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Sermon 5/18/08
Jeremiah 15:16 - Joy

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Joy

"Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16)

This is the second sermon in a series on the “fruit of the Spirit,” a phrase used by Paul the Apostle to describe Christian character (“fruit”) which should include “joy” (Galatians 5:22). Like fruit comes from a fruit tree, you can reasonably expect JOY to emanate from the life of a Christian man or woman. Last week we spoke of “love,” and this week, it's about “joy.” Searching through the many books God has blessed me with, I expected to easily locate wonderful examples that exemplified joy. I didn’t find them, and looked on the internet, discovering that most of the illustrations are about what “joy” is NOT. I remembered the glum faces so often seen in churches, and wondered if examples of ongoing joy in the lives of real people in this world are all too rare.

I started reading a book by Bernard Ruffin about Fanny Crosby, the amazing blind woman who wrote the lyrics to 9,000 hymns. Before her time, hymns were mostly formal and cold, but she developed a new kind of hymn that appealed to the emotions, the spirit of the worshipper. Fanny Crosby’s grandmother taught her to “call upon God for every need and give thanks to Him for everything.” Fanny learned “there was nothing too difficult for God to do and that, whatever their need might be, He could meet it. No matter how extravagant or unlikely their request, He would grant it – if it were good for them. If God did not grant the request, then they should not be downcast, for He had something in store for them better than their wildest hopes and expectations. They should rejoice, therefore. The sufferings and frustrations of life could be borne patiently and cheerfully, because they were being led to something better.” Joy is in and from the Lord.

Fanny Crosby had an amazing memory, eventually memorizing the whole Bible and other works. She was a fine singer, mastered the guitar, was an excellent horsewoman who liked it best when she was at a gallop, and she became a teacher at the college level. It's said that “she had a personality of rare intensity and vitality that tended to express itself… in joy.” But it was also true that she had episodes of “violent sorrow.” She did everything with “a fierce passion that was almost more than her meager frame could bear… throughout her life.” Yes, she had times of great joy in her life, but she also suffered from depression. She was human; which is a problem for everyone, including all who have ever lived. We are a troubled people, living in a troubled world.

Part of the problem of understanding joy seems to be that we have seen magazines, movies and television episodes that show us the public sides of persons – the parts they want us to see. It’s like a magic trick in which our attention is distracted from one thing so we will see something else. The right hand is lifted up so we will not see what is concealed in the left. The seemingly most joyful person you ever saw is also - human.

When we encounter a smiling face or hear loud laughter, we think we are in the presence of joy. We want to be around such a person because it is hoped that they are contagious and we might “catch” what they have. We want to laugh, if only for a moment. But that’s not joy.

Rich Wagner, in a “blog” commenting on a book he wrote, called “The Myth of Joy,” admitted that he had been “confused by what true Biblical joy really was.” He thought it was “an earthly substitute - happiness.” He said, “As a result (he was) a happy Christian on Sunday morning, but living the rest of the week strapped to a rollercoaster, rising and falling based on situations in (his) life.” Wagner continued, “Happiness is all about the here and now. Biblical joy is rooted in eternity… Happiness depends on circumstances, but joy is independent of anything (of this world) that happens to me.

Jeremiah the prophet, who wrote the words of our Scripture for today, did know times of great joy, but like Fanny Crosby, he also had times of numbing depression. He truly loved his people, Israel, and called out to them through the decades, but they did not turn to the Lord. He said, “My eyes fail with tears, my heart is troubled; my bile is poured on the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people…” (Lamentations 2:11). The Book of Lamentations is full of Jeremiah’s statements about the depression he experienced simply because he CARED for his people.

Jesus Christ also cared, more than we understand, for He is the Son of God and we are merely human. He gave His life for a rebellious people who turned their backs on Him. Isaiah prophesied about Him, hundreds of years before He came to earth, “He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3).

But there is much more than depression and sorrow in our walk with the Lord. Jeremiah also said, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, therefore I hope in Him!” (Lamentations 3:22-24). Jeremiah found joy!

Joy is not something from this world at all, but instead the passion we call “joy” is always based in the Lord. It is found in looking to what He has done and intends to do for people like you and me. I’ve had a life that has contained seasons of depression, and yet I also note that there is an undercurrent of excitement, a deep joy that is almost beneath the “radar” of my conscious awareness. And it’s because I’ve spent forty years studying the Word of God. The promises made in Bible times are for us right now.

That’s what Jeremiah found, as we can see in our Scripture verse for today. He said, "Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart; for I am called by Your name, O Lord God of hosts” (Jeremiah 15:16). Nehemiah, another great prophet, was advised by God, “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” Both Jeremiah and Nehemiah heard the Word of the Lord firsthand. The words we read in our Bibles, underlining them as we go, were directly spoken by Almighty God into the hearts of the prophets. “Do not sorrow,” meant that Nehemiah, like Jeremiah, had been sad. For them, as for us right now, it is the Word of the Lord which brings us to a place where we are capable of receiving joy. It is indeed a “fruit of the Spirit,” God’s gift; and it is not dependent on outward circumstances. It is from Him.

Lord, I trust in You. Fill me with Your Spirit, open Your Word to my understanding and give me the joy of the Lord. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries

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"While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8)
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