[A video of the sermon will be available on Monday on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/4409sspotswoodrdgordonsvilleva. A text of today's sermon is provided below.]
IT’S TIME FOR SOME JOY!
We’ve had a lot of bad news recently—a pandemic, murder in the streets, looting and rioting throughout the land. Now, we need something different. It’s time for a little JOY for a change. And you might wonder, “How can anyone have joy in times like theses?” Well, I was thinking about that the other day when I came across an acronym that reminds us about what JOY is all about. J-O-Y spells “joy” and each letter tells us how to get our priorities straight so that we can have true JOY in our lives. The “J” stands for putting JESUS first in our lives. The “O” stands for putting OTHERS before yourself. And the “Y” stands for putting YOURSELF last. So, this morning let’s use that J-O-Y acronym to the fullest to point us to the JOY that Jesus has in store for those will follow Him. But, does His JOY bring “happiness”? The answer may surprise you. So, let’s see.
We’ll start, naturally enough, with the letter “J” in J-O-Y that reminds us to put Jesus first in our lives. What is the scriptural basis supporting this concept? In Matthew 6:33, it tells us to: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. . .” (NIV) What does that mean—to seek “His kingdom and His righteousness”? Well, Colossians 1:13 teaches that God “has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.”(NIV) So if we seek His Kingdom, what we are really pursuing is Jesus Christ Himself. All other things, apart from Jesus, must take their place behind Him. Now, what are these other things? They include everything that we hold dear in a worldly sense. And what people generally hold dearest are the things that they want to do. For example, you will hear people say: “I wish that I could have been in Church today, but I had to ___________.” And you can fill in that blank with so many things: “I had to go to Walmart.” “I had to go fishing.” “I had to sleep late.” “I had to mow the lawn.” “I had a family picnic to attend to.” Now on that last one, some will say, “You just wait a minute preacher, family is family—and my family comes first.” Yeah, there are times that you just can’t help it and you do have to attend to family matters, personal emergencies and employment matters—even on Sundays. After all, Jesus said: “If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?” Luke 14:5 (NIV) He also said, 11 “ If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12 . . . Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:11-12 (NIV) The problem is that some people love to hone in on Scripture to excuse their laxness in following Christ—and so they point to those verses, but miss something else Jesus said. They tend to overlook Jesus’ statement to a would-be disciple that Jesus called to service only to have the man respond, “‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus told him, ‘Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.’” Matthew 8:18-22 (NIV) Now before you say that Jesus was being a little too harsh here, you have to understand what’s going on. If this man had been truthful, what he would have told Jesus was that he’d get around to following Jesus once he found the time—once it was a little more convenient to his busy schedule. How do we know that? Clearly, there was no father to bury. His father had not recently died. If his father had just died, any respectable Jewish son would have been back at home with his family making arrangements for the funeral, not away from home talking to a stranger. This excuse-maker might have just as easily said, “I’ll follow you later Jesus, but for right now I’ve got to shuck some corn”—to use a lame Homer Simpson excuse. If you want to have JOY in life, you have to put Jesus first on your timetable. That means Jesus has priority over your daily schedule and the things you’d like to do. That’s equally true regarding your material possessions.
You can’t put the pursuit of these worldly things ahead of your pursuit of Christ. That’s what Jesus meant when He said: “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (NLT2) Upon reflecting on these words of Jesus, Ron Graham, who is an Australian pastor, writes: “It seems to me that in Australia, these sayings of Jesus are among the hardest things to do; even if you wish to do them, our society doesn't want to let you. There is a constant push into the pursuit of material things.” If he thinks it’s bad in Australia, it’s a good thing that he doesn’t live here. Our society is probably ten times worse. But whether you are here in the U.S. or in Australia, or anywhere else in the world, you’ll never find true JOY until you put your material things behind you and put Jesus Christ first.
Alright, let’s move on to the “O” in J-O-Y. It’s the letter that reminds us to put OTHERS ahead of yourself. The Apostle Paul sets the tone on this by telling us that there is no better way to put others ahead of yourself than to imitate the behavior of Jesus: 3 “Don’t be selfish . . . Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. 4 Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing. 5 Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, 6 who, though He was God, did not demand and cling to His rights as God, 7 but laid aside His mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. 8 And He humbled Himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:3-8 (TLB) The death of the sinless Son of God on the cross for sinners like you and me is the ultimate example of putting others ahead of yourself. There are so many other passages (like the Parable of the Good Samaritan, for example) that teach us this crucial point. Jesus summed it up best when He said: “Do to others what you would have them do to you” Matthew 7:12 (NIV) and, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Luke 10:27 (NLT2) So, practice meeting other peoples’ needs—the needs not just of family members, friends and neighbors, but also the needs of strangers, aliens and enemies as well. We tend to forget that last one—to actually include “enemies” on that list. There is a bumper sticker that refers to Matthew 5:46. The bumper sticker reads: “When Jesus said, ‘Love your enemies,’ I think He probably meant don’t kill them.” Well, that’s true enough—and I am sure that bumper sticker communicates a twinge of sarcasm in those words. But, what Jesus said goes far beyond simply exercising restraint from killing our enemies. Actually, what Jesus said goes even farther than just loving your enemies. Rather, Jesus’ full command goes like this: 44 “But I say: Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! . . 46 If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much. 47 If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that. 48 But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:44, 46-48 (TLB)
What are the repercussions of this command from Jesus? If we take what Jesus is teaching here seriously, then we’d extend our generosity, our prayers and our goodwill to Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists—even to people like a policeman who killed a helpless man in the street, and even to those looters and rioters who react in senseless violence. And we should offer them Christ’s love, and pray for them—not because we condone their actions, but because by showing them Jesus’ love, we begin to reveal to them the path to a better way of life—the way to a more just world. We start to point them to that JOY that this sermon is all about. It’s the sermon that all of us need to preach everyday by the way we start putting other people ahead of ourselves.
