The Indestructible Joy: The Gladness of Jesus Christ
"These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy
may be full." --John 15:11
If a lifeguard saves you from the undertow of the Atlantic Ocean, you don't care if
he is gloomy. It doesn't matter what his mental state is when you are hugging
your family on the beach. But with the salvation of Jesus, things are very different.
Jesus does not save us for our family, but for himself. If he is gloomy, our
salvation will be sad. And that is no great salvation.
Jesus himself--and all that God is for us in him--is our great reward, nothing less.
"I am the bread of life.... If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me" (John 6:35;
7:37). Salvation is not mainly the forgiveness of sins, but mainly the fellowship of
Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9). Forgiveness gets everything out of the way so this can
happen. If this fellowship is not all-satisfying, there is no great salvation. If Christ is
gloomy, or even calmly stoical, eternity will be a long, long sigh.
But the glory and grace of Jesus is that he is, and always will be, indestructibly
happy. I say it is his glory, because gloom is not glorious. And I say it is his grace,
because the best thing he has to give us is his joy. "These things I have spoken to
you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full" (John 15:11, RSV;
see also 17:13). It would not be fully gracious of Jesus simply to increase my joy
to its final limit and then leave me short of his. My capacities for joy are very
confined. So Christ not only offers himself as the divine object of my joy, but pours
his capacity for joy into me, so that I can enjoy him with the very joy of God. This
is glory, and this is grace.
It is not glorious to be gloomy. Therefore Christ has never been gloomy. From
eternity he has been the mirror of God's infinite mirth. The Wisdom of God spoke
these words in Proverbs 8:30, "Then I was beside Him, as a master workman; and
I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him." The eternal Christ, God's
happy and equal agent in creation, was ever rejoicing before God and ever God's
delight. Twice more we see this in the New Testament.
In Hebrews 1:8-9 God speaks to the Son, not to the angels, with these
astonishing words: "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.... You have loved
righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed you
with the oil of gladness above your companions." Jesus Christ is the happiest being
in the universe. His gladness is greater than all the angelic gladness of heaven. He
mirrors perfectly the infinite, holy, indomitable mirth of his Father.
Again, in Acts 2:25-31 Peter interprets Psalm 16 to refer to Christ: "I saw the Lord
always before Me; for He is at My right hand that I may not be shaken. Therefore
My heart was glad, and My tongue rejoiced.... For You will not abandon my soul to
Hades, nor let your Holy One see corruption.... You will make Me full of gladness
with Your presence" (author's translation). The risen Christ will shake off the
shades of death and be glad with the very gladness of God. The glory of Christ is
his infinite, eternal, indestructible gladness in the presence of God.
But if it is not glorious to be gloomy, neither is it glorious to be glib. The carefree
merriment of a ballroom gala and the irrepressible joy in a Russian gulag are not
the same. One is trite, the other triumphant. One is glib, the other glorious.
Therefore, this man of indestructible joy was "a man of sorrows and acquainted
with grief" (Isaiah 53:3). "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here,
and watch with me" (Matthew 26:38, RSV). This "great High Priest" is not unable
to sympathize with us in our weaknesses, because he was tested in every way as
a man like us (Hebrews 4:14-15). He wept with those who wept (John 11:35)
and rejoiced with those who rejoiced (Luke 10:17, 21). He was hungry (Matthew
4:2), he was weary (John 4:6), he was forsaken (Matthew 26:56), and betrayed
(Matthew 26:45), whipped (Matthew 27:26), mocked (Matthew 27:31), and
crucified (Matthew 27:35).
Indomitable joy does not mean that there is only joy. Was he then divided, torn
between joy and sorrow? Can an infinitely glorious soul be troubled? Yes, troubled,
but not torn and disunited. Christ was complex, but he was not confused. There
were divergent notes in the music of his soul, but the result was a symphony. A
general's complex battle strategy may suffer the enemy to have temporary and
apparent tactical triumphs, only to gain a greater victory in the end. This is not a
mark of confusion in the mind of the general. It may appear so to those who see
only part of the field. But it is his glory.
Through the agonies of Gethsemane and Golgotha, Jesus was sustained by
indestructible joy. "For the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross,
despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God"
(Hebrews 12:2, rsv). And what was that all-sustaining gladness? It was the
gladness of receiving worship from those he died to make glad in God. The Good
Shepherd rejoices over one lost sheep (Matthew 18:13). How much more over
countless armies of the ransomed!
Is there a lesson here for how we should suffer? Have you ever noticed that we
are not only to imitate the Lord's suffering, but the Lord's joy in it? Paul said to the
Thessalonians, "You became imitators ... of the Lord, for you received the word in
much affliction with the joy of the Holy Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 1:6, author's
translation). It was the joy of the Lord in affliction that filled this young church.
This is a call to us now in our day. Will we embrace suffering for the cause of
Christ? Not joylessness, but suffering. Will we heed the call in Hebrews 13:13
(RSV), "Let us go forth to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured"?
The answer is going to hang on whether the city of God is more desirable to us
than the city of man. Will we answer, "Here we have no lasting city, but we seek
the city which is to come" (Hebrews 13:14, RSV)? Or will we cling to the fleeting
pleasures of Egypt (Hebrews 11:25-26)?
For those who have tasted the joy of Jesus, surely nothing is more compelling
than the all-surpassing hope of hearing his final word, "Well done, good and faithful
servant.... Enter into the joy of your master" (Matthew 25:21, RSV). The city of
God is a city of joy. And that joy is the indestructible joy of Christ.
Father, it is a great comfort to us that you and your Son are never glib and never
gloomy. We delight in the truth that you can be infinitely happy without being
callous to our pain. We stand in wonder that the light of Jesus' joy makes a
rainbow in the tears on his face. We long to be like this. We want to be strong and
unshakable in the joy of our faith. But we don't want to be oblivious to the
grievousness of our own sin or the pain of other people's distress. O God, fulfill in
us the purpose of your Son in promising that his joy would be in us and that our
joy would be full. Make the fruit of the Spirit--joy--flourish in our lives. Satisfy us in
the morning with your steadfast love that we may rejoice and be glad in you.
Waken our slumbering souls from the sleep of listlessness. Take away the
lukewarmness of our hearts. Fan the flame of zeal for the glory of your name. May
Christ so dwell in our hearts with his indestructible joy that day by day we are
conformed more and more to his glad image. And so may we be a place of refuge
and eternal refreshment for a hopeless, joy-seeking world of people who do not
know they are starved for the glory of the gladness of God in Jesus Christ. In his
name we pray, amen.
Taken from Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper. ©2001. Permission kindly granted to
Faith & Reason Forum by Crossway Books. This material is not to be electronically transferred.
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