and by that I mean it does not come to us naturally. I am not joyful when circumstances are hard. I am not joyful, naturally joyful when I am facing opposition or trials.
Joy being filled with joy is unnatural to us. Apart from the work of the spirit in us, it's unnatural in the midst of opposition and affliction and deprivation.
The other thing I would say about joy as an opening observation is it is uncommon and sadly it is uncommon, even in the church, how many Christians that we meet, where their countenance is dour or even angry, where you would not say of them as as they said about the believers in Macedonia, they were filled with joy.
And so when we do meet Christians like that, it stands out. It draws us magnetically to them.
I think about the two most joyful people that I know, Ross and Cathy, husband and wife that have been very dear friends to Cindy and I for many, many years. Humble, simple people, people who, when their only son was six years old, he was killed in a tragic accident. And rather than that embittering them rather than that making them turn inward on themselves and being angry at God, it made them more humble. And now they exhibit a true joy. It draws us to them. They are the most joyful believers that I know. True joy, the kind of joy that that we're talking about here has the virtue that the Holy Spirit wants to produce in us as part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit is unnatural and uncommon. So even the last couple of weeks, as I have been preparing for this sermon, I have been trying to get a handle on what exactly is Joy. You know, the word is used out there in our culture, but it's used so lightly it's fluff. What is this kind of joy that we're talking about that the spirit wants to produce in the heart of a follower of Jesus Christ? I've looked back at some of my favorite old writers, one of my favorite devotional writers, J.R.
Miller, wrote in the nineteenth century. He says, this: "Joy is deeper than happiness." He doesn't say that happiness may not be part of joy, but he says that joy is deeper than happiness. In fact, he goes on to say this about happiness: "Happiness is the fruit of prosperous conditions. Happiness is the outcome of favorable circumstances." You and I know that, don't we? When things are going well in our life and we have enough money in our bank accounts and we're healthy and relationally things are going well, it's pretty easy to be happy to feel some kind of sense of happiness, is it not? But what happens when circumstances turn? What happens when there's not enough money and there's relational strife and our health is impacted and we're suffering in various ways? What happens when we face in following Christ opposition and persecution? If happiness is the measure, happiness evaporates in those kinds of circumstances. Miller rightly says joy has to be deeper than happiness. He goes on to say: "Joy is independent of circumstances." Whereas happiness is dependent upon circumstances and wavers and rises and falls based upon circumstances. Joy is independent of circumstances. He says
Joy can grow in any soil. Joy can live under any condition. Joy defies environment. Joy can grow even when you lose your six year old son, Joy can survive. Even when you're suffering from cancer, joy can thrive in your life, even when you don't know how you're going to pay all your bills. Joy, ironically, just in this contradictory way, Joy can actually be the strongest when troubles are coming.
I recently had lunch with an old friend of mine who is down here for a second surgery at the Mayo Clinic, Jim Anderson. He's the former associate superintendent for our north central district here, and I've known Jim and Lois for years, Jim is going through a battle with brain cancer. And a couple of years ago, he had his first surgery and they removed the cancer from his brain but couldn't get it all. And they waited over the next couple of years and the cancer grew back. And just about two months ago, he had to have a second surgery to, again, remove that cancer from his brain. And he doesn't know how much longer he's going to live.
And Jim has always been a person who exudes joy. But I've actually seen as he walks through this, this dark valley of brain cancer that he's even more joyful. It's as if what he is walking through has matured that aspect of the fruit of joy in him. That is the mystery. That is almost the self contradictory nature of true joy. It truly does defy environment. It truly does grow in any soil, even the hardest soil.
So what is Joy?
I have not been satisfied the last couple of weeks with the dictionary definitions of joy, with the cultural definitions of joy. I want to know what that joy is, that when I look back at the first Christians, the accounts of them that we see in scripture, how they were filled with joy, even in the midst of opposition and trials and suffering and persecution, I want to know what it is. And as I look at them and read those accounts, I am convinced of this that joy is more than an emotional state.
