One of the things that is so impressive to me about the Christians of the first century is how they were able to maintain their spirit of joy in spite of the hardships they went through. There was joy even during times of persecution. And of all the things that should characterize God’s people, one of the most important (and perhaps one of the least talked about) is joy. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, and so on.
If you ask people what’s the first thing they look for when they walk into a church service, you would probably get a lot of different answers. Everything from the people’s appearance, to the style of music, to the relevance of the sermon. But one of the things that I look for that I think should be most evident in the life of a church is joy. Is there joy in this place, or do you just get the feeling that people are going through the motions?
When people come to visit our church services, do they find a group of people who are filled with joy? Does joy permeate our body? Do people get a sense of the joy that we have in Jesus Christ?
Jesus said to his disciples in John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” Jesus doesn’t want us to be a quarter-full of joy or half-full or even three-quarters full. He wants us full of joy! The New Living Translation translates this verse, “I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow!”
And I think it’s safe to say that we all want joyful lives, but if you’re like me, you don’t always experience it. So maybe we all need to ask ourselves the question, “Can people see joy in my life? Do I experience consistent joy in the Lord? Am I full of joy?”
As Jesus spoke to his disciples the night before he was crucified, it’s interesting just how many times he mentioned joy. I’ve already quoted John 15:11. Jesus talked again about joy in John chapter 16, verses 20, 21 and 22. And then in verse 24, where Jesus said once again that he wants our joy to be made full. And then there was his prayer in John 17:13 where he prayed to his Father about his disciples, “that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.”
But I don’t need to tell you that we are living in a time when our joy is being put to the test. There’s a story that Max Lucado tells in his book In The Eye of The Storm. It’s one of my favorite stories that he tells. Max was in high school and he used to go fishing with his family every year. One year, his mother and brother couldn’t go, so Max was allowed to invite a friend, so he invited Mark.
Max was really excited about the trip, but the night they set up their camper, a storm blew in and it turned cold. The wind was blowing strong and the lake was filled with white-capped waves. There was no way they could fish in that weather.
And so, they said, “No problem. We’ll spend the day in the camper. After all, we have Monopoly. We all know a few jokes. It’s not what we came to do, but we’ll make the best of it and fish tomorrow.”
So, they sat in the camper all day and played and told jokes. The next day, it wasn’t the wind that was a problem. It was the ice.
They tried to be cheerful. They mumbled, “No problem. We can play Monopoly…again. We can reread the stories in Reader’s Digest. And surely we know another joke or two.”
Then Max writes, “I began to notice a few things I hadn’t seen before. I noticed that Mark had a few personality flaws. He was a bit too cocky about his opinions. He was easily irritated and constantly edgy. He couldn’t take any constructive criticism. Even though his socks did stink, he didn’t think it was my business to tell him.’”
And so it went all day long. The next morning, they awoke to the sound of sleet hitting the sides of the camper and didn’t even pretend to be cheerful. They were flat-out grumpy.
Max writes, “Mark became more of a jerk with each passing moment; I wondered what spell of ignorance I must have been in when I invited him. Dad couldn’t do anything right; I wondered how someone so irritable could have such an even-tempered son.”
They sat in misery the whole day, the fishing equipment still unpacked. The next day was even colder and Max’s dad said, “We’re going home.”
Some of that may sound just a little bit too familiar to some of you right now. As we are being confined to our homes, feeling a bit stir-crazy, our joy is being put to the test. But, through all of the difficulties that we are facing in our society right now, Christians should continue to be the most joyful people on the face of the earth.
Peter wrote his letter of I Peter to Christians who were being persecuted for their faith at the hands of the emperor Nero, and they were experiencing horrible things. Some of them were being thrown into prison, some lost their possessions, others were being killed. But Peter opens his letter with these words: “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” (I Peter 1:6).
So, what is it that allows us to be able to rejoice even when, as Peter puts it, we are “grieved by various trials”? Peter actually gave the answer to that question a few verses earlier. He said we can rejoice because we have a “living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Peter 1:3). What Peter is saying is that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is what brings us joy.
If we go back to John chapter 16, Jesus was talking with his disciples about the fact that he was soon going to be killed. He said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one [no one] will take your joy from you.” (John 16:20-22).
