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Complete Joy

Original Date: 
Sunday, August 23, 2015

John 15:9-16 Complete Joy

Squashing Joy
Before we moved to Spencer I served a little church in the country outside of the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area. When I say “in the country” I mean IN the country. Pleasant Valley is a church located 8 miles from the nearest town and 2 miles from the nearest hard surface road. The church sits on the intersection of 2 gravel roads. It’s really kind of pretty, all these fields filled with corn and then this church building and cemetery.

Pleasant Valley is filled with good people. People who have been connected to the church all their lives, and their parents before them, and their grandparents before that. The sanctuary is long and narrow and filled with rows of pews; and people get there a half hour early just so they can get a seat in the back and see who else comes.

So anyway, while I was there we hired a college-aged gal to come out every other Sunday and play guitar to lead our singing. She was a real neat gal and developed a really great relationship with my daughter, Kayla, who was about 8 years old at the time.

So one Sunday morning when Jenn was there and all the people were getting there early to get their back pews—and this wasn’t the kind of church where people do a lot of talking before the service starts—Kayla was all excited that Jenn was there so she was all the way up in one of the front pews and as Jenn warmed up on her guitar Kayla was just dancing away. And as I was walking into the sanctuary past all these folks getting ready for church—very somber and serious—I saw my daughter up front just bopping away, bouncing around and tossing her hair from side to side and—to be honest—I worried what people would think so I hissed at her: “Kayla! Knock it off!”

You know how sometimes you know even as the words are leaving your mouth that you’re saying the wrong thing? That’s how I felt. Oh, it’s not that I embarrassed myself. Most of the people sitting in the back rows were probably thinking the same thing: “The preacher’s kid should stop dancing.”

But it was absolutely the wrong thing to say. I mean, here was my 8 year-old daughter, in church—excited to be in church!—and she was filled with joy and just couldn’t contain it—and I felt for some reason that that joy had to be squashed.

Something happened in my heart that day—something good I think—as I wrong I was. That day I became committed to the idea that churches should be places of joy. I didn’t ever want to scold anyone, ever again, for being happy in church.

I grew up in a church that didn’t always seem joyful. Again, I grew up in a loving church full of good people, but my experience of Sunday mornings always seemed very serious. People would put their “church faces” on, and it seemed like joy was inappropriate. Then I’d go to camp at Inspiration Hills or go to Rocky Mountain High and have all this fun serving and learning about Jesus, and I’d wonder why all of church couldn’t be that way.

Then I went to college and I experienced a church that put an emphasis on joy. I was converted at an early age, indeed I can honestly say I don’t ever remember a day when I didn’t know Christ, He’s always been a part of my life, but it was in college that I saw serving Christ and being a part of a thriving local church as something I’d be willing to dedicate my life to. And then, of course, I became a pastor and found myself in a position to really influence the kind of church I would be a part of.

As you can see from that incident with Kayla, I didn’t always get it right. But since that day, I’ve been committed to the desire to lead churches that are all about joy.

Full Measure of Joy
We are taking a couple weeks here at the beginning of the new church/school year to talk about our reason for existing as a church. Last week and this, we are examining our mission statement to just remind ourselves of what it says and what it means.

So here is our mission statement:

We are here to bring joy to Jesus and to experience joy in Him.

This year, this statement turns 8 years old. We often it shorten it to four words: Bring joy, experience joy. You’ll see those words on our logo and on our letterhead. I guess you could say it is our motto or even our brand.

And I told you last week that this statement is actually a re-phrasing of the first question and answer of the Westminster Catechism, which reads like this:

What is the chief end of man?

    Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.

The idea is that all of us our here, the reason we exist, is to glorify God. We are here at His pleasure. But rather than that being oppressive or restrictive, the idea is that when we are rightly connected to Him we will find our greatest joy. In fact, the end goal of Christianity is that we will spend eternity in God’s presence where we will find no end to the things we can enjoy about Him.

So, last week I focused on the first half of our mission statement: “Bringing Joy to Jesus.” The idea is that we want to be a church that is Christ focused, and the more clearly we see Him the more we will desire to glorify Him.

Now, this week, I want to focus on the second half: “Experience Joy in Him.” I want us to see that Jesus is all about our joy. I want us to see that there is no better place to be than living for Jesus.

