Summary: How christians can be joyful.
Rejoice in the Lord!
Sometimes, you make the most amazing discoveries when you are preaching. When I received the preaching plan for this quarter and discovered which passage I was to preach on, I was reminded once again, about how God listens and remembers all that goes in this place. The last time I stood up here, I told you how I used to live close to a Bingo Hall in Darlington. I said then how “I stood outside a Bingo hall one night just watching people as they went in. When I looked at them, I could see the sense of expectation on their faces. They knew that at least one of the people who entered that hall would be walking out richer. And they were all excited because they hoped that it would be them.”
Well after ending my last sermon here like that, I discovered that I was to preach on Romans 5 today, and one of the main themes of this chapter in Romans is ‘rejoice’. Paul tells the Roman Church in verse 2: “And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” And following that, he goes straight in to saying: “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings.” And only a little further on in verse 11, Paul says a third time: “Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Is Paul saying that we all have to go around with smiles on our faces all of the time? No he is not, and especially if those smiles are like those of politicians who seem to be able to do this however or whatever they feel like. Paul is not telling these Christians in Rome to grin and bear it. He tells them to rejoice and that involves something deep within us, it does not simply involve putting on a happy face, it means having a joy that begins at the very core of our being.
I used to have a real problem dealing with things like the Toronto Blessing that began a number of years ago now, and is still going. How could people be overcome by the Spirit and burst out laughing? Surely crying was more appropriate – or at least that is what I used to think. The main thing that changed that view was being stood up here leading worship and preaching, and travelling around the Methodist Circuit, discovering how little joy and rejoicing there is amongst God’s people today. It is not just the Methodists, it is Baptists, Anglican, Catholic, URC, all of the main denominations. Any worship leader could tell you that there are times when you choose songs like ‘Rejoice, rejoice, Christ is in you’ and there is hardly a smile on the faces of the people in front of you, never mind a look of joy. Is it any wonder that God should feel the need to bring a bit of joy into our Churches by the work of His Spirit?
I have said that rejoicing means having a joy at the very core of our being. But how does it get there? In these three verses, Paul gives three keys to the life of rejoicing. He began with the first key when he wrote: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
If you go to the library, or bookshops, or often just in the newspapers or on television, you will find it hard to see the truth that Paul gives here. According to almost all of these sources, you receive happiness or joy because of what happens to you now. That is one reason why companies spend so much money on advertising. They are able to persuade people that if only they buy the latest toy, car, household appliance or anything else, there will be more happiness and joy in their lives. This is also a part of the great dream of the lottery win. If only we could get a large win on the lottery, our lives would be so much more joyful and happier.
Well Paul goes totally against this theory when he says that we can rejoice not because of what happens to us now, but because we have a future hope in Christ. The things that Paul lists in the first two verses of Chapter 5 are all things that Christ has done for us; they are not something that we can go out and buy, or win. They are not something that we need to achieve. All we have to do is receive them. And having received these things through all that Christ has done, we can rejoice because of all that will happen in the future. This is the first step in the life of rejoicing; we rejoice because of everything that we will have in Christ.