I recently attended a megaconference for Christians in media. And among the hundreds of booths, there was a huge display of costumes and props from a current TV show based on the life of Christ. It was quite fascinating. All the costumes and props and set pieces were scattered through an open walk-through display. It really pulled you into first-century Jerusalem, giving a little tangible taste of what life in the time of Christ looked like. And after walking through it, it made me wonder, and I think it makes a lot of people wonder, Wouldn’t it have been better to have lived in a generation that could have seen Christ with our own eyes — to know him face to face?
I think this is one reason why we’re attracted to television shows and movies about his life. Because for us, we’re stuck many years after his earthly ministry with just a written account of his life in the Gospels. So is that to our disadvantage? With a definitive no, Pastor John explains why believers today are not at a disadvantage, and he does it by preaching from a great text on this very topic, 1 Peter 1:8–9. Here he is, in 1993, first talking about the nature of joy. Here’s Pastor John.
You rejoice in this faith and love. You rejoice with a joy that is unable to be expressed, and which is, literally, “glorified” — or “full of glory,” as the NASB has it (1 Peter 1:8).
We Become What We Crave
Now, I think the way we have defined joy goes a long way to helping us understand why it’s inexpressible and why it is glorified. I’ll ask this question to make the connection for you: Where does joy get its moral quality — not just its intensity? We’re talking about quality here: inexpressible and glorified — not just big, not just strong. There can be a lot of strong emotions without Jesus, but we’re talking here about a joy that is not only very great, but it has a glory dimension to it. It’s got glory on it and in it somehow. So let’s just ask the general question: Where does joy, your joy, get its moral dimension? And the answer to that question, I believe, is this: your joy gets its moral quality from what you are enjoying.
So if you enjoy dirty jokes, you’ve got dirty joy and a dirty heart. If you enjoy bathroom language (that really makes you laugh) or lewd pictures (that really makes you happy), you have a dirty heart and dirty joy. Joy gets its moral quality from what you enjoy. Or if you enjoy cruelty and arrogance and revenge, that’s dirty too. And there are a lot of movies and TV programs that cultivate that kind of joy, to get you to be really happy in revenge. That’s the kind of heart you get. Your heart will be shaped that way. You become what you crave. Where you get your joy, you get your moral dimension to joy.
Or if you just love things — if you find your life, your joy, increasingly happy in more and more material things — do you know what happens inside? You die. Your heart was made for God and love and faith and joy. And if you find that this computer just so satisfies you — I have tasted that too. Wow, computers are incredible. Dan Lane got me into this new America Online thing, which connects you up with ten million billboards and stuff. It is absolutely addicting — at least for a week or two. It is.
There’s great danger from — I mean, you just name it. There are ten thousand material things in the world that can so enamor you and capture you, and you come to the end of a day, having looked at the screen of this computer, and say, “I’m dead. I’m dead — deader than I was when I started this day. I’m smaller. I’m drier. What have I done?” And some people spend their whole lives like that, and they will say that on their deathbed — unless they’re so dead that they can’t feel it.
We’re made for joy and Christ and relationship and love and the big unseen realities. So my answer to the question “Where does joy get its moral component?” is that it gets its moral component from the thing enjoyed.
Joy and Glory Streaming Back
Now Christian joy, I would argue, then, is inexpressible and glorified because the Christ who is precious to us is inexpressibly precious. And the Christ who is reliable to us is inexpressibly reliable. And even though we never attain to the maximum joy in this life that we will have someday, nevertheless our joy is hooked in, tied in, to an inexpressible treasure: Jesus. He is inexpressibly glorious. He is inexpressibly beautiful and reliable and precious. And if your joy is in him, that preciousness, that inexpressibility, comes from the thing enjoyed into you, and your joy leaps up from time to time with inexpressibility.
And the same thing is true for glory. I think Peter is saying that in the process of loving and believing and rejoicing, the goal of that — namely, salvation — is happening in part, in measure, now. The glory of the one we love is precious and reliable, and it is streaming back through our joy into our hearts. And our joy is in measure, right now, glorious. It partakes in glory because you always participate in what you enjoy. You become what you crave in large measure.
