And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And when they [the disciples] lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only.
(Matthew 17:1-2; 8, ESV)
We’re in a new series now that we’ve finished our series on church membership. And if you remember, last week we were gifted with the honor of witnessing to the baptism of six of our beloved brothers and sisters. And as we celebrated the dying and rising of our beloved, we were called to remember our own baptisms as well. In remembering our baptism we remember first the presence of God that led us to such a remarkable commitment. And second we remember the life we vowed to live with God and with all of God’s people. And so we must recall, “As a baptized member of the body of Christ, what now?”
One of the first things that we know is that in our baptisms we’ve moved. We are now citizens of the kingdom of God. Nothing that happens on this earth will determine our destiny; our destiny lies in our citizenship in the kingdom of God. But before we get all sentimental, we have to realize that this also means that we no longer live under the law of the earth, but under the law of the kingdom of God. And we are called to obey this law in freedom and joy. But what exactly is this law? The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 14:17 that the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy. And in other places Paul gives us the commands of this kingdom. Rejoice in the Lord! again I will say, Rejoice (Phil. 4:4)! And again in 1 Thess. 5:16, “rejoice always.”
And even Jesus when telling the three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son, tells us “rejoice with me” (Luke 15:5-32). And as citizens of the kingdom of God it is our duty to rejoice, and then again to rejoice.
But once the sentiment fades away, many of you might wonder, “How can I rejoice when the world is suffering?” Surely if you just look, you’ll see the catastrophe going on in Korea with the President. If you have working eyes you’ll see the masses around the world fleeing wars and being killed by bombs and drones. If you keep your eyes open long enough you’ll see the millions upon millions of people starving; you’ll see malnutrition causing children to drop like flies. How you say, how can we rejoice in such a world? What kind of sick command is this, God?
Why did God give us such an impossible command? Why is it so hard to rejoice?
THE NATURE OF JOY
Here it’ll benefit us to examine the nature of joy first. Joy is not something that abstractly appears. It doesn’t just happen because you want it to. Halloween recently passed. And just because you put on a crown and nice clothes, call yourself King Isaac, and really believe that you’re a king or a queen, that doesn’t make you a real king or a queen. Joy can’t just happen—Joy always has a cause. We can only rejoice once we find out that we’ve been accepted by a college. We rejoice because we got that ‘A’. We rejoice because our friend is getting married. The very nature of Joy is that it is caused by something.
But joy doesn’t seem to discriminate. The Japanese rejoiced when the bombing on Pearl Harbor was successful. America rejoiced because we invaded the Middle East. And People rejoice because someone they hate was killed in a car accident. The feeling of Joy does not discriminate. Joy depends on our view of things.
So we must be certain that God does not want us to rejoice because of the suffering in the world. Or to even ignore all the suffering in the world going about with some false joy. No! Rather God commands us to rejoice in the midst of the suffering in the world. Perhaps while also feeling mad about all the pain and suffering that people have to go through. Joy, therefore, requires the right perspective, the right set of eyes.
But don’t think that if you have joy that your life will be all flowers and potpourri. The weird thing about joy is that we can experience joy and other emotions at the same time. Go to any funeral where the person was said to ‘live a good life’ and is now heading to a better place. People both grieve the death of their beloved AND also rejoice at the legacy that they’ve left behind and the final destination that they have reached.
THE CROSS AND JOY
And we as Christians should know this mixture of joy and pain the best. As theologian Jurgen Moltmann reminds us, at the center of the Christian faith is the cross. The cross that symbolizes pain, suffering and injustice. Yet we Christians rejoice when we see the cross. And this is kind of sick if you think about it. It’s like a bunch of people cheering when they see a noose. Or a group of people wearing electric chairs around their neck. So to many non-Christians who know that the cross was the old tool of death row, we’ve got to look like sick, sadistic people. But of course, we see something they don’t. Not because we’re any better, but because we are a people of faith. For we see the cross from the other side of resurrection.
