Joy that cannot be defeated
by Jack Wald | May 29th, 2016


Joy to the world! The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King!
Let every heart prepare Him room
And heaven and nature sing

Joy to the world! the Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy

We sing this during Advent and at Christmas. It is a great hymn. The words were written by English hymn writer Isaac Watts, based on the second half of Psalm 98. The music is often attributed to George Frideric Handel.

Joy to the world! This is what the angels announced to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem. But where is that joy to be found? Where was that joy a year later when Herod’s soldiers rode into Bethlehem and killed all the baby boys? Last week we watched a video (Victory in Christ) of Iraqi Christians who suffered at the hands of ISIS. Where is the joy in that?

The persecution of Christians continues, even as we meet this morning. Every week I receive reports of another Christian leader being arrested and imprisoned. Algeria, Iran, Israel, and Sudan have been featured in recent reports. But these reports just skim the surface of persecution of Christians in the world. As I mentioned last week, severe persecution is not a future event; it is a present reality for many of our brothers and sisters in Christ. So why are we talking about joy the week after talking about persecution?

I hope you saw this in the video at the end of the storytelling, after each person talked about their suffering at the hands of ISIS, how they then spoke about forgiveness, hope, and expressed joy. The woman who tried to kill herself in her despair radiated joy at the end as she talked about discovering the love of Jesus in her life. Their deep joy, at the end of the video was awe inspiring.

So it seems that joy is present even in suffering. This can be a bit confusing because the word “joy” means so many things to us.

The OED definition of joy is: A feeling of great pleasure and happiness: tears of joy, the joy of being alive. Merriam-Webster defines joy as: the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.

Synonyms for joy include: delight, great pleasure, joyfulness, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, gladness, glee, exhilaration, exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, rapture; enjoyment, felicity, joie de vivre.

The problem with this is that these synonyms and definitions do not fit what we saw at the end of that video last week.

When James writes: (James 1:2) “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” do these definitions or synonyms fit what he is talking about? Are we supposed to be happy when we face trials?

When we read in Hebrews 12:2 – “For the joy set before him [Jesus] endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God,” what is this joy that is being talked about? Was Jesus delighted when he hung on the cross?

In order to know what the joy is that James and Hebrews talks about we need to know more about the Hebrew and Greek words for joy in the Bible. There are many words in the Old Testament and New Testament that are translated joy. Let me mention a few of them.

David defeated Goliath which resulted in a great victory for Israel and a celebration ensued when he returned after the battle. (1 Samuel 18:6)
When the men were returning home after David had killed the Philistine, the women came out from all the towns of Israel to meet King Saul with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.

The word used here is simcha, a bright and shining joy. It is joy expressed with a beaming face and eyes. Stuart Briscoe writes that it is the joy of a two-year old seeing a Christmas tree or a bride and groom seeing each other as she walks down the aisle.

After the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter and John went to the Temple to pray and passed a man who was lame from birth. He called out asking for alms and then he received more than he asked for. (Acts 3:6–8)
Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” 7 Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up, and instantly the man’s feet and ankles became strong. 8 He jumped to his feet and began to walk. Then he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.

This is masos joy. It is a leaping and jumping joy. This is joy that cannot be expressed sitting in a chair. It requires movement. In 2010 I invited students from Ghana to watch the World Cup match against the US. When Ghana defeated the US 2-1, the students erupted into a celebration. They formed a large circle and began dancing and singing. This was masos joy.

Rinnah joy is a shouting joy, a joy that has to be expressed and cannot be contained. The Ghanaian response to the world cup victory also  illustrates this joy. Rinnah joy is often found in the psalms. (Psalm 90:14)
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.

In Psalm 42 the psalmist is deeply discouraged. He writes of his longing: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” He writes of his tears and then he remembers the past. (Psalm 42:1–4)
These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go to the house of God
under the protection of the Mighty One
with shouts of joy and praise
among the festive throng.

In his depression he remembers a time when he had a rinnah joy that could not be contained and had to be expressed with shouts and song.

When David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem he was caught up in the celebration. (2 Samuel 6:14–16)
Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, 15 while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.
16 As the ark of the Lord was entering the City of David, Michal daughter of Saul watched from a window. And when she saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord, she despised him in her heart.

This is gil joy. It is “moving around in a circle” joy. When I was a boy, after several weeks of a hard winter, the horses would be let out of the stable and it was a delight to see them run and buck and roll around in the snow. Stuart Briscoe tells of his dog that would be so excited it would run around in a circle chasing its tail.

