The Christian life is a serious business but it is also a joyful one. One of the shortest chapters in the Bible – Isaiah 12 – helps us to see this.
This wonderful book has often been referred to as ‘the Gospel of Isaiah’ because it says so much about Christ and the gospel age.
Isaiah 11 speaks clearly of the coming Messiah and of his kingdom of peace and blessing, and chapter 12 continues the theme. It presents us with four reasons for being joyful.
Firstly, there is joy because God’s anger has been turned aside (v. 1). An angry God is not a popular God, of course. Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that God is angry with sinners and will punish them unless they repent.
The prophet had known God’s anger, but now rejoices because it ‘is turned aside’. How did that happen? We have sudden changes of mood, but God is always the same. However, there was good reason for God’s anger to turn aside.
This is the doctrine of propitiation. Sadly this word has disappeared from many modern translations of the Bible. It means appeasement: the turning aside of wrath. Isaiah 12 does not explain how God has been appeased, but Isaiah 53 does! That well-known chapter describes the work of Christ upon the cross.
The only reason God’s wrath can be turned aside is because of Christ’s atoning death. He bore our sins and took God’s punishment for them. If we truly believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then God is propitiated towards us, his anger is turned aside.
He did not stop being angry with sinners, but his anger was diverted to his own Son. God’s anger has ceased towards those who trust in Christ. Instead of an angry countenance, there is a smile: ‘you comfort me,’ Isaiah tells the Lord. Instead of the threat of judgement, there is the promise of his blessing and goodwill.
We ourselves can do nothing to appease God’s anger, but because Christ died, our sins are forgiven. Isn’t that cause for joy? It certainly was for David: ‘Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered’ (Psalm 32:1).
Secondly, there is joy because God is our salvation (v. 2). Not only is God no longer angry with us, but he has given his people rich blessings.
Positively, those who believe in Christ are justified, that is, declared righteous by God. He sees us clothed in Christ’s righteousness – as righteous as Christ himself. What a marvellous truth! Our sins are no longer counted against us: ‘Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him’ (Psalm 32:2).
Next, we are brought into God’s family. He becomes our Father, for he has sent the Spirit of adoption into our hearts crying ‘Abba, Father!’ And ‘the Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs’ (Romans 8:15-16).
We are his children, having all the privileges that go along with that – his care, protection, provision, guidance and, finally, his glory. Is not that good cause for joy?
Focusing on Christ
Not only does God give us salvation – he is our salvation: ‘the Lord is my strength and my song; he also has become my salvation’ (Isaiah 12:2). In New Testament terms, Christ is our salvation.
We are in him, that is, united to him. Can you rejoice that Christ is your salvation? Do you? If we are honest, although we know in theory that we ought to be joyful, we are often the very opposite.
We have many trials, and while we may be stoic, we are not often joyful. The problem is that we focus on the trials and they depress us. Or seek escape in worldly things that cannot make us happy.
Joy does not mean wearing a perpetual big grin. Jesus was the most joyful person who ever lived, yet he is described as ‘a man of sorrows’ (Isaiah 53:3). He was sometimes angry and sometimes sad (Mark 3:5; John 11:33-35). His joy was inward, though it must often have shown.
Joy does not exclude tears. But if we contemplate the blessings of salvation we will rejoice in the Lord and in his grace to us.
Wells of salvation
Thirdly, there is joy because of the experience of salvation (v. 3). When Isaiah says: ‘you will draw water from the wells of salvation’, he is not using a strange figure. Water is necessary for life and refreshment. In the New Testament, it is used to picture the Holy Spirit (John 4:14; 7:37-38; Revelation 22:1).
But how do we draw that water? The figure suggests both an available source (wells) and some human activity (drawing) to partake of it. While salvation is given to us sovereignly by God, we are heavily involved in Christian experience.
God has given us wells to draw from – the means of grace. But we must be faithful in drawing the water, otherwise we will neither grow nor be healthy spiritually.
The Bible is our main source – a wonderful source of strength and help. To meditate on God’s Word brings joy. David found great delight in God’s Word (Psalm 119:111), even though his ‘Bible’ consisted of little more than the books of Moses. How much more we have to delight our souls!
Prayer is another well. When we take time to draw near to God, our hearts are filled with joy. Charlotte Elliott captures the idea in her hymn:
My God is any hour so sweet,
From blush of morn to evening star,
As that which calls us to thy feet –
The hour of prayer.
The ‘water’ we draw is, of course, the Holy Spirit ‘who was given to us’ (Romans 5:5), and we are commanded to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). To be so filled brings unspeakable joy.
There is joy in the privilege of making God known to others: ‘Cry out and shout, O inhabitants of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in your midst’ (vv. 4-6). God’s people will tell others – the nations, what God has done for them.
Their joy will, in itself, be a testimony. There is little lasting joy in the world. When people see that Christians are joyful even in trials, they will wonder why and begin to ask questions.
Most of us are fearful of witnessing, and when we do we are often apologetic. But if we demonstrated real joy and were asked about it, we could witness from a strong position. Someone who loves soccer and sees their team win a big game has no difficulty talking about it!
Every service we do for the Lord, whether teaching, performing a practical duty, or anything else, should bring us joy. If we find our work in the church a bit of a grind, we need to remind ourselves that we are serving the King of kings.
Christians should be joyful people. Old Testament believers, who had less light and fewer privileges than we do, were commanded to rejoice in the Lord.
We have the same commands, for example: ‘Rejoice in the Lord always’ (Philippians 4:4). That is an imperative. It is something we are commanded to do, not occasionally but always.
We can be guilty of dividing up God’s commands. For example we read: ‘You shall not murder’. We know that’s a big one. We must obey that. But when it comes to commands like: ‘Be joyful always’ or: ‘Pray continually’ (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17), we somehow put them in a different category.
When we train our children we insist on obedience, whatever the command. Whether it is, ‘Don’t hit your sister’ or ‘Don’t talk with your mouth full’, they must obey; otherwise our authority is undermined.
So it is with God’s commands. The most important thing is the greatness of the one who gives the command, and our God commands us to rejoice.
Trials are no excuse
You may say, ‘But you don’t know how many trials I have to endure’. But James says: ‘Count it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds’ (James 1:2). Was James a masochist?
No, but the early Christians rejoiced even in their trials. The martyrs went to face the lions singing hymns. In later centuries people went to the stake or the gallows with joy – read Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. How did they do it?
Obviously we can’t just press a button that says ‘joy’. Emotions are controlled by the mind. If I tell you a story about a child who was abducted and murdered, you would feel anger rise within your heart.
In the same way, if we are to rejoice we must focus our thoughts on Christ and the rich blessings we have in him. If we take time to consider these things we will know the joy of the Lord, even in our trials.
Our trials will cease, but the blessings of salvation never end. Our perfect righteousness in Christ can never be taken away. The Holy Spirit will never leave us. We will never cease to be children of God.
Above all, nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:39). With such rich blessings, how can we fail to be joyful?