Now, I do think there is emotions that we experience with joy, but it is more than an emotional state. I think joy can exist, as I see in the example of the early believers and the lives of people like Jim and Ross and Kathy. Joy can exist even in the midst of grief.
Joy can exist even in the midst of confusion and hurt and pain.
Another writer who has helped me get a little more of a handle on joy back to the 17th century. The Puritan Thomas Watson, Watson says this: "Joy is not mere imagination."
What is he saying there? He's saying that it is not simply an emotion that that we can stir up somehow by an act of our will. It's more than that, he says. Joy is rational. Joy arises from the feeling, from the experience of some good. I'm going to finish that quote. But before I finish that quote and tell you what Watson believes is the basis of joy that we experience, I want to make sure you understand what he's saying here. Joy has a rational basis. It is not some fleeting emotion. Joy has a foundation that it arises from in our life. Joy grows in our hearts out of our conviction and experience of a fundamental truth. What is that truth?
This is really what my whole sermon is about this morning. I want us to understand what the root of joy is for a believer. I want us to understand what that fundamental truth, that foundation, that joy is built upon. And I think it is found in the conclusion of Watson's quote, the rational basis for a Christian's joy, the root from which his or her joy grows and flourishes is this, in the words of Thomas Watson, joy comes from "the sense of God's love and favor."
I want to read this next line to you, because I just want to make sure I get it word for word, right. Because it is so important.
Joy is a deep sense of well-being that is based on the knowledge that because your sin has been forgiven by Christ and you are clothed with his righteousness, God now has only love, compassion and deepest affection for you.
God now looks upon you and treat you with gracious favor, and even where God allows trials and affliction and suffering to come into your life, he does it because he intends to use it for your ultimate and eternal good. That is the basis of a believer's joy, that God has nothing but love and absolute favor for the one who walks in the righteousness of Christ.
So if you are in Christ today, if you know Christ as savior in love, your sense of God's love, your sense of God's favor towards you is your source of joy.
And that's what will cause you to thrive and have joy even in the most bitter soil of circumstances around you. Now, I want to show you the rest of this month. I want to show you from different places in scripture where that is true and how that helps us in bitter soil, how that helps us as we walk through suffering and trials and confusion and even opposition. And this morning, in the remaining minutes that I have, I want to do that in what I think is one of the most unlikely places in scripture to see Joy, and that is Zephaniah.
Zephaniah is one of the minor prophets. And if you've read any of the minor prophets, you've read them all. What is their message? You are rebelling against God and so judgment is coming. These are not books that just exude joy. But Zephaniah, I will show you.
Zephaniah gives us not only a picture of joy, but a picture of joy in the midst of hard circumstances. I'm not going to go through all three chapters, verse by verse. We would not have the time for that. But let me just place it in the setting so you understand the context and what's going on there. Verse one of Chapter one opens up with "The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Kushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah during the reign of Josiah son of Amon, King of Judah."
Zephaniah is prophesying during the reign of the good king Josiah. Josiah was king after a series of evil, rebellious kings over Jerusalem and Judah. And the people, though, of Jerusalem and Judah in those reigns before Josiah, they had largely turned away from the Lord. They rejected the faith of their ancestors of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They turned away from Yahweh, they'd embraced the cultures around them. And what those cultures taught them were the things to run after and follow after. So really the word that we could put on them is apostacy. Zephaniah is called and Josiah is raised up during a period of apostasy, of great apostasy in Israel. And God uses Josiah and Zephaniah faithfully. He uses them to call the people back to him. But ultimately they don't come back to him, at least not most of them. Zephaniah warned the people of Jerusalem and Judah that if they did not turn back to Yahweh, judgment was coming. We see that in verses two and four. "'I will sweep away everything from the face of the earth,' declares the Lord... 'I will stretch out my hand against Judah and all who live in Jerusalem...'" And you know what? In spite of that warning, they didn't turn back. And twenty years after the reign of Josiah had ended in five eighty seven B.C, God allows the Babylonians to to come in and conquer all of Judah and Jerusalem and destroy much of Jerusalem and lead the people off in slavery into exile.
