Jesus’ joy! Do you know of it and is His joy also your joy? This is what I would like to think about with you, continuing in our reflection on Jesus’ high priestly prayer as recorded for us in John 17. In vs. 13 of this chapter we hear Jesus pray, “And now come I to thee [my Father]; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Is Jesus’ joy fulfilled in you, dear friends?
This is now our fourth message on John 17 which gives us Jesus’ longest prayer in the Bible. It is a prayer of intercession that Jesus prayed out loud with His disciples some time between being in the Upper Room and going into the Garden of Gethsemane. This prayer is very special for many reasons, not the least that Jesus prayed it the evening before His crucifixion. I have said before already, words fail in bringing out the glorious riches and gospel worth of John 17, and that is certainly the case just with looking at this one verse this time where Jesus says to the Father: “And now come I to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Just think of what Jesus is saying and praying here! Isn’t He saying, ‘My dear Father in heaven, I am now praying out loud, for this express purpose, that my disciples, my people, might have my joy fulfilled in themselves’? Let us look closer at this verse and in it’s context, notice with me the joy that Jesus prays for, and provides, and promotes and promises, even for as many as trust and obey Him. Jesus’ joy - your joy? God’s people may say, yes” based on what Jesus Himself here prays, provides, promotes, and promises! Let us think further on these four points now, and may God bless it to you by His Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ prayer here is astonishing when you consider what He prays and when He prays and for whom He prays. How we should marvel at His compassion for His disciples who were so distressed and concerned and comfortless thinking about what might happen to Jesus and Him parting from them perhaps. Think of it. While Jesus was facing the darkest and most difficult of nights in all His life and in all of the history of the world, while He Himself was facing the cursed and shameful death on the cross and the full wrath of God against Him as Sinbearer making Him say only a little later, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” [Mark 14:34], yet Jesus would pray now that His joy might be fulfilled and perfected in His disciples. Don’t you see too that this is really something, Jesus praying for other people’s joy, when He Himself was going through untold suffering and agonizing sorrow of heart?
And notice what Jesus prays. He doesn’t pray just, “Father, grant that the disciples’ joy, that is, my people’s joy, be very great or that they have so very much joy in life. No, Jesus prays rather, ‘Grant that my joy might be fulfilled, perfected, in them.’ In other words, Jesus prays that they each and all may have and experience the best and deepest of joys and not just in a small way but in an immeasurable way. Praying that “My joy be fulfilled in them,” Jesus prays that the joy He has, His people might have likewise, and not a little bit but fulfilled in them, that is, filled to the brim and overflowing with His joy! It is remarkable that He says ‘My joy’ for us, and that He prays that we might know it and keep knowing it more and more to so that we are overflowing with it.
Here, to make sense of this all, we need to ask what is this joy of Jesus that He would have His people know and share in too. We had just said that actually Jesus was facing the saddest of nights ever. Did He have any joy then to speak of? Oh yes, the Bible tells us, for instance, in Hebrews 12:2 that even on the way to the cross Jesus had a deep joy, “Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.” This joy of which Jesus speaks is the joy of a perfect relationship of love and favour with God the Father, and the joy of a clear conscience before God the Father, and the joy of being pleasing in His sight, doing only always His will. This joy, Jesus’ own joy, is the joy of holy happy immeasurable fellowship with His Father in heaven and that same joy that Jesus always had and has, He now prays all His people may know and enjoy too.
What is really special about this holy joy also is that it is not dependent on human and physical material circumstances. How much human joy depends on our circumstances and events of the day? So much natural joy of man is feeble and short-lived but Jesus’ joy is independent of any circumstance, whether it may seem for us or against us. Jesus is speaking here of joy holding in health and sickness, riches and poverty, progress or setback, life and death. Jesus, though a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, yet the “joy of the Lord was His strength.” What can be compared to the joy of knowing God the Father in heaven looks down upon you in love and embraces you in His everlasting tender care and keeping,, and promises His favour upon you in all your ways for real and always, even to all eternity! Interestingly, the apostle John writes in the first chapter of his first epistle in verses 3-4, speaking of Jesus the Saviour, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you that your joy may be full.”
