THE SEARCH FOR JOY

  1 Peter 1:3-9

We rode a train from Shanghai, China to Nan Jing to visit Nan Jing University. Billy Graham had been in China a few weeks before we arrived and had created a lot of interest in the Gospel among the Chinese people. We were walking across the campus and a young student came up to me and said, “I have just checked this Bible out of the library. Would you explain it to me?”  I sensed immediately that this young man was looking for something that he did not have and was hoping that I could lead him to it.

How do you explain the Bible to a searching young man in the spur of a moment? I thought for a moment and then began the explanation. I said, “The Bible is the story of God’s redeeming love. It begins with creation and explains that God created man in his own image and placed him in the Garden of Eden. This was a perfect place where everything about life was perfect. There was no strife, death, fear, or any of the things that make life miserable for us today – until – the two perfect human beings, Adam and Eve, chose to disobey God. He began immediately to put in place a plan to redeem them and all their descendants.  He formed a people around the 12 sons of a man called Jacob. These families became the beginning of the nation of Israel. God raised up a group of men called “Prophets” to foretell a coming Messiah who would give his life to redeem them from their sin. That is the story of the Old Testament. The New Testament tells the story of the coming to the earth from heaven of the Son of God to give his life on the cross because God loves everyone. His name was Jesus the Christ, and he fulfilled the prophecies 2000 years ago.  The four Gospels were written to explain his life and teachings and why he had to die on the cross taking all our sins upon himself. He was buried and on the third day he arose from the dead and conquered death for all who would become his followers. The remainder of the New Testament is the story of how his followers formed the church and spread the good news of God’s redeeming love over the world. The Bible says that God loves you and sent his Son to die for you, and if you believe Him and commit your life to Him, you will be forgiven for all your sin, and you will be given joy, purpose, fulfillment in this life and eternal life, hereafter. If you will read the Bible and pray for God to help you understand it you will find life abundant and eternal.”

As I was explaining this, about 50 students gathered around us and the young man said, “I wish everyone could have heard this.” I do not know what he did with this explanation, or if any of the others later came to faith in Christ. But I do know that those Chinese young people were so hungry to find their life’s meaning and fulfillment. They were on a search for joy.

I heard of another Chinese man who approached a missionary and said, “What is this joy you Christians have? I do not know the words of your faith, but I have heard the laughter in your homes. And I have heard the laughter in the homes of my fellow countrymen who are Christians. And I have come to ask you what is it that produces this joy? Tell me, so I can find it.” He was on a search for joy.

Simon Peter, who wrote the Scripture passage that we have just read was a fisherman on the large lake of Galilee. He was joined in his fishing business by two brothers, James and John. One day, Jesus appeared on the shore by their boats and asked to use one of their boats as a platform to speak to the crowd who had gathered on the shore. They were intrigued by his teachings, his miracles, and his winsome love. In time, they saw Jesus as the promised Messiah and accepted his invitation to follow him.

Peter was rough in personality, forthright in his speech, and had the ability to see in Jesus the actuality of who he is. For almost 3 years, Jesus trained these men in discipleship for he was getting ready to place in their hands the responsibility of carrying the gospel to the world after he was crucified, buried, risen from the dead, and ascended back to the Father in heaven. But Peter lost his courage and his joy in following Jesus on the night of his trial and on the day of his crucifixion. What a terrible misery that must have been to lose so much so quickly. But on the third day, Jesus said to the women, “Go tell my disciples – and Peter – that I am risen from the dead.” You can imagine how Peter felt. “You mean, he said to tell me that he was alive after I had denied three times that I even knew him.” Can you imagine the joy restored on that resurrection day evening when Jesus appeared to the disciples in the upper room? The joy that was lost was found again. That is why he could write in his letter to fellow believers, “And though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.”

In these brief verses, Peter builds a strong foundation for a life of joy in believing. The first is:

A LIVING HOPE (v. 3)

Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Peter was able to give to us these treasured truths. Everything depended on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the hinge on which all of history turns. It makes this life worthwhile and promises the reality of eternal life – that man can live forever in peace and joy.