These Old Testament words for joy seem more in line with the synonyms for joy in a thesaurus (delight, great pleasure, joyfulness, jubilation, triumph, exultation, rejoicing, happiness, gladness, glee, exhilaration, exuberance, elation, euphoria, bliss, ecstasy, rapture; enjoyment, felicity, joie de vivre) but they do not describe the joy seen in the faces of the Iraqis who had been persecuted.

So there is another joy to talk about. I will come back to the joys I have just described in the third sermon of the series. It is important that these joys are part of our lives. But today I want to explore the joy we saw in the video of the Iraqis who were persecuted.

The Greek word for joy that is found in James 1 “Consider it pure joy,” and in Hebrews 12 “for the joy set before him,” is chara. This is a joy that is present in suffering. This is a joy that led Jesus to the cross, a joy that James said is the proper response to trials and tribulations.

After being warned by the Sanhedrin, the assembly of Jewish leaders, not to speak about Jesus, the apostles went right back to the Temple and taught that Jesus was the Son of God who resurrected from the dead. Signs and wonders accompanied their teaching and many people came to them to be healed. This led to a second arrest. They were again brought before the Sanhedrin and the elders were furious. They wanted to put the apostles to death but one of them, Gamaliel, convinced them not to do this. (Acts 5:40–41)
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.

The apostles were arrested, put in prison, threatened with death, flogged, and after all this, despite all this, they left rejoicing. This is the joy we saw in the video last week.

We see this again in Acts 13:49–52.
The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.

Once again, in the midst of persecution there is joy.

The writer of Hebrews was writing to Jews who had become followers of Jesus, but then because of the intense persecution of Christians, wanted to return to their Jewish faith. The writer of Hebrews reminds them of their earlier experience. (Hebrews 10:32–35)
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.

They joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property.

So let me make a few comments about this deep joy that is present in the midst of suffering.

First, this deep joy is a joy that is independent of circumstances.

David killed Goliath and Israel won a great victory. Israel celebrated “with singing and dancing, with joyful songs and with timbrels and lyres.” But what if Goliath had killed David and Israel had been defeated? Would that joy still have been there?

The man who was lame from birth called out to Peter and John for alms and was healed. “He went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.” But what would have happened if he had not been healed? Would he still have been full of joy?

David danced before the Ark because it was coming into Jerusalem. The first time David tried to bring the Ark into Jerusalem, a man had been killed. What if this second attempt had also failed? Would David still have danced with joy?

The deep joy we are focusing on today is not dependent on whether the battle is won or lost, whether we are healed or not, whether things work out as we want them to or not. This joy is present at funerals as well as at weddings. It is present in the ashes of defeat as much as it is present in the thrill of victory.

Secondly, it is important to distinguish between joy and happiness.

It is good to be happy. The joy I talked about at the beginning of the sermon is not bad. We are meant to live lives that are full of joy. But there is a difference between the happiness that results when something good happens and the joy that is present when things do not go well.

The difference is that happiness comes from what happens in this temporal world but joy is based on what comes from the eternal world we will one day inhabit. Happiness is related to our material world. Deep joy is related to our eternal home.

When Paul and Silas were in Philippi, Paul cast out a demon from a female slave that made a lot of money for her owners by fortune telling. The owners realized Paul had taken their source of income from them and incited the crowd against Paul and Silas. They were arrested, beaten, flogged, and then put in prison. They were put in an inner cell with their feet fastened in stocks and then we read in Acts 16:25
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.

They were miraculously freed and the jailer became a follower of Jesus. It is a great story, but what I want to look at is what Paul and Silas were doing at midnight.

They had been beaten with rods and flogged. They faced a very uncertain future. And yet they were praying and singing hymns to God. Where did this come from?

Paul wrote in Romans 14:8
If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.

And in Philippians 1:20–21
I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

Paul was a citizen of Rome, called by Jesus to take the gospel to the Gentiles. But he knew he was a citizen heading for his eternal home. As he sat in his prison cell, he and Silas knew that if the morning brought death, they would be home with Jesus. That is where their joy came from. They were safe with Jesus and that gave them a deep joy.

Happiness comes from what happens in this temporary, earthly existence. Deep joy comes from what will last for eternity. The world cannot take away this joy because, as the apostle John writes: (1 John 2:17)
The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Henri Nouwen writes:
“For Jesus, joy is clearly a deeper and more truthful state of life than sorrow. He promises joy as the sign of new life: ‘You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a human being has been born into the world. So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you’ (John 16:20b-22).

Happiness comes and goes as circumstances change; joy can not be taken from us.

Third, the deep joy we are talking about is a fruit of the Spirit.