On the way to the cross Jesus, the blessed Saviour, prays this prayer for His people, even for as many as look to Him and follow Him, “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” This is truly such an amazing prayer when you think not only of the context, the content, and the character of this joy but think too of what we deserve, left to ourselves! Having fallen in sin in Adam and by nature sinners through and through, we all deserve only always to suffer in misery and surely all will end up in the place where there is endless grief and sorrow and constant weeping and gnashing of teeth. But now behold Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, has come into this world and He is out to save sinners, not just a little but completely and abundantly and royally and richly even so that His earnest prayer becomes: ‘Father, grant that all mine may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.’ Imagine, so great salvation, not just promising eternal life hereafter but fullness of life and that more abundantly also here and now, regardless of circumstances.
Jesus’ joy - your joy? Doesn’t Jesus’ prayer teach us that may be and can be so? Doesn’t it bring out too the blessedness of Jesus the Saviour and the infinite quality of His saving work on sinners’ behalf? Jesus’ prayer too is so consistent with other Scriptures. I think, for instance, of Isaiah 12 where the prophet foretells of the Messiah’s saving work and then calls for hearty praise testifying, “Therefore with joy shall ye draw water out of the wells of salvation.” In Psalm 5 the exhortation is given: “Let all those that put their trust in thee, rejoice: let them ever shout for joy, because thou defendest them: let them also that love thy Name be joyful in thee.” Jesus’ prayer that our joy, no, His joy in us, may be more and more perfected and fulfilled in us, that fits with all that was prophesied about Him and the reason He came.
Is Jesus’ joy your joy? Is His prayer here fulfilled in your life and mine? Must we not even say it is dishonouring to the Lord to be a joyless Christian? Jesus would have His people to be Christian people who rejoice, yes, as Paul says in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.” It is our calling as Christians to have this joy and to be filled with it daily and to reflect it constantly.
Maybe you say, but how? Well, notice with me our second main point, what Jesus prays for He also Himself provides for. Jesus speaks about His joy being fulfilled in us. In other words, He is the Source of this joy. We receive it from Him and it is all about Him too. This joy that Jesus prays His people might have and be overflowing with, He Himself obtained through His saving work on sinners’ behalf. His joy is not something you and I need to create but it is something He provides and delights to give.
How has He and does He provide for this joy? The first words of the text help give us an answer here. Jesus says, “And now come I to thee, [Father], and these things I speak in the world that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Having His joy then in us is related to what Jesus is speaking about. And what is He speaking about? Have we not learned already, Jesus in this prayer is speaking about the once for all sacrifice He is making and how He has done all that the Father had given Him to do that sinners might be saved totally and forever? Jesus tells in this prayer about His perfect sacrifice for sin, and about His endless care for His people. As we saw last time, looking at vs. 6-8, Jesus shows us in this prayer how He views His people, as many as trust in Him, whom the Father has given Him. Jesus views them so graciously and grandly and gently. And He values them so distinctly, and dearly, and devotedly. And the vision He has for His people cannot be expressed, so beautiful and far reaching and eternal it is, so all encompassing and magnificent from every angle! Jesus had just promised too in the chapters before this prayer that while He would leave physically from this earth, He would send another Comforter, namely, God the Holy Spirit to abide in us and with us.
