Joy in the Scriptures
Definitions of Joy include Gladness, Pleasure and Delight and it is fairly safe to assume that everyone has experienced one or all of these feelings during their lifetime. Perhaps something has been achieved. Possibly this was by obtaining a sought-after job, or a relationship has developed into marriage which is a delightful occasion, and in due time children come along which bring great pleasure and because of the enlarged family a new home has to be found. So many things can bring joy, gladness, pleasure and delight. Looking back through history there are many incidents and occasions that have brought great joy to those concerned.
On a spiritual level, we can look into the pages of Scripture and find situations where joy must have been experienced even in the realms of Heaven, the dwellingplace of the Almighty,
Perhaps we ourselves have experienced the joy of re-union with family or friends that we have not seen for a long time and it is natural to go to great lengths to make it a memorable occasion.
Another instance of joy, albeit in the form of a parable, is the story of the prodigal son recorded in Luke 15:11-23. We find a similar situation to that of Jacob. A son, thought to be dead returns home. In real life we can imagine this father, possibly speechless, because he was filled with so much joy in having his son safe and well.
Another example is in the book of Genesis which records Joseph re-uniting with his brethren and making plans for them to return to Jacob to tell him that Joseph had sent them (Genesis 45:9-13,24-28). For Jacob to be united once more with Joseph whom he thought had died, must have filled him with emotion and no doubt he shed many tears of joy. What joy Jacob must have experienced! No doubt he had resigned himself to not seeing his favourite son again. The narrative continues in 46:1-7,26-30.
We read of the birth of the Lord in Luke’s gospel: “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men;” (2:13-14). Natural birth brings joy when the baby is born. The trauma that has been experienced is forgotten when the baby is held by its mother. To Mary that was a natural event, but the whole scenario was not. God was his Father meaning there was great joy in heaven at his birth and the crucial stage of God’s plan of salvation (vv 30-31). “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people’” (vv 9-10).
The angel of the Lord brought these things. Not just joy but great joy. I do not think that we can depict heaven as being without emotion, witness Luke 15:7-10 where we read that there is great joy in heaven over one sinner that repents. Later in Matthew’s record we read of the Father saying from heaven: “This is my beloved son” (3:17). So joy was experienced both on earth and in heaven at the birth of our Lord. He grew from childhood to manhood preparing himself for the work which his Father wanted him to do. He knew that this was God’s will and he knew that at the climax of this process he would die. At all times our Lord’s attitude was to do God’s will and we know there were countless times when Jesus engaged in prayer to his Father.
We proceed to the terrible events in the Garden of Gethsemane. The strain which Jesus was under showed in his words and actions: “And he went a little farther, and fell on the ground and prayed, saying, ‘O my Father, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt’ … And he went away again the second time, and prayed, saying, ‘O my Father, if this cup may not pass away from me, except I drink it, thy will be done’. … And he went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words.” And when the mob came guided by Judas, and Peter resisted with the sword that he carried, “Thinkest thou that I cannot pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26). So why did Jesus not ask for this help? “Thy will be done,” certainly, and this was always paramount in Jesus’ mind. But there was another reason that can be effective for ourselves when the flesh struggles against the spirit: “For the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:1,2). Bro John Carter in his book, ‘The Letter to the Hebrews’, has this to say: “(For the Jews) it was a shameful thing to be spat upon and derided and beaten and then, worst of all, to be crucified. But he endured the shame of it all; and he did it by faith in the promise of God by which he saw the joy before him; and encouraged by this prospect he was sustained and triumphed. He now knows that joy then contemplated: for at the Father’s right hand are pleasures for evermore” (p 161).
Our Lord was crucified but rose to life again on the third day. Matthew records the actions of the two Marys going to the sepulchre to see the body of Jesus. An angel appears and informs them that he is risen and that they should go and tell the disciples. What did they do? They had all been close to their Lord, following him and living with him and they must have been overwhelmed with joy to know that their Master was alive again, and that in due course they would all be with him again prior to his departure to heaven. This was forty days after his resurrection. Acts 1:1-8 gives us details of the final moments Jesus had with his friends and disciples.
Let us recapitulate briefly on the life of Jesus before reading that all-important verse 9. From an early age he knew his destiny and was well aware of God’s plan of salvation. He knew that he was the key part of that plan. As his life developed, it was one of complete obedience to his Father (John 4:34). His life culminated in giving that life as a sacrifice for sin, through which sin was overcome and a way of salvation made possible. Jesus did not waver, at all times he did his Father’s will.
Read again that verse 9. With the love and obedience Jesus showed to his Father, I am sure that God would have made great provision for the ascension of Jesus to heaven. Could we say with all reverence that it was to be a dignified occasion? If it was possible for God to send twelve legions of angels to sustain Jesus in the garden, I think we can be certain that angels were sent to take Jesus to his Father. Angels were there as they spoke to the disciples and I feel that the cloud referred to was a cloud of angels.
The important word of Acts1:9 is “received”. We know the joy experienced when a child of God is received into fellowship: a special occasion with usually many brothers and sisters present. Surely it must have been an even more special occasion for the Lord to be taken into the presence of God. They received him. The record could have said he ascended. But this powerful word received is used. The more you repeat the word received the greater the picture develops of Jesus having completed his mission on earth and being taken by the angels to sit at the right hand of his Father. What JOY there must have been in heaven. Joy amongst the angels and joy with the Father and Son. As Bro Carter said: “At the Father’s right hand are pleasures for evermore.”
In God’s mercy, we will be able to experience this joy in the Kingdom and this is confirmed by: “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 … be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen” (Jude 24-25.)
Bro Roy Soffe (Portsmouth, UK)