A really important question from a listener named Nicholas who went to the Ask Pastor John home page and emailed us this question: “Hi Pastor John! In Hebrews 12:2 and Nehemiah 8:10, what is meant by the phrase: ‘the joy of the Lord’? How can we find this joy? And how can we apply this joy to our own lives?”
This is one of the most important questions that anyone can ask, because everyone wants to be happy and to never lose their happiness in the miseries of hell. And therefore, how to find joy and experience it to the full is what everybody cares about and ought to care about. And if it is possible that we could actually share in the joy of God Almighty, nothing could be greater and nothing would be more stable and lasting. So this is important.
“Everyone wants to be happy and to never lose their happiness in the miseries of hell.”
The reference to “the joy of the Lord” in Nehemiah 8:10 means at least the joy that the Lord himself gives. “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” And the joy referred to in Hebrews 12:2 is clearly the very joy that Jesus himself has today in heaven which sustained him through suffering. It says, “ . . . looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Now, what I assume that Nicholas is asking is something like this: What is the fullest, deepest, most lasting kind of joy that a human being can have from God, and how can I get it? How can I find it? Those two texts that he mentioned are pointers for sure. But I am going to go to another text where the answer is given even more clearly; namely, I am going to go to the John 15:11 where Jesus says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” The reason this text is so important is that Jesus refers to his own joy as being in us — not just giving us a joy, but his joy in whatever he is joyful in is in us. We are not just rejoicing over what we know about Jesus, we are rejoicing with the very joy of Jesus over what he knows about everything, especially what he knows about his Father.
“If we could actually share in the joy of God Almighty, nothing could be greater and nothing would be more stable and lasting.”
So, let’s make sure we hear it again. Let me say it again. This is Jesus. I have given all these instructions to you, he says, about what it means to be in the vine. That is what John 15 is about. “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5). I have given all these instructions to you so that you would enjoy my joy with me, so that my joy would be in you as your joy — now this is incredible, almost: “my joy may be in you, and . . . your joy may be full” (John 15:11). In other words, “The reason your joy can now be as full as it is and moving toward perfect fullness when all our battle with sin is over is because in union with me, the branch in the vine, you no longer enjoy merely your joy. You now have my joy in you and you enjoy what I enjoy as your joy, as you abide in me.”
If you want to press further up and further into this mystery — which I think is a good idea — we can ask: Is it not the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the indwelling of the very person of the Trinity — who himself is the embodiment of the joy that the Father has in the Son and the Son has in the Father — isn’t this joy of Jesus in us the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, the Spirit of God? So, when the Holy Spirit comes like a dove upon Jesus at his baptism, how does the Father put that into words? He says, “This is my beloved Son,” — this Jesus — “with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). In other words, God takes infinite pleasure in the excellencies of his Son, and this pleasure is symbolized at his baptism by the coming of the Holy Spirit as a dove landing upon him.
Listen to how Jesus prays for us at the end of John 17: “I made known to them your name [Father], and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26). In other words, the very love which the Father has for the Son, delights in, pleased by, cherishes, treasures the Son, that very joyful love will be in us so that we have the capacities to love and enjoy the Son with the very love and joy of the Father.
“Jesus prays that we would have the capacities to love and enjoy the Son with the very love and joy of the Father.”
Oh for the day, oh for the day! So, in answer to Nicholas’s question, I would say: Pursue the experience of this joy by looking steadfastly at the whole array of excellencies in Christ in the Word of God while crying out continually for the Spirit to come and open your eyes to see this glory and to savor this glory with the very savoring of God. In answer to that prayer, God will give you significant measures of the joy of the Lord in this life and then, at the end, you will hear him say, “Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21, 23). And it will be full and unmixed forever.