Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Spiritual Disciplines - Part 3: Joy


Spiritual Disciplines III



Joyful Celebration


Jesus entered this world on a high note of jubilation, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11). He left this world emphasizing joy for those who serve Him, “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy my be in you, and that your joy may be made full” (John 15:11).  Between these two points, Jesus began His public ministry by proclaiming the year of Jubliee, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.  He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of slight to the blind, to set free those who are downtrodden, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).  “The favorable year of the Lord”: “The year of the Lord’s favor” (NEB); “That the year of the Lord’s good pleasure is come” (Bas); “To proclaim a year when men may find acceptance with the Lord” (Knox).  This imagery is taken from the Jewish year of jubilee, which was always the fiftieth year after seven Sabbatical years (Leviticus 25:8-12).  It was usually called Jehovah’s year of grace.   Jesus will usher in a new era, a time when spiritual debtors can be released from their sins (2 Corinthians 6:2 “behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation”).  In the Old Testament, on the first day of the year of Jubilee the priests with trumpets sounded forth and proclaimed the blessings of that year.  Foster notes, “In the Old Testament all the social stipulations of the year of Jubilee—canceling all debts, releasing slaves, planting no crops, returning property to the original owner—were a celebration of the gracious provision of God.  God could be trusted to provide what was needed.  He had declared, “I will command My blessing upon you” (Leviticus 25:21).  Freedom from anxiety and care forms the basis for the celebration” (p. 190-191). 




Our Year of Jubilee


This spiritual year of jubilee continues, to this day the gospel is preached to everyone including the materially and spiritually poor. To this day, one who is a captive of sin and guilt, a slave of sin and sinful addictions can be released (1 Corinthians 6:11; Titus 2:3; 1 Peter 4:3-4).  To this day, people who have been blind and ignorant, or blinded by hate, greed, and lust can have their eyes opened to higher realities (Acts 26:18).  To this day the “downtrodden” can be set free. The term downtrodden means, “to smite through, shatter, broken by calamity, literally, broken in pieces”.  Jesus came to bring help to those who were burdened by guilt and the traditions of men, people that He will later on call, “weary and heavy-laden” (Matthew 11:28).   Foster notes, “Such a radical, divinely enabled freedom from possessions and a restructuring of social arrangements cannot help but bring celebration. When the poor receive the good news, when the captives are released, when the blind receive their sight, when the oppressed are liberated, who can without the shout of jubilee?” (p. 190). 


What Happened At Our Conversion


After the Eunuch was baptized, the text says, “but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:39).  When the Samaritans heard and obeyed the gospel, the text says, “and there was much rejoicing in that city” (Acts 8:8).  When the jailor was baptized, Luke writes,“And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly” (Acts 16:34).  When the Hebrew Christians had suffered in the past for being Christians, the Hebrew writer notes that they had “accepted joyfully the seizure of your property” (Hebrews 10:34). 


During the year of Jubilee in the Old Testament, property came back to the original owners or family members (Leviticus 25:13,41).  Slaves were set free (25:40).  Crops were not to be sown; rather, the people were to live off the land (25:12).  It was a time for many people to start over again, the economic playing field was somewhat leveled, and people were given a new start. How much more, when we became Christians we were given a chance to start over, we were born again (John 3:5).  Whatever sinful habits we had picked up, whatever servitude we found ourselves in, we were given a chance to break this bondage(Romans 6:11-18).   Like the sinful woman in John 8, we were forgiven and told, “go and sin no more” (John 8:11).   We may have been ignorant and enslaved to many hurtful lusts, but at our conversion our eyes were opened, our hardened-heart had been pricked by the gospel (Acts 2:37), and we were given the chance to see things from God’s perspective. 



“The Joy of the Lord is our Strength” (Nehemiah 8:10)


“Joy makes us strong.  We cannot continue long in anything without it.  Women endure childbirth because the joy of motherhood lies on the other side.  Young married couples struggle through the first difficult years of adjustment because they value the insurance of a long life together.  Parents hold steadily through the teen years, knowing that their children will emerge at the other end human once again.  We may be able to begin tennis instruction or piano lessons by dint of will, but we will not keep at them for long without joy.  In fact, the only reason we can begin is because we know that joy is the end result.  That is what sustains all novices; they know there is a sense of pleasure, enjoyment, and joy in mastery.  Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).  Often I am inclined to think that joy is motor, the thing that keeps everything else going.  Joy produces energy (motivation). Joy makes us strong” (Foster p. 191).  The point that the writer is making is that people do not continue to do things they do not like, or if they continue to do them, they do not do them well.  Without a sense of joy and celebration, we will eventually abandon prayer, bible study, worship, and every other spiritual discipline.  People leave God when they no longer derive any sense of joy in their relationship with Him.  People leave their mates for the same reason.  Without joy and celebration, things such as prayer and teaching the lost become dull and dreary.  The Bible says concerning Jesus, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). 


