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Easter [2015]: Permanent Joy (John 16:20-22)

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April 5, 2015

Special Easter Message

We all want joyful lives, but if you’re like me, you don’t always experience it. So I’ve been asking myself lately, “How am I doing in the ‘joy department’?” “Do I experience consistent joy in the Lord?” “Am I full of joy?” I invite you to ask yourself those same questions. They are rooted in Jesus’ upper room discourse, which we’ve been working through. In John 15:11, He states, “These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.” He mentions “joy” in John 16:20, 21, & 22. Again in John 16:24, Jesus states that He wants our joy to be made full. He says it again in His prayer (John 17:13), where He speaks these things “so that they may have My joy made full in themselves.” He doesn’t want us to be a quarter-full of joy or half-full or even three-quarters full. He wants us full of joy!

The apostle Paul echoes the same thought (Phil. 4:4), “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!” He must be exaggerating: “Always, Paul?” “Yes, always.” He repeats it in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always.” After love, the second fruit that the Holy Spirit produces in us is joy (Gal. 5:22). The Psalms have repeated commands and exclamations about joy in the Lord, such as Psalm 5:11, “But let all who take refuge in You be glad, let them ever sing for joy ….” Psalm 16:11, “You will make known to me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”

Verses like these prompted C. H. Spurgeon to remind his congregation that it is “a Christian duty for believers to be glad.” He said (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit [Pilgrim Publications], 43:325), “Joy is the normal condition of a believer. His proper state, his healthy state, is that of happiness and gladness.” More recently, John Piper often hammers on that same idea. His oft-repeated theme is, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” A gloomy Christian is not going to attract others to want to follow our Lord. To be effective witnesses for God our Savior, we need to be full of His joy.

That doesn’t mean that we won’t have times of sorrow and grief. Anticipating His impending death, Jesus tells the disciples (John 16:20), “Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament ….” Jesus Himself wept at Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:35). He wept over Jerusalem because of its unbelief (Luke 19:41). Paul tells us (Rom. 12:15), “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” He describes himself (2 Cor. 6:10), “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” He allows that when we lose loved ones in death, we grieve, but not as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13). The psalmists often express their tears and depression as they struggled with problems (Psalms 42 & 43; Ps. 56:8). So being full of joy in the Lord does not exclude times of sorrow and sadness. It doesn’t mean that we all have to have exuberant, sanguine personalities. But, as Spurgeon, who himself wrestled with depression, said, joy and gladness should be our normal condition.

In our text, the Lord Jesus contrasts the temporary joy of the world with the permanent joy that He gives. We learn:

The world offers temporary joy, but Christ gives believers permanent joy through His death and resurrection.

1. The world offers temporary joy in things that will perish.

When Jesus predicts that the disciples will weep and lament while the world rejoices, He was referring to the disciples’ grief over His death, while the Jewish leaders rejoiced that they had finally gotten rid of their enemy. The disciples’ sorrow was temporary, in that three days later they saw the risen Lord Jesus and rejoiced (John 20:20). But the Jewish leaders’ joy was temporary, too. Joy that results from sin is always temporary. Even if the Jewish leaders went to their deaths smugly happy that they had gotten rid of Jesus, at death their sinful joy was instantly changed into eternal grief as they stood before the Righteous Judge.

When you read that the world would rejoice over Jesus’ death, you have to ask, “Why?” How could people be happy over the death of a good man like Jesus? John’s Gospel has already answered those questions. John 3:19-20 explains, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” In John 7:7, Jesus told His still unbelieving brothers, “The world cannot hate you, but it hates Me because I testify of it, that its deeds are evil.” Those who enjoy their sins are happy to be rid of someone who exposes their sins and makes them feel guilty.

But to find happiness in things that will result in God’s judgment is not wise! Hebrews 11:25 says that by faith Moses chose “rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin.” He could have enjoyed a comfortable life in Pharaoh’s palace, but he gave that up and chose instead to live his last 40 years wandering in barren the Judean desert because he was looking to the eternal reward of heaven. Any pleasure that comes from sin is temporary at best. Any joy that comes from faith in Jesus Christ lasts for eternity.

But even if we’re not indulging in the passing pleasures of sin, it’s easy to find our joy in things that aren’t sinful in themselves, but they’re temporary. When life is going well, we’re healthy, we have a loving family and good friends, and we have adequate money to provide for our needs, it’s not hard to be joyful. And it’s not wrong to enjoy such provisions: God “richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). But the danger is that we derive our joy from our comfortable circumstances, not from the Lord. But circumstances can instantly change for the worst. So we need to make sure that the source of our joy and gladness is the Lord Himself and the gracious salvation that He has given to us.

