“The Joy of Jesus” (Luke 10:21-24)
Our theme for this midweek Lenten series is “A Little Lenten Lukan Joy.” We’ve been looking at the passages in the Gospel of Luke where the words “joy” or “rejoice” occur. And in most of those places, we find the people around Jesus rejoicing, or they are told by Jesus to rejoice.
For instance, when we talked about “The Joy of Christmas,” we saw that the people around Jesus were rejoicing as they anticipated or heard about his birth. John the Baptist, even before his own birth, leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when he heard the sound of Mary’s greeting. Mary sang for joy in her song the Magnificat, as she pondered the great things God was doing for her and for his people by bringing the Christ child into the world: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.” Upon the birth of Christ, the angel that appeared to the shepherds announced: “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy. For unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” There is much joy for these people who are either anticipating or hearing about the birth of Christ.
And then there are those places in Luke where Jesus tells people to rejoice. Under “The Joy of Persecution,” we heard Jesus tell his disciples that when they are persecuted on account of the Son of Man–that is, when they’re persecuted precisely for being Jesus’ disciples–that they are really blessed and they can even rejoice: “Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for great is your reward in heaven.”
Then last week, under “The Joy of Names Written in Heaven,” we saw the seventy-two disciples coming back rejoicing because the demons were subject to them. But Jesus tells them that, more than the work they are able to do for God, an even greater cause for joy is the work God has already done for them: “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”
So throughout this series, we’ve seen in Luke’s gospel lots of joy for lots of the people around Jesus. But what about Jesus himself? Does he ever get to rejoice? Does he have any cause for joy? That’s what we turn our attention to now, as we consider “The Joy of Jesus.”
You know, I don’t think we think very much about Jesus as having joy. It’s almost like we think Jesus is immune to joy. Joy is an emotion, and Jesus–well, he’s the Son of God! Can the Son of God even experience emotion? Is joy something that Jesus is unable to feel? Would that be sinful if he did?
Oh, no, far from it. God created man with a psyche, with a soul, able to experience emotions. Emotions are God’s idea. He designed us to have them. It’s part of being made in the image of God, for God himself is described in the Bible as having feelings: joy, sadness, anger, loving-kindness. And so God created man to be moved with emotion.
Now of course sin entered the picture–we all fell into sin–and the whole image of God in us became corrupted, emotion included. Righteous anger was turned to sinful hate. Love became confused with lust. Joy could easily be confused with the gratification of our selfish desires. All of our emotions became stained with sin.
But emotion per se is not sinful. To feel real joy–this is a good thing, it is a divine gift, and it is also very human, in the best sense of the term. And the biblical teaching of the incarnation tells us that the Son of God came down from heaven “and was made man.” Fully divine, fully human, in the one person, our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus experienced the full range of human emotions, all without sin.
And so Jesus wept. He laughed. He was moved with compassion. He felt righteous anger. He experienced sorrow and joy, both. And so when we ask the question, “Did Jesus feel the emotion of joy?” the answer is a very positive “Yes!”
Joyous Jesus. Not only the people around him, but also our Lord himself could rejoice. And by the way, we’ve already seen that in our series so far. In the first week of this series, under “The Joy of Repentance,” recall that Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. And the point in both of those stories is that when the person searching for the thing that was lost eventually finds what they were looking for, the reaction is to rejoice and to invite the friends and neighbors to join in: “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep, or my coin, that was lost.” “Just so,” Jesus tells us in explaining those parables, “there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents.”
Then this past Sunday, Jesus stepped it up a notch with the parable of the prodigal son. When the lost son comes home, the father holds a big party to celebrate. There is music and dancing. As the father in the story says to the older son, “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.”
So if you want to know what gets Jesus excited, what gives him joy, it is in finding lost sinners and bringing them back home to God. Making spiritually dead people alive–this is what causes Jesus to rejoice.
And we see that again in our reading tonight from Luke 10. These are the verses that come immediately after the text we heard last week, which ended with Jesus telling the seventy-two, “Rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Right after that–“in that same hour,” it says–Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit.” Remember that at his baptism Jesus had been anointed with the Holy Spirit. So now, in connection with the Holy Spirit, Jesus rejoices. But what was giving him joy? Jesus tells us, as he prays to the Father: “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”
Here Jesus is rejoicing over the fact that it is the Father’s will to reveal “these things” to “little children.” The “little children” would be Jesus’ disciples. These fishermen and tax collectors and the like were not coming to God with all their vaunted knowledge and expertise. It was the scribes and Pharisees who in their pride thought they were so wise and understanding. But God had hidden these things from them. Instead, it is to those who come humbly before God, like little children–it is to them that the Father reveals these things.
How about you? How will you come before God? Do you think you are so wise and understanding in yourself that you have no need to be given anything? Or do you know your need? Will you come before God as a little child, bringing nothing in your empty hands; instead, being ready to be given to? It is to “little children,” as Jesus calls them, that God reveals these things.
So what are the “these things” that Jesus is talking about? Well, they’re things like knowing who Jesus is and being able to confess him as the Christ, the Son of the living God. “These things” include knowing that our names are written in heaven, in the book of life, because of Christ. These are the things that the Father has revealed to us, his little children. And Jesus rejoices, he’s filled with joy, because God has done this work of revealing the gospel to us.
Really, this work of revealing the gospel to us, of giving us the gift of saving faith–this is a work that all three persons of the Trinity share in. Jesus has just praised the Father for doing this revealing. And then he goes on to say: “All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”
So the Father reveals the Son to us. And the Son reveals the Father to us. It works both ways. And we can figure the Holy Spirit is involved in there, too. The Holy Spirit can be said to create and nourish faith in our hearts through the gospel, through the means of grace. So all three persons of the Trinity are active and involved in making God and his salvation known to us. This is how divine revelation works. And, again, here in our text, this is what gives Jesus great joy: that people who don’t know God come to know God. The revelation of “these things” to “little children” is Jesus’ great cause for joy.
The joy of Jesus. This is what gets him going. Indeed, it is what gets him going to the cross, to face the shame and suffering he would endure there. Think of the Gradual for the season of Lent, which we’ve being using every Sunday: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” Yes, it was for the joy set before him, the joy lying before him precisely in that path, the way of the cross, that Christ was willing to go forth as the Lamb of God, to suffer and die for the sins of the world. It was for the joy of fulfilling the Father’s will, it was for the joy of winning your salvation, that Christ did this. God’s own Son became the man of sorrows, in order to rejoice over you as God’s redeemed children, rescued from death and hell, alive to God in righteousness, gathered unto God and his family forever.
Do you want to know what gets Jesus jazzed? It’s just this: The joy of Jesus is in bringing you from death to life and in God revealing this to you, so that you would know this with the surety of faith. This gives Jesus great joy. And if Jesus is rejoicing over these things, little children, I guess we can too.