…We also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. Romans 5:11
We who have a covenant relationship with Jesus are organically and spiritually connected to the most joyful being in the universe. That certainly is what a spiritual mentor of mine believed.
Central to the understanding and proclamation of the Christian gospel today, as in Jesus’ day, is a re-visioning of what God’s own life is like and how the physical cosmos fits into it. . . . We should, to begin with, think that God leads a very interesting life, and that he is full of joy. Undoubtedly he is the most joyous being in the universe. – Dallas Willard
We might not usually think of it this way, but I think it’s safe to say Jesus was the life of the party. He was so often in the midst of a celebration that he got in trouble with the religious authorities. They thought he and his disciples did too much feasting and not enough fasting (Luke 5:33–35; 7:34).
Why did people love to be with Jesus? If joy is the experience of being in the presence of someone who is glad to be with us, and if we like being around people who fill us with joy, then people loved being around Jesus because he brought them joy. Jesus was glad to be in the presence of all kinds of people: the sick, the poor, the rejected, and the outcast. And they responded with joy.
In Luke 15, Jesus tells three parables about the joy of heaven that flowed through him—the joy of finding the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. This joy of heaven flowed through Jesus to all who had lost hope of being accepted, welcomed or delighted in. When people come into the presence of Jesus—the presence of his joy—they are transformed by it.
Indeed, a main motivator for Jesus was to place his joy in us (John 15:11), a joy that will never be taken away (John 16:22). The joy Jesus gives is the knowledge that God delights in us and longs for us to dwell in his presence.
As theologian Jürgen Moltmann reminds us, “If we really think about it, we arrive at a surprising conclusion: Christianity is a unique religion of joy. Faith is living in the Christian feasts,” just as Jesus and his disciples feasted and celebrated.
And yet, Moltmann continues, “the universal symbol of Christianity is the cross, a symbol of pain, suffering, and cruel death. How do these things go together?”
How is the cross connected to joy? Let’s answer this by asking again, Why did Jesus have to die?
Certainly, there is a myriad of reasons.
- To forgive us.
- To take our penalty.
- To free us from death.
- To defeat the powers and principalities.
All these ways of explaining Jesus’ death begin with overcoming the consequences of sin.
But what if we started with Jesus’ joy? What if we started with God’s joy and delight in us? That God is for us because God longs to be with us.
What if Jesus longed to extend to us the delight and joy he experiences eternally as the Son in the presence of the Father through the Spirit? What if Jesus’ joy was to bring us into the joy he knew in his baptism, when the Spirit rested on him and the Father’s words of delight and approval washed over him?
Offering this joy was the “joy set before him.” Offering this joy to us was the reason Jesus “endured the cross,” bringing us into the joyful presence of the Father through the Spirit.
The apostle Paul declared this very thing:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Gal. 4:4–6)
It is our joy to call out to the Father through the Spirit of the Son. And it is the Father’s joy to say over all who live in the Son, “You are my Child, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”
The celebration of heaven that Jesus told parables about (Luke 15) comes down to earth because of Jesus’ death, because through his body, through his death, we all…rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.
As biblical scholar, N. T. Wright says, in Jesus, there has “come about a new union between heaven and earth, with the celebrations of one spilling over necessarily into the celebration of the other.”
This celebration between heaven and earth offers us joy here and now. This joy is no mere happiness receding into the past or pining for the future. It is a joy that remains in the present as we rest in the presence of the one who delights in us, even in the midst of sorrows, pain, and suffering.
Sometimes that joy reveals itself in the melody of a song, the words of a poem, or the laughter of a child. Sometimes it is the simple silence of a quiet moment with a Bible open on your lap. But no matter how it comes, it certainly comes.
As the psalmist says, Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.
And so, dear friend, may you always remember that the safest and most joyful place to be is in the nail-scarred hands of the one the Heavenly voiced called Beloved.