So, our text is going to be John 15:9-16. This is part of Jesus’ final discourse, the words Jesus shared with His disciples on the night before He went to the cross. And our key verse is John 15:11. Jesus says:

11I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.

There it is. Jesus wants us to have joy. He wants our joy to be complete.

This verse actually reads a lot like our mission statement, doesn’t it? Jesus is preparing His disciples for the cross, and He says “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you.” In other words, He wants His followers to bring joy to Him. But also, He says, “that your joy may be complete.” He wants us to experience joy in Him. Jesus is very interested in our joy. Just a chapter later He says:

22So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no none will take away your joy.

This is obviously a reference to the cross and the resurrection. You could say that the whole point of Jesus walking out of His tomb was to bring us unstealable joy. When we understand that Jesus has died for our sins and then defeated the power of death, that should give us unbreakable joy. And then, one more chapter in, still a part of the final discourse, Jesus prays to the Father:

13I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.

The “full measure” of Jesus’ joy in us. That’s Jesus’ goal for us. Jesus wants us to experience joy in Him. Church should be fun. But more than that, the whole experience of following Christ should be marked by a complete and unshakable and abundant joy. We are here, as a church, (and I don’t mean just here on Sunday morning, but we exist as a collection of people, 24/7) to experience joy in Christ.

So let’s go back to our main text, John 15, and we’ll see five things that help us experience joy in Jesus.

Loved Unworthily
So, first, we experience Joy in Jesus when we experience the joy of being loved. John 15, verse 9:

9As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.

Here’s the starting point for us as Christians, if you are in Christ, then you are loved.

Look at what Jesus says here, it’s really mind-blowing. He says: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” There is an awful lot caught up in the tiny little word: “As.” As the Father has loved Jesus.

How has the Father loved Jesus? How do we even begin to grasp the depth of that kind of love? We actually have to reach into the mysteries of the Trinity here. As Christians we believe that God has forever existed, and He has forever existed as three persons in one unity. So that means that as far back as you can reach, before history even begins, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have existed in perfect harmony with each other. It’s sometimes pictured as a dance. A perfect relationship of cooperation and admiration.

And then the Son, out of loving obedience to the Father, came to earth as human being. And when He went to be baptized the heavens cracked open and a voice thundered: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17)

And now, Jesus says, it’s that kind of love—as the Father has loved me—that He loves His followers. It’s that kind of love which is going to lead Him to the cross, to die in our place. If you are in Christ, then you are loved. You are loved with a love which defies description. And there should be joy in that. The greatest reason for joy.

This week Bob Campbell sent me a blog post that he ran across from John Piper. In it, Piper talks about having an awareness of this kind of love. He says that when we think about the cross, it should do two things to us. On the one hand, it should remind us of how unspeakably lost we were. Piper says:

“It took that much to save me. Anybody that lives near the cross isn’t going to put his thumbs in his armpits and strut, not going to brag about his stuff, not going to talk a lot about his achievements. He is just looking at that incredible horror and saying: That is how corrupt I am.”

But the other thing the cross tells us is incredibly good news. And that is how much we are loved. Because even though we were so incredibly corrupt and broken that it took such incredible lengths to rescue us, still: Jesus did it. In love, He went to the cross.

So Piper talks about how we need to feel “loved unworthily.” We need to recognize that we have no claim on God’s love, so we won’t get all puffed up and arrogant about how great we are. Indeed, if we are going to boast in anything, let us boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:31). (“Our Theology is Meant to Flatten Us,”

But at the same time, we should be filled with an incredible confidence that we are deeply and irrevocably loved. Even if no one else ever notices us, even if no one else ever pays us a compliment or shows us care, we know that Jesus loves us. Jesus loves me this I know. Yes, Jesus loves me!

He loves us with the same love God the Father has for Him. He loves us with the love of the cross. That is a reason for deep joy.

The User’s Guide
Second, we experience the joy of obedience. John 15:10:

10If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.

Now, obedience is not something we usually equate with joy. Obedience is something we tend to equate with doing things we don’t want to do. School children would rather talk freely with their neighbors, but they obey the classroom rules because they don’t want to be held out of recess. Drivers would rather do 90 on the highway, but they obey the speed limit because they don’t want to get a ticket. I’d rather take a candy bar out of the grocery store without paying, but I obey the laws against shoplifting because I don’t want to go jail.