When we witness the cross, we simultaneously experience the death and the resurrection of our eyes. At the both hideous and glorious sight of the cross, our eyes die to the old way of seeing things and is resurrected as eyes of faith. As the Apostle Paul said, we as Christians “walk by faith and not by sight”
REJOICING AMIDST SUFFERING
But let’s return to our question, “How can we rejoice in the midst of suffering?”
Let’s revisit the nature of joy. According to Miroslav Volf, head of the University of Yale’s project on Joy, Joy is not a self-standing thing. Rather joy is integrally related to something. And this something is the good life. Getting into college, getting an ‘A’, saying ‘yes’ to a marriage proposal, these all make up, the good life, life going well. And so we see in Psalm 51 how David says, “Create in me a clean heart. And restore to me the joy of your salvation.” David does not say, give me joy. But he asks for the joy OF God’s salvation. And Scripture also promises that when we are attached to the Holy Spirit, when we have fellowship with the Spirit, the fruit that springs up from this relationship, the fruit of the Spirit is joy. We can only rejoice, if there is something to rejoice about.
And in a sad, sad world, where nothing seems the way it should be, we can rejoice in spite of the suffering because blessed assurance, Jesus is mine. We can rejoice always because we know that though hate is prevailing, love has the last word. We can rejoice because where sin was great, grace was much greater. Where Christ has died, Christ is much more risen. In the words of Moltmann, “Pain is passing, and I hear praise everlasting” (15).
Only if we have the right kind of vision can we have such an unshakable joy. This vision sees that, yeah it’s Friday and people are still killing each other, people are still starving, and we still don’t seem to be good enough, but this vision knows that this isn’t the last scene in the story. We as Christians know that if we just wait for the next scene, three days later, on that Easter Sunday, that there will be peace, everyone will have enough to eat, and in Christ we will be enough.
Because that’s just what Christians see. Now let me be clear about what I mean by the word Christian. A Christian is not someone who knows that God has died for them and has risen. A Christian is not someone who knows that God loves them and feels all warm from that. No. That just makes you a human. You might say that you know you’re saved and that you can speak in tongues and heal the sick and you see visions of all sorts. That doesn’t make you a Christian. That just makes you a human who received a bunch of grace and gifts from God. You see, a Christian is someone who sees all things in the light of Jesus Christ, and who dwells in that light. If you know you’re saved, you read the Bible, and you pray for people. That don’t make you no Christian. If you are not actively seeing and trying to see all things in the light of the resurrected Christ, you might want to reconsider what you are. If the cross is not so real to you that you see the workings of God throughout the world, at best, you are an immature Christian who has yet to fully develop.
And so if you want to become a mature Christian, you have to start developing your faith-eyes. You see faith-eyes are future-oriented and has a sort of post-resurrection lens or filter. What this means is that we no longer view things and people according to current shortcomings. No. We don’t judge people for what they are. Faith eyes can never look at someone and say that they’re not enough; faith eyes can only see, not yet. When we have faith-eyes, we could never look at ourselves in the mirror shaking our heads and say, “What’s wrong with me. I’m no good. I don’t have what it takes. I’m not enough.” No. Faith-eyes looks at that wide-eyed self, smiles and says, ‘wow, and it’s only going to get better.’
Now I am not saying that we are to ignore the flaws and mistakes of others. By no means! That would be worse than to judge it in my opinion! No we must look at the awful, painful conditions of our world, and we must look them straight in the eye. Remember that the cross too was once a symbol of pain, torture and execution. Yet it is only when we behold that treacherous cross, and with eyes of faith see in it the glory of God, can we be those who follow Christ. If God can transform an instrument of torture to the most beautiful and glorious symbol. How much more can your neighbor, your life, be transformed?
So when you see the political fiasco with Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, when you cringe at the face of people you dislike, when the greatness of your depression and meaningless overwhelm you, look straight at it and through your faith-eyes see the bloodied face of our Jesus who is making all things new.
You are the light of the world. And this world is growing darker by the day. The world needs you to rejoice. Fix your eyes on the cross and rejoice.