7. The joy of the Lord
Jesus’ parable of ‘the talents’ (Matthew 25: 14-30) demonstrates that the way we choose to live now, relates to where we will spend eternity.
The servants that are ‘good and faithful’ are handsomely rewarded, while the ‘unprofitable servant’, who sits on his hands, loses everything he had. It is a picture of faith and unbelief, and their consequences in time and eternity.
The stark realities of the last judgement are set before us. But there is also a jewel here — the Lord’s words to the faithful servants: ‘Enter into the joy of your Lord’ (vv. 21, 23).
Notice that the joy gained is not ours but the Lord’s. This opens up a startling and profound truth — the believer’s happiness in heaven is not just his own sense of fulfilment, but participation in the happiness of God himself.
Joy from the Lord
What is the Lord’s joy? It is first his joy in himself. The God who ‘is love’ (1 John 4:8) is possessed of ‘fulness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11). It is also his joy in loving — and saving to himself (Luke 15:10) — a people who were ‘not a people’ (1 Peter 2:10).
He ‘delights’ in his people and in their godliness (Numbers 14:8; Deuteronomy 10:15; Proverbs 11:1,20; 12:22). He enjoys their love for him and their fellowship with him in worship and prayer (Proverbs 15:8; Jeremiah 9:24). Furthermore, this joy comes from union with Christ. It is the joy of one to whom they bear a personal relationship by a living faith.
What does it mean to ‘enter’ the Lord’s joy? Thomas Boston observes that our joy in heaven will be ‘pure and unmixed, without any dregs of sorrow; nor slight and momentary, but solid and everlasting, without interruption’.
He continues: ‘joy shall not only enter into us, but we shall enter into it, and swim forever in an ocean of joy, where we shall see nothing but joy wherever we turn … Happy they that now sow in tears, which will spring up in joy in heaven, and will encircle their heads with a weight of glory’.
The psalmist’s ‘fulness of joy’ (Psalm 16:11) is full not just because it fills us, but because it is God’s joy. He offers three vital insights into heaven.
1. Heaven is joyous because God is there. It is, writes Edward Donnelly, ‘above all … a place of happiness’. David begins Psalm 16 with a prayer for preservation but quickly rises to a glorious crescendo celebrating the joy of heaven: ‘In your presence is fulness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore’ (Psalm 16:11).
2. Heaven is joyous because God saves lost and dead people. David anticipates being there, alive from the dead: ‘You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow your Holy One to see corruption’ (Psalm 16:10).
The apostle Peter, preaching on the day of Pentecost, shows that David was here speaking ultimately of Christ and the resurrection (Acts 2:25-33). Nevertheless it was and is all about how sinners are saved by God’s grace from spiritual and physical death.
Unlike Jesus, we certainly do see corruption. But we will be raised to incorruptible glory in him (1 Corinthians 15:42-44).
3. Heaven is every believer’s present happiness. David’s ‘heart is glad’, his ‘glory rejoices’ and his ‘flesh also will rest in hope’. The hope of heaven energises his daily life. Christians already enjoy something of heaven!
We already know the difference between ‘treasures on earth’ and ‘treasures in heaven’ (Matthew 6:19-20), but not the fulness of God’s blessings. Presently, we experience great comfort from the Lord — ‘the oil of joy for mourning’ and ‘the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness’ (Isaiah 61:3). But only in heaven will there be ‘no more tears’ (Revelation 21:4).
Now, ‘we behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord’ (2 Corinthians 3:18). But only in heaven will we see Jesus ‘face to face’ (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Joy from now on
We enter into the joy of the Lord by exercising faith in Jesus Christ. Christians should be the happiest people in the world, since they know what it is to be saved. They should be full of love and thanksgiving to the Lord who bought them with his death on the cross.
Christians are often sad when they see widespread blasphemy against God and the shipwreck of so many lives around them — whose present miseries are only a foretaste of worse to come, if they never turn to the Lord.
So it is good and necessary to remember to ‘rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4). How can we do this? Let me suggest four ways.
1. Be heavenly-minded. We will never be heavenly-minded until our minds dwell on heavenly things (Colossians 3:1-4). Richard Baxter exhorts: ‘Beloved friends, if we would but try this life with God, and would but keep these hearts above, what a spring of joy would be within us, and all our graces be fresh and green! How would the face of our souls be changed, and all that is within us rejoice … O Christian, get above: believe it, that region is warmer than this below’ (The Saints’ Everlasting Rest, p. 266).
2. Pray for more light
‘Can you have comforts from God,’ continues Baxter, ‘and never think of him? Can heaven rejoice when you think not on it?’
In Psalm 4, David reflects on how the Lord answers prayer, but notes that many still complain: ‘Who will show us any good?’ He answers this question by his own example.
First comes a prayer: ‘Lord, lift up the light of your countenance upon us’. Secondly, he testifies to his own experience of God’s grace: ‘You have put gladness in my heart’. Thirdly, he confesses his trust in the Lord: ‘I will both lie down in peace and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety’ (vv. 7-8).
People often complain about ‘the hand life has dealt them’. But will they turn to the Lord for salvation? Do they want to have hearts gladdened by his grace? If not, what expectation can they have of peace and safety, now or in eternity?
3. Exercise faith.
‘Without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him’ (Hebrews 11:6).
If we want real joy, we must exercise real faith. Paul prays: ‘Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 15:13).
Without ‘believing’ there can be no ‘joy and peace’. Conversely, a living faith bears fruit, through the Spirit’s ministry in our hearts. Joy and peace rise to an overflowing hope.
It is ‘by faith’ in Jesus Christ — and through him alone — that we ‘have access … into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Romans 5:1-2).
Is that a description of your actual relationship to Christ? Commitment, passion and enthusiasm for the things of God? Anything less is a dangerous sham and will not bring a soul to heaven.
4. Devote yourself to rejoicing in the Lord. The Philippian Christians could ‘rejoice always’ because they have something about which to be joyful — salvation and the prospect of heaven.
There is much besides. Psalm 148 calls us to praise the Lord for just about everything he has made: the heavens, the heights, the angels, the stars, the weather and the diversity of animal life in the world.
But in the end the greatest cause for rejoicing is God himself. Psalm 148 continues: ‘Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted: his glory is above the earth and heaven. And he has exalted the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints — of the children of Israel, a people near to him’ (vv. 13-14).
Believers joy in the Lord, because they are his, and it exalts their spirits and enlivens their hope of glory. ‘Is not my assurance of being glorified one of these days,’ asks Baxter, ‘a sufficient ground of inexpressible joy?’ (SER, p. 315).
I fear that too many of us are more sad about dying and leaving this earth, than we are happy about going to heaven to be forever with the Lord.
Rejoicing always is a mandate from heaven, and it has heaven as its goal. It is the harbinger of our entrance into the joy of the Lord. And with it comes an unspoken invitation to share John’s vision and joy.
At the end of a long and fruitful life, and the ineffable insights of the Book of Revelation, he could say with joyous conviction: ‘Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus! The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen’ (Revelation 22:20-21