“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (1 Corinthians 1:8).
In 2008, I had the privilege of touring Egypt and seeing many of the ancient wonders of the world. While on that trip, I opted to splurge on a hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. My friends I was traveling with, wisely decided they would rather just enjoy the Valley by foot. So a few other tourists and I were bused to the launch site and climbed into the basket. It wasn’t long before we were 1000+ feet into the air, gently floating above the Egyptian desert. After 10-15 minutes, our balloon began to descend rapidly. Our captain was giving it full throttle, but it unexplainably kept dropping. He started yelling at everyone to duck into the basket and brace for impact. A few moments later, we plunged into the sand, tipping over and falling out. We were a little banged up and still in fear from what had just happened when we realized that we were in the middle of the desert, way off course with no road in sight. The captain radioed for help, and after a while, we heard a response that they would send some jeeps to rescue us. The thought of being rescued and reunited with my friends brought me great joy. I couldn’t wait to be back safe in my hotel and tell my friends what had happened. You might not have plunged to the earth in a hot air balloon, but we have all fallen into the pit of sin and need rescued.
A little north of the Valley of the Kings, in the hills of Bethlehem, where King David had once watched over his father’s sheep, some humble shepherds were “keeping watch over their flock by night.” As they sat by the campfire, talking about the coming Messiah, an angel appeared before them, proclaiming: “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).
The announcement of the coming Savior was a message of great joy! Here was God in the flesh, coming down from heaven to rescue mankind from our plunge into sin and eternal death. Not only was Christ coming to rescue us, but He was coming to be with us. The shepherds were filled with joy. Mankind was finally being saved! And God would dwell with His children.
The shepherds had joy, despite living in a sinful world, despite the oppression of the Romans, and despite their humble occupations. The shepherd's joy did not depend on their current circumstances but was based on what lied ahead. Unlike happiness, joy isn’t dependent on one’s present state or circumstances. You can have joy despite what is happening to you, by focusing on what is to come, just as I had joy even while bruised and stranded in the desert, knowing that I would soon be rescued.
The Bible says that Christ was bruised and broken for our sins (Isaiah 53:5). He was subjected to the cruelest torture any human has had to endure, as they repeatedly whipped Him and nailed Him to a cross, requiring Him to pull against the piercing nails in order to breathe. Yet during all this, the Bible says He had joy! “…who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…” (Hebrews 12:2). Christ’s joy wasn’t wrapped up in His temporary circumstances. Christ found joy during His hardest and most painful trial — in the fact that you and I would be rescued and reunited with Him. He was able to bear the cruel, inhumane treatment because He was thinking about spending eternity with you! The thought of you being safe from Satan gave Him joy in that most trying moment.
We live in a dark and painful world. As we watch the news, we are daily reminded of just how fleeting this life is. There isn’t a single soul that hasn’t been affected by sickness, cancer, violence, or death. Sin and its results are all around us. Yet, despite the pain and suffering occurring all around us, and even to us, we, like Christ, can still have joy..
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The key to Christ’s joy was His focus on saving others. You too can share in His joy now by having that same focus — that even though your personal circumstances have deteriorated, maybe you’ve lost a job, lost a spouse, or lost your health, you can have joy by focusing on helping others enter into a saving relationship with Jesus. If we are focused on the souls we can win for Him, the Bible promises we will have the fullness of joy (John 15:11). This is the joy that got Christ through the cross, and this is the joy that will get you through your darkest hour. “The joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).
When you are tempted to think about your problems, remember the joy that is before you, the joy of a soul saved for eternity. Pray that God “put[s] more joy in [your] heart” (Psalm 4:7), and gives you a desire to witness for him.
After the shepherds saw baby Jesus, “They made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds” (Luke 2:17-18). The shepherds were filled with joy, sharing the news of the coming savior. As you share the hope of salvation in the coming new year, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy” (Romans 15:13).
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.