Jesus' answer, though, is what particularly interests us. He replied, "Can wedding guests mourn?" Christ presents himself as the bridegroom and our union with Him as the wedding, and that is always an occasion for joy.
Our hymnal lists thirty-nine hymns under Joy. The word joy appears sixty-two times in the New Testament. It appears in connection with the birth of Christ. It appears in connection with the conduct of Christ. It appears in connection with the parables of Christ. It appears in connection with the resurrection of Christ. It appears in connection with the second coming of Christ. It appears in connection with our presentation before the throne of God. In the Gospels and in the epistles, from the beginning of the New Testament to the end, it is joy, joy, joy! Such is the theme of our text:
"These things have I spoke unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full" (John 15:11).
Notice that the Christian's joy is complete: "That your joy might be full." The sinners joy is incomplete. It is partial. The Bible never denies that there is pleasure in sin. Indeed, we are told Moses refused "the pleasures of sin." We are told that the sinner is one who lives in pleasure. The Bible does not deny that there is pleasure in sin, but the Bible makes it clear that it is partial and incomplete. There is a discord in its songs, a blight on its flowers, a cloud over its sunniest hour.
The complete joy of the Christian is described by a word that means "cheerful, calmly happy." Cheerful describes an attitude toward life, a way of looking at things. Calmly happy does not suggest giddiness, frivolity, or even gaiety. Calmly happy describes a deep and lasting sort of joy--that is the Christian's joy.
It is complete because of its wide scope. The Christian's joy is the joy of accomplishment. In Luke 10:17, the disciples returned from having been sent by Jesus two-by-two into the places where He himself would come. They were sent with power over diseases and devils. They returned with joy and reported, "Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name."
There is nothing like the joy of Christian accomplishment. There is a joy in knowing that you have helped convert a sinner. There is a joy in knowing that you helped comfort a saint. There is a joy in sharing Christian truths you've learned with someone else. There is a joy in seeing your Sunday-school class grow, in seeing your church grow. God gives us the joy of spiritual accomplishment. It runs deeper than the joy of personal accomplishment, for it is an unselfish joy. It is healthier because it is not based in vanity or conceit. It is a humble joy.
There is the joy of discovery. Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." New converts are often exuberant in a way that baffles older Christians. It is the joy of discovery. And the new convert is also baffled--by the blase attitude of the older Christian. He has discovered something. Imagine how the diver feels when in the murky depths he finds the sunken ship, the hidden treasure. Imagine how the archaeologist feels when his spade hits the long-lost object he has sought. Imagine how the scientist feels when his microscope suddenly reveals the long-sought virus. These are the joys of discovery. To the Christian, there is the highest joy because he has made the highest discovery. He has discovered in personal experience that God is real. He has discovered in personal experience that God forgives. He has discovered in personal experience that God answers prayer.
There is a joy of companionship. Remember that Jesus said it was "like a wedding." Think of that. Men and women rejoice in a wedding because it is an end of loneliness, a beginning of companionship.
Just after her twentieth wedding anniversary, Mrs. Dwight Morrow sat at dinner next to Paderewski, the great pianist. He had played at her alma mater, and Paderewski asked her if she often returned there.
She said, "Yes, I like to go back and sit in my old chapel seat, thinking how much happier I am now than I ever thought I should be."
Paderewski was amazed that she could be happier now than she thought shed be at eighteen. "Mrs. Morrow," he said, "I want to meet your husband."
The companionship of Christ is like that. It is like marriage at its best, marriage at its ideal.
People change; Christ never changes. Death separates us from people, never from Him.
Christian joy is a lasting joy. "That my joy might remain in you," Jesus said. Just before the cross, Jesus said, "And ye now therefore have sorrow: but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice, and your joy no man taketh from you" (John 16:22). It worked out just that way. Jesus rose from the dead and appeared to His followers. Faith filled their hearts with joy. They went gladly across the world with the good news of the resurrection. To them it was not drudgery, but high privilege. To them it was not duty, but a glorious opportunity. God gave them a lasting joy that even death could not take away.
Gypsy Smith, the great evangelist, riding with a friend on a train, said, "Isn't it wonderful to be a soul winner for Jesus." No sooner had the words been spoken that the train wrecked and Gypsy Smith was killed. The last words he spoke were a biography of his life. "Isn't it great to be a soul winner." His joy lasted as long as life.
Why is this such a lasting joy? Because it is a fruit of the Spirit. Paul said in Galatians 5:2 2, "The fruit of the Spirit is love, JOY, peace." This joy does not come from some joke or anecdote, some humorous situation, some entertainment, or some diversion. It comes from the Holy Spirit of God. When He dwells within us, we have joy.
That explains why some Christians do not seem to have this joy. They are quenching the Spirit. They are not letting the Spirit reign in their lives. God wants them to have joy. God wants you to be happy. And God knows you will be happiest when you are in His will, following the leading of His Spirit.
Moses recognized that he could only enjoy the pleasures of sin "for a season." No one knows how long or how short that season will be. It may be a week, a month, a year, or a decade. Still there comes the time when sin no longer pleases. Eventually, there must come a time when the sweetest cup turns bitter; sooner or later, one gets to the dregs in the bottom of the cup. Sin leads from disappointment to disaster to despair.