Obedience is usually something we think of as doing grudgingly, something we have to do because we fear the consequences if we do otherwise. And I think that’s the picture a lot of people have when they think about obeying God: “I better keep the 10 commandments; I better go church and watch my language and give to charity; because if I don’t God is going to get me and send me to Hell.” A lot of people act as though there are a bunch of things that look like they would be fun to try, but they don’t do them because God said not to. They obey. But they’re not real happy about it.

But here, Jesus talks about obeying Him and He connects it to joy. It’s the very next verse where He says: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” Is there a way to make obedience joyful?

I think of it like this: God’s laws to us are like a User’s Guide. God made us, He designed us, He knows what is the best for us. When you take a product and use it in a way it wasn’t designed for, you’re going to have problems. If you take a blender, and stick it in your bathtub in order to create your own Jacuzzi, you’re going to have problems. That’s not the way it is meant to be used. But if you follow the instructions in the User’s Guide, and use it to make ice cream shakes and tomato soup, you’re going to enjoy the product that much more.

And God’s laws are like that. He’s not asking us to obey because He wants to kill all our fun. He’s actually letting us know that obedience is key to our real joy. That when we obey, we’ll get the most out of life. We’ll be living life much more in line with the way we’ve been designed.

By Our Love
Third, we experience the joy of community. John 15, verses 12 and 13:

12My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

These are the verses that immediately follow Jesus saying that He wants our joy to be complete. After telling us to obey His commands, He now lasers in one command in particular: to love one another.

A couple of chapters earlier, at the beginning of this long final discourse, Jesus told His disciples: “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35)

Jesus makes our love for one another the badge by which we become identifiable in the world. And, again, there’s a whole lot of weight in that word “as.” As Jesus has loved us, so we are to love one another. Jesus loves us as the Father loves Him. More than that, Jesus lay down His life for us. Now we are called to love one another within the church with that same kind of love.

One of the joys of the Christian life is to be a part of the community of believers. Connected to believers all around the world, and more particularly, to believers right in this room. The Bible knows nothing of Lone Ranger Christianity. We are saved into a family. One of the privileges of being a part of the church is the opportunity to love one another, and to be loved by one another.

And, of course, Jesus is calling us to a relationship that goes deeper than shaking hands over the back of the pews on Sunday morning or giving a friendly nod to somebody in the lobby. This is about more than recognizing someone’s picture from the church directory.

Jesus is talking about a sacrificial love. A costly love. A love that gives. Jesus is talking about a commitment to what is best for this community regardless of the personal cost.

Not a cheap love. Not a love that hangs around as long as things are fun and easy but bails as soon as things get tough. A lot of contemporary portrayals of love are like that. Love is based on feelings, and feelings are easily changed. We see a lot of selfishness, not selflessness.

But if we are really going to keep Jesus’ command here then it’s not going to come by cutting corners. It’s going to take the kind of self-giving love Jesus demonstrated. It may not literally take our lives, but we have to pour our whole lives into this sort of love. It’ll cost us financially. It’ll cost us time. It’ll cost us emotionally.

There’s real joy in those kinds of relationships though. There’s real joy in being in a community that loves like this.

Friends of the Master
Fourth, we experience the joy of service. Verses 14 and 15:

14You are my friends if you do what I command. 15I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.

There is a sense in which Jesus died for the whole world, but there is another sense in which you could say He only died for His friends. The last verse says that the greatest love lays down its life for one’s friends. Clearly, that’s what Jesus did. So you want to be one of His friends.

And who are His friends? Those who do what He commands. We’re back to that idea of obedience. Not that we have to keep His commands in order to earn His friendship; but rather this obedience is what will characterize our friendship with Him. He says earlier, in chapter 14, that those who love Him will obey His teaching. The obedience springs out of love.

But what’s interesting here is that this friendship is not really friendship between equals. It is a remarkable thing that God would call us His friends. In the Old Testament, Abraham and Moses are both called friends of God. No one else. But now, Jesus says that those who obey Him are His friends.

