Joy to the World!
How Can JESUS Be the JOY for THIS World?
A four-part Christmas series
How Can Jesus Be the Joy HERE?
After the recent midterm elections ended, one national commentator observed:
This politically divisive fall actually was› preceded by years of a metastasizing toxicity and division in which the idea and the ideal of democracy have been under attack with increasing political violence as a result.
Certainly, this comes as no news flash for any of us.
But wait! Sometime this Christmas season, Christians throughout the land will sing or hear at least once this verse of “Joy to the World,” which seems utterly discordant with the nightmare of our current national condition:
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love
Do we genuinely believe those lofty claims about who God’s Son is today? Do we see him as actively and directly involved in (1) RULING among us, not only with truth but also with GRACE, or (2) sovereignly CAUSING the nations to experience firsthand the wonders of his LOVE prevailing among us?
Can our Savior fulfill such promises for a nation like ours— as we suffer such deadly levels of distrust, animosity, and division among its citizens not seen since the Civil War?
Can he do that for your family? Or your church? Or your community? Especially when hearts have been severed from one another over politics and culture wars?
In other words, could the healing hope of joy that’s meant for the world—the joy OF Jesus and the joy IN Jesus—become a force that transforms the spiritual and social climate of a whole nation?
Yes, it could! And here’s how!
The Metastasizing Toxicity Among Us
I’m currently in the process of tackling presidential historian Jon Meacham’s massive new biography of Abraham Lincoln, And There Was Light. Once again, I’m shocked with how violently divided our nation was during the horrendous Civil War—a breach regarding slavery that surfaced at the founding of our country long before the bloodbath descended upon that generation
Look at the battle of Gettysburg, for example—the 51,000 casualties from both sides; the Confederate wagon train in retreat, stretching almost 20 miles, carrying 18,000 wounded with another 4000 buried in shallow graves on the battlefield and over 5000 MIA.
Four months later, when President Lincoln arrived to dedicate the resulting Gettysburg Civil War Cemetery, his personal mission was not to stoke the fires of hatred and enmity (which might have been expected considering the brutalities), but rather he took just two minutes to deliver to the 15,000 gathered one of the most profound speeches of all time.
And what was his topic? He highlighted the positive virtues stated in our founding document, showing them to be full of promise that remained true to that hour. He focused on the “binding up” of the nation; he was concerned with healing the metastasizing, toxic division that had resulted in the three-day battle.
He declared that all American citizens—North and South—were created by God and, therefore, equal in value as well as in potential. That’s why he defined the battlefield as “sacred ground” and called for the living to rededicate themselves to fulfill the American vision. Under God, he said, there would be (not might be) a new birth of freedom—restored, imperishable, and shared by all—a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
In other words, standing in a place where anger and animosity had sealed the death of many thousands, Lincoln brought a message to fill the downhearted with a reason for joy—the celebration of the promise of reconciliation leading to a whole new beginning.
Then Lincoln returned to Washington to continue working to make that joyful future a reality—doing so successfully (to a significant degree), though losing his own life to an assassin because he did.
If Lincoln could believe it, surely JESUS can DO it!
Today in America, seething social and cultural resentments have again brought us to the brink of another display of internecine struggles. Half of our nation’s people fear that the other half have become enemies of the American way of life—and both halves think it’s the other half who are destroying our country! As one social commentator put it: “Lately, a vast number of our fellow citizens are gripped more by a rising social dysfunction than the rising of inflation.”
If you want to know where this could lead us if we keep traveling down this road, consider the tragic response of Russia right now. Giving vent to pervasive existential fears coupled with a massive national inferiority complex, Russia is slaughtering an entire people, justified, they believe, by a history of hostilities with Ukraine and based (according to scholars) on totally irrational jealousy, resentment, and bitterness toward them. One could say that the soul of Moscow has been utterly brutalized by a rank, all-consuming enmity toward fellow Slavs.
Such a spirit of animosity and alienation appears to be trending among Americans today. Ultimately, as with Russia, it too could destroy the soul of our nation as we keep laying siege against one another with such intensity—red America vs. blue America, white America vs. black America, straight America vs. gay America, homegrown America vs. immigrant America, Gentile America vs. Jewish America, Christian America vs. pagan America, etc.
And yet, sometime in the next few days, most of us from all these camps—doing so even in secular venues at a Christmas concert, for example—will hear ourselves united in singing a carol that claims:
He rules the world with truth and grace
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love,
and wonders of his love,
and wonders, wonders of his love.
Are those just empty words to make us feel good for an hour, or are they the truth?
Is the Jesus whose birth we celebrate—but who is now ascended to heaven’s throne to fill the universe with his saving purpose, power, supremacy, activity, and sacrificial love—able to fully accomplish that claim?
That is precisely what Paul claims concerning the impact of Christ’s reign and the wonders of his love it produces (Ephesians 4, emphasis added):
He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe . . . until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature . . . speaking the truth in love . . . From him the whole body . . . grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
As this sacred narrative is unfolding for the universe, could it not also become the sacred experience for a nation? Is such joy—the joy created by God’s love in Christ—still available for healing a people as divided as we are?
The healing power of the joy of love
played out in a prison
One reason I’m so confident such a gracious new beginning remains in the offing at the macro-level for America is that I’ve seen it taking place on the micro-level inside a well-known maximum-security prison where I’ve enjoyed volunteer work for over thirteen years.