What Jesus said would happen did indeed happen. He was crucified. And when he died, there was great sadness among his disciples. But when the two Marys came to the tomb and found it empty, we read in Matthew 28 that they departed “with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.” (Matthew 28:8)
This joy is why the announcement of the resurrection of Jesus Christ is referred to as the gospel or “good news”. Paul said in Acts 13, “we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers,this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.” (Acts 13:32-33)
The resurrection of Jesus is why the apostles preached and wrote “that our joy may be complete” (1 John 1:4). And now for centuries, it has been this announcement that Jesus is risen from the dead that still gives people an unshakeable, unexplainable, unbreakable joy.
But maybe you find yourself thinking, “If I could see Jesus risen from the dead, then I would believe and I could have tremendous joy. But I’ve never seen him.” The Christians that Peter wrote to in I Peter had never seen Jesus either. But Peter was able to say in verse 8, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” (I Peter 1:8).
Those Christians hadn’t seen Jesus either, but they believed in him, and because of that, they were filled with great joy in the midst of their fiery trials. Were they gullible to believe in the risen Jesus whom they had not seen?
No, because they had the credible testimony of the apostles who had seen him. They heard from the apostles who Jesus was, what he taught, and the miracles that he performed, which substantiated his amazing claims. They saw the changed lives of the apostles. It’s not a blind leap in the dark to believe that kind of solid testimony!
There is no other suitable explanation for that empty tomb 2,000 years ago.
I want to share with a video where Dewayne Smither uses the spoken word to describe the power of the resurrection.
Unlike Christmas, the traditional date of Easter is a historically reliable date. We know that Jesus was raised on the Sunday following the Passover, which this year comes out to April 12th. The exact date, of course, is not important. And I’m not sure that how we may decide to observe or not observe this day is all that important either. What is important is that we understand that it really happened. Jesus really did die on a cross and he really did come back from the dead. And those facts of history really do have a deep theological meaning.
Our world scoffs at the miraculous. We live in a world of scientific law and technological discovery. More and more people have less and less time for the miracle of Easter. Hardly anyone will suggest that Jesus didn’t exist, but many do indeed argue that Jesus was only a man. And while he may have died on the cross, he certainly did not rise from the dead. Resurrection is the ultimate miracle, and modern minds can’t accept that.
But, like the Christians that Peter wrote to, “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory.” Jesus wants you to rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. That kind of joy only comes through putting our faith in Jesus Christ. And so, on this Easter morning, I want us to consider the question, Why does the resurrection give us joy? And I’d like to give you two answers to that question.
1. The Resurrection Means That Jesus Will Never Die
When Jesus said to his disciples in John 16:22, “No one will take your joy from you,” he was able to say that because their joy came from being with Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus means that Jesus will never die again. Never again would Jesus be taken away from the disciples. He said, “I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice.”
But I want you notice — this text doesn’t offer any guarantees to people who don’t enjoy being with Jesus. If Jesus were to say to you this morning, “I will see you again,” and your heart does not rejoice in being with him, then this text is not so much a promise for you, it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation to love Jesus. Because if you don’t enjoy Jesus, your joy will be taken from you. Jesus is the only permanent joy.
Notice the sequence of thought in verse 22: “I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice.” Why will they rejoice? Because Jesus will be with them again. Then it says, “No one will take your joy from you.” What joy can never be taken away? The joy of being with Jesus. That’s the joy that’s guaranteed forever. No other joy. If you don’t have that, the joy you do have is very fragile indeed. More fragile and uncertain than the world we are living in right now.
And so, this text is an invitation to people whose joy is mainly in money or success or hobbies or being liked or sports. It’s an invitation to see Jesus as the only joy that lasts forever. “I will see you again and your heart will rejoice.” Forever!
And why will Jesus last forever? Because he has been raised from the dead and will never be separated off from us again. Jesus defeated death. And now he lives forever and holds the keys of death in his own hands. So, when he says, “No one will take your joy from you,” he means, I will be your joy, and I can never die again, and therefore your joy will never die. As long as I exist, that’s how long your joy in me will be. No one can take it from you, because it is joy in me and I will live forever and ever.”
