CS Lewis said “Joy is the serious business of heaven”. Jesus said this about joy…
“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.” (Matt 13:44-45)
These two parables that Jesus tells are so beautifully simple. Jesus says that the Kingdom of Heaven – the reality of how things really are – is like a joy filled discovery. Like finding treasure in a field. Like a pearl that is so precious that we are prepared to give everything we’ve got for it .
There are two ways of looking at what the treasure or pearl is that fills us with joy when we discover it.
Firstly, the treasure is God’s love for us. It is what Jesus has done for us on the Cross. Who we are because of Jesus.
And that brings such freedom.
Freedom from sin and guilt. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” Grace. There is nothing to prove. And the power of sin is broken. We can truly be the person that God made us to be. I don’t have to sin; if I sin I have an advocate (1 John 1:9). In this freedom there is such Joy. The gift of life.he first chapter of John’s first letter (1 John 1) is a beautiful account from Jesus closest friend of everything that ultimately matters. John writes that he has seen it with his own eyes and that it is “joy” that compels him to share what he has seen and knows.
I think there may be people who know that in their heads but wonder why they don’t feel that joyful about it. It’s ‘a’ reality, but the experience of other realities seem more real: disappointments, loneliness, anxieties perhaps. These things can rob us of joy. When things are going well, the joy comes, but when things aren’t the joy gets clouded out.
So let’s get practical. How can that treasure of the kingdom of heaven be to us the great reality of our lives. The joy of our hearts no matter what? And I am blogging to myself as much as anyone here because I’m not good at this.
It is interesting that Jesus speaks of the treasure of the kingdom being “hidden” in the field. We have to go looking for it. Prayer is key to that. Especially reflecting on God’s love which is the story of the Bible from beginning to end. And when we’ve found our joy, we need to remember how we found it so we can find it again and again. God is committed to helping us find joy. It is the fruit of his Spirit in us (Gal 5:22) – a gift that we can find as we trust and believe in God’s word. In other words, joy is not something we have to work for. It is a discovery like treasure in a field.
In tough times we will not feel joyful instantaneously. Personally, I want to feel it straight away. If I don’t, I panic. It’s especially at these times that we need to pray (without words if we have none), contemplate God’s unconditional unfailing love, worship Jesus, petition for the things we are longing for. Sometimes we need someone to prayer with us and help us find that treasure that seems lost, but is only hidden from view. Don Miller: “We learn that we are loveable, or unloveable, from other people… … That is why God tells us so many times to love each other”. God’s love is discovered in a community in which God’s love is shared.
So that is the first way of looking at the parable: the treasure of the kingdom is God’s love for us. The other way of looking at the parable is similar and just as amazing.
Secondly, the treasure is you
The treasure in the field, the pearl of great price (which the man gave everything he had for) is every person who has ever lived. And that man is Jesus.
God gave everything he had for us. He gave Jesus. His beloved Son. He gave of himself. That was his joy. Hebrews 12:2 says of Jesus: “who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.” The joy set before him was you. His passion to save you. That your life would be one with him. Nothing was more precious – God gives everything – for you. And there is no reluctance, no obligation, no disappointment towards us. In God there is simply love, faithfulness and joy. Dallas Willard: “God is full of joy. … The abundance of his love and generosity is inseparable from his infinite joy. All of the good and beautiful things [of this world] … God continuously experiences in all their breadth and depth and richness.”
The Holy Spirit brings that joy-filled connection between heaven and earth. The Holy Spirit lives in you – calling forth joy. Life in the Spirit is pure gift. And so the Christian life should be marked by joy not obligation. Lesslie Newbigin, the great missionary said this in what I think was his final sermon: “I find it strange that conferences about mission and evangelism are often pervaded … by a kind of anxiety and guilt – as though this were a program that we have a responsibility to carry out and about which we haven’t been very successful. Isn’t [that] remarkable [when] according to the New Testament the whole thing begins with an enormous explosion of joy? The disciples returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple praising God! It seems to me … that the mission of the church is the communication of that joy.”
Newbigin concludes: “The event of the resurrection … breaks every mould that would imprison God in the rationalism of a fallen world. … It is the starting point for a new kind of rationality, for the possibility of living hopefully in a world without hope, for the perpetual praise of God who … breaks through fixed orders to create ever-new situations of surprise and joy.”
‘The possibility of living hopefully in a world without hope’. That is resurrection faith. Ten years ago I had a period when I didn’t believe a back injury I had was ever going to get better. I was between jobs and wondering where life was going. I wanted to feel joy. I felt bad that I didn’t as I thought of all the blessings of God. I felt quite hopeless. And night I couldn’t sleep. I was crying to God asking him why? what now? etc. And I read Psalm 30:5: “weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”That is resurrection faith. Good Friday becomes Easter Sunday.
I realised that part of my faith was knowing that joy would have the last word. Even if it wasn’t the present word. And that reminder was like a discovery – like stumbling upon treasure. And the knowledge of future joy, brought joy into a present. A present which was still the same. But now transformed. I believe that is what the Holy Spirit wants to do in us every time we are struggling to find joy.
I have come to see that the present and future reality of joy are two sides of the same coin. Firstly, Jesus shared our life joyfully. He reoriented the gift of life back to its creator. A creator full of joy. His will for us is to know real joy in the present life. And never to feel guilty about it. Embracing joy of the life god gives us – in a way that is neither world-renouncing nor world-conforming. But secondly Jesus showed a way for future joy to give us the resources for suffering and pain in the present. For the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross. We will never suffer what Jesus suffered. Joy can always be the last word for us, only because of what Jesus gave on the cross. Everything he had for us. But we can know that joy will come in the morning because of him and so walk as he walked in pain.
As you may know, Psalm 126 is one of my favourite psalms. It speaks to me of this two-fold reality of joy. The first three verses speak of the first aspect. The pure gift of salvation. The grace that is ours today in Jesus Christ. The discovery that can fill us with joy. It is a redemption song: “When the Lord brought back the captives to Zion, we were like those who dreamed. Our mouths were filled with laughter, and our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” The church is to be a people of joy. Who celebrate life and the gift of grace in the world in every place.
And the psalm speaks of the other aspect of joy. The same reality in a different key. The joy that transforms the times of this life that are marked by tears. A future joy that we can know is the last word even when we do not feel it now. A discovery that can bring a new kind of joy. A true and living hope. “Restore our fortunes O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying the harvest home.”
Joy will have the last word. Tears for a broken world or broken self, when given to God, when planted alongside the Gospel of God’s grace, will one day become songs of joy. Because in raising Jesus from the dead, God has spoken a final word to sin and death. In Christ they are finished.
Joy in the present, joy in the future. The good news of Jesus – and who you are in Him – is the pearl of great price. Worth everything we’ve got. Because it is everything worth having.