In all the Bible, though, God is never called the friend of a human. Abraham and Moses are friends of God, but God is never referred to as the friend of Abraham and Moses. Lazarus is called the friend of Jesus, but Jesus is not called the friend of Lazarus. Not that God is unfriendly towards us. Not all. He gave His life for us. Guilty sinners can find no better and truer friend than Jesus.

But my point here is that Jesus is still Master and we are still servants. That He chooses to call us friends is remarkable and overwhelming, but that does not change the fundamental dynamic of our relationship: He is King, we are subjects.

And that means that we serve. We serve Him. His purposes become our purposes. And there is great joy in that service. Because as His friends, we know our master’s business. We know what delights the heart of our King, and He has given us the privilege of being at work in His kingdom.

So whether it is serving in the children’s ministry here at church, or the youth ministry or on the worship team or in hospitality; or volunteering with ministries outside of the church like Feed our Children or Cherish Center or the Many Hands Market; or serving God in the way you approach your work or your family or your prayer life; there is great satisfaction in using your gifts to be a part of God’s work in the world. There is joy in service.

Bearing Fruit
And then, fifth, we experience the joy of mission. Verse 16:

16You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.

Tied to the idea of service is the idea of being a part of God’s mission. Specifically, introducing new people to Jesus.

The words “go and bear fruit” connect this verse to the Great Commission, where Jesus tells us to “go and make disciples”; as well as to the verses that lead up to this section of scripture, where Jesus calls Himself the Vine and tells us to remain connected to Him if we are to bear fruit. Commentator D.A. Carson writes:

[This has] suggested to many commentators, probably rightly, that the fruit primarily in view in this verse is the fruit that emerges from mission, from specific ministry to which the disciples have been sent. The fruit, in short, is new converts. One purpose of [being chosen by Christ], then, is that the disciples who have been so blessed with revelation and understanding, should win others to the faith—fruit that will last. (The Gospel According to John, p. 523)

There are few joys that can compare to seeing someone put their faith and trust in Jesus. We who possess the good news that Jesus loved us when we were unlovable, that He loves us with a free and extravagant love, have the opportunity to share that good news with a world that needs to hear it.

And so, we are a part of the mission. And you’ll find there is incredible joy when you give yourself to that mission.

Jesus wants us to experience joy in Him. Complete joy. The greatest joy there is. And it comes from living for Him. Knowing you are loved. Obeying Him. Loving His people. Serving in His Kingdom. Engaging in His mission work.

A Picture of Joy
Finally, I want to close today by talking about the painting that hangs just outside the doors to our sanctuary. I’m guessing most all of you have seen it, though it has hung there long enough that maybe you have stopped noticing it.

It was painted 8 years ago by an artist named Karen Cooper, at my request. She and her husband have moved out of Spencer, but she was gracious enough to leave the painting. This is what it looks like.

It’s a painting based on the story Jesus tells in Luke 15 of the lost sheep. You are probably familiar with the story, but it is pretty easy to summarize. A shepherd has 100 sheep. But he loses one. So he leaves the 99 to go out into the wilderness and find the missing sheep. Then he brings it home.

Most of the paintings I’ve seen based on that parable have emphasized the shepherd reaching for the sheep, or the shepherd carrying the sheep home. When we hear sermons on that parable they usually emphasize that Jesus loves us so much that He would leave the many in order to risk great danger to come find us. So paintings usually try to capture the drama of the search and rescue.

But I don’t really think that’s the striking thing about that story. Any shepherd worth his salt is going to look for a lost lamb. It’s not like he abandoned the 99 to the wolves. They were safe. And 100 sheep is better than 99. Of course he looked.

The amazing thing in Jesus’ story is that when the shepherd gets home, he throws a party. He invites all his friends and neighbors over and he says: “Rejoice with me; I found my lost sheep.” Then Jesus says: “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

That’s an image that drives me. Our God is the kind of God who loves to throw a party. Our God is a God who rejoices over us.

And He’s inviting us to the party. He wants us to experience joy. Jesus says we might grieve a little now, but a time is coming when no one will be able to take your joy. He prays to the Father for us and He prays that we would have a “full measure” of His joy. He says: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you, that your joy may be complete.” Jesus wants us to have joy.

He wants us to experience the kind of joy that can only be found in Him.

And so, we need to be the kind of church that is filled with joy.