2. Christ gives believers permanent joy through His death and resurrection.

Jesus promises the disciples (John 16:22), “No one will take your joy away from you.” That’s the kind of joy we all want. That joy was the result of the disciples seeing the risen Lord, who transformed their understanding of the cross. To understand that process, consider these four things:

A. Christ’s path to joy went through the awful agony of the cross.

Hebrews 12:3 says that for the joy set before Him, Jesus endured the cross. The cross itself was the worst imaginable horror for Christ, but He endured it because He loved us and He looked ahead to the eternal joy of bringing many sons and daughters to glory (Heb. 2:10). The worst part of enduring the cross for Jesus was not the physical agony, as horrific as that was. Rather, it was the fact that He who knew no sin would be made sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). The eternal, unbroken fellowship between the Father and the Son would be temporarily broken during those dark moments on the cross when Jesus bore the penalty of sin for all who trust in Him.

God cannot just forgive sin without the penalty for sin being paid. If He did so, He would not be righteous and just. He has declared that the wages of sin is death, eternal separation from Him (Rom. 6:23). As the only sinless person who has ever lived, Jesus, the unique God-man, could bear that penalty of sin for others. For the joy of having those whom the Father gave Him with Him forever in heaven, Jesus bore the agony of the cross.

B. Our path to eternal joy often first goes through sorrow.

There are several reasons for this:

1) Before we can find joy in Christ, we first must feel sorrow for our sins.

If we’re happy in our sins, then we can never find true joy in Christ. Perhaps some of the Jewish leaders who rejoiced that Jesus was crucified heard Peter preach on the Day of Pentecost. Many in the crowd that day were pierced to the heart when they heard how they had crucified their Messiah, who was now risen from the dead (Acts 2:36-37). As a result of Peter’s sermon, three thousand repented of their sins and trusted in Christ. But until they felt sorrow over their terrible sins, they didn’t feel any need for the Savior.

The first step toward permanent joy in Christ is to feel deeply unhappy with your sins. Jesus has just stated (John 16:8) that the Holy Spirit would convict the world concerning sin, righteousness, and judgment. It’s never pleasant to feel convicted about your sins, but without such conviction, you’ll never see your need for the Savior. And since sin always leads to pain in this life and judgment when we die, it’s far better to be convicted of sin and repent than to go on in sin and face judgment.

If you had cancer, but it was a form of cancer that had no painful symptoms or visible signs, you wouldn’t go to the doctor for treatment. The cancer would actually be killing you, but you would assume that you were okay until you started having painful symptoms. The pain would cause you to go see a doctor to find out what was wrong.

In the same way, most of us feel like we’re pretty good people. We aren’t murderers or terrorists or child molesters. We try to be nice to others and treat them as we’d want to be treated. We’re responsible, law-abiding citizens. So we don’t see our need for a Savior from sin. But when the Holy Spirit convicts you of your sin, you begin to see yourself as the Holy God sees you. You realize that you have not loved Him with all your heart, but instead have put many idols in His place. You see how you have loved yourself more than others. You’ve lied to cover your own shortcomings. You’ve cheated for your own financial advantage. You’ve committed adultery by lusting in your heart. You’ve been hypocritical by trying to keep up an image that you know is not true. The list goes on! But it’s only when you begin to feel sorrow for your many sins that you will begin to seek the Lord Jesus, who is the only source for true joy.

2) Sometimes sorrow over the loss of things that bring temporal joy is necessary to drive us to Christ for permanent joy.

It’s easy to get comfy with all of the material things that we enjoy to the point where we don’t trust in the Lord. Most of us don’t even think about where our next meal will come from. If we’re hungry, we hit the fridge or go to the store to buy whatever we need. If we get sick, we take advantage of the best medical care in the world. We watch news reports of tragedies in other parts of the world, but we change the channel and don’t worry about such things upsetting our lives. In that kind of world, God is a nice accessory, but He isn’t essential.

But when God suddenly strips us of the things that we trust in for joy and comfort, we see our need to rely on Christ for permanent joy. John Calvin astutely observed (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], on Zech. 13:9, p. 403), “It is therefore necessary that we should be subject, from first to last, to the scourges of God, in order that we may from the heart call on him; for our hearts are enfeebled by prosperity, so that we cannot make the effort to pray.” He’s saying that we all need God to bring trials into our lives by stripping us of our comfort, because otherwise we won’t depend on Him in prayer.

3) In order to find permanent joy in Christ, we have to die to self, which isn’t immediately pleasant.

Jesus said (Mark 8:34), “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.” The cross wasn’t an implement of minor irritation that you needed to endure. To take up your cross meant that you were going to die that very day! To follow Jesus as Savior and Lord, you have to die daily to yourself. You have to die to your self-righteousness and good works as the means of salvation. You have to realize that you’re guilty before God and that you can’t remove that guilt. You have to be willing to turn from your sin and trust in Christ alone. Only He can save you from God’s righteous judgment when you trust in what He did on the cross.

Then you have to live each day by dying to your pride, selfishness, greed, lust, and other sins. But whatever it takes on God’s part to strip you of the things that bring you temporary joy, it’s worth it the instant that He floods your life with the eternal joy of knowing Christ. When you know that He has forgiven all your sins and that nothing can separate you from His love, then as Jesus says (John 16:22), “No one will take your joy away from you.”

So Christ’s path to joy went through the awful agony of the cross. And, our path to joy usually first goes through sorrow: sorrow for our sins; sorrow over the loss of things that we’ve been trusting in for our happiness; and the sorrow of dying to self so that we can truly trust in Christ.

