Summary: Sunday after Christmas, Sermon about Jesus Second Coming for which the Hymn by Isaac Watts, is all about. This sermon was given in conjunction with the Lord's Supper.
Isaac Watts was arguably the most prolific hymn writer of his day. If the father of medicine was Hippocrates and the father of the telephone was Alexander Graham Bell, then the father of English hymns was none other than Isaac Watts. Watts’ lyrical goal, as one author put it, was to wed “emotional subjectivity” and “doctrinal objectivity.” Songs such as “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed” (255), “I Sing the Mighty Power of God”, and “O God, Our Help in Ages Past”, were a blend of personal reflection and emotional reaction couched in rich theological convictions. Watts also published a work in 1719 that was a translation or rewriting of the Psalms for congregational singing. The hymnbook was entitled (it’s long, so prepare yourself), "The Psalms of David: Imitated in the Language of the New Testament and Applied to the Christian State and Worship."
In other words, Watts read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament and wrote his Psalm-book to explicitly point to the person and work of Christ. In that collection, you will find Watts’ rewriting of Psalm 98. It was originally titled “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom”, but we better know it as “Joy to the World.” Even though Watts may not have ever envisioned his song being sung at Christmas time, I think it is a wonderful tribute to his work. Indeed, the first advent of Jesus stands as a historical guarantee that His Second Advent is just around the corner. Indeed, the birth of Jesus and the return of Jesus are “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (1)
Read Psalm 98.
“Joy to the World” as one of the most joyous of all Christmas hymns, this carol omits references to shepherds, angelic choruses, and wise men. While “Joy to the World” is primarily sung at Christmas, it’s not about the incarnation. Rather, the song tells the story of Christ’s return—his second coming. We know this for at least three reasons.
First, the song speaks of the whole earth receiving her King: Joy to the world! The Lord is come; Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare him room, And heaven and nature sing. Note the words: the Lord IS come, not the Lord has come. The first time Christ came, the world did not receive Him, rather, the world rejected Him, and hung Him on a cross.
Isaiah 53:3 (NKJV) He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
Second, we know this hymn is a song of Christ’s second coming because verse 3 talks about sins and sorrows being no more: No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make his blessings flow, Far as the curse is found. If you have lived on this earth for more than two minutes, you know that this is not our current experience. In Mark 13 Jesus foretold what was yet to come after his death when he said:
Mark 13:8 (NKJV) For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be earthquakes in various places, and there will be famines and troubles. These are the beginnings of sorrows.
The world is not sin-free. The world is not void of sorrow. Not yet, at least. Jesus told us that we should not be alarmed when we hear of the world’s brokenness. Why? Because “this must take place, but the end is not yet” (Mark 13:7). Hebrews 10 tells us:
Hebrews 10:12–13 (NKJV) But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.
Although the fulfillment of all Christ’s work is not fully expressed this side of eternity, we know there will be a day when it is. Christ sits at the Father’s right hand, waiting until the perfect moment—a time when all good things will come to fruition. So we have hope.
Third, the final verse reveals that this hymn is about the second coming. It says: He rules the world with truth and grace, And makes the nations prove, The glories of his righteousness, And wonders of his love. These final lines speak of how the nations will take an active role in revealing the glory of God. We know that all the nations of the earth are ultimately subject to God’s ever-sovereign hand. He is the one who gives authority, and he’s the one who takes it away. He uses every mistake, every poor decision, every war, every calamity, and every season of prosperity, all for his glory. As we will read, He is coming in judgment.