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Locating Joy: Fellowship with God

In the previous posts on joy we looked at the Triune God as the true source of all joy and the biblical theme of joy in God’s presence. The New Testament pushes us one more step in understanding the dynamic of joy. Take a look at 1 John 1:3-4.

That which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

The good news that John proclaims is the message that links people to the Triune God. Gospel trust leads to Triune fellowship. This is where joy is made complete. Of note, it is fellowship with the Father and the Son that completes our joy.

In other words, joy is experienced as we know relationship with the distinct persons of the Trinity. The ultimate gift of the gospel is God himself—he gives the fulness of himself to us. That means the Father gives himself, the Son gives himself, the Spirit gives himself.

When acted upon by God we experience the grace of the entire Trinity. The relationship that God creates through our redemption is marked by communion with the entire Trinity. As we engage all three persons, joy awaits.

 

Locating Joy: God’s Presence

The Trinity is the source of all joy, it follows that nearness to him correlates to our experience of joy. If you read through the storyline of Scripture with an eye to the theme of joy there is a discernible pattern that will emerge—joy and celebration are consistently experienced in the presence of God.

The symbol of God’s presence in the Old Testament was the tabernacle and temple. In the stories where the tabernacle and temple are built there is great joy. We see this in every tabernacle/temple building or re-building narrative.

The book of Psalms, likely the book with the most references to joy, is focused on the the worship of God in the temple. The destruction of the temple is the occasion for the book Lamentations, clearly showing that sorrow is directly connected to distance from God’s presence.

This theme carries through to the New Testament where Jesus tabernacles among us (Jn 1:14). We become the temple of the Holy Spirit. And we await the time when the entire earth will become his temple. Every time God takes up residence with his people joy is the response. The Psalmist could not be more clear: “In Your Presence is fullness of joy” (Ps 16:11).

Circumstances do not dictate joy, presence does. You see, for the Christian there are two constants in life: pain and presence. We live in a world wracked by the curse and faltering under the weight of sin. It is our reality and it causes us great sorrow in our souls.

Yet, we who have trusted in Jesus Christ have the Holy Spirit residing in us and the promise that God will never leave us, which means he is always Immanuel. He is God with us! His presence is connected to joy, hence the possibility of rejoicing in the midst of sorrow. It is his presence that enables us to know joy in impossible situations.

Christmas & Unexpected Majesty

The Christmas story is filled with all kinds of unlikely, unexpected twists and turns. The sleepy town of Bethlehem, a teenage virgin, a stable, a crowd of animals and shepherds, a crib—are we sure the one promised to reign and rule, the one coming in might and majesty, the one promised to save and shepherd his people has chosen such a strange entrance?

Yes! We must step back and realize that Christmas is as much about God’s showing work as it is about his saving work. The nativity story is a divine autobiography. God is telling us about himself. He is revealing to the world just who He is and what He is like. The reason the story is so unexpected is because the majesty of our God is unexpected.

The nativity helps us recognize that the glory of God is seen in humility, passion and generosity. It is glimpsed in the paradox of the “Ancient of Days” taking his first breath as a new born baby. Augustine in one of his Christmas homilies beautifully captures the majesty of God in the paradox of the incarnation as he explores the Creator of all knit together in Mary’s womb.

The Word of the Father, by whom all time was created, was made flesh and was born In time for us. He, without whose divine permission no day completes its course, wished to have one day [set aside] for His human birth. In the bosom of His Father, He existed before all the cycles of ages; born of an earthly Mother, He entered upon the course of the years on this day. The Maker of man became Man that He, Ruler of the stars, might be nourished at the breast; that He, the Bread, might be hungry; that He, the Fountain, might thirst; that He, the Light, might sleep; that He, the Way, might be wearied by the journey; that He, the Truth, might be accused by false witnesses; that He, the Judge of the living and the dead, might be brought to trial by a mortal judge; that He, Justice, might be condemned by the unjust; that He, Discipline, might be scourged with whips; that He, the Grape, might be crowned with thorns; that He, the Foundation, might be suspended upon a cross; that Courage might be weakened; that Security might be wounded; that Life might die. To endure these and similar indignities for us, to free us, unworthy creatures, He who ‘existed as the Son of God before all ages, without a beginning, deigned to become the Son of Man in these recent years. He did this although He who submitted to such great evils for our sake had done no evil and although we, who were the recipients of so much good at His hands, had done nothing to merit these benefits. Begotten by the Father, He was not made by the Father; He was made Man in the Mother whom He Himself had made, so that He might exist here for a while, sprung from her who could never and nowhere have existed except through His power.