So, that’s the first answer to the question how Jesus can make such an amazing guarantee. Our joy is in being with Jesus, and because of the resurrection he will never be cut off from us again.
But not only does the resurrection mean that Jesus will never die again…
2. The Resurrection Means You Will Never Die
The second reason that the resurrection of Jesus gives us joy is this: “No one will take your joy from you” because your joy comes from being with Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus means that you will never die; you will never be cut off from him.
You see, two things have to be true if your joy is never to be taken from you. One is that the source of your joy lasts forever and the other is that you last forever. If either you or the source of your joy is temporary, then your joy will be taken from you.
And think about how many people in this world have settled for just that! Eat, drink, and be merry, they say, for tomorrow we die, and that’s that. Food doesn’t last forever, and I don’t last forever. Let’s make the most of it while we can. What a tragedy!
If you’re tempted to think that way this morning, please consider as seriously as you possibly can that if your joy were in being with Jesus, “No one would take your joy from you” — not in this life, nor in the life to come.
For two reasons: One, because Jesus will never die again. And the other, because you will never die. In John 14:18-19, Jesus said, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.”
“Because I live you also will live.” The resurrection of Jesus means that not only will he live forever as the source of our joy, but you will live forever if he is the source of your joy. Jesus said to Martha at the tomb of Lazarus, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die.”(John 11:25-26).
So, the two great reasons why “no one will take your joy from you” are that Jesus, the source of joy, will never die and those who have Jesus as the source of their joy will never die.
Someone may say, “But Christians do die.” And yes, in one sense we do. But not in the most important sense. Because we are given eternal life, the joy that a believer has in being with Jesus is never broken. “No one will take your joy from you.” Not life or death, or angels or principalities, or things present or things to come, or powers or height or depth or anything else in all creation will be able to take our joy from us in Jesus Christ. Joy in being with Jesus is an unbroken line from now to eternity. It will not be cut off by his death or by ours.
So, what does this kind of joy look like, and what does it have to do with what all of us are going through right now? Let me answer that question by closing with a story we read in Acts chapter 16. That chapter opens with Paul preaching in the city of Philippi. And while he was preaching, there was a slave girl with a demon who was constantly crying out and interrupting Paul in his preaching. Paul got a bit annoyed and he turned and said to the demon, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour (Acts 16:18).
And that made everybody happy, except for the owners of this slave girl, because they were using her to make money, and now their source of income was gone. And so, they grabbed Paul and Silas, dragged them into the marketplace, and accused them in front of the magistrates, who tore off their clothes and beat them with rods. They threw them into prison, without a trial, and put their feet in stocks.
So, here’s the picture: Paul and Silas have been humiliated by being stripped, beaten with rods, and they are sitting in prison, feet in stocks, unable to sleep at night. And what are they doing? They’re singing. “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.” (Acts 16:25). I’d love to know exactly what songs they were singing. I’m confident they were songs of praise to God. Whatever they were, they were songs that Paul and Silas had sung often enough that they knew them by heart.
What happened next was – an earthquake hit, and the gates were thrown wide open. Paul and Silas could have vengefully watched the jailer commit suicide, which he was about to do. But instead, they rescued him and told him about Jesus and baptized him and welcomed him — maybe the least deserving man in Philippi — into their eternal family.
But here’s what I want you to consider — How did Paul and Silas sing to the Lord and love the jailer, after being humiliated, beaten, put in a dungeon, stocks, and sleeplessness — things that would cause you and I to grumble and complain and plan to sue somebody.
Paul summed it up when he said to Felix in Caesarea in Acts 24, “It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day.” (Acts 24:21). It was the resurrection of Jesus Christ that led him to teach what he taught. It was the resurrection of Jesus Christ that led him to do what he did. And it was the resurrection of Jesus Christ that led him to have such great joy even when confined to a prison cell.
So, I’m curious. This morning, do you have a joy that can sing praises to God even in the midst of your confinement? If not, I can tell you where to find that kind of joy. It’s found by having faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That kind of faith will give you a joy that no one can take away from you. Because you know, first of all, that Jesus will never die again. And neither will you.
“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials.” (I Peter 1:6).
May the words of this song be the words of our hearts: “I still have joy. After all the things we’ve been through, I still have joy.”