Joy

I want to start the sermon today by talking about Calzones.  You know what a Calzone is, right?  It’s like pizza dough that is filled with cheese and sauce and fillings, like pepperoni or sausage and it gets rolled up and baked and they are delicious. 

So from time to time, for a treat, I’ll make calzones for the family.  And I use the cheap 99 cent pizza dough you just add water to it, and then I let it rise for five minutes, and then pound it out into a giant rectangle and then add cheese and a layer of pepperoni, and then we roll that portion up and put on another layer of cheese and another line of pepperoni, and then I do that one more time.  And then form it into a crescent shape and bake it for 15 minutes or so.

Now because we use cheap dough and the layers are thin, what inevitably happens is that the calzone will burst somewhere and some cheese will overflow the calzones banks, and the cheese will spill onto the stoneware we use, and what will happen is that it bakes and kind of does its own thing.

Inevitably, I will set off a smoke detector in the house, because there’s lots of delicious smelling smoke.  And that’s about when I know to take it out of the oven.  And here’s what’s interesting.  Not only do we have a delicious calzone, but we have this portion of baked cheese that has puddled up next to the calzone.

And I am going to tell you – that stuff, it’s so good!  It’s like a little scrumptious piece of heaven.  Chewy and tasty and so good!  I’ve got to stop talking about it – but I think it’s too late – I think I know what we’re having for lunch today!

Now I’ll be honest – I think if I were to try to make that cheese stuff – like just poured some cheese on the dish  -I think it wouldn’t nearly be as good – I don’t really think I could possibly replicate it – it has to be an overflow of something else.

And the reason I bring that up is because I think that Joy is the same way.  Joy is one of those things you don’t really aim for.  But if you got the right ingredients cooking in that heart of yours, what’ll happen is you’ll see Joy just oozing from you!  It might even just be bursting out of you.  You weren’t going for Joy, but there it is and it’s delicious!  That’s right!  Delicious Joy!

We are in the last week of a study on these stunning virtues that we called the Magnificent Five.  And I am proposing this morning that joy oozes from the life of a person who’s soul is seasoned with these magnificent virtues.  Love, Faith, Peace and Hope.  These are the things that make a soul smile.  These are the things that lead to Joy!

Last week the big idea was a prayer from 2 Thessalonians – a prayer that the Lord Himself will you his peace at all times and in every circumstance.

Today I will use another prayer – this one also comes from the Apostle Paul – who happened to write half the letters in the NT.  This one comes from a letter Paul wrote to followers of Jesus living in Rome.  And this is my prayer for you today.

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Romans 15:13 

If you notice we’ve got four of the five magnificent five in this one verse, don’t we? Hope, Joy, Peace and Faith.  All cuddled up – snuggled up together these five virtues, like a litter of puppies, all snuggling up together. 

So what I want to do now is take a peek at the Christmas story and we’ll see four characters in the story that exhibit joy because they are filled with these other qualities as well. 

For instance – let’s start with the Magi.  And we will see that the Hope of the Magi led them to exceeding joy.  When their hope was fulfilled?  Their joy burst open.  Let’s see.

Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the reign of King Herod. About that time some wise men from eastern lands arrived in Jerusalem, asking,“Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star as it rose, and we have come to worship him.”

Matthew 2:1,2  NLT

Who are these guys?  Well, we can’t be sure of all the circumstances around their story.  But what we know is that they were star-gazers from the East.  And they were on the lookout for something special.

It’s possible that these guys were from the Babylon area – and part of the History of Israel is that in 586BC the Babylonians defeated Israel in a war and deported a huge amount of people to Babylon.  And one of those people was a guy named Daniel.

This is fascinating – in Daniel chapter 2, the King has a dream and he calls together the royal star gazers to tell him what the dream meant, and the astrologers take the lead and ask the King, Then the astrologers answered the king in Aramaic, “Long live the king! Tell us the dream, and we will tell you what it means.”

– but he wouldn’t even tell them what the dream was – He said – well if you all are so brilliant, then you tell me what the dream was…  And then tell me what it means. They of course are flummoxed.  They are unable to interpret the dream.  And the king, in a rage, locks up all the astrologers and he plans to kill them all, along with their families.  Nice guy, right?

Well into the spotlight steps Daniel – who receives from the Lord both the dream and the interpretation.  And Daniel goes to the King and tells him NOT to kill the astrologers.  He will interpret the dream, but the astrologer’s lives are to be spared.