Remember, the greatest gift of Christmas is always getting more of God. It is about glimpsing more of his majesty and wonder. May he grant us the joy of the angels on that first Christmas day, the gratitude of the Shepherds who welcomed into the world and the persistence and wisdom of the Magi to seek him with our whole hearts. Merry Christmas!

Locating Joy: The Triune God

Joy in this world must always be explored against the backdrop of sorrow. In 2 Corinthians 6:10, Paul describes the Christian journey with the striking phrase: “we are sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” The true surprise in this paradox is that joy can be present at all in a world so wracked with pain. How can it be? Where does joy come from? How can it stand alongside sorrow?

Joy is not rooted in circumstance…if it were it would not exist alongside sorrow. Take a look at these texts.

  1. “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh 8:10)
  2. “Well done good and faithful servant enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matt 25:23)
  3. “That my joy may be made full in you.” (John 15:11)
  4. “The Fruit of the Holy Spirit is…joy.”(Gal 5:22)

In each of these texts there is a joy that belongs to God. Did you notice that each text also describes the joy of each of the Triune Persons. We see joy belonging to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The joy of the Lord is always the joy of the Trinity. Our God is the Triune God—one eternal God existing in three persons. God is perfect community, perfect unity, the perfect experience and expression of emotion, the perfection of relationship. It is in the Triune community that joy exists in its purest form.

The joy of God first and foremost takes shape in mutual delight. Before creation, God was fully satisfied and fulfilled in his Triune existence. The three persons delighted in one another, loved one another and shared true joy. It was out of the overflow of their love and joy that creation came to be. We see this joy in one another bursting forth in the storyline of Scripture: the Father delighting in the Son, the Son delighting in the Spirit and the Father, the Spirit delighting in the Father and the Son.

The paradoxical overlap of sorrow and joy is also rooted in the experience of God. In Christ we see the fulness of God. In him we see the God of joy and yet, he is the “man of sorrows” (Is 53:3). We see rejoicing and we see weeping. We see celebration and we see lament. He perfectly embodied the journey of being “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor 6:10).

Joy is located in the Triune God. He is truly the taproot, the fountainhead, the source of all joy. It only makes sense that the closer we get to the source of joy the more joy we will know. Proximity to God is the same as distance to joy. In the next post we will pick up and explore this dynamic.

The Lesser Known Reformers

You know Luther and Calvin, but are you familiar with John Knox or Heinrich Bullinger?  How about Jan Hus, Theodore Beza or Martin Bucer? Luther and Calvin are the most well known reformers, but there were other champions of the gospel during that time frame pushing for reform and return to the cardinal truths of Christianity.

Here are a few insights from these gentlemen.

“A man with God is always in the majority.” -John Knox

“For the Lord hath in no place forbidden mirth.” -Heinrich Bullinger

“Rejoice, that the immortal God is born, so that mortal man may live in eternity.” -Jan Hus

“What I have taught with my lips I now seal with my blood.” – Jan Hus

“Christ was anointed, so that he might be our king, teacher, and priest for ever. He will govern us, lest we lack any good thing or be oppressed by any ill; he will teach us the whole truth; and he will reconcile us to the Father eternally.” -Martin Bucer

“Does the corruption of your nature astonish you? The Son of God making himself man has fully sanctified it for you. Do your sins make you afraid, which be fruits of this corruption? He has borne them all upon the tree, and has paid for your discharge. Which more is, his righteousness is yours, if he himself is yours. Are you afraid of men, if God is for you? Does death make you afraid? It is vanquished and turned into an entry of life. Behold then all your enemies scattered, behold quite under foot, all such as afflicted you within and without, because the Lord allows you for one of his servants and household.      -Theodore Beza

 

The Beauty of God’s Place

If God is beautiful it follows that his dwelling place, which is filled with his presence, will also be beautiful. The Scriptures affirm that the dwelling place of God is indeed a location filled with beauty. We see this specifically in the language regarding his heavenly dwelling, the tabernacle, the temple, and Mount Zion.

“Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and beautiful habitation” (Is 63:15). “Then the cloud covered the tent and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40:34, cf. Ex 40:35, Lev 9:6, 23, Num 14:10). “The priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God” (1 Kgs 8:11, cf. 2 Chron 5:14, 7:1-3, Ezek 43:5). “Oh Lord, I love the habitation of your house and the place where your glory dwells” (Ps 26:8). “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary” (Ps 96:6, cf. Ps 27:4, Is 60:7). “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth” (Ps 50:2).

In choosing to create and dwell with his creatures God has graciously given mankind a glimpse of his beauty. The chosen dwelling of God is the place where his beauty will most clearly emanate. This helps us understand why heaven is often described as a place of brilliance where even perfect beings are incapable of an unhindered vision of God (Is 6:1-8). It helps us understand why strolling into the holy of holies would result in immediate death (Lev 16:2).

