Whether I heard it or read it, I don’t remember. But the words caught me by surprise, and I jotted them down:
“What was uppermost in Jesus’ mind as Good Friday approached?
Do you find that surprising, too?
Yet at least three times on the eve of his crucifixion Jesus spoke about joy (John 15:11; 16:22, 24; 17:13)–a most unusual topic and completely unnatural. Who thinks about joy when they know that catastrophe is about to strike?
Jesus, that’s who.
Within the next twenty-four hours he would face excruciating pain, total abandonment by his Father, and the most horrific death ever devised.
But his concern was for his disciples, not himself. Jesus wanted them to remember the important principles of love, obedience, and joy–an empowering joy that no one could take away from them.
Perhaps you remember the scene. Jesus and his disciples had just finished their last Passover supper together. After the meal, he taught his final lesson.
The first mention of joy came near the end of his teaching about the vine and the branches:
“I have told you this
so that my joy may be in you
and that your joy may be complete”
The word, “this,” refers to the ways Jesus had just mentioned that will contribute to joy:
1. Live close to him and produce much good in and through your life (vs.4-8).
2. Live in obedience to Jesus and experience the warmth, peace, and care of His love (vs. 9-10).
Note that Jesus wanted his joy to be in the hearts of his disciples. What characterized his joy, compared to that of others?
- Strong awareness of the Father’s love for him, and his own love for the Father (vs. 9-10).
- Absolute surrender and self-sacrifice of himself to his Father, and the joy of doing what his father had sent him to do. Even during his great travail in the Garden of Gethsemane, his one desire was to do his Father’s will (Luke 22:42).
Jesus’ joy coexisted with the profound sorrow of his impending suffering, because he was already well-acquainted with the satisfaction and fulfillment of obedience.
- The understanding that joy deferred to the future is anticipatory joy in the present. “For the joy set before him he endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2).
And finally, Jesus told his disciples that he desired complete joy for them. What does complete joy look like? It is:
- Not so much an emotion as it is a conviction (Keith Krell, “Moment by Moment,” http://www.bible.org).
- Inner contentment, resulting from continually cultivating an intimate relationship with Jesus.
- Constant, not dependent on circumstances.
- Enduring, day after day. Indestructible.
- Perfect—the perfect, joy-filled fulfillment of the destiny for which God created you, even when a portion of that destiny is suffering.
I’m thinking of the martyrs–Stephen, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, William Tyndale, John Wycliffe and countless others who demonstrated complete joy even as they died in anguish.
Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John and Bishop of Smyrna for many years, refused to revile Jesus. For that he was burned at the stake.
But before the flames rose up, Polycarp prayed:
“O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy blessed and beloved Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have been given knowledge of thyself…I bless thee for granting me this day and hour, that I may be numbered amongst the martyrs, to share the cup of thine Anointed and to rise again unto life everlasting…”
Such devotion, courage, and supernatural strength are impossible to fathom apart from the enablement of the Holy Spirit.
Can you hear the grace in Polycarp’s voice as he blessed God for the privilege of dying a martyr?
That is complete joy, only experienced by those who trust in Jesus implicitly.
Complete joy that Jesus purchased for us at Calvary.
* * * * * * * * *
We marvel, Heavenly Father, in the extreme paradox that is the cross. Out of the evil unleashed upon your Son comes your holy, righteous goodness–upon us. Out of the horror of the crucifixion that Jesus endured comes inexpressible and glorious joy, to those who put their faith in him–not a temporary feeling of elation, but deep, abiding, abundant joy.
All praise to you, our loving, gracious God!
(Acts 3:13-16, 1 Peter 1:8, John 6:47, John 10:10)
(Photo credit: www.rejesus.co.uk.)