Well, guess who is the new chief of the star gazers in Babylon?  And guess who the other astrologers who’s lives were spared – guess who their new hero is?   Daniel, of course!  The prophet from Israel!  He saved not only their lives but the loves of their families as well.

So, and I admit this is speculation because Matthew doesn’t give us all the background we’d love to read – but it seems that Daniel trained the stargazers of the East to be on the lookout for certain celestial signs that would indicate the birth of Israel’s savior.  And the stargazers, it would seem, out of deep respect for Daniel, have passed down his instructions for generations.

So these guys have been on the lookout for more than 500 years – waiting for God to show up.  But they never lost hope.  God, 500 years before the birth of the savior, had set in motion events that would become one of the most loved parts of the Christmas story – the arrival of the wise men.  Who, by the way, brought with them Gold, Gold that would finance Jesus and Mary and Joseph’s flight to Egypt when Herod comes looking to kill him.  Incredible!  But it took 500 years!    

Some of you out there – you’ve been waiting on God to do something about the situation you find yourself in – and it might not be a super duper encouragement to hear that these guys were waiting for 580 years for God to show up. 

But the truth is this.  God is never in a hurry.  He is always on time.  He knows when the time is right to act.  And when God brings hope to fruition – Joy bursts forth.  Utter joy. 

And check out the result. After this interview the wise men went their way. And the star they had seen in the east guided them to Bethlehem. It went ahead of them and stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy!11 They entered the house and saw the child with his mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.

Matthew 2:9-11 NLT

Anytime you see an exclamation mark in the bible, you know something good is going on, because there isn’t any punctuation mark in the original greek. If you were to look it up the actual words say they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.

Meaning they were out of their minds with joy!  Their Hope in God had paid off.  God has showed up and they were bursting with joy!  Exceedingly rejoicing with great joy!

Listen, maybe you’ve been waiting on God to fix a problem with you or even in you.  Maybe you’ve been praying so long for a friend or wayward family member – you keep praying, you hang onto the hope that God is always up to something good. 

When God shows up in just the right time?  You too will be oozing with joy. You too will exceedingly rejoice with great joy!  You’ll be out of your mind with joy!  Hope leads to joy.  I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Romans 15:13 

Next, let’s talk about the angels – We are going to say the Angels announce the Peace of God, that leads to Hope in God, that leads to overwhelming joy. 

The Angels in the Christmas story show up to shepherds who were tending to their flock one night .  Suddenly an angel appears out of thin air, lights up the night, and says to the terrified shepherds…

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

Joy to the World, peace on earth.  Joy to the world, because – there is now possible through the work of Jesus – peace on earth. 

They are praising God because Jesus has come to bring peace – to make a way to settle our differences with God.  Jesus has come to destroy sin, without destroying us. 

Peace with God, leads to Hope and Hope leads to joy that oozes out of our life.

But notice how that verse ends?  Peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.  What does that mean?  Isn’t that the million dollar question?  What is it that pleases God?

Well, it’s not your good deeds, it’s not your impressive resume.  What pleases God is faith.  When we place our faith in what Jesus has done – we in turn receive God’s favor. 

Faith and Peace are closely linked.  So let’s talk about Faith.

And so when we think of faith, the fourth of our magnificent five, who else in the Christmas Story exemplifies faith more than Mary? Mary places her faith in God the moment she learned of God’s plan for her life.

This is why Mary could sing, when she was told she was going to be an unmarried teenage mother.  She could sing because she had faith that God knew what he was doing.  And so she sings. 

Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!

Listen to her song – it’s the precursor to the song we sang last week – it is well with my soul.  She is remarkable.  Hey Mary, how do you feel about being an unmarried teenage mom?  It is well with my soul! 

Her soul is at rest.  She has complete confidence in God’s plan for her life.  Her tremendous faith in God has resulted in a smiling soul at rest in God.  She is, if not oozing, she is bursting with joy. 

Faith that leads to Peace, that leads to hope, that ends up bubbling over with joy in a life.

Have you placed your faith in Jesus?  Have you crossed the line of faith?  Do you believe Jesus is who the Bible claims he is – the son of God, the savior of the world?  Have you surrendered your own little kingdom and walked into the Kingdom of Heaven? 

