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The Joy That Lies Ahead

Everything that God asked of Israel regarding their appreciation—thankful and joyful worship—He now expects of us, perhaps more so.
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When God rescued Abraham’s descendants from their oppressed and burdened lives in Egypt, He was fulfilling His promises to the fathers and was beginning the establishment of His Kingdom. The people were not simply brought out of Egypt and separated from idolatry. They were brought into a relationship with God. He had separated them for Himself, to be His own “treasured possession;”1 they were to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:5,6).

To enable them to show their appreciation for all that God had done and would yet do, God gave them laws that would both regulate their national life and help develop individual spirituality. It was like Eden all over again.

Israel in the Land

God’s code of law, revealed and later interpreted by Moses, was neither onerous nor restrictive. It served the spiritual purpose of helping Israel to realize their sinfulness, and thus it encouraged them to come to God in prayer. But it was also designed to develop their sense of thankfulness so they could rejoice before God and marvel at His great unfolding purpose.

With God as their king and military leader, they entered the land of promise, conquered it, settled it, and worshipped there. The infant nation had looked forward to everything God had promised—the joy that lay ahead for them—and when it was accomplished, they were given many opportunities to express their thankfulness and love for the God who had called them to Himself. It took an outsider to articulate how blessed they were, for the Queen of Sheba who would say to Solomon:

Happy are your men! Happy are your servants, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Blessed be the LORD your God, who has delighted in you and set you on the throne of Israel! Because the LORD loved Israel forever, he has made you king, that you may execute justice and righteousness. (1 Kings 10:8–9 ESV).

That sort of appreciation was what God expected of Israel, and sometimes, they caught that spirit of joyful thankfulness. The Feast of Tabernacles—when everybody camped out—was designed to be joyful when all the harvest had been brought in:

You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. (Deuteronomy 16:14). 

Indeed, all of Israel’s worship should have been joyful and appreciative, something we need to remember if we find it a chore to attend or serve at our place of worship. Spiritually minded people readily embraced that notion and bubbled over with appreciation. Thus, the Psalmists could say:

I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. (Psalm 13:5) 

I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul. (Psalm 31:7). 

Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11). 

The people of Israel were part of God’s unfolding purpose. After Joshua had led them into the land, there were judges—saviors whom God raised up to deliver them—then kings for over 400 years, and all the time, there were the promises God had made about establishing a kingdom that would last forever with a righteous king ruling over God’s blessed people.

When members of the exiled nation returned to the land, now under Persian rule and with no prospect of them returning to self-rule, it was the divine promise of a better future that kept their spirits high, and this was embodied in their hymn book, the Fifth Book of the Psalms:

When the LORD restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.” The LORD has done great things for us; we are glad. (Psalm 126:1–3). 

No wonder the Apostle Paul could catalog so many blessings when he looked back over Israel’s many privileges as the people of God:

They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. (Romans 9:4–5). 

Over to Us!

Paul goes on, in Romans 9-11, to explain that for the time being, God’s purpose has moved in a different direction, given Israel’s refusal to accept Jesus as their Messiah. Now, Gentiles (including those of us who are not Jews) have been given the same privileges. The apostle Peter transfers the very commissioning words of Exodus 19—when Israel was called to be God’s own people—and applies them to Christian believers:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9–10).

It follows that everything that God asked of Israel regarding their appreciation—thankful and joyful worship—He now expects of us, perhaps more so. For we are the inheritors of their history, with everything that happened to them as our guides for life, and we can see the unfolded purpose of God centered in the Lord Jesus Christ. His life, loving, sacrificial death, glorious resurrection, ascension to heaven, and all of God’s promises are now centered in him. No wonder the apostle Paul can say:

For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you… was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:19–20). 

What a joyful people we should be! One of our hymns catches exactly that note:

Why should his people now be sad?
None has such reason to be glad,
As reconciled to God:
Jesus, the mighty Saviour, lives:
To them eternal life he gives—
The purchase of his blood.

I’m not sure that we always sing such uplifting words all that joyfully. Perhaps it’s because we are struggling to get the harmonies right! But we should be the happiest of people knowing, as we do, what God has already done for us and what He has in store for all His people when the Lord Jesus returns. He will then begin the much-needed work of recovery and reformation that the world’s people so much need. We are so privileged to know and believe all that God has in store and to be able to put our complete trust and confidence in Him.

It Was So For Jesus

The birth of Jesus was heralded by angels who told the shepherds of Bethlehem that they had a message of great joy for all people (Luke 2:10) and, over thirty years later, the gospel of Luke ends with these words:

While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God. (Luke 24:51–53). 

Luke’s gospel has been called “the gospel of joy,” and one writer computed that of the 326 occurrences of the word “joy” in the New Testament, 53 of them appear in this gospel, with even more in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. The gospel is, of course, a record of the life of our Lord, sometimes called “The Man of Joy,” for he certainly made many people joyful because of everything he said, did, and was. But how did he maintain such a calm and confident manner despite everything happening to him, including growing opposition, the disbelief of his own people, and the detailed knowledge he had of what lay before him? We have a hymn that says:

We could not bear to hear
complete the tale,
If it were told;
Enough to know Thy mercies
cannot fail,
Nor love grow cold.

We like to take each day as it comes. But Jesus lived with the knowledge that he was meant to live a sinless, sacrificial life and to surrender that life when it was the will of God for him to do so. Marvelously, he never faltered, although we get a glimpse of the pressure he endured in the Garden of Gethsemane on the eve of his crucifixion. The prophetic psalms give us an insight into the Lord’s innermost thoughts, and one, which is undoubtedly Messianic, contains this verse:

I bless the LORD who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:7–11). 

We know that Jesus was able to endure the horror of the cross by keeping his mind focused on was lay beyond it:

Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:2). 

Psalm 16 explains that the Lord lived his whole life with a joyful and thankful demeanor, rejoicing in God. Of course, his sensitivity to the presence and influence of his Father far exceeds our own—he was always on his Father’s wavelength and enjoyed very close communion. But, as ever, our Lord’s example is meant to encourage us to focus on the things that matter in life.

When he knew he was about to die, Bro. Harry Tennant left a message to be read at his funeral, which simply said, “The Best is Yet to Come.” Of course, we all believe that absolutely. But the things we already enjoy, in fellowship with God and one another, should make us the most joyful people who ever lived. For we are living on the brink of God’s Coming Kingdom and hope every day for the Lord to return from heaven and to call us to himself.

Let the Apostle Paul have the last word:

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. (Philippians 4:4). 

Tecwyn Morgan,
Castle Bromwich Ecclesia, UK

  1. All Scriptural citations are taken from the English Standard Version, unless specifically noted.
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