#15 GREAT JOY

In the first five verses of his first letter Peter has affirmed the absolute certainty of the present salvation of his readers, and the absolute certainty of their future salvation beyond this life.

This grand assurance of this glorious salvation is not grounded in anything done by believers or any moral quality possessed by believers but in the eternal purpose and the time/space actions of the triune God. Because both present and future salvation are thus dependent only on the person and work of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, Peter says ‘in this you greatly rejoice’ [1Peter 1:6].

Peter is not the only one who makes this confident connection between salvation and joy.

The angel heralding the birth of Jesus Christ, our Saviour, reassured the terrified shepherds: ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy ...’ [Luke 2:10].

That fear that rightly confronts the sinner in the presence of the holy God is dissolved by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is replaced with great joy. For the angelic messenger this replacement of the fear of divine judgement with joy was a key element of the good news, the gospel. Indeed, the good news is encapsulated in these two words ‘great joy’.

Jesus’ purpose and prayer for those who believe in him is joy: ‘... so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them’ [John 17:13; see also 15:11; 16:20-25].

All that characterizes our human lostness – our personal uncertainties, our ignorance of our purpose, our meaning, our worth and our identity, our sense of being alienated from ourselves and from God, our feeling of being alone and vulnerable in a hostile world – all of these are replaced with the fullness of joy when through the gospel we are united to Jesus Christ, in whom we find our true meaning, our true purpose, our true worth, our true identity. In him we are complete, and in that completeness there is joy. This union with him, and the abundant joy of this union, is his purpose for us. No longer lost, but reunited to him from whom we derive our identity and our significance.

Paul wrote of a threefold joy that is grounded in justification by faith. Firstly: ‘... we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God’ [Romans 5:2].

That fear of what lies beyond death, that fear of God’s judgement and hell – this too is removed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, and replaced with joy. Those who believe in him are ‘justified by faith’, that is, acquitted, declared ‘not guilty’. There is no more judgement left to fall on those who believe in Christ, no more condemnation, no more wrath of God. It has all been borne by Jesus Christ in his atoning, sin-bearing, substitutionary death. All that remains for us as believers is to rejoice in the sure and certain hope that when he returns in glory we shall be with him, and will live in the joy of that glory for ever.

Paul also wrote: ‘... we rejoice in our suffering’ [5:3].

Those fears that accompany our human suffering – the fear that the suffering is somehow a payback for our personal sins and failures, the fear that God is against us or has deserted us – those fears also are replaced with joy for all who are united by faith with Christ. Our suffering no longer threatens us with God’s wrath, but even in the midst of our suffering we are assured that God is for us, that God always loves us, and has demonstrated that once and for all in the death of his Son.

And ‘... we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ [5:11].

And so we rejoice in God. God is no longer an enemy to be feared. God is no longer the Judge who will cast us into hell. God himself is now the source of joy.

Great joy.

But even ‘great’ is too small a word to describe the joy, the rejoicing, which is ours because of Christ and in Christ. Peter further states:

‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls’ [1Peter 1:8,9].

Joy – great, inexpressible, glorious – is the present possession of every believer. May we not treat this amazing gift with contempt!