The Quest for Joy
Blaise Pascal was a French mathematical genius who died in 1662. After running from God until he was 31 years old, on November 23, 1654 at 10:30pm, Pascal met God and was profoundly and unshakably converted to Jesus Christ. He wrote it down on a piece of parchment and sewed into his coat where it was found after his death eight years later. It said,
Year of grace 1654, Monday 23 November, feast of St. Clement . . . from about half past ten at night to about half an hour after midnight, fire. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of philosophers and scholars. Certitude, heartfelt joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ. God of Jesus Christ. “My God and your God.” . . . Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy . . . Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ. May I never be separated from him.
In 1968 Pascal and C.S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards and Dan Fuller and the Bible teamed up to change my life forever with those words, “Joy, Joy, Joy, tears of joy.” This little booklet, Quest for Joy, that you have in your worship folder was born in those days. It wasn’t written for fifteen years or so. But it was born then. Look inside the front cover. Here is Pascal’s blast against my fear of happiness.
All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.
I suspected this was true. But I always feared that it was sin. That wanting to be happy was a moral defect. That self-denial meant renouncing joy, not renouncing lesser joys for greater joys. But then God conspired by these writers to force me to reread the Bible. To give it a chance to have its true say. And what I found there concerning joy changed me forever. I have been trying to understand it and live it and teach it ever since. It’s not new. It’s been there for thousands of years.
What the Bible Says About Joy
Let me give you a taste from what the Bible says about joy:
Jesus’s aim in all he taught was the joy of his people.
These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)
Joy is what God fills us with when we trust in Christ.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing. (Romans 15:13)
The kingdom of God is joy.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
Joy is the fruit of God’s Spirit within us.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace. (Galatians 5:22)
Joy is the aim of everything the apostles did and wrote.
Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy. (2 Corinthians 1:24)
Becoming a Christian is finding a joy that makes you willing to forsake everything.
“God commands our joy both for our good and for his glory.”
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. (Matthew 13:44)
Joy is nourished and sustained by the word of God in the Bible
The precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart. (Psalm 19:8)
Joy will overtake all sorrow for those who trust Christ.
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy! (Psalm 126:5)
Weeping may tarry for the night,
but joy comes with the morning. (Psalm 30:5b)
God himself is our joy.
Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God my exceeding joy. (Psalm 43:4)
You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
Joy in God outstrips all earthly joy.
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound. (Psalm 4:7)
If your joy is in God, no one can take your joy from you.
You have sorrow now, but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. (John 16:22)
God calls all nations and peoples to join in the joy he offers to all who believe. No racism. No ethnocentrism.
Let the nations be glad and sing for joy. (Psalm 67:4)
Shout for joy to God, all the earth. (Psalm 66:1)
The whole Christian message from beginning to end is good news of great joy.
And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10)
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (Isaiah 51:11)
When we meet Christ at his second coming we will enter into his indestructible joy.
His master said to him, “Well done, good and faithful servant. . . . Enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)
Joy Isn’t Optional
Perhaps most shocking to me in 1968 was the simple and obvious observation that this joy in God is commanded. You see it on the second page of the booklet:
Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous!
Praise befits the upright. (Psalm 33:1)
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11)
It’s commanded because what is at stake is not just our joy but the glory of God, the honor and reputation of God. If we do not rejoice in God — if God is not our treasure and our delight and our satisfaction, then he his dishonored. His glory is belittled. His reputation is tarnished. Therefore, God commands our joy both for our good and for his glory.
“God is the origin of all things and the measure of all things and the goal of all things.”
That discovery helped me understand the central message of Christianity, the gospel — the good news — of Jesus Christ. And that’s what this little booklet, Quest for Joy, is meant to do: to give a summary of the Christian gospel and how it saves sinners and gives everlasting joy.
It’s dangerous to try to put the ocean in a raindrop — to try to put God’s righteousness and love in booklet. But I think it is not only dangerous, it is loving, and it is necessary. God did it once. He put his infinite self in a single human being, Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:9). This was far more amazing than putting the an ocean in a raindrop. And it was love. Because he was human as well as God, he could die for our own sins. But many did not recognize God in him. And I risk many not seeing the gospel in this little booklet. And my risk is great because I am not God and I am not infallible. But I do love you and want you to see what God has done to save you.
So would you walk with me through this booklet? If you are not a believer in Jesus, simply try to be open to what God might show about himself and yourself, and ask him to confirm to you what is true and protect you from what is not. If you are a believer, refresh what you have built your life on, and prepare to share the best news in the world by this little booklet if God leads you to use it. And may the risen Christ on this Easter Sunday be honored! Consider the first two Biblical Truths together:
Biblical Truth #1: God created us for his glory.
Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the ear . . . whom I created for my glory. (Isaiah 43:6–7)
Biblical Truth #2: every human should live for God’s glory.
