Journey Toward Christmas: Inexpressible Joy
Let me ask you a couple of important questions this morning. Are you ready? Here's the first question: "Are you a happy Christian this morning?" The second question is similar to the first. Here it is: "Can you rejoice in what God has done for you in the past, what He is doing for your now, and what you expectantly anticipate Him to do in the future?" God wants you to be a joyful and expectant Christian.
Our joy is an outflow of the same message that the Angel’s gave to the shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem:
Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
As we sit here this morning, you and I are a part of the all people that the angels give good tidings to. It’s news that ought to fill our hearts and minds and souls with great joy: A Savior has come who will forgive us of all our sins. If we were to literally translate that phrase great joy it would read mega-gladness!
Let me ask you another question: Does the presence of Christ in your life bring you mega-gladness?
Few things have done more harm to the cause of Christ and brought more disrepute to His Church than joyless Christians! God wants you and I to experience a joyful heart and to have cheerful faces. You see the two are connected:
- Proverbs 15:13 "A glad heart makes a cheerful countenance,"
- Proverbs 15:30 "A cheerful look brings joy to the heart,"
God has even designed us in such a way so that it is easier to exhibit cheerfulness then to exhibit sullenness. It takes 64 facial muscles to make a frown, but only 13 to make a smile. I'll tell ya what folks: I see a lot of Christians who are working their faces too hard! Their attitude is (say with frown on face and crossed arms) "Yea, I'm a Christian. Hallelujah."
The church needs to learn that laughter in the sanctuary is not pagan or a sign of disrespect to God. ILLUS. The German theologian, Helmut Thielicke, wrote: "A church is in a bad way when it banishes laughter from the sanctuary and leaves it to the cabaret, the nightclub and the toastmasters."
Joy in the Christian's life should flow as naturally from the believer's heart as singing does from a bird at sunrise!
The message of the angels was designed to give great joy to the shepherds and all who would come to the Savior.
So let me take some time this morning and talk about the coming of joy into our lives through Christ.
I. REJOICE IN THE LORD ALWAYS!
- Philippians 3:1 Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!
- Philippians 4:4 "Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!" NIV
- 1 Thessalonians 5:16 "Be joyful always;" NIV
A. THE WORLD NEEDS TO SEE JOYFUL BELIEVERS
- the non-Christians in our culture see too many mean-eyed furrowed-brow, locked-jaw, crossed-arm, petty-minded, unsmiling Christians
- I don't mean any of your of course!
- the world needs to see joyful believers who can praise the Lord no matter what their circumstances are or their lot in life may be
- the Apostle Peter told the recipients of his first epistle that the Christian's joy is an inward grace that issues from the believer's faith despite trials and temptations
- 1 Peter 1:6-9 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
- ILLUS. A number of years ago Bobby Mcferrin wrote and sang a song that became very popular. The lyrics were simple:
Here's a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry, be happy.
In every life we have some trouble
But when you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy.
Don't worry, be happy now.
CHORUS: Don't worry, be happy. Don't worry, be happy.
Don't worry, be happy. Don't worry, be happy.
Ain't got no place to lay your head
Somebody came and took your bed
Don't worry, be happy.
The landlord say your rent is late
He may have to litigate
Don't worry, be happy.
Ain't got no cash, ain't got no style
Ain't got no gal to make you smile
Don't worry, be happy.
'Cause when you worry your face will frown
And that will bring everybody down
Don't worry, be happy.
CHORUS: (Don't worry, don't worry, don't do it.
Be happy. Put a smile on your face.
Don't bring everybody down.
Don't worry. It will soon pass, whatever it is.
Don't worry, be happy.
I'm not worried, I'm happy...)
- I hated that song. But in it, Mcferrin implies a deep-seated joy that circumstances cannot doom
- joy is an effectual, spiritual gift given by God to believers that helps to sustain us in difficult times and increases our happiness in good times
- happiness is a feeling and usually is determined by outside events or circumstances
- joy, on the other hand, is an attitude, a disposition, a mind-set that flows from a deep conviction that God is alive and real and in your life and in control
- it enables you to meet the challenges of life and to wade into impossibilities with enthusiasm and expectancy
- "rejoicing always" in the Lord enables you to let go of the frustration and pick up the broken pieces and start over again
B. REASONS BELIEVERS CAN REJOICE
- FIRST, we can rejoice because of saving grace
- Matthew 1:20-21 “ . . . an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” NIV
- Jesus said that being born again is like finding buried treasure
- ILLUS. In the early 1950's a Florida resident by the name of Mel Fisher began searching the waters of the Caribbean for sunken Spanish treasure ships. His dream of 'hitting it big' was scuttled time and again. His all-consuming passion was to discover the resting place of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha. This Spanish treasure ship had sunk in a hurricane somewhere off the Florida Coast 300 years ago and was reputed to be carrying the proverbial "king's ransom" in gold. Fisher, quit literally, sold or hocked all that he owned in order to fund the years of searching. Finally, one day in 1971, he and his crew found what they had so long been looking for. The wreck yielded tens of millions of dollars in gold, silver, and precious stones. They were overjoyed.
