Unbelievable Joy

Advent 2013…Joy: Isaiah 35.1-10

As I reflected this passage, I was struck by this overwhelming picture of great joy that Isaiah paints for us. It’s a joy that in many ways is incomprehensible where all of creation can’t help but shout over the salvation that the LORD brings. Nothing on earth can compare…sporting event, concert, celebration of any kind…all pale in comparison.

I shared a tweet this past week, “The pursuit of happiness is a far cry from the everlasting joy of the kingdom…only the latter truly satisfies the longing of our souls.” As the guys and I talked about the sermon, the question was asked, “What’s the difference between happiness and joy?” Great question. Happiness has a lot to do with circumstances. It tends to be more momentary, more fleeting. It’s rooted in the physical. That’s why the pursuit of happiness is a vain pursuit…it never lasts and is always fleeting. It tends to focus on self…building my own earthly kingdom.

But joy, the joy that Isaiah talks about, true kingdom-joy, like kingdom-peace, goes down to the soul. It is lasting and mostly independent, but not totally separate from current circumstances. Positive circumstances may cause you to reflect on that joy (return of exiles to Zion, believer being baptized, unbeliever finally trusting in Christ), but the presence of that joy can be felt and experienced even in the midst of suffering (very negative circumstance).

Where does that joy come from? What causes creation to rejoice with joyful shouting? The movement from death to life. What causes those returning to Zion on the Highway of Holiness, the redeemed and ransomed, to rejoice with everlasting joy? Again, the movement from death to life.

And I think the experience of our joy is tied to our experience of the kingdom. The Israelites in Isaiah’s prophecy rejoice greatly because they have come from death to life, from captivity to freedom, from darkness and despair to hope and light. Our experience of joy is tied to the degree to which we see the gospel as good news. When we think less of our sin, grace really isn’t that big a deal, but when we see the enormity of our transgression against God, then grace is an occasion of great joy, joy that allows us to rejoice in suffering, that gives us that deep settledness that all is well with my soul. It’s the joy of Jesus…a joy that is independent of circumstance.

This story challenges us to pursue true joy…the joy of the kingdom, the joy that comes from knowing that we have been rescued by the King. And as we learn to recognize more and more fully God’s saving grace and the reality of His kingdom, then we experience more and more fully joy even in the midst of the trials, pain and suffering of this life.

My prayer for us this week is that we might more fully realize Unbelievable Joy because of our Unbelievable Savior.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can also follow us on twitter: @mattdumas1969.

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Terrifying Encounter

Three years I spent with Him. Three years of amazing, jaw-dropping ministry, seeing everything from the dead being raised to demons being cast out, the lame walking, the blind seeing, the sick healed, the feeding of a great multitude, Him walking on the water…and then, the beatings, the mocking, the persecution, the flogging, the crucifixion, His death…and then His resurrection, His commission, His ascension. It was an incredible three years. And even afterwards with Peter and the guys in Jerusalem, seeing the gospel spread out to the Gentiles, the death of my brother James… I wrote down my experiences, telling the story of Jesus. The most amazing thing to me was His love for me. I never got over it. I spent some time in Ephesus and wrote a few letters to the flock there. But after a lifetime of ministry, nothing prepared me for that encounter…

Revelation 1. John the disciple whom Jesus loved thought he had seen it all, and as he begins his account of Revelation, he is reminded of Jesus’ sacrifice and His great love. He also exhorts his readers, reminding them that they had been called to be a kingdom of priests, the same charge that Moses had given to the children of Israel in Exodus 19. So far, so good. And then John sees Jesus…and falls like a dead man. Here’s how John describes the scene: “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I saw seven golden lampstands; and in the middle of the lampstands I saw one like a son of man, clothed in a robe reaching to the feet, and girded across His chest with a golden sash. His head and His hair were white like white wool, like snow; and His eyes were like a flame of fire. His feet were like burnished bronze, when it has been made to glow in a furnace, and His voice was like the sound of many waters. In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength.” This was not the carpenter from Galilee…This was the All Powerful Son of God, and John was terrified. And from this opening chapter in the book, there is no doubt who this story is about and who is in control!

Revelation is one of my favorite books to walk through. It would be easy to conclude that a book that deals predominantly with future things has little value for us today, but that could not be further from the truth. Revelation is the consummation of the story that began in Genesis. It is the conclusion of the cosmic battle between good and evil that has be waged for millennia. And we care who wins because our fate is tied up with the people of God throughout the ages. I hope you can journey with us through this terribly wonderful book!

Until next time…stay salty.

Dark Days Ahead

The outlook was not good. Not good at all. The kingdom of the ram was challenging enough as it crushed all opposition. But on the horizon, the kingdom of the goat. It quickly gained momentum as it devoured the ram’s kingdom, finally defeating the ram itself thus making it officially the time of the goat. But shortly after establishing his throne, the goat-king died and his kingdom was divided up among his four generals. And while there was some coherence to the kingdom, there was also much infighting, until another king arose. He came to power through political intrigue, killing his predecessor and ascending the throne. After defeating his counterpart in the region to the south, he set his sights on the Beautiful Land. It would be a jewel in his crown and provide a buffer zone between his kingdom and that of the emerging kingdom of the beast. He set himself up as the king of the Beautiful Land, trampled underfoot its citizens and defiled their place of worship, forcing them to take part in his apostasy on pain of death. Only then he would be killed, but not by human agency… then Daniel awoke. Daniel 8.

The vision in itself was terrifying to Daniel and unintelligible. It occurred to him while he was still living in Babylon a short time before the kingdom was overthrown by the Persians. We are told that the vision relates to the next two kingdoms during the Times of the Gentiles, namely Medo-Persia (the ram) and Greece (the goat), and from world history we can piece together with surprising accuracy the vision that was so confounding to Daniel. We know the first goat-king as Alexander the Great who defeated the Persians and then died shortly afterwards. His kingdom was divided between his four generals. The four generals became kings of their respective regions while maintaining the overall kingdom of Greece. There was a great deal of infighting among each of these dynasties as they sought to expand their individual domains. After a time, a king rose up in the Seleucid dynasty, and, killing his predecessor, he ascended the throne. That king was Antiochus Epiphanies. After defeating Ptolemy VI and taking over Egypt, he set his sights on Jerusalem. He attacked the city and set himself up as king. He set up an altar to Zeus in the temple and forced the Israelites to offer swine on the altar and eat its flesh…a thing that was abhorrent to the Jews. This prompted the Maccabean revolt led by Judas Maccabees. Antiochus was forced out of Jerusalem and died a short time later as a madman (making prophetic the title given him by the Jews, Antiochus Epimanes “Madman”).

This vision of Daniel’s is different than the two before (statue and beasts). Each of those ended with God setting up an eternal kingdom, but here all Daniel sees is the people of God being trampled and killed. It sure looked like they were losing. It troubled him. It should trouble us. During this time when we live in the shadow of the fourth kingdom, we shouldn’t expect to see God’s people winning from a human perspective. In fact, it looks like they chose the wrong side. But the story doesn’t end there…

Until next time…stay salty.