Pillar Journal

To Bring Great Joy

Not all fear is to be feared. Some fear is perfectly rational. For example, it’s understandable that the shepherds were frightened the night God announced the birth of His Son.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
— LUKE 2:10

With due respect to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, not all fear is to be feared. Some fear is perfectly rational. For example, it’s understandable that the shepherds were frightened the night God announced the birth of His Son. They had been minding their own business, “keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8), when suddenly the darkness was shattered by a great light. Right before their faces stood the angel of the Lord. Luke says the shepherds were “sore afraid” (2:9). How fitting it is, then, that in the next verse the angel announced “good tidings of great joy” (2:10). Jesus came to turn great fear into great joy.

The Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah resound with joy. Isaiah anticipated that those who heard of Christ’s birth would rejoice “according to the joy in harvest, and as men rejoice when they divide the spoil…. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given” (Isa. 9:3, 6). The saints who had looked forward to the coming of Christ could then say, “We have waited for him, and he will save us; this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation” (Isa. 25:9). Jesus Himself said, “I tell you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see those things which ye see” (Luke 10:24).

Throughout His earthly ministry, Jesus fulfilled this reason for His coming. John the Baptist, who would endure so much suffering at the hands of wicked men for the sake of Jesus, said of Him: “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled” (John 3:29). The very sound of Jesus’ voice brought joy to John the Baptist’s heart. Even before he was born, John leaped for joy in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:44).

Near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, when the cross loomed darkly over the heads of Him and His disciples, the message of joy pierced the darkness. Jesus reminded His disciples of the unshakable love God has for His own, saying, “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love” (John 15:9). Jesus then helped His disciples apply this great truth of His abiding love: “These things I have spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11).

In Luke’s gospel, fear turns to joy in the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Interestingly, the same thing happens in Luke 24:37 when the resurrected Jesus suddenly appears in the midst of the disciples. Initially, they are “terrified and affrighted,” but a few verses later, they are overcome with joy (24:41). Luke closes his gospel account with these words: “And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (24:52–53; cf. John 16:20–24). Christ filled His disciples with the kind of joy that conquers even the sadness of a dear friend’s death.

Jesus came to earth to bring true joy and explain where it may be found. People look for joy in food, drink, friends, family, work, and recreation. As believers, we find some satisfaction in these things. But because the things of this world are fleeting, we may not seek ultimate joy in them, and neither should they move us to great despair. Indeed, Christians should expect the world not to satisfy them. C. S. Lewis reflected, “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”1C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 1980), 136–37. And while we’re in this world, we must expect to find joy in the otherworldly, for Romans 14:17 says, “The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost.”

Few of us have ever received a gift that we would truly describe as unspeakable or indescribable. Some gifts are better than others, but usually we can describe them. In 2 Corinthians 9, Paul writes about Christ’s incarnation. At the end of the chapter he says, “Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift” (v. 15). Even Paul, a gifted wordsmith, could not put the wonder of this gift into words! As we reflect on the incarnation, we too should be filled with joyous amazement and thanksgiving. Wilhelmus à Brakel explains, “The reason one does not rejoice in the incarnation is for lack of holy meditation upon the subject, its miraculous nature, the promises, the Person, the fruits and this great salvation brought about by His suffering and death. What reason for rejoicing would he who does not attentively reflect upon this have?”2Brakel, Christian’s Reasonable Service, 1:515.

Excerpt from
Why Christ Came: 31 Meditations on the Incarnation
By Joel R. Beeke and William Boekestein