Of course, it would take too much space to tell you here the whole remarkable story of the impact of the Christ Awakening spreading inside an institution of nearly 1500 inmates. But recently, we celebrated a reunion of previous inmates—some having served as many as thirty years—who are currently living and thriving outside the prison walls, serving the Lord Jesus Christ in all they do.
At that event, one of the participants shared how all these years later, he continues to treasure the love of Christ and the love of fellow believers he had experienced inside East Jersey State Prison—in powerful ways he hopes to find “outside the walls.”
There, “inside the walls,” I’ve witnessed the transformation of the saving, active lordship of God’s Son. The “wonders of his love” have been proven real among hundreds of these men, resulting in joy so potent that whenever we gather for worship, the scores of worshipers can go on singing nonstop for an hour, praising the righteousness and love of God poured into them through Jesus Christ.
After this reunion, I wrote the men my evaluation of the miracle that has been unfolding marvelously inside the correctional facility. But in truth, my message was really about a miracle waiting to happen as well among millions of Jesus followers across America.
But there’s another promise in this miracle! With God’s reconciling love flowing among and through God’s people, the predictions of the verse we’re focused on from “Joy to the World” could become a dynamic reality throughout our society.
Therefore, I want to end my blog post by sharing with you what I wrote to those men.
As you know, we have become alive to Christ, joined as one in Christ to live for the glory of Christ together. When someone asks me to explain the spiritual revolution that has transpired inside East Jersey State Prison, there’s one verse I often share in answer. It’s 1 Peter 1:22, which describes the miracle witnessed among us over the years:
Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth about Christ so that you have sincere love for each other, now love one another deeply, from the heart.
But what do I say if my friends ask me how such a community overflowing with love springs up? After all, prisons are best known for widespread anger, strife, division, tribalism, revenge, hatred, conflict, abuse, and violence.
Of course, I remind them that those same characteristics aren’t limited to prison dwellers. They mark, either subtly or overtly, much of our entire society today. This is a universal challenge that must be overcome by the Redeemer who today “rules the earth with grace and truth.”
However, I don’t stop there. Next, I take them to three other verses in 1 Peter 1 that explain how Jesus’ reign brings about this kind of love among those who put their trust in him. If it can happen inside prison cells, it can happen anywhere!
I start by pointing to verse 3—which defines the truth about Jesus that Peter says we have received and obeyed:
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . .
Primarily, the sustaining of our love for one another is wrapped up in the greatness of our hope about our destiny, which is focused on the wonders of the victories of Christ over all our enemies, including death itself. No fear here. Therefore, love thrives.
Next, I go to verses 18-19, which show that unhindered and unlimited love is made possible because our redemption is in Christ:
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
In other words, we are purified not only from sin but also from the “empty ways” of this world—ways that are endemic to our fallen nature, which the Bible says produce “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy” (Galatians 5).
“Redeemed” means we have been lifted out of the “domain of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son” (Colossians 1). There the Holy Spirit replaces the emptiness of our souls with characteristics of the Lord Jesus, namely “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5).
Such transformative work can take place inside one person at a time or within a whole community. But the result, as the passage teaches, is love mixed with and producing JOY!
The final verse is from 1 Peter 1:8. Here is the core reason our hearts become full of deep love for each other:
Though you have not seen Jesus Christ, 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 . . .
Bottom line, lasting love for each other is really the fruit of our growing and deepening love for the Lord Jesus Christ himself. All the love we so desperately need begins and ends in him.
And notice, the result is what the Christian movement inside East Jersey State Prison has been experiencing for years—inexpressible, glorious JOY! What a testimony this has been for the gospel to all the other inmates. And what a reason to praise the name of Jesus!
My letter ends there.
May the insights it expresses abide with all of us this Christmastide.
It is those truths, when alive in us, that bring credibility to the promise that there is JOY waiting for all who come under the truth-filled and grace-filled supremacy of Christ, for all who open their hearts and lives to allow the Son of God to “prove” in them—to demonstrate and authenticate—what divine love is all about.
The love of Jesus is a love that cannot be contained—a love sufficient for an entire nation to save us from ourselves, to restore us to God and to one another, and to bring us into a life together that truly is of, by, and for the people.
John tells us in 1 John 3 that “we love BECAUSE he first loved us.” That means loving one another with divine love that comes about because we ourselves have first been saturated with a love that is of (the source), by (the means), and for (the focus) the Son—the King given to us to establish a joyous reign of love among us destined to last forever (Isaiah 9).
- View. Learn more about the miracle at East Jersey State Prison with this 75-second video clip from ChristNow.com. View it here. (Titled “Miracles in Prison!”; 6th row of the first page)
- Write: If you have a few minutes, drop me your thoughts on this or any other concern at David.Bryant@ChristNow.com. I’ll respond.
- Join: Consider becoming part of our Nationwide Campaign for an American CHRIST Awakening in 2023 as we spread the love of Christ together throughout our land.
About the Author
Over the past 45 years, David Bryant has been defined by many as a “messenger of hope” and a “Christ proclaimer” to the Church throughout the world. Formerly a minister-at-large with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, president of Concerts of Prayer International (COPI), and chairman of America’s National Prayer Committee, David now provides leadership to ChristNow.com and Proclaim Hope!, whose mission is to foster and serve Christ Awakening movements. Order his widