Great joy: two short words that really pack a punch! I typically conceptualize joy as a deep, abiding force that remains constant despite my circumstances. Whether things are going fairly well, or my life has really tanked, joy is an underground spring that supports me. But sometimes that spring geysers upward in a spectacular display! That is great joy. Below are a few great joy moments described in Scripture.
2 Chronicles 29 describes how good king Hezekiah repaired and cleansed the temple, restoring worship there before gathering the faithful, humble remnant from all over Israel and Judah to celebrate the Passover together. As a group, they repented and received healing from the LORD. And as they focused their full hearts and minds on celebrating God, “there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. Then the priests and the Levites arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard, and their prayer came to his holy habitation in heaven” (2 Chronicles 30:26–27). Joy burst out, uncontainable, unrestrainable, because of God’s restorative love!
The city of Jerusalem had been destroyed and wasted away, unprotected. Then a man named Nehemiah, thriving in exile as cupbearer to the king, was driven to grieved repentance upon learning of the trouble and shame the remnant was experiencing back home. Grief morphed into action, as Nehemiah and his crew returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall that surrounded it. Once there, they faced ridicule, conspiracy, and injustice that had led to rampant poverty and starvation. But repeatedly, God’s goodness prevailed. And when the wall was finally completed, they all gathered to dedicate it and “offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away” (Nehemiah 12:43). Joy burst out, celebratory and triumphant, because God had helped them overcome!
At Christmas time, we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We’ve been exploring the birth announcement given to shepherds, but another group also celebrated a celestial proclamation. “Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’… And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh” (Matthew 2:1–2; 2:9–11). Joy burst out, awed and wondrous, because God had fulfilled His promise!
That baby grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. He lived a perfect, sinless life, performing miracles, healing bodies and souls, generally shaking things up and angering many in the process. He was falsely accused, beaten, mocked, scorned, killed, and buried in a borrowed tomb. And the world lay silently aching, curled in upon itself, reeling from the loss of hope and light. “Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake, for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. See, I have told you.’ So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:1–9). Joy burst out, relieved and grateful, because victory over sin and death had been secured!
After that, Jesus appeared to many people, opening their minds to understand that this was His beautiful redemption plan all along. “And he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:45–53). Joy burst out, undeniable and irrefutable, because they had witnessed the ascension marking the conclusion of His earthly ministry, though not the end of the story!
The Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised descended first upon the group at Pentecost with fiery power. That same Spirit later fell upon a group of Gentiles hearing the Gospel from Peter. Paul and Barnabus spread the news that salvation was available to all who trust Christ, regardless of their heritage. Their description of the conversion of the Gentiles “brought great joy to all the brothers” (Acts 15:2–3). Joy burst out, effervescent and contagious, because salvation was offered to all who believe in Jesus!
Jude concluded his letter with a doxology: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen” (Jude 24–25). Upon reading those words, I hope that joy bursts out of you, abundant and overflowing, because of what Jesus can do! He is able to present you as blameless before the presence of His glory! If that doesn’t elicit great joy, I don’t know what can!
Common threads bind these moments. Great joy springs forth because of God’s restorative love, His power to overcome all human-made obstacles, His faithfulness to fulfill His promise. Great joy comes alive because of Jesus, His victory over sin and death, His finished work, His gracious salvation made available to all who trust Him. Great joy is the proper response to knowing that in Christ, we can be presented as blameless, our sin forgiven, no longer held against us. Great joy is not about us; it’s about Him! As we turn our attention this Christmas to the birth of our Savior, let’s be people who celebrate Him with great joy! Let it burst forth!