- Matthew 13:44 "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field."
- first, that salvation is a great treasure and its gain requires a cost
- secondly, and the point of this morning's message: that discovering God's treasure of salvation brings great joy
- Psalm 18:35 "You give me your shield of victory, and your right hand sustains me; you stoop down to make me great."
- God does not save us only to leave us to our own strength
- ILLUS. In the Lincoln Museum in Washington, you will find, among other things, Lincoln's well-used Bible. In the flyleaf is a note he scribbled as he made his way by train to the capitol for his inauguration. Listen to his words as he asks for sustaining grace from God: "I go to assume a task more difficult than that which has devolved upon any other man since the days of Washington. He never would have succeeded but for the aid of Divine Providence, upon which he at all times relied. I feel that I cannot succeed without the same divine blessing which sustained him, and on the same Almighty Being I place my reliance for support. And I hope you, my friends, will all pray that I may receive the divine assistance, without which I cannot succeed, but with which success is certain."
- John 17:22 "Father, give them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one:"
- the day is coming when all believers will hear the trumpet of God that signifies our Lord's Second coming
- on that day all those who have given their hearts and lives to Jesus Christ are going home
- Philippians 3:20-21 "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body."
- ILLUS. Henry C. Morrison was one of the great missionaries of the late 19th century. After serving for forty years on the African mission field, he headed home by boat. On that same trans-Atlantic steamer also rode Theodore Roosevelt returning from one of his famous big-game trophy hunts. As they entered the harbor ship's horns blared and fire-fighting ships sprayed fountains of water into the air. As they docked, there was great fanfare as bands played and all kinds of dignitaries waited to greet the President and welcome him home. Morrison saw all of this and became depressed. He thought to himself that he, too should get some recognition for forty years in the Lord's service. In his memoirs Morrison writes of that moment and that thought. He says: "But just then a still small voice came to me and said, Henry you're not home yet.'"
- the Scriptures tell us in Isaiah: Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him
II. REJOICING IN THE LORD BREEDS ENTHUSIASM FOR THE THINGS OF GOD
- one of the marks of authentic Christianity is that believers will have an enthusiasm for spiritual things which is noticeable to others
- ILLUS. Enthusiasm is a natural and necessary response to fully enjoy the object that is praised. For example, when watching an athletic event on TV, it is a natural response to get excited over a tremendous play. To shout WOW! after an acrobatic catch in the end zone or center field is not only natural, but necessary to fully enjoy the spectacular play. If you do not believe that it is necessary, the next time you watch an event try to not express yourself at all. You will quickly find that you do not enjoy the action nearly as much as you do when you have the freedom to express yourself in praise and excitement.
- when God makes a tremendous play i.e. He saves someone, or performs some similar miracle, our reaction ought to be WOW and the giving of "high-fives" in the church isles
- such enthusiasm is contagious
- but this is not always how it is in real life is it?
- most believers know that they should be enthusiastic about spiritual things
- deep down, you know that you should be enthusiastic about Bible study
- deep down, you know that you should be enthusiastic about worship
- deep down, you know that you should be enthusiastic about devotional time
- deep down, you know that you should be enthusiastic about service and ministry
- the fact is, family reunions, baseball games and trips to the lake offer infinitely more excitement to the average church-goer then does a typical day at church
- from God's viewpoint the answer it very simple
- it is the sin of negativity produced by a hardened heart that is no longer filled with an attitude of joy
A. JOY IS A FRUIT OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WHICH MUST BE CULTIVATED
- Galatians 5:22-24 "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires."
- the Bible teaches that your ability to have joy and to rejoice in the things of God is tied to your filling with the Holy Spirit of God
- joy is like a crop that must be properly cultivated and protected
- but, according to Paul, our passions and desires war against the fruit of the Spirit
- just as there are the fruits of the Spirit, there are also the fruits of the flesh
- they include hate, sorrow, conflict, anxiety, malevolence, evil, disloyalty, cruelty, and self-indulgence
- ooooh . . . self-indulgence – there’s a biggie for you – let’s talk about that one for a moment
- consider the true meaning of the Christmas season as proclaimed to the shepherds verses what the holiday season has degenerated to in our culture
- consider the following parody of the Scriptures and the commentary on what the birth of our Lord has come to mean in our day
- ILLUS. “And there were in the same country children keeping watch over their stockings by the fireplace. And, Lo! St. Nicholas came upon them; and they were sore afraid. And Nicholas said unto them: “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which be to all people who can afford them. For unto you will be given great feasts of turkey, dressing and cake; and many presents; and this shall be a sign unto you, ye shall find the presents, wrapped in bright paper, lying beneath a tree adorned with tinsel, colored balls and lights. And suddenly, there will be with you a multitude of relatives and friends, praising you and saying, ‘Thank you so much, it was just what I wanted.’ And it shall come to pass as the friends and relatives have gone away into their own homes, the parents shall say to one another, ‘Man, what a mess to clean up! I’m tired, let’s go to bed and pick it up tomorrow. Thank goodness, Christmas only comes once a year!’ And they go with haste to their cold bed and find their desired rest.”