So that's Zephaniah. It is a depressing book until we get to the end of it. Chapter one is all about the coming judgment and the warnings about the coming judgment. Chapter two, it gives an appeal that it is still not too late to repent. I think we have to ask the question, you know, why would the God of Israel bring judgment on his beloved nation? Why would he allow that to happen? Isn't this the nation that he raised up from Abraham?
Well, he tells us in chapter three. As chapter three opens, Zephaniah speaking for the Lord and he's speaking to Jerusalem and Judah collectively as representing the people. So he's speaking to the people and he says this: "Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled. She obeys no one. She accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord. She does not draw near to her God." Now, at this point, it would be easy to say that happened then what does that have to do with now? But I want you to think about the parallels that exist between what was happening in Jerusalem and Judah and the culture of that time and what is happening in our nation, our world, but particularly since we the nation we live in is what's foremost on our minds, what is happening in our nation today. I think it is undeniable. There are parallels between what is happening with the state our nation is in and the state of Jerusalem and Judah, at that time, there is that same moral rebelliousness, that moral rebelliousness that Zephaniah is prophesying against in Jerusalem and Judah, that pushing off of God's authority over our lives, that God is the one who defines what is right and wrong, that moral rebelliousness has swept over our nation. Maybe in prior periods of history, there were there were pockets that morally rebelled against God. But now it is the majority of our culture. Moral rebelliousness is really rampant. It is really descriptive of our American culture today.
There is that same sense of self-sufficiency just as the people of of Jerusalem and Judah said basically, even if they didn't say it this clearly, we don't need God. We got plenty of other things to choose from. We're responsible for our own happiness. We don't need God. So that is the culture of our nation today, our nation that says we've got it on our own. We are autonomous, we are independent. We don't need God. There is that same sinful spirit of self-sufficiency and there's that same turning away from the Lord. That's the meaning of the word apostasy. And if we think about our nation as a whole, while certainly we all know people who love and follow Jesus, when we look at our nation as a whole, apostasy is the word that I would put upon our nation. Our nation has largely turned away from the Lord.
So what Zephaniah speaks to Jerusalem and Judah. God speaks through Zephaniah to our nation today. And when Zephaniah warns about coming judgment, he uses the phrase the day of the Lord. Yeah, there was a there was an initial fulfillment of that and five eighty seven B.C. when the Babylonians came in and wiped out Judah and Jerusalem. But there is an ultimate fulfillment that is still yet to come. The day of the Lord at the end of times, I believe, as I understand end times and eschatology, that begins with the tribulation period, that could begin at any point, that God will judge all the nations of the world in the ultimate day of the Lord. So the warning that Zephaniah delivers to Jerusalem and Judah is a warning that God speaks to even our nation, all the world, but our nation today. It's hard to read through these any of the minor prophets, but especially Zephaniah. With all the warnings of coming judgment, it's hard to read and not ask, well, what is God going to do?
Didn't God make a covenant? Didn't he make a promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob?
How will he honor that covenant if he brings judgment, if he allows judgment to come upon his people? And that's where we have in the light of God's revelation in the New Testament, Romans 9:27. We're told the judgment is coming, but there is a remnant God will preserve a remnant, a remnant will be saved. And Zephaniah calls the people at the beginning of chapter two and verse three. You can be part of that remnant. Look, seek the Lord. Are you humble of the land? You who do what he commands, seek righteousness, seek humility.
Perhaps you will be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger and that beseeching that offer was real to anyone at that time who would respond to him. And that offer today is made through Christ.
The offer to become part of the remnant is the offer that through faith in Christ, through turning to Christ as the son of God, the righteous one who deals with our sins at the cross, that we can be grafted into that righteous remnant.
