Joy to the World

FFF 11:10 (Dec 1965)

Joy to the World

John S. Robertson

Nearly two thousand years ago, a group of startled shepherds, watching their flocks by night on the moon-bathed hills of Judea, heard a voice from the star-filled heavens saying, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10, 11). And yearly on the vigil of that day people the world over take up the strain, singing:

“Joy to the World, the Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King.”

Would that the words of the lip were a true echo of what is to be found in the hearts of the gay carollers. Alas! to many, they are but an empty phrase, a murmur of the wind in the grass, a soothing sound that finds no response in the soul. Such live for earth, never realizing that this brief life is only a brief interlude, the vestibule to worlds of mightier and more eternal moment. What do these words mean to you? Is the language of your heart

“Jesus Christ, Thou King of Glory,
Born a Saviour, Prince to be,
While the angel hosts adore Thee,
We joy in Thee;
Singing of Thy grace, the story,
Praise, praise to Thee.”

What is this joy, promised to a troubled earth so long, long ago? Surely it is not the hilarity of levity, nor yet the convivial pleasure occasioned by the frivolous festivity of the holiday season. At this time of year it is so easy to be caught up in the gaiety of the populace or to lend an ear to the appeal to a benevolent society for a spirit of charity in our relations one to another. One cannot find fault with the beautiful hymns that extol the virtues of the Babe of Bethlehem or call the faithful to worshipful adoration. There can be no doubt that participation in the holy exercise of singing Christ’s praises can bring real joy to the Christian heart. But let us not mistake the stirring of our emotions or the elation of our spirits by things external for the deep soul-satisfying joy that is ours in Christ Jesus. It is more, much more than that.

Our joy is as eternal as God Himself for He is both the author and object of our joy. When the capstone of the great pyramid of creation was laid, the Almighty declared: “The morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy” (Job 38:4-7). It was ever the purpose of God that His own should be a happy people, “for God giveth to a man that is good in His sight wisdom, knowledge and joy; but to a sinner travail” (Eccl. 2:26). Moreover, it was to be a constant joy for Christ Himself declared, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may remain in you” (John 15:11), and again, “Asks, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (16:24). Ours is no fleeting exhilaration contingent upon immediate circumstances, but it is a full and complete serenity implanted in our heart by God, Himself, “the author and finisher of our gaith” (Heb. 12:2). Therefore let us lift up our hearts in thankfulness and praise and worship as we join the Psalmist to say, “My soul shall be joyful in the Lord” (Psa. 35:9), and bow our heads as we repeat with Mary the magnificat, “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47-48).

It was given to the angels to herald the message of the Gospel but it remained for the Cross of Calvary to reveal the grim means of the Gospel. He, Who was ever, “the Father’s delight” and Whose daily occupation was “rejoicing always before Him” must needs become the “Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” While it is gloriously possible to understand the great joy that fills the heart at the knowledge of sins forgiven, it defies human reason to understand (Heb. 12:2), “Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame.” Here, indeed, is one of the great imponderables and eternal verities of Holy Writ.

“Ours is the joy, and yet ‘tis Thine,
‘Tis ours as one with Thee.
My joy springs from that grief of Thine;
Thy death brings life to me.”

The stigma of sin must be once and forever removed. This, then, is the meaning and purpose of the Cross. The excrutiating pain and agonizing suffering of Calvary was the prelude to our joy. This must ever remain the enigma of the ages. How it should thrill our hearts, the realization that from mercy’s vast unfathomed sea springs our eternal joy! Its very mention should bow our hearts in grateful worship as we extol with exceeding joy, the Christ of God.

In all this God had a purpose of the Gospel. In His prayer to the Father, ‘ere He submitted to the death of the Cross, the Lord Jesus prayed for His own. He prayed, not that they should be removed from this evil world, but that they might be preserved in it, “That they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). The world hated Christ and crucified Him. Even so it hates those who claim Him as Lord and Saviour. It is a strange paradox that the world’s hatred should be our joy. On his way to prison in Rome, the Apostle Paul expressed one burning desire, “that I might finish my course with joy” (Acts 20:24). strange words under such circumstances. From his barred cell, in the midst of recounting the many things in which he might find satisfaction, he rejects them all as (offals, and voices) one passionate plea, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His suffering” (Phil. 3:10). Amazing desire in terms of human reasoning. The world finds its joy in personal achievement or monetary gain but the child of God confesses that Jesus is the joy of loving hearts and the One to whom he turns from the blest bliss the world imparts. The purpose of the Gospel is that we might have this complete and enthralling joy. In the measure that we submit unreservedly to His will, in that measure this joy will be ours.

“Go labour on, spend and be spent;
Thy joy to do the Father’s will;
This is the way the Master went.
Should not the servant follow still?”

Beyond all this there is the prospect of the Gospel. The Psalmist said, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning” (Psa. 30:5). While there is a sense in which this has an application to our life here on earth, there is the prospect of a more glorious fulfilment in the ages to come. The same is true of the declaration of the Psalmist David; “Thou wilt show me the paths of life; in Thy presence is fulness of joy; at Thy right hand are pleasures for evermore” (Psa. 16:11). We may find our pathway on earth strewn with thorns, and circumstances may at times dictate sorrow but when we hear His call and are swept into His glorious presence the final commital of Jude will be comsummated. “Now unto Him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 24). So while the bells of Christmas fade softly into the gathering night may we lift up our hearts to sing, “O Come, let us adore Him”, as we look forward to that day when

“He and I, in that bright glory,
One deep joy shall share;
Mine to be forever with Him;
His, that I am there.”