Peter described it like this: the resurrection produced “an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you.”

After almost 3 years with Jesus, Peter lost all hope within two days, and on the third day, he was ushered into the fullness of a living hope.

Without Christ, there is only hope in those things that will perish and pass away. But in Him we have a hope which will never pass away. The hope that is described is death-proof. That is, it is imperishable, death can’t cancel it. It is incorruptible. It is also sin-proof, it is undefiled. Nothing can dim its purity. It is also time-proof. It is unfading.

The joy that Peter is describing is to a people who were in  great suffering. Notice the paradox – in the midst of great suffering for the faith – there is an inexpressible joy.

The joy is centered in our glorious Savior. I have been studying the writings of C. S. Lewis recently. In his book, “Surprised by Joy” he describes his conversion. He was a professor of medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford University in England and as a young man began to leave his early boyhood faith. He became an atheist and said, “I didn’t believe in God anymore.” But as he was getting established in his career as a professor he said, “I began a search for joy. I knew that there must be a quality to life that I was missing. And I searched for it. I thought that it had to be first of all a state of mind. If I could just get myself into the proper state of mind, I could find the joy that I was looking for. But I did not want to live all of my life in the state of turmoil that I was in. And so, I had to find joy.”

He said, “I looked for joy in the subject that I was teaching – English literature. Many of the writers were Christians and I found in their teachings glimpses of that for which I was looking. One evening, I was having dinner with an atheist friend and he made a statement that begin to turn my life around. He said, ‘There is great evidence that the Gospel is true, that the things the Christians claimed that happened in the New Testament actually occurred and that Jesus really did die and was raised again.’ Lewis said, “I was taken back by that. Here was a man who was an affirmed atheist saying that there is good evidence that the Gospel of Jesus Christ might be true. As I began to search for joy, I kept on studying the various facets of literature and individuals who said they were believers.”

Here was an individual who was an intellectual and reasoned himself to faith in Christ. Very few people can do that. And it all came together one day as he was riding on a double-decker bus. Lewis said, “All that I had been reading, studying, and thinking about came together and finally, I saw it. And when I got off the bus, I was a believer in Christ. I found it not in a state of mind but in the relationship to a person – Jesus the Christ.”

JOY INEXPRESSIBLE (v. 8)

The Apostle Peter is not only describing the source of joy but how to drink from the fountain joy. To be united with Christ is to have uninterrupted and eternal contact with Him.

“Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in him you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.”

It is in this faith relationship with Christ that we can drink continuously from the fountain of joy.

Jesus said in John 15:11, “These things have I spoken to you, that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.”

Joy is formed in us by the Holy Spirit. The Bible says, “The fruit of the Spirit is joy.” Galatians 5:22.

In Romans 14:17, the Apostle Paul says, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” In Philippians 1:4, he says that he was, “Always offering prayer with joy.” And in Philippians 2:17 he says, “But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all.” Paul was saying to the believers at Philippi, “You are my joy regardless of what I have to suffer to minister to you.”

God’s people have always rejoiced in Him. Even in the Old Testament there are many expressions of joy:  In Nehemiah 8:10 we read “The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

The great classical music composer, Haydn, was asked, “Why is your music so cheerful?” He said, “God has given me a cheerful heart and it is as if the notes leap from my pen and I serve the Lord with a cheerful heart.”

But you say, “Pastor, I have known joy in the past, but I don’t have it now.” Yes, it is possible to lose your joy as a believer. Sin can do that. David prayed in Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation.”

Many people are just simply bored with life. They are even bored with their religion. This happens when joy is lost.

Perhaps you say, “Pastor, I have never known spiritual joy in the way you have described it today. I have seen it in others and I want it.”  I have good news for you. You can find it where Peter found it. You can discover it as the disciples did. You can enter into it as I did. You will learn that joy is not limited by a life situation, but is found in a relationship to Jesus Christ, the one who lived, was crucified, was buried, and rose again from the dead to give you a life force that will lead on to eternal victory.

I invite you to come to Him today and give Him your life and he will give to you the inexpressible joy that Peter found.

PRAISE BE TO HIS NAME!