So even today, ahead of the coming day of the Lord, that offer is there to all who respond, who will respond to it, you can be part of the righteous remnant you if you come to Christ with humility, if you come to Christ seeking him with repentance, you can become part of this righteous remnant. That call still goes out today. That call goes to anyone here this morning. Again, just because you're in church, I don't make any assumptions about where you are with the Lord. And if you're here this morning and you know that you you are morally autonomous person, you decide what is right and wrong. You are trying to live life your own way without God. That warning of judgment is there. But that offer that you can come to Christ in humility and repentance and be grafted into his righteous remnant is there. The offer is real. Anyone who repents from their moral rebelliousness, anyone who repents from their self sufficiency, anyone who turns to Christ is grafted in to that righteous remnant and being part of that righteous remnant even as judgment is coming means, first of all, that your sins are forgiven. That's that's the promise we see in 3:11. God forgives the remnant and he cleanses them from their sin. On that day, you will no longer be ashamed. There's no longer the shame of sin for you will no longer be rebels against me. In verse thirteen, the remnant of Israel, their hearts will be changed so that they no longer do do wrong.
They no longer speak lies and no deceit is found in their mouths. And not only that, but the promise to those who turn to Christ as the righteous remnant God promises them security and peace, even in the midst of a world that opposes them. Even in the midst of coming judgement, they will eat and lie down, and no one will make them afraid.
God promises that he will rescue them from their oppressors, that he will shelter them from judgment, that he will protect them with his presence. And again, that's true today.
Even in our culture around us, the opposition that we face, even with coming judgment, if we, if we live through the tribulation period - that's certainly where my eschatology would lead me to believe God promises to shelter us. It's not in doubt.
It's not a perhaps like Zephaniah articulates in Christ, we are perfectly sheltered. Verse fifteen. "The Lord has taken away his judgements against you. He's cleared away your enemies. The King of Israel, the LORD, is in your midst. You will fear disaster no more."
So I again, I want us to dwell for just a moment on the parallels today. There is just as there was in the time of Zephaniah, there is the certainty of coming judgement.
The day of the Lord is coming. God will not allow the rebelliousness to exist forever. God will call all peoples to account. All moral autonomy will be silenced forever. The day of the Lord is coming. And just as there was in Zephaniah's day, it is true today the call to become part of the remnant. The offer is still extended to to anyone who will come to Christ in humility and repentance.
But now I want to circle back to joy where we began.
How in the midst of a world that opposes God, how in the midst of the looming threat of judgement, the coming day of the Lord, how can we find joy? How could the remnant back in Zephaniah's day find joy, knowing that they live in the period of great apostasy, knowing that judgment is coming upon them, how could they live with any joy?
And that's that question is for us today. How do we find joy in the midst of a culture that has largely turned away from God that rejects God? How can we live with joy? How can we find joy when we live with the anxiety that judgment is coming? I want to come back to what I said about Joy earlier. Here's where Joy comes. Your sense of God's love and favor towards you is your source of joy, even in the midst of apostasy, even in the midst of oppression, even in the midst of suffering. And I draw that from the verse in Zephaniah that I will never forget, after studying at the last two weeks from chapter three, verse 17, listen to this, let this envelop you if you are in Christ, let this wash over you, even as you think about the world around us, even as you feel the anxiety of of coming judgment. "The Lord, your God is with you.
He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love. he will rejoice over you with singing." Let me get very direct with you just for a moment.
Christian, do you believe that God takes great delight in you? Is that your picture of God? He delights in you. Do you believe, Christian, that God rejoices over you so much that it comes out as God singing over you?
That is the experience that he wants you to have. That is the foundation of joy.
Why is this so hard for us to believe that God rejoices over us, even in singing? Why is that so hard for us to believe?
I think it's hard for us to believe, first of all, because of our own sense of ourselves, I think most of us, we are conscious and we are burdened by our own sinfulness, even in our walk with Christ. We know the areas that still have to be surrendered fully to him. We are conscious and we are burden of the many areas in our life where we know we are still unfaithful. And so we look at ourselves as unworthy. We look at ourselves as undeserving. It is so hard for us to bring ourselves to think that God actually rejoices over us.