C. Christ promises to turn our sorrow into joy.

To illustrate, Christ uses the analogy of a woman giving birth. When she’s in labor, she’s in great pain. The cause of her pain is the baby that is moving through the birth canal. But a few minutes later, the very thing that was causing her excruciating pain is now the object of her intense joy, as she holds that beautiful child in her arms and gazes in wonder at his face.

The main point of this illustration is that the very thing that would cause the disciples overwhelming grief the next day—seeing the Lord who loved them suffer on the cross—would later be the source of their permanent joy. After He was risen, Jesus explained to the disciples that it was “necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory” (Luke 24:26). He went on to teach them (Luke 24:46-47), “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.”

In other words, as the disciples came to understand the significance and meaning of the cross, both for themselves and for others, it transformed the most horrible experience of their lives into the most glorious truth in their lives: their sins were forgiven and they could offer forgiveness of sins to all the nations.

John Bunyan, the author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, has a wonderful little book (in The Whole Works of John Bunyan [Baker], 1:67), The Jerusalem Sinner Saved. It’s based on Jesus’ instructions to the disciples that the good news of repentance for forgiveness of sins be proclaimed to all the nations, “beginning from Jerusalem.” Jerusalem sinners were those who crucified Jesus! Bunyan’s subtitle is, “Being a help for despairing souls, showing that Jesus Christ would have mercy in the first place offered to the biggest sinners.” Bunyan saw himself as a “Jerusalem sinner.” He titled his autobiography, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners (ibid., p. 6). He knew that the message of the cross was one of grace and forgiveness to the worst sinners who repent and trust in Jesus Christ.

Is the cross of Christ the source of your greatest joy because you know that through His death, Christ forgave all your sins? Even though it was your sin that put Christ there, which should cause you terrible sorrow, it should also cause you the greatest joy as you realize that He satisfied God’s wrath toward you when He died as your substitute there. If you don’t have that joy in the cross, it can be yours right now if you will trust in Jesus Christ.

A secondary application of Christ turning the very thing that caused sorrow into joy is that He often uses our pain and suffering to show us our need for Him, where we find true joy. If He takes from you something that you were trusting in for your happiness, it is unbearably painful at the time. But if through that loss, Christ brings you into the eternal joy of knowing Him as Savior and Lord, He has turned your sorrow into joy. Finally,

D. The source of permanent joy is that Christ is risen.

In verses 16 & 19, Jesus tells the disciples that after a short while of not seeing Him, they will see Him again. Then in verse 22, He turns it around and says, not that they will see Him again, but that He will see them again. I’m not sure that the change of perspective is significant, because both ways of saying it refer to the disciples’ encounters with Jesus after He was raised bodily from the dead. The disciples saw Jesus and Jesus saw the disciples, not once, but repeatedly over the course of 40 days before they finally saw Him ascend into heaven.

Those encounters with the risen Lord Jesus transformed these confused, fearful, doubting men into the bold witnesses that we read of in the Book of Acts. When the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem flogged the apostles for preaching the resurrection of Jesus, we read (Acts 5:41), “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.” There is permanent joy! Except for John, they all went on to suffer martyr’s deaths because they refused to stop proclaiming that Jesus died for sinners and that He was raised from the dead. Nothing except for the bodily resurrection of Jesus can account for that permanent joy in the apostles’ hearts.

Conclusion

Do you have that same permanent joy? Perhaps you’re thinking, “If I could see Jesus risen from the dead, I’d believe and have such joy. But I’ve never seen Him.” Peter wrote to some Christians who were suffering severe persecution at the hands of the evil despot, Nero. He said (1 Pet. 1:8-9), “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” They had not seen Jesus either, but because they believed in Him, they were filled with great joy in the midst of their fiery trials.

Were they gullible to believe in the risen Lord Jesus whom they had not seen? No, because they had the credible testimony of the apostles who had seen Him. They heard from the apostles who Jesus was, what He taught, and the miracles that He performed, which substantiated His amazing claims. They saw the changed lives of the apostles. It’s not a blind leap in the dark to believe such solid testimony!

You have the same testimony and even more. It is now written down in the pages of the New Testament. In addition to the witness of the disciples who were with Jesus, you have the witness of the apostle Paul, who was transformed from a violent persecutor of the church into a man who suffered greatly for Christ’s sake (Acts 9:16). The cause of that dramatic change was that Paul saw the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Your path to permanent joy begins the moment you trust in Christ’s death for your sins and His resurrection from the dead. Jesus wants you to greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory. That permanent joy comes through believing in Him.

Application Questions

  1. Is it wrong to enjoy material prosperity when there are so many needy people in the world? See 1 Tim. 6:17-19.
  2. What most robs you of fullness of joy in the Lord? How can you overcome it?
  3. What is the greatest trial that you’ve gone through? Have you seen the Lord turn it into great joy yet? How can you grow in that process?
  4. How would you answer a skeptic who said, “If I could see a vision of Jesus or see a true miracle, I’d believe”?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2015, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Easter

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