III. RELEVANT THINGS YOU CAN DO TO EXPERIENCE THE JOY OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
- joy is a choice made by those who discipline their attitudes
- joy is not automatic
- it doesn’t seize you and force you under its will
- you don’t catch it like a virus
- to have authentic Christian joy in life requires work
- there is no better place to go to discover the secrets to joy than Paul’s letter to the Philippians
- written while he was chained in a Roman prison, Paul gives six clues to what enabled him to rejoice in literally any situation
A. FIRST, MAINTAIN A GRATEFUL HEART
- Paul’s gratitude is reflected in every line of his letter to the Philippians
- imprisoned and possibly facing death, the apostle still refuses to register even the slightest complaint
- he writes to the Philippians: I thank my God every time I remember you
- in every verse he seems to sing with thanksgiving, almost as though he were composing a psalm
- he denies himself the option of focusing on the negative aspects of his imprisonment
- Paul encouraged himself by thinking about how God was using his situation to bring the gospel to others
- reflecting only on his own discomfort would have led to depression
- if you want to experience joy, you’re going to have to sit down and count your blessings instead of listing your misfortunes
- when you consider the ways in which you have seen God work, like Paul, include the blessings He has poured out on others through you
B. SECOND, FOCUS ON FUTURE HOPE
- Paul labored and suffered with his future rest in mind
- he wrote to the Philippians “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21)
- Paul had a valiant, courageous confidence in Christ
- he could see the good results of bad situations
- but more important than that, he saw the final victory in Christ
- in Philippians, Paul attempts to communicate his hope to us
- he knows there will be a happy ending, and he wants us to remember that even in the worst of circumstances
- ILLUS. The apostle cites Christ as an example of such hope. Jesus faced the Cross with a mind clearly focused on His goal. His suffering was of less importance when He considered the needs of mankind. He put aside self-pity and clothed Himself with compassion for men.
- if we’re going to have joy in life you need to think beyond the present
C. THIRD, PURSUE GODLY GOALS
- Paul kept his spiritual goals clearly in mind
- Phil. 3:8–11 “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ -- the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.”
- to know Him would be worth any price because of the final payoff -- eternal life
- Paul struggled toward those goals with every ounce of energy
- Philippians 3:14 “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” NIV
D. FORTH, PRAY
- the impulse to pray when we are in trouble is almost automatic
- but prayer ought to be more than an appeal for deliverance
- it is more than a toll-free order system by which we obtain or change circumstances to make us happy
- as we make our appeal to God, we often feel it is our “right” to grumble and worry until He delivers us
- not so, according to Paul
- Philippians 4:6 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” NIV
- to continue worrying is a breach of faith
E. FIFTH, THINK GODLY THOUGHT
- Paul writes to the Philippian believers:
Phil. 4:8–9 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
- tragedies and difficult circumstances have a way of cutting off our fresh air
- we become so engrossed in the painful moment that we see, hear, think, and feel little else
- we begin choking on stale, cloudy thoughts
- but Paul points out that we can choose what to think about
- we can focus on gloom and doom
- or on promises and praise
- ILLUS.. In one of his letters to a young man in the ministry named Timothy, Paul told him to stir up the gift of God that was in him. The Greek word of stir up means to rekindle as in getting a fire burning brightly agin. That requires some personal effort. One of the surest ways to rekindle the spirit of joy in your life is to take the "poker" of your memory and stir up some past occurrences in your life when God was at work. You need to recall the times that God intervened in your life and answered your prayers. Meditate upon your blessings. Throw the "logs" of praise, thankfulness and gratitude on the fire of God and see if the flame of the Holy Spirit does not burn more brightly in your life.
F. SIXTH, LEARN CONTENTMENT
- Paul learned to be content in any situation
- Philippians 4:11 “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” NIV
- ILLUS. John MacArthur tells the story of being on a trip to Mexico. At one stop, he observed Mexican women washing their clothes in a place where hot and cold springs bubbled side by side. They boiled their garments in the hot springs and rinsed them in the cold. MacArthur remarked to his guide, “I suppose the people think their God is generous to them.” “No, señor,” the guide replied, “just the opposite. There is grumbling because He does not supply soap.”
- dissatisfaction breeds anxiety and frustration
- contentment fosters joy
- discontent blackens everything around it
- contentment transforms turbulence into peace
- you don’t just decide to be content, the Apostle Paul says, you learn contentment
- by maintaining grateful hearts, focusing on future hope, praying pursuing Godly goals and thinking Godly thoughts
- above all, contentment is learned by seeking first the Kingdom of God instead of seeking the things of this world
Martin Luther said it best when he wrote; ". . . The Christian ought to be a living doxology." Doxology is a word that simply means A Praise to God. When joy of salvation is a part of your life and you find yourself rejoicing in the things of God, you will be a witness to the world and a "praise unto God."