Joy in Obedience


The old hymn tells us that there is no other way to be happy in Jesus but to “trust and obey”.  Jesus basically said the same thing,“Blessed are those who hear the word of God, and observe it” (Luke 11:28).  Most of us already know that the term rendered “blessed” can equally mean fortunate, well off, or, “O the happiness of the man”.  We find the same connection between “blessed” or “happy” and serving God in Matthew 5:3-11.  Most of us learned, while in sin, that without obedience to God, joy is hollow, artificial, and very temporary.  For such joy to come from obedience, our obedience must work itself into the ordinary fabric of our daily lives.  “For example, some people live in such a way that it is impossible to have any kind of happiness in their home, but then they go to church and sing songs and pray hoping that God will somehow give them an infusion of joy to make it through the day.  They are looking for some kind of heavenly transfusion that will bypass the misery of their daily lives and give them joy.  But God’s desire is to transform the misery, not bypass it.  God’s normal means of bringing His joy is by redeeming and sanctifying the ordinary junctures of human life.  When the members of a family are filled with love and compassion and a spirit of service to one another, that family has reason to celebrate” (Foster pp. 192-193).  Solomon would agree, “The father of the righteous will greatly rejoice, and he who begets a wise son will be glad in him” (Proverbs 23:24).  Foster further notes, “There is something sad in people running from church to church trying to get an injection of ‘the joy of the Lord’.  Joy is not found in singing a particular kind of music or in getting in with the right kind of group.  Joy is found in obedience” (p. 193).  See Psalm 1:1-4.


The Mistake of Trying to Fake Joy



“Many people try to come into joy far too soon.  Often we try to pump up people with joy when in reality nothing has happened in their lives.  It is important to avoid the kind of celebrations that really celebrate nothing.  Worse is to pretend to celebrate when the spirit of celebration is not in us.  Our children watch us bless the food and promptly proceed to gripe about it—blessings that are not blessings” (Foster pp. 195-196). 


Instead of trying to force joy, we need to step back and examine our lives and our attitudes.


1.     Are we to blame for a lack of joy in our lives, that is, are we living in such a way or thinking in such a way that joy is not possible?  Are we trying to rejoice without first putting in some effort, making some corrections, and truly being sincere about our desire to serve God?  Foster is right when he notes that one mistake that Christians often make is demanding that a one hour worship service give them an instant injection of joy in the Lord, and that this be a replacement for faithfully serving Him and others during the week.  

2.     Have we substituted worldly, secular, artificial, and plastic celebrations for the rejoicing that we should have in our relationship with God?

3.     Have we lost the ability to rejoice when rejoicing is needed, that is, when there is something truly worthy to rejoice about? (John 11:41-42; Matthew 15:28; Luke 7:9).  Foster complains that apathy and even melancholy dominates the times, and that modern man has become so calculating that we have forgotten how to truly celebrate.  Have we become so locked into a schedule or routine that we no longer pause and thank God for a particular blessing or circumstance?  Do we have to run home after a baptism?  Are we pressed to make it to a wedding only in a hurry to leave?  Do we inwardly celebrate when we see growth in a babe in Christ?  Do we rejoice in our present salvation? Do we rejoice in our blessings?  Do we praise God when things go right? 

4.     Do we rejoice in our friendships?  Even though the early Christians were not all perfect, and many congregations had problems, Paul still found brethren who were a tremendous source of joy to him “My joy and my crown” (Philippians 4:1); “For what thanks can we render to God for you in return for all the joy with which we rejoice before our God on your account” (1 Thessalonians 3:9).

5.     Do we rejoice in our children? (Psalm 127:3-5)  And children, what can you do so that your parents have cause to rejoice in you?  Do you rejoice together as a family and if not, what is preventing such joy?  One of the saddest things in our American culture is families who seem to not appreciate or enjoy the company of each other. 

6.     Do we rejoice in our marriages?  (Ecclesiastes 9:9)  Do we celebrate the love that we have for our spouses?  Do we take time out to be together and enjoy each other’s company? 


Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017