I love the way that Tony Dungy, the former Super Bowl champion football coach, put it in a post last week: “Today we are a divided country. We’re divided racially, politically and socio-economically. And Satan is laughing at us because that is exactly what he wants. Dysfunction, mistrust and hatred help his kingdom flourish. Well, what is the answer then? I believe it has to start with those of us who claim to be Christians. We have to come to the forefront and demonstrate the qualities of the One we claim to follow, Jesus Christ. We can’t be silent. But we can’t go forward with judgmental, bitter spirits. We need to be proactive, but do it in the spirit of trying to help make things better. And it can’t be just the African-American churches. It has to be ALL churches taking a stand and saying ‘We are going to be on the forefront of meaningful dialogue and meaningful change.’ We have to be willing to speak the truth in love but we have to recognize that we are not fighting against other people. We are fighting against Satan and his kingdom of spiritual darkness.” If we are ever to point this nation back to the Kingdom of God and His JOY, and away from Satan’s kingdom of hate, then we need to follow Tony Dungy’s advice. Start putting the needs of others ahead of your own and know that “others” includes not just friends and family, but strangers and enemies as well.
Now, finally, consider the letter “Y” in the word JOY. The letter “Y” reminds us to put YOURSELF last. Now some would say that this is being redundant—that if we put Jesus first, and others second, then we must be last. But those thinking in that way miss the point. “Putting yourself last” isn’t a position—like third in line. No, it’s an attitude that we must adopt to be true followers of Jesus Christ. It’s an attitude necessary to experience His JOY. So what is this attitude? It is an attitude filled with LOVE! In fact, you can’t even achieve the “J” or the “O” in JOY, unless you have a certain kind of love. It is the kind of love that Paul described in his letter to the Corinthians. It is a love that “is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” 1 Corinthians 13:5 (NIV) Wow! What a country we could have if our political leaders on both sides of the aisle had that kind of love. And, it’s a fascinating concept: Love that is “not self-seeking”! What kind of love can that be? Well, it’s a love that “does not seek one’s own pleasure, profit, or honor.” It’s the kind of love you can’t have through your own efforts. The only way you can have it, and the only way that you will ever find any true JOY in your life, is to surrender your heart to Jesus, and allow the Holy Spirit to fill your heart with HIS LOVE.
So there you have it—we’ve covered all of the letters: The “J”, the “O”, and the “Y” of JOY. So, if you get your priorities straight—i.e., you learn to put Jesus first in your life, then you can start putting others ahead of yourself, and finally you put yourself last by understanding what true SPIRIT-FILLED LOVE is all about. In other words, if you do all of these things, then you will be HAPPY, right? Well, actually. In fact, the answer is an emphatic “NO!” “Now, wait a minute preacher, you just told me all of these things to live by, but now you are saying none of them will make me happy—what gives?” The question isn’t “what gives?” Rather, the question we need to ask is “Who gives?” And the answer to that question is: “It is God Who gives!” And what He gives to those who follow Him is JOY—not mere happiness. So what is the difference? Well, there is a big difference between having “JOY” in your life and just being merely “HAPPY”. The famous pastor of the early 1900’s, Oswald Chambers, said “Happiness depends on what happens; joy does not.”
Things that are happening now are certainly more difficult than anything that has happened in the recent past. We are faced with the perils of COVID-19. We are troubled by the injustice reflected in the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis followed by the senseless violence and looting nationwide. Let me give you some examples of what the Christian life of JOY looks like when faced with even more dire circumstances than these. What could be worse than the times we now face? And, if any such worse times have ever existed, then how could anyone have found any JOY in them? Well, consider the following examples.
Consider what was happening around the year 155 A.D. in the life of Polycarp, who was one of the fathers of the early Christian Church. At that time, Polycarp was one of the few remaining living students of the Apostle John. And when he was 86 years old, Polycarp was confronted by a Roman Proconsul. And this Roman leader threatened to throw him into a pit of wild animals unless he renounced his faith in Jesus Christ. So what was Polycarp’s response to this threat? He simply said: “Call them on! It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil.” He then indicated that he would rather be whisked away from the evils of this world and into the righteousness of God’s Kingdom, than to deny Christ. Now this took this Roman leader by surprise and about all he could come up with in reply was to day: “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” But, he really didn’t know what to say when Polycarp looked him in the eye and said: “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.” And Polycarp was then bound and burned at the stake. But before he died, this is what he said: “I give you thanks, Lord, that you count me worthy to be numbered among your martyrs, sharing the cup of Christ and the resurrection to eternal life, both of soul and body, through the immortality of the Holy Spirit.” Now when that Roman leader threatened to feed him to wild animals, or even to burn him at the stake, that didn’t make Polycarp happy—of course not. And yet, it didn’t steal his JOY and comfort in Christ either.
