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Monday, June 11, 2012

Christian Joy: a fruit of the Spirit (Matthew 13.44, Luke 15.8-10)

Sermon by: Robert Austell
June 10, 2012
Some Music Used
Prelude: "Ode to Joy" (Beethoven/arr. Paul Manz)
Hymn of Praise: "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" (ODE TO JOY)
Song of Praise: "Trading My Sorrows" (Evans)
 Response to the Word: "When I Think About the Lord" [youth worship team] (Shane Barnard)

Offering of Music: "God Has Smiled on Me" (arr. White, Ingram)
Song of Sending: "Joy to the World" (ANTIOCH, arr. Austell)

Postlude: "Joy to the World!" (Anna Laura Page)

Christian Joy: a fruit of the Spirit
Text: Matthew 13:44; Luke 15:8-10

(download) **Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes - search for "Good Shepherd Sermons or Robert Austell"**

Last week we began our summer series on the “fruit of the Spirit” – qualities or characteristics God grows in those who love and trust Him.  The image is that God’s Spirit abides with us, nourishing us like water to a plant or tree, and out of that nourishment we bear fruit.  Each week we will consider one of these spiritual traits and look to see how Jesus explained or demonstrated them in his own life.  I will also remind you each week that the purpose of God’s Spirit abiding with us and nourishing us to bear fruit is that we might serve as witnesses in the world to God’s character and purpose. (Acts 1:8)

The first list we are looking at comes from Galatians 5:22-23, which you heard in the call to worship.  We began last week with love, seeing that Christian love is a choice to love God with all we are and all we’ve got; it also is lived out horizontally in loving our neighbor and even in loving our enemy. 

This week we turn to joy and we’ll look at two short teachings by Jesus to try to understand what joy is and where it comes from. 

Secret Treasure (Matthew 13:44)

So this first teaching is on the Kingdom of Heaven, which is one of the subjects Jesus taught on most frequently.  Jesus offered many, many metaphors to help his hearers understand the Kingdom of Heaven – what it is like, when it is coming, and more.

In this verse Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field.  It is something not apparent or obvious to everyone, but something that someone can discover.  This is one of the common themes in Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom – for now it is hidden; one day it will be clearly known and seen.

Well in this teaching, the man does not own the field; he does not have what is necessary to access the treasure that is the Kingdom.  So he goes and sells all that he has in order to buy the field and gain the treasure.  There is an interesting overlap between real-life and the metaphor here, because one of the things Jesus also taught about frequently was the difficulty of being wealthy and following him.  There were times when he literally told people to sell all they had and follow him.  So, this teaching is not just pointing to the relative value of the Kingdom of Heaven compared to our earthly wealth; it is also indicating what kind of sacrifice and commitment is necessary in real life to gain the Kingdom.  In fact, releasing the hold of money and wealth over us may be one practical application.

But all that is simply context for what I want to focus on today.  Did you hear the word ‘joy’ in that verse?  It’s what motivates this radical act of faith to sell everything to gain the Kingdom.  Listen again: “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from JOY over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”  It’s not greed or trickery that motivates the action, it is joy!

What could make someone forsake all else and run to Jesus Christ?  Joy… not the answer any of us might have thought of first.

So ponder that for a bit.  What is joy that it might lead someone to make the kind of sacrifice and commitment described in this teaching of Jesus? 

Lost and Found (Luke 15:8-10)

In the parable in Luke, Jesus is teaching about God’s interest in lost people.  Like the shepherd with one lost sheep, the woman with one lost coin, and the father with one prodigal/lost son, God does not just focus on the found ones, but seeks, welcomes, and rejoices over the lost being found.

In this middle of those three lost/found parables, a woman has lost one of her ten silver coins.  Jesus is making the point that she doesn’t just give up on such a precious thing, but lights a lamp, sweeps the whole house, and searches carefully until she finds it.  What a great and encouraging picture of God who does not abandon us to our disobedience and folly, but comes after us with loving intent! 

I remember preaching through the three lost/found parables a number of years ago.  In addition to what would have been a startling picture of a God who seeks the lost, each one ended with an even more surprising teaching on joy.  Each time the lost were found, there was an outburst of joy.

Look at verse nine: “When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!’ That’s the punch line of that parable – that God isn’t just a hoarder who must set everything in place; God is a relational, loving Father who grieves our lostness and celebrates our redemption. 

Jesus connects the parable to reality in verse ten: “In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

And here’s the connection to Pentecost and our Holy Spirit witness to the watching world.  In the parable, the woman calls together friends and neighbors to celebrate.  God’s character, intentional seeking, and celebrative joy are not just internal, but part of God’s public character and our witness to Him.  When we join in reaching out to those who struggle with the darkness, when we celebrate God’s love and redemption in Christ, we are joining in the public party of God’s goodness.  That is our being a witness.

So again, ponder that for a bit.  What is joy that it is focused on someone lost to God being found?  What does that have to do with me? 

Christian Joy

I think most people’s quick-off-the-cuff definition of joy is roughly equivalent to being “happy.”  So if a Christian is supposed to be characterized by joy then they must be happy all the time.  I just don’t see that anywhere in Scripture.

Rather, joy is used in the Bible to describe people who are celebrating what God is doing.  That may be in their own lives, but likely involves the lives of others.  Many times, joy is in the context of suffering.  How can that be?  Well, what we heard today is that joy is tied to sacrifice and commitment in following Jesus Christ.  We heard that joy is focused on the lost being found and redeemed in love.  That does make it entirely possible that one could know joy in the midst of struggle or suffering. 

And as we remember that the spiritual fruits are intended to serve as a witness to God at work in the world, what could speak more clearly than someone, particularly in the midst of struggle or suffering, celebrating what God is doing… celebrating God’s salvation, pursuing love, and intentional grace.  Joy in that context doesn’t have to be summoned out of our own happiness, but out of God’s faithfulness.  And that fruit bears a sweet, sweet taste in a dry and dusty land.

What is the starting place for Christian joy?  Like love, joy is rooted first in God, then in neighbor.  If we focus on ourselves and feeling happy, we’ll miss the point entirely.  It is not what kind of day you are having or which side of the bed you woke up on.  It begins entirely in the character and work of God.  And God’s redeeming love is something that can lift our eyes and spirits in any circumstance as we ponder what God has done and is doing around us.  Rejoice in the Lord, and again I say, “Rejoice!”  Amen.

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