It also helps us grasp why the tabernacle, temple, and the new earth are places of such jubilance and worship. The place where God chooses to manifest his beauty will inevitably be a place of great joy and celebration. It is in this context that we can understand the psalmists longing to go to the temple (Ps 27:4, 42:1-11). The beauty of God has a magnetic quality drawing and awing people.[1] God designed us to be riveted by this beauty.

 Implications   

  • Beauty is tied directly to the presence of God and his chosen dwelling place. The presence or absence of God is therefore the distinguishing factor between beauty and its opposite.[2]
  • Since God determines his dwelling place he also determines what he will beautify. In other words, God alone determines where his beauty will reside and where it will not. Beauty from this perspective is the lone prerogative of God.
  • The main ingredient in beauty is God himself. The fact that his presence beautifies his chosen dwelling place further reinforces that beauty simply cannot be understood apart from God. The presence of God and beauty are inextricably linked and therefore any definition of beauty void of God is mistaken.

 


[1] Ibid, 24. Navone says that beauty has “a subtle power of attracting or calling to us. The Greeks recognized this when they named the beautiful to kalon, from the verb kaleo, meaning to call or beckon. True beauty is the attractiveness of what is truly good for us.”

[2] This point is established quite emphatically when the glory of the Lord is said to leave the temple in the book of Ezekiel (10:18-19, 11:22-23). The glory and beauty of God can and does depart from a place if God chooses to leave (cf. 1 Sam 4:21—the Hebrew word Ichabod literally means the “glory has departed”).

A Biblical Framework for Encouragement: Cross

We have looked at the God-centered foundation of encouragement as well as the first pillar of creation. In this post we explore the cross as the ultimate source of encouragement.

Martin Luther famously said, “the cross alone is our theology.” It must be at the center of our thinking on all theological topics. Everything must be threaded through the cross if we would understScreen Shot 2016-08-01 at 6.03.45 PMand things correctly. The cross of Jesus Christ is the climactic moment of God’s self-disclosure. It is the Mount Everest of his self-revelation, it is here we see the heart of God.

It is here where we see the salvation of God. There is no greater encouragement than the gospel. Check out these verses in 1 Thessalonians.

In the context Paul is reminding the church that they are children of light and not darkness, that they are to live sober lives ready for the return of Christ.

“For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.”

There are two dimensions of gospel encouragement here. 1) Encouragement in the face of judgment and wrath. Dear reader, the greatest problem you and I face in this world is the wrath and judgment of God. The devil is not my greatest problem, not even my sin. It is God’s just response to my sin that is my greatest problem.

The God of Encouragement is a pure God, holy and high above. He is one who cannot and will not tolerate evil. He is grieved to his heart about the sin of man and he is furious about it. His fury is not capricious or unpredictable like our anger. David Peterson says it well, God’s wrath is a “fixed and determined response to all that is unholy and evil.” It is the right response to wickedness. Were he to engage otherwise, it would call into question his integrity, his goodness, his justice.

Hell is real. It is not a place where Satan rules, it is a place where God judges and pours out wrath for eternity. This truth speaks to the depths of our sin. It shouts of the offensive nature of our rebellion. We have to understand the depths of our sin and God’s judgment before we can grasp the greatness of his love for us in the gospel. The text says that those who have trusted Christ are not destined for wrath, but salvation.

Jesus came and took our place. He is our wrath quencher. On his shoulders he bore the full judgment of God. At Calvary, wave after wave of God’s just wrath swept over him and he absorbed and exhausted every drop. At the cross the judgment of God is finished, it is done.

Like a fireman who rushes into a blazing house as the flames are pressing down on you about to end you, he jumps in front of the flame, pulls of his fireproof jacket, casts it over you and takes the flames for you. The word in Scripture for this gospel truth is propitiation, the wrath quenching love of Christ. This means that there is no wrath for those who are hidden in Christ, there is no judgment any more!

This leads us to the second aspect of gospel encouragement in this text: 2) We have encouragement for all of life and in the face of death. Whether we live or whether we die, we belong to him, we are his. This is a fixed reality. He is propitious toward us and favorably disposed for all eternity.

The text says that the gospel insures that we will “always live with him.” We belong to him, he dwells with us under our roof now and we will dwell under his roof with him when we experience death. The gospel is the only hope in the face of death, it is the sure and steady confidence that your Creator is for you and will carry you in life and in death.

The text says that we are to encourage one another with these words. Lift up your head Christian. Let your hearts soar! Our judgment is no more!