Eyes of the Heart
Final question: How can all of this happen when we don’t see him? Twice Peter says that: “Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8). Why does he stress that twice? Evidently, some people were saying something like, “But we’ve never seen him. You saw him, Peter. Sure, you can have that kind of joy. But we’ve never seen him.”
“More important than seeing with the eyes is seeing with the heart.”
Now, how? Surely the answer is that there is a seeing with the heart that is not a seeing with the eyes. And I want to argue this morning that seeing with the heart is more important than seeing with the eyes. More important than seeing with the eyes is seeing with the heart. I will try to persuade you of that in these last few minutes.
Paul said that his mission to unreached peoples, in Romans 15:20, was this. These are people out there in the Roman empire who, like us, have never seen Jesus.
Thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written,
“Those who have never been told of him will see,
and those who have never heard will understand.” (Romans 15:20–21)
The preaching of the gospel is the means by which those who have never seen Christ see Christ in the gospel. Here’s another way of saying it, which Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
In your heart, the light of God goes on, and you see his glory in Christ’s face. What in the world is that? There were hundreds and hundreds of people who saw Jesus during his lifetime on the earth who did not see him. They didn’t see him. They were blanked out; they were totally confused; they were totally adrift. They didn’t know who this Jewish carpenter rabbi was; he made no sense to them whatsoever. And they saw him hour after hour after hour. Is that valuable? That sends to hell. Don’t exalt seeing with the eyes. Don’t begrudge that you live in the twentieth century with only a Bible.
Listen carefully now. We were at a Michael Card concert on Friday night, and he sings this song about childlikeness that captures this paradox of seeing and not seeing.
To hear with my heart, to see with my soul To be guided by a hand I cannot hold To trust in a way that I cannot see That’s what faith must be.
There is a seeing with the soul, or the heart, that is not a seeing with the eyes. And it happens through the word of God in the gospel. And it happens through the reading of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. I commend the Gospels to you: read the Gospels day in and day out. They are the living Christ to you. Read them with an openness to Christ, and you will see him better than Nicodemus saw him, better than the Syrophoenician woman saw him, better than the centurion saw him, better than the widow of Nain saw him, better than the thief on the cross saw him, better than the thronging crowds who got snatches and pieces saw him.
Better Than Being There
Think about this in closing now: the Gospels are better than being there. Why? In the Gospels, you are welcomed into the inner circle with the apostles, where you never could have gone had you been there.
- In the Gospels, you can go with him to Gethsemane, where you couldn’t have gone.
- In the Gospels, you go to him with the trial, where you couldn’t have gone.
- In the Gospels, you go all the way through the crucifixion.
- In the Gospels, you go in and out of the tomb with him.
- In the Gospels, you are with him, with every meeting after the resurrection.
- In the Gospels, you hear whole sermons, not just little snatches and pieces because you were way back there in the back of the crowd, and there’s a baby crying beside you, and you couldn’t figure out what was going on up there, and you only heard, “Blessed are the . . .” — what was that? And you couldn’t hear it.
“The Gospels are better than being there.”
You’ve got the whole thing, and not only do you have the whole big sermons and big discourses, you’ve got them with God-inspired contexts to give them interpretations, which those poor peasants didn’t have a clue about. They didn’t know what was going on.
- You see him in his freedom from anxiety, as he has no place to lay his head.
- You see his courage in the face of opposition.
- You see his unanswerable wisdom when he’s peppered with questions.
- You see him honoring women.
- And his tenderness with children.
- And his compassion toward lepers.
- And his meekness in suffering.
- And his patience with Peter.
- And his tears over Jerusalem.
- And his blessing on those who cursed him.
- And his heart for the nations.
- And his love for the glory of God.
- And his simplicity.
- And his devotion.
- And his power to still storms and heal sicknesses and drive out demons.
They didn’t have a clue compared to what you have. The Gospels are better than being there — if the Holy Spirit, who was needed just as much in that day as now, will simply open your eyes to see the glory on his face.