(Galatians 5:22–23)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control.

What this means is that joy is part of the character of God. God is love. God is peaceful. God is patient. God is kind. The fruit of the Spirit define for us part of who God is.

The fruit of the Spirit do not result from our hard work and discipline to be more loving, more joyful, or more kind. The fruit of the Spirit result from our abiding in Christ. As we hold on to Jesus, seeking him, growing in faith, resisting the temptations of the world, disciplining our flesh, then his life pours into us and the fruit of the Spirit, more and more, become a description of who we are. We become more loving, more gentle, and exercise more self-control.

Because joy is a part of who God is, he instructed his people to come before him with joy.
(Psalm 33:1–3)
Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Because joy is a part of who God is, he rejoices over us. (Zephaniah 3:17)
The Lord your God is with you,
the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
but will rejoice over you with singing.

We are called to be people of joy. We are called to be people who carry a deep joy through all of life’s events. And we have more reason to celebrate with shining joy, running in circles joy, shouting joy, leaping and jumping joy than anyone else in the world. I will talk next week about how we can encourage joy and what blocks us of joy, what robs us of our joy.

At the end of the sermon, let me read a devotional Barry Gaeddert wrote. Barry’s wife, Suzy, died of a brain tumor in September 2013, almost three years ago. Barry has just published a book about this incredibly painful experience, Mosaics of Redemption: Discovering God’s Restoration in Our Broken and Shattered Lives. This devotional is from that book. The passage of scripture it is based on is Habakkuk 3:17–19
Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19 The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

It is so easy to let my circumstances dictate my mood. On sunny days, with pleasant people around me, I’m happy. But if there’s no place to park in the rain or I have to deal with my mobile-phone service provider, I find myself turning angry and surly. So add to that the frustration of not understanding what Suzy wanted to say or the heartache of watching as she struggled with pain, and I found myself anywhere but in my happy place.

Circumstances. They are what they are. But are they the dictators of my mood? Are they the determiners of my reaction and response to God?

Habakkuk spent a great deal of time looking at the circumstances around him. The evildoers were flourishing. The enemy was about to invade. And he talked with God, telling him that he needed to correct the situation – now. It is not until the very end of the book, the final verses, that Habakkuk states his trust in God regardless of the circumstances. It is a lesson I have learned and am still learning through my journey. When I looked at our circumstances, I lost heart – there were no buds on the fig tree, no crops and no livestock; Suzy’s muscles were wasted and useless, and there was incontinence and pain. I became discouraged and downtrodden. It is only when I looked at God – and I mean fully at God – that the circumstances faded so that what really mattered could shine.

As I continue in my life, I am choosing to place my trust in God – in good circumstances and bad. My only hope is to place my trust fully in the One who made me, knows me best, and still loves me even when I no longer deserve to be loved. I am still working on this. I can be distracted quite easily by the circumstances around me. But trust is a choice, and I am learning, slowly, to put full-stock trust in God. The circumstances look significantly different when you do that.

Suzy often amazed me with the trust she displayed. Every single day she found herself trusting aides to bathe and dress her, medical folks and therapists to manage meds and equipment, and me to remember how to keep track of and manage all of it. She remained the most pleasant, most cheerful, most Jesus-reflecting person I know. Her trust was firmly established. The assaults of a brain tumor, which were countless, fierce, and relentless, did not trouble her. She trusted. She had learned to not look at circumstances but at Christ. The withering fig blossoms and lack of sheep in the pen did not concern her because she believed with Habakkuk that “the Sovereign Lord is my strength.”

Oh, to have the faith and strength, the courage, the wisdom, the willingness to trust, no matter the circumstances and storms that blow all around me.

One more thing: God tells Habakkuk that the enemy, the destroyer, will be destroyed (ch. 2). I take great hope in that. Make no mistake, just as Babylon was eventually destroyed, there will be a day in our world where cancer reigns in evil terror no more. Glioblastoma multiform will be defeated, and no one, absolutely no one, will suffer or struggle with the hell in which we walked. Until then, I will continue to unashamedly affirm my faith and trust in a good and loving God, who, at the right time, will make all things new.

Circumstances be damned. You do not win in the end. So I’m lining up my trust in the One who does.

Circumstances be damned. There will be good days and bad days in our lives. I wish for you and I wish for me only good days but I know that this is not how the world works. And so I pray for you that you will so firmly attach yourself to Jesus that nothing will be able to separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I pray that in your attachment to Jesus joy will bubble up from your depths and you will find that joy present even in the most difficult and bitter experiences that come.