Jesus relates in this holy prayer of John 17 that, for as many trust and obey Him, what Jesus’ relationship is to the Father becomes His people’s relationship as adopted children of the Father, for Jesus’ sake. All that Jesus is to the Father in heaven, His people become too by grace through faith, and all that belongs to Christ belongs then to them as well. In the last verse of this holy prayer Jesus mentions that the love wherewith the Father loves Him, the only begotten Son of God, may be in us and experienced by us in the same measure. In John 15:9 Jesus also has said then: “As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.” Imagine being so loved with such eternal pure love! But that is truly what all who hear and follow after Jesus the Saviour receive. As the result of Jesus’ saving work, every barrier has been removed, separating us from perfect reconciliation with God and endless acceptance with God and eternal fellowship with Him. This is what Jesus accomplished in His saving work for sinners. Telling of these very things, Jesus says in John 15:11, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
Do you see with me how Jesus’ prayer that we be filled with His joy fulfilled in us is based on His provision for His people, even as He would lay down His life as a ransom for many? Is Jesus’ joy your joy? If you will not look to Him and follow after Him in spirit and in truth, then you can’t have and won’t have Jesus’ joy in you. The ungodly and unsaved may have temporary earthly joys still but it is all dependent on circumstances being good and working out for you. And the Bible warns that the unbeliever’s gladness and laughter is like the crackling of thorn bushes in a short-lived fire, making lots of noise maybe but dying out so quickly and not really accomplishing anything. Even when a person may have all the treasures and pleasures of this world at his disposal, how sad and empty are the temporary thrills of this world compared to the deep and everlasting joy of the Lord in and through Christ Jesus. Our text, which tells of Jesus’ joy being in us and flourishing to overflowing, speaks of real joy that never ends but only grows and that holds, regardless of circumstances. We were made for God and good and no joy is real as long as we are separated from God and alienated from Him on account of our sins and sinfulness. Jesus, the Saviour of sinners, has opened the way, a new and living way, whereby we may be reconciled to God for real and restored to Him for always as His dear adopted children, and that brings endless joy and true joy! This joy Jesus prays for His people and provides for them. While the world and the unsaved have no reason for joy really, what endless reasons God’s people have for true joy.
Jesus’ joy - your joy? Is it so, dear friends? Or do you maybe say John 17:13 troubles you actually for while you look to Jesus Christ as only Saviour and Lord yet, honestly speaking, you still have so little joy in your life and so often you very poorly, if at all, reflect the joy of the Lord in your life? Oh, which true child of God doesn’t know about this struggle sometimes? Is it your complaint perhaps that you have so little joy in the Christian life and way? Well, that brings me now to our third main point about how Jesus surely promotes His people having this real joy in life. Here let me stress first of all that Jesus would have His people filled with joy and rejoicing, this we may know for sure. Let no one think or promote the idea that being a Christian means we should always be sad looking and very somber and grave in our conduct and conversation and mostly miserable in our outlook every day again. Some people, in reaction to worldly and superficial joy, want to promote this kind of dark outlook on life as being truly Christian but that is false. True Christianity is most joyful, and we can say even, also considering Jesus’ prayer, it is the believer’s Christian duty and responsibility to possess and experience the joy of which our Lord speaks.
Here then let me now give five helps in experiencing and reflecting true Christian joy, again in light of our text chapter. Looking to Jesus and trusting Him alone to save you, keep in mind these points:
1. Christian joy is not so much dependent on our condition before Christ as our position in and through Christ. John 17 is all about the believer’s exalted redeemed position in and through Christ the Saviour and if we would only focus on that more, our joy would be so much greater. Here let me quote from Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones to explain and apply what I mean. “I suppose that there is nothing that so tends to rob us of our joy as our realization that we do not love God as we ought, because when we realize this, we become unhappy and miserable. I will tell you the best antidote to that: when you realize your love is weak and faint and unworthy, stop thinking about your love, and realize that in spite of its poverty, the Saviour loves you. He has said [to all who trust and follow Him], ‘As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you.’ If I did not believe that, then I would be of all men most wretched and miserable for the whole essence of the Christian religion is to know that in spite of what I have been, and what I am, He loves me. …There are many Christian people who spend the whole of their lives looking at their own feelings and always taking their own spiritual pulse, their own spiritual temperature and of course, they never find it satisfactory, and because of that they are mostly miserable and unhappy, moaning and groaning, and that is wrong. Look outside of yourself and consider more Jesus’ prayer and provision for us and our position in and through Him, even for as many as look to Him according to the promise of God. The secret of Christian joy is to focus on Christ and meditate more on Him as revealed in His word…” The first thing then is to realize more and more your position in Christ rather than going by your condition before Christ.
