We often use emoticons in our text messages, emails, and status updates to convey a mood for whatever we’re writing. Often, we’ll use a smiley face to lighten the mood, to show happiness in something we’re sharing. Can we then put a smiley face on the cross? Are we drifting toward simply being a feel-good religion, evangelizing a God who will commiserate with us when we do things that fulfill self-interest. Instead of having a Father in Heaven, do we encourage the image of a Grandfather who just wants to spoil His grandkids and see the young people enjoy themselves.
What we have to do is balance the joyful Christian life and the serious commitment required in the face of the cross. In avoiding a feel-good faith, we may go to an extreme of negativity, demonstrating joyless lives. Where is the balance? There must be a sense of sorrow and remorse for our sins that sent Jesus to His death upon a cross. He bears the guilt we should be burdened under, and he takes our sorrow upon Himself so we can have joy.
Finding Joy in the Cross
Matthew 13:8-23 records Jesus explaining his parable about a sower planting seeds. Verses 20-21 explains that struggles, sorrow, and trials can remove God’s word from our hearts, and Jesus says we should receive that word with joy. In verse 44, Jesus goes on to compare God’s kingdom to a treasure, found and obtained in joy. Acts 8:8 describes the joy people had in receiving God’s word, even amidst persecution, and verse 39 shows a new convert departing his conversion rejoicing. Finally, Acts 13:48 shows Gentiles rejoicing that the gospel has been made available to them.
Salvation comes from the cross. Guilt, sorrow, and sin are removed forever. Paul, in Romans 10:17-18, calls God’s kingdom one of righteousness, peace, and joy. Where sorrow and guilt may have initially brought us to the cross for salvation, our lives should be ones of joy after our redemption. Instead of walking away from our rebirth in Christ with bitterness over the difficulties we will face in our service to Christ, we should be like the eunuch who goes away rejoicing.
Romans 5:5-13 reminds us of the peace and comfort found in God, concluding that we should be filled with peace and joy from God. Galatians 5 even enumerates joy as one of the fruits of the spirit. Philippians 3:1 simply calls on us to rejoice in the Lord. Paul repeats this in Philippians 4:4. This is a quality of character we should possess and that others should see in us.
Placing Joy in the Eternal
There are many things in this life that are distressing, sad, and unfulfilling. These are not the things in which we should rejoice. We search for joy in this world. We are looking in the wrong place. Instead, we rejoice in the love, the hope, the salvation, the promises we have in our God. Even if our life circumstances bring no joy, we can always place hope in the eternal promises of our Father.
We should also be taking joy in our brothers and sisters in Christ. Remember Paul’s attitude toward Titus in II Corinthians 7:13, rejoicing in Titus’ presence and in the refreshment he had among the congregation at Corinth. In I Thessalonians 2:20, Paul calls that congregation a glory and a joy, and Philippians 4:1 expresses the joy Paul takes in his brethren. What have we done to bring joy to our brothers and sisters in Christ? Joy is a characteristic we possess, and it is a thing we give to others.
Ultimately, our joy is in the hope of Heaven. Hebrews 12:1-2 reminds us of the endurance Jesus had in the face of the joy set before Him. We have that same hope. We have that same joy. Bringing joy to our Christian lives does not mean sugar-coating the message of God. We are not putting a smiley face on the cross, but we should understand the great things provided us and promised us in God, living joyfully for the hope set before us. Once we fully commit ourselves to walking in Christ’s footsteps, we can take joy in the knowledge of where that path leads if we stay focused on the goal.
lesson by Tim Smelser