Or, take the case of two English Protestants by the names of Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley who met a similar fate during the English Reformation in the mid-1500’s. They too were confronted with the choice of renouncing their beliefs in Jesus or being burned alive. But as the flames around them were being kindled, Latimer turned to Ridley and said: “Be of good comfort, Master Ridley, and play the man; we shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace in England as shall never be put out.” It’s hard to “be of good comfort,” as Latimer put it, when facing deadly flames unless you have the JOY OF CHRIST in your heart. They had that kind of JOY—the kind that flames cannot melt or even singe.
Now, I know that these examples are extreme cases, so let me bring you closer to the present and think about a wonderful Christian speaker and writer named Tim Hansel. Tim was quite the athlete. In his younger days, he had played sports at Stanford University on a football scholarship. He was a real outdoorsman, an avid mountain climber, and a hiker of strenuous wilderness terrain. He formed a Christian ministry for young men in wilderness retreats where he taught them about the peace and joy of Jesus Christ. And he absolutely loved his outdoor ministries. But, then one day he had a serious fall while climbing that severely injured his back and ended any prospects of continuing that kind of ministry. And his back pain was incredibly intense, and remained that way for the rest of Tim’s life. As you might imagine, that did not make him happy. Still he never lost his JOY for life. And with that JOY, Tim dedicated his life to Christian writing and published twelve inspiring books. And, oddly enough, these books didn’t so much attract outdoorsmen as it did just ordinary people who were suffering from the pains and sorrows of life. And what was the core of his message in these books? Well, to use his own words, Tim’s message was for people to “CHOOSE JOY”. He explained: “Happiness is [just] a feeling.” It changes with your circumstances. [But,] “joy is an attitude. A posture. A position. A place.” And with that attitude of JOY, Tim continued to faithfully serve Christ, even in his pain.
Do you want that kind of JOY?—the kind that holds up no matter what awful things that you might be going through in life? Well, if you want JOY, you have to practice JOY by getting your priorities straight. Is Jesus in first place in your life? Can you give way to the needs of others, and move your own needs to the rear of the line? And if you do put yourself last, can you do it and still radiate the love of Christ that is not rude, or angry, or vengeful and certainly not self-seeking? If you can, you will be truly blessed with the JOY OF JESUS CHRIST!
A lot of very smart people have never learned that. They never understand that happiness is fleeting, but God’s love never fades, and the JOY He gives is lasting, no matter what your surrounding circumstances may be. That brilliant, original Wahoo—Thomas Jefferson—never learned that. Apparently that great university he created never taught him that. Jefferson wrote in the American Declaration of Independence that the “pursuit of happiness” was an “unalienable right” of every person. Poor Tom—he never realized who Jesus really is. And because of that, he never understood that it isn’t the “pursuit of happiness” that makes us free, but rather the pursuit of God—“Seek first His Kingdom” and, in so doing, come to know the lasting JOY OF JESUS CHRIST. Don’t you make the same fatal mistake as Tom did! Rather, take up the understanding of a man who never attended UVa or any other university for that matter—a man named David whose education began in the fields as a mere shepherd. And yet his wisdom exceeded all of those like Jefferson who ever lived. David spoke of the path that we really need to pursue when he said: “You [God] will show me the path that leads to life; Your presence fills me with JOY and brings me pleasure forever.” Psalm 16:11 (TEV) Yes—follow the path of true JOY in Jesus Christ that will sustain you—no matter what your circumstances may be!
Let us pray.
Forest Hill Baptist Church
June 7, 2020
Darvin Satterwhite, Pastor
©2020 All Rights Reserved
 Abernathy, David. Exegetical Summary of Matthew 1-16, An. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2013. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
 Lauren Seganos, “On the Bumper Sticker: When Jesus said ‘Love your enemies,’ I think he probably meant don’t kill them.” State of Formation, www.stateofformation.org. (March 13, 2014).
 Caleb Parke, “Tony Dungy implores Christians to ‘demonstrate the qualities’ of Jesus amid Floyd protests, riots.” Fox News, www.foxnews.com (June 2, 2020).
 Trail, Ronald. Exegetical Summary of 1 Corinthians 10-16, An. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2001, 2008. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
 Draper, Edythe. Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.
 Christian History Institute, “#103: Polycarp’s Martyrdom: The Martyrdom of Polycarp.” Translated by J.B. Lightfoot. Abridged and modernized by Stephen Tomkins. Edited and prepared for the web by Dan Graves. https://christianhistoryinstitute.org.
 See the blog at http://filatore.blogspot.com/2010/01/tim-hansel-1941-2009.html.
 Draper, Edythe. Draper's Book of Quotations for the Christian World. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1992. WORDsearch CROSS e-book.