2. Then from our text let us learn the importance of being sanctified through the word, and seeking always to live holy lives in accordance with God’s Word. If you or I will live in any sin, if you or I allow for and excuse anything displeasing to God in our life, of course that will take away from true joy in the Lord. Certainly the experience of that true joy is spoiled. Jesus in this prayer warns about the hostile sinful world that we must live in, and prays that we be sanctified through the truth time and again. We must avoid everything that tends to break our fellowship with God for the moment that is broken, the Christian becomes miserable for then our conscience accuses us and we know we are in the wrong way. Is your lack of joy because of some bosom sin permitted, robbing you of sweet communion and concentration on the Saviour and God’s unspeakable gift in and through Him? Don’t let that continue but confess your sin and repent and return to Christ even today, and see if your joy won’t be full with His joy fulfilled in you.
3. A third help in true Christian joy is promoting as much as possible Christian unity and love and, as Paul says in Romans 12:18, “If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.” Of course this does not mean unity at the cost of truth and in compromise with error but preserving true Christian unity as much as possible. Living in such an environment, how much joy that can bring. Lack of unity and strife between brethren, discord of any kind in the family or in the community and especially in the church, can sap away all real joy. But where brethren dwell together in unity, the Lord commands His blessing there, His blessing of real joy too. How often in John 17 Jesus prays for the sweet and real unity of His people, and it is important to realize how related this is to knowing and experiencing real Christian joy.
4. Real Christian joy is known and shown when realizing our position in and through Christ, seeking to live a holy life, being sanctified with truth, and living in unity with others, and a fourth point here is, let us realize that we have a calling in life to be lights in this world. Jesus says in vs. 18, “As thou hast sent me into the world, so have I sent them into the world.” How joyful life can be when you realize Christ has a mission also for you and when you live seeking to be a gospel light and blessing to others as God also gives you opportunity so often in many small but real ways. Sometimes the best remedy for joylessness is service of one kind or another. What joy is experienced in bringing cheer and joy to others in Jesus’ Name and for His praise.
5. Then, one other help so to live in true Christian joy is to ever remember the inheritance which may be ours in and through Christ Jesus. Inexpressible treasures and pleasures evermore await God’s people in glory eternal! “Let not your heart be trouble””, Jesus says to His disciples, “for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.” Oh, how dwelling on future glory can so encourage us in the way of true Christian joy and service here and now. Peter writes about this so beautifully too in I Peter 1 where, speaking to those suffering much for the gospel’s sake but highlighting the promised inheritance incorruptible and undefiled that fades not away, reserved in heaven for you [all] who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, he then writes to the oppressed and afflicted believers, “Wherein ye greatly rejoice though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations….[and in spite of heavy trials] …yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.” It isn’t easy to live in a hostile and ungodly and indifferent and tempting world rejoicing in the gospel. But think on Christ, and what we may have in and through Him, and there are endless reasons for constant joy overflowing which will prove not to be empty in the end either.
Jesus joy - your joy? The aim and purpose of this message is that it may be so and surely it is Jesus’ will that it be so considering how He prays for His joy being fulfilled in us, and provides that it be so, and promotes that it be so.
Let me end just emphasizing yet too Jesus’ promise that calling upon Him and looking to Him and following after Him, the crucified and risen Saviour, you will be guided in the way of true and everlasting joy. Listen here to Jesus’ word in John 16:24 to His disciples, “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” Are you plagued with no joy in the Christian life for whatever reason, sin, shortcoming, trial, failure, temptation, oppression, grief? Oh, bring it all to Jesus and see if the Saviour Who prayed John 17, including vs. 13, can’t make also His joy be fulfilled in you. Jesus promises, with joy you may draw water out of the wells of salvation, and His going to the cross after also the prayer of John 17 proves and guarantees that what He Himself prays for His people will also be granted to all those call upon Him.
Jesus’ joy - your joy? Nothing less is what the crucified and risen Saviour of sinner aims for, even for as many as hear His voice and follow after Him. So looking to Christ Jesus in spirit and truth, rejoice evermore, won’t you? Yes, considering also just what Jesus prays, and provides, and promotes, and promises, “that they might have my joy fulfilled in themselves.” Hallelujah, what a Saviour of sinners is Jesus Christ the Lord, indeed. Amen!
Hans Overduin, Radio Pastor