I think another reason this is so hard for us to believe is our experience with other people. While we experience love, hopefully from other people, it's always imperfect in this world on the side of of Christ's return. And so because of that, we experience people's disappointment with us. We experience people's sometimes rejection of us. It's hard for us to believe that other people rejoice in us and delight in us. And then I think this is hard for us to believe because we believe Satan's lie, though he constantly whispers in our ears that God's heart towards us is actually somewhat begrudging.
It is disapproving, it is stern, it is ready to come down on us when we mess up. Here's the reality. The truth is here in Zephaniah 3:17, nowhere else in the Bible is it recorded that God sings over his creation as it says here, that he sings over the one who is grafted into his righteous remnant.
Do you hear this in the strongest possible way? God expresses his delight in those who become his remnant people. Do you believe he delights in you?
Do you believe he rejoices in you?
It's the same language that we see in the beautiful image in Isaiah 62:5. Listen to this. Let this wash over you as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride. So shall your God rejoice over you.
Do you remember the joy of your wedding day? I hope you if you are married, I hope you had a joyful wedding day. And regardless of what has happened since your wedding day, can you put yourself back there at the altar? I remember nothing else about my wedding ceremony than that part of the ceremony when I saw Cindy begin to walk down the aisle.
And I'm still overwhelmed as I think about what I experienced that day. Do you remember whether you were the bride or the groom? Do you remember looking at your partner and thinking, this person delights in me? This person wants to give their life to me, this person rejoices in me.
And whatever is passed since then, that sense that you got at the altar of this person rejoicing over you, wanting to bless you with all of their favor delighting in you, that's the picture that Isaiah gives of how God perfectly looks at us. It's not marred by circumstances. It's not
marred by what's happened in marriage like it is in our lives, the joy of our wedding day is when we look at the one that we are about to marry and we say, I am loved, I am valued, I am treasured.
This person rejoices over me. And that's what God says to everyone who is grafted into his righteous remnant.
You are loved. I love you. I rejoice over you. I am for you. I want to pour out my favor upon you.
That's where the foundation of our joy is. That's what helps us survive in the harshest possible life circumstances. When we can come back to that foundational truth, that rational basis that we are loved. And he is for us and he rejoices over us and everything that he allows in our lives, he allows because it will ultimately be for our ultimate good, our eternal good, that enables joy to grow and thrive no matter what we face.
So if you are in Christ this morning and I hope you are, I hope you have become part of his righteous remnant, God now has only love, compassion and deepest affection for you. I want you to hear the words again of Zephaniah 3:17. God takes great delight in you. God quiets you with His love. He wants you to rest in how much he loves you. God rejoices over you so much so that he cannot help but sing in his rejoicing over you. That is the foundation of your true experience of joy, your experience of joy, even in the midst of suffering and loss, even in the midst of a world that seems out of control. So as we go forward this month, from that rational basis, from that foundation, we will we will look at how scripture teaches us in the midst of the hardest circumstances that we face and the confusing circumstances of our lives. How do we come back to that root? How do we come back to that foundation? How can we be people who, like those early believers, were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit? Let's pray. Heavenly Father, I come as a beggar, I I need to know your joy and experience more of your joy.
And I imagine there's many of my brothers and sisters here today who similarly feel the same way. Lord, would you bring us to that place beyond what we think of ourselves, beyond maybe the the rejections of other people, beyond even the lives that we so easily believe about how you look at us? And would you bring us to this place where we begin to see ourselves as the bride being looked at by our bridegroom who rejoices over her? Would you bring us, Lord, to this place where more and more we would see in the midst the hardest circumstances that we face? You rejoice over us, you delight in us, you sing over us. And may that change us. Lord, may that be something that not only fills us with joy, but radiates out to a world that is is so joyless and so thirsty and hungry for a true source of joy. We pray this Lord in the name of the one who makes this all possible. Our Savior, our Lord, our King. Jesus the Christ. Amen.