So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
These are almost the same, aren’t they? What’s the difference? Why does it matter to have two pages instead of collapsing them into one? This difference is that truth #1 speaks of God’s design, and truth #2 speaks of our duty. Keeping them separate and putting them in this order says something very crucial about reality. If we don’t hear it, we will probably not see the gospel as the precious news that it is. The gruesome death of Christ will probably seem like a gross overreaction. The crucial point is that God is the origin of all things and the measure of all things and the goal of all things. And the universe is all about God.
My seven-year-old Talitha and I went on our Saturday date yesterday to the Arby’s down on Lake Street for lunch. As we turned off of Hiawatha there was a blue van in front of us, and I said to Talitha: “I don’t like that bumper sticker.” She couldn’t see it from where she was so I read it to her: “It’s all about Me.” Capital M. That is why the gospel of Jesus is so hard for many to understand. It is rooted in a very different vision of reality. It is not all about us. It is all about God.
God designed us to live for his glory. This is all over the Bible. And it is, therefore, our life-calling and our duty to live for his glory. Test yourself: Does the love of God to you mean that he makes you the center, or does it mean that he gives you everlasting joy — at great cost to himself — of making him the center? That is what you were made for. That would be your joy and that would be his glory.
Then consider the next two Biblical Truths together.
Biblical Truth #3: all of us have failed to glorify God as we should.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
Biblical Truth #4: all of us are subject to God’s just condemnation.
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23)
These, too, could be combined into one page, couldn’t they, just like the first two? We could say, “Because we are all sinners, we deserve God’s condemnation — we deserve punishment.” But something crucial would be lost if we said it that way. What would be lost is the emphasis in truth #3 that sin is not mainly the way we have treated people, but the way we have treated God.
The bumper sticker would be wrong even if it meant, “My sin is all about Me.” God is the center of his own design in creation. God is the center of our duty as creatures. And God is the center of what it means to be sinners: it means, as Romans 3:23 says, to fall short of the glory of God, that is, to prefer and enjoy some other greatness to God’s greatness. Sin is first and foremost about how we treat God, not other people.
We will never make sense out of the horror of hell or the bloody cross of Christ if we do not feel the weight of sin as an insult to God. Sin is not just man abusing man. It is mainly man abusing God. Man rejecting God. Man ignoring God. Man preferring other things to God. And therefore man belittling God. This is the ultimate outrage in the universe. We must feel this if the terrible punishment of truth #4 is not going to seem unjust.
We have all treated God with contempt, and his wrath is coming on us. That is our biggest problem. Bigger than the economy. Bigger than international relations with Iraq or North Korea. Bigger than the difficulties of marriage or the painful cancer. This is what the Christian gospel is meant to remedy first and mainly. How can we be saved from God’s just judgment? There are many other wonderful effects of the gospel! But this is crucial, and others are based on it.
Now the gospel. Let’s consider the last two Biblical Truths together.
Biblical Truth #5: God sent his only son Jesus to provide eternal life and joy.
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. (1 Timothy 1:15)
Biblical Truth #6: the benefits purchased by the death of Christ belong to those who repent and trust him.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out. (Acts 3:19)
Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved. (Acts 16:31)
And again we could combine these two pages. We could say: What is the remedy for sin and guilt and condemnation? Answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” But that would be profoundly incomplete answer! If you are drowning, the remedy is not just your cry for help; it is lifeguards and rescue lines and (if necessary) artificial respiration. The cry for help just gets you connected with the saving work. If you are having a heart attack, your call to 911 is not your main remedy. It’s ambulances and paramedics and CPR and nurses and surgeons and medicines. The 911 call is just the connection to the saving work.
“Our faith is not the basis for our salvation. Christ is the basis of our salvation.”
That’s the way it is with repenting of your sin and believing on Jesus (truth #6). That’s your connection with the saving work of God in Christ. Christ did something to save us two thousand years ago. He came, he lived a perfect life as the Son of God, and he died as a substitute in the place of all who will trust him. 1 Peter 3:18: “Christ suffered once for sin, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” Our faith is not the basis for our salvation. It connects us to the basis of our salvation. Christ is the basis of our salvation.
His death and condemnation in the place of our condemnation, his perfect righteousness in the place of our sin and imperfection, and his resurrection to validate and secure our salvation and our joy forever and ever. The Bible says, “And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. . . . But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20). Because he died for us and rose again, all who trust him have everlasting life and ever-increasing joy.
Trust him with your life. Trust him with your marriage or your singleness. Trust him with your business and your financial situation. Trust him with your health. And, underneath all these, trust him with your sin and your guilt and your fear. He has already acted to save. It is finished. He has died, and he has risen. And his salvation can be yours by faith in him. And when it is, then will come to pass the fulfillment of why you were made: God’s glory reflected in your joy forever.