Sin is sad. Sin never appears to be sad in the beginning. That's because the devil is a liar. He is a deceiver, and so sin in the beginning never appears to be sad. Indeed, it appears to be quite the opposite. However, sin is sad, basically--at its heart. Sin is sad, ultimately in its results. Sin is sad basically because it involves a cleavage between man and his Maker. It builds a wall between man and God. The result is an indescribable loneliness, a deep, spiritual loneliness. Man was made to walk and talk with God. When a man discovers that he can no longer pray--when he discovers that he no longer walks arm in arm with the One who made him--he experiences an incredible loneliness. He may not at the first know what is wrong, but he knows beyond question that something is wrong. Thus, sin is sad basically, at its very heart.
Sin is sad ultimately in that it bears bitter fruit. The fruit of sin is enslavement. The first time you commit a sin, you do it because you may. The last time you do it because you must. Sin is sad because it is so disappointing. No sin ever looks as good in retrospect as it did in prospect. The sin we committed yesterday never looks as good as the sin we are tempted to commit today. This disappointment that comes over and over and over again finally breeds a kind of cynicism about life itself. One concludes that all of life is disappointing.
We begin to reflect upon others our feelings about ourselves. If we are unreliable, we conclude that everybody else is unreliable. If we lie, we trust no one. If we steal, we trust no one. If we are disloyal, we look upon all men as traitors. This is the bitter fruit of sin, and it makes it inexpressibly sad.
But the Christian knows complete and lasting joy. This joy is an unconditional joy. I do not mean that there are not internal conditions to be met. I mean it is not subject to the external conditions of life. To be sure, it is conditional in the sense that faith and living in the will of God and letting His Spirit rule are essential to such joy. I speak now of the external conditions of life: poverty or wealth, sickness or health, good times or bad, failure or success. Our joy is not conditioned by any of these.
How do I know that? Because Jesus described it as "my joy." His was a joy in the face of poverty, a joy in the face of suffering, a joy in the face of discouragement, of disappointment, of failure.
Jesus speaks of "my joy." A lot of people never think of Jesus as being happy. The only verse they ever memorized was, "Jesus wept." They think that was characteristic of His life. If it had been, do you suppose He would have been a welcome guest at the banquet tables of publicans and sinners? If Jesus did not lead a happy life, then this text means nothing. ". . . my joy in you."
Do you suppose that Jesus sat around at those feasts with a long, sad face, as if all of life were one long wake? Don't you think He threw back His head and roared with laughter? Don't you think He greeted people with a warm smile? If Jesus' life is an example of this perfect life, it must have been filled with joy. I do not mean to suggest that Jesus was frivolous. I do not mean to suggest that Jesus did not regard life as serious business. But he who understands life cannot help but sometimes see the humor in it. The person who is never amused has no real grasp of the meaning of things. You cannot view life as it really is, or man as he really is, without sometimes breaking out into laughter. People welcomed Jesus wherever He went because He had a cheerful attitude toward life.
We wonder how James could say, "Count it all joy when you fall into trials of every sort." How, we wonder, could we rejoice in trials? He does not mean that we rejoice because of our trials. That would be foolish and unrealistic. No man rejoices because he is sick, rejoices because he is in pain, or rejoices because he must die. But even in the face of these unwelcome events, I can rejoice. I can rejoice in the knowledge that trials are temporary. I can rejoice in the knowledge that Christ endured more. I can rejoice in the knowledge that Christ is with me. I can rejoice in the strength He gives to bear what must be borne.
Paul said to the Corinthians, "I am exceeding joyful in all our tribulation" (2 Corinthians 7:4).
Said the blind hymn writer, Fanny Crosby, "Don't waste any sympathy on me. I am the happiest person living."
I can rejoice because of tomorrow. Jesus promised that "your sorrow shall be turned to joy."
Paul said that he intended to "finish his course with joy." That takes great faith. But since we must all come to the finish line someday, let us learn to cross it courageously, yes, even joyfully. Jesus did.
Perhaps the most remarkable text in the New Testament is Hebrews 12:2: "Jesus ... who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross." Jesus could face death with joy! Not that Jesus welcomed death--Gethsemane shows He clung to life as we cling to life. Not that Jesus was morbid or unreal, but that Jesus looked beyond death into life--and the joys of life eternal sustained Him in that dark hour of death.
John Hus, asked by pope and emperor to deny his faith, refused. From his prison cell he wrote: "I write this in prison and in chains, expecting tomorrow to receive sentence of death, full of hope in God... I will, this day, joyfully die." That is the supreme accomplishment of the human soul. "I will, this day, joyfully die."
There is also the larger
joy beyond life here. To the faithful servant in Jesus parable the
householder said, "Enter into the joys of thy Lord." Someday we will
leave the joys of this life for the larger joy of Heaven.
In the quiet of the evening
As I lay me down to rest,
My soul went out in longing
For the homeland of the blest.
And I almost saw the city
With the loved ones waiting there,
And the burdens of life grew lighter,
As I breathed my evening prayer.
John M. Baker entitled that poem "Homesick for Heaven!"