If you have, then you are at peace with God.  Whether you feel it or not, there is now nothing between you and God’s great love.

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

Romans 5:1,2 NLT

Notice how these magnificent five virtues, they just pepper these verses.  Verse 1 talked about peace, here we have faith, hope and joy, right? 

And notice the factual way the Bible refers to these changes made on our behalf in the heavenly realm.  These things are facts, not feelings.  It’s a done deal.

Which is why we said last week that when we find ourselves in situations where fear has crept in and robbed us of peace, the first thing we are going to do is to stop and think.

Think about what God has done for us.  Remind ourselves that joy and peace are not emotions.  Joy is not an emotion.

Happiness is an emotion.  Pleasure is emotion based.  But joy, of course, is a red hot torch compared to the meager match stick of emotion. 

Joy is not an emotion.  Author Dallas Willard writes, “Joy is not pleasure, a mere sensation, but a pervasive and constant sense of well-being.” 

C.S. Lewis, one of the most brilliant theological minds in the 20th century, once wrote of the difference, that one second of joy is worth 12 hours of pleasure.

See, happiness is counterfeit joy.  Happiness puts a smile on your face, but Joy puts a smile on your soul.  And knowing that through faith in Jesus, that we have peace with God – that goes far beyond an emotion. 

So we’ve got four of the five covered.  Faith, Peace and Hope, topped with joy that bursts from a soul that knows it is being tended to by God.

What about love?  Our last virtue? 

And for us to see how the love of God brings joy – we’re going to turn to an unusual place – especially at this time of year.  We will turn to the crucifixion.  In their efforts to demean Jesus, they unwittingly speak about the joy of seeing Jesus in the cross.

The soldiers took Jesus into the courtyard of the governor’s headquarters… 17 They dressed him in a purple robe, and they wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head.18 Then they saluted him and taunted, “Hail! King of the Jews!”  Mark 15:16 

Remember we spoke about the Magi?  When they arrived at the manger – it said they were filled with joy!  That word used in Matthew for joy is the same exact word that the Soldiers us when they say “HAIL”.

“Rejoice!” said the Magi with exceeding joy – “Behold the King!”

“Rejoice!” said the guards with exceeding scorn, “Behold your King”

To which of these chorus’ will you add your voice?

Interestingly, no, wonderfully, magnificently, the guards didn’t realize that even there in the midst of such sorrow and grief and misery, there was one filled to the rim with joy.  Who was this Joyful one?  It was Jesus himself.

Yes Jesus, even as he was being killed, was filled with impervious joy.  Jesus shows us that joy is impervious to our circumstances – He was filled with joy- Because he knew that this was why he had come.  Filled with Love for you and me, filled with faith that he could trust His Heavenly Father, filled with Peace and Hope, he was bursting with joy, even there on the cross.

Hebrews 12 puts it this way…

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 12:1,2 NIV

What the mocking soldiers did not understand – was that what they were watching, was the single greatest act of love the world would ever seen. 

And what they did not know was that the cross would become the greatest source of joy that mankind would ever hear about.

Because, according to the book of Luke chater 15, when the work of the cross is applied to a person – in other words, when a person places their faith in Jesus, joy burts forth in heaven itself.  You can read it yourself.  Luke 15 – Jesus tells us God is like a shepherd – and when he finds a lost sheep, bursts with joy.

Or God is like an old Lady who lost some money, and when she found it was overjoyed.

10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” Luke 15:10

The third story in Luke 15 is the story of the prodigal son.  And the point of all three stories in Luke 15 is the same – God loves lost people.  He loves them and is filled with joy when they decide to walk into the Kingdom of Heaven through faith in Jesus.

Is today the day for you?  The day to receive the greatest Christmas gift you could ever receive?

1      Behold!  What manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us!  That we should be called children of God!  And that is what we are!  

1 John 3:1

2      Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, Romans 5

3    Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.        Rom 5

4  I pray that God, the source of hope,

5  will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him. Romans 15:13 

Look at these magnificent gifts that the Father has given to us, his children.  Because of His love for us, we can love others. 

I am praying for a magnificent Christmas for you.  A Christmas where you feel these magnificent virtues just snuggling up with you in your soul.

All of the ingredients to joy are there in the Christmas story, and they are there in your soul too.   I’m praying that joy will find a way to ooze, no burst from your soul.

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