The night is dark, but the many stars and constellations keep the grassy hills illuminated while a dozen shepherds tend to their needy flock of sheep. The hour is late, and a few of the men herding the flock fall asleep beside the many animals feeding and resting all around the hillside. Suddenly, the skies are torn apart by glory and light and a heavenly being tells the ragged herdsmen of an incredible and unforeseen event: a infant, born in the near town of Bethlehem, resting in a feeding trough, who was the Son of David, and Savior of the world. And then with the divine messenger gather an army of angels all praising the Creator of the universe.
Recently, a few things have been marinating in my mind concerning something I find missing too much in the bride of Christ.
But why start with a all-too-familiar passage about the announcement of Christ’s birth? Because I think there’s something beautiful to be harvested from it.
First, the very first emotion experienced by the shepherds was fear. I don’t blame them, really. If I had an angelic encounter in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of sheep I would be scared too. They were nobodies, just poor herdsmen living an ordinary life. Who knows whether or not they were diligent to their religion, keeping the holy days, sacrificing, keeping the commandments given to their forefathers. A think a certain awareness of unholiness consumed them and a fear of judgement from God. But the angel first words to the trembling men were “Fear not”. Then he goes on to say “for I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be for all the people…”
Good tidings of great joy.
That’s the gospel folks.
Good tidings of great joy.
Before the Light came and all we knew was darkness, fear consumes us when we catch a glimpse of the glory of God. Like the prophet Isaiah who visited the throne room of God, when we catch but a peek at the holiness of the Maker of the heavens, we become aware of our filth and unholiness by contrast and cry out with hands covering our face “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
But after Christ, the hope of glory, came and became our filth and our unholiness and offered peace between God and man once again we have no more reason to fear. Yes, we still fear God our of respect for his power, but no longer do we need to cry “Woe is me”; instead we give glory to him for his redemption of our unclean lips. Before we feared out of concern for us and in awe of his power. Now we fear only out of awe and respect. If we truly trust in the work of Christ we no longer have to fear to enter the Holy of Holies, but enter in washed clean by the blood of the Son of God and faith that his grace alone saves us.
In place of fear, we receive something altogether too lovely to comprehend.
See, before Christ, we were just like those shepherds, fearful and trembling, because we realize we have nothing to offer God to appease his wrath over our transgressions. But the gospel is good news of exceedingly great joy. The gospel is not terrifying, shaming, or scary. It is a simple solution for the complicated mess we’ve made. It should provoke joy, not sadness. It should replace fear with joy. And too often I notice Christians not living in the fullness of the joy Christ gave them. He died for love, but with joy. It says in Hebrews that he endured the cross for the joy he had hope for. Joy that is a gift to you and me, and all who believe in the good news of the gospel.
So why on earth would we let anything in this world get us down? So many professing Christians rant on and on about the state of America, or complain about their job situation, or finances, or this or that, the list goes on. I’m not excluding myself, it’s an area I’m still working on. But oh how dangerous it is to complain! Complaining is the first-fruit of pride, and pride is the enemy of joy.
See, pride focuses on self, joy focuses on Him. Pride says “Woe is me”, and joy says “Worthy is He.” Pride feeds the self, joy cleans the self.
Another fruit of pride is just as dangerous as the last.
No, happiness isn’t inherently evil, but its roots are firmly grounded in pride and self-worth. I deserve that car, and only it will make me happy. I need that house, and then I will be happy. Oh but trying to be happy is like trying to count the stars in the sky: no many you count, there’s always more out there, and ones you missed. See, happiness can never fulfill you because it’s world-based, dependent on situation, circumstance, environment, and outcome. All things we can only take control of for a little while; all things that are temporary.
Happiness is a feeling.
Joy is a choice.
That’s what I think most people miss. They hear of the joy of the Lord and think, “Oh that would feel great! Fill me up God! Give me joy!”
And then when they’re not happy because things aren’t going well in life they wonder why God didn’t give them joy like he gave to other people. Here’s the thing, HE ALREADY GAVE IT TO YOU. He did. I promise. He gave you his Spirit, who empowers you to have a heavenly mindset. You just have to choose it.
That’s the key. See, if I’m concentrated on the world, I’m not going to have joy, because there’s no hope for joy in the world. Even what the world might call joy isn’t actually joy because it’s still grounded on earth. In order to have joy that Jesus’ brother James spoke about, we have to be heavenly minded.
“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
You can’t possibly attain a joyful attitude about trials and struggles if you’re earthly-minded.
The reason Jesus could have joy while enduring the cross was he was focused on heaven. Having a heavenly mindset is something he talked often about. That’s why said it would be hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God; because being rich means you have much on earth, and when you have much on earth, you aren’t heavenly-minded. It’s why he called the disciples to abandon their jobs (which, worldly speaking, wasn’t smart, because many had families). It’s why he told us not to worry for the things of this world but to set our minds on things above because when we set our mind on things above and store our treasure in heaven the trials of this life won’t destroy us, nor the storms of this life wreck our little boats.
The less you hold onto in this life, the easier it is to hold on to Him.
See, if we are focused on him, we can’t be bothered by the things the world throws at us. Because joy comes from the Giver of Life, it transcends this life. It transcends experience and circumstance, and isn’t dependent on good things happening because it is fully aware of the one good thing that happened two thousand years ago on the darkest night in history. If we have that good tidings we have the great joy.
They go together.
We receive the tidings, and we receive great joy.
No one likes to hear a sermon about the cross void of joy. It’s good news! Jesus didn’t want his death to become the fourth slide on a powerpoint of a sermon on the gospel presented with such fire and brimstone that its listeners are scared and shamed into accepting his free gift of eternal life. The bible says He scorned (or despised) the shame of the cross. The shame of sin, the guilt of transgression. He’s not about that. He wants us to receive the good news with great joy. But that joy should not be a fleeting moment or couple of weeks when we realize we’ve been made right with God. It needs to permeate our life, our attitude, the way we walk, talk, and look. Jesus wanted his followers to look exactly like him. Christ was always filled with joy because he was fully committed to the gospel, which was good news, and heavenly-minded, in joyful relationship with the Father of Lights. See, I think joy is the best kept secret in the Kingdom of God. I wish it weren’t, but sadly, it’s hard to attain and even harder to hold on to, especially in western culture, when the wisdom of the world mixes so heavily with the wisdom of God, and each get exchanged for the other.
The world can understand love, even sacrificial love.
The world can understand hope, even if it’s a worldly hope.
The world can understand faith, though it may be misplaced.
The world can understand peace, for however fleeting of a time.
But the one thing the world cannot and will never be able to comprehend is joy.
Joy that is not worried for the things of the world, does not weep over its calamities, and is not swayed by any circumstance or situation, but rejoices while being persecuted.
THAT is joy.
THAT IS THE GOSPEL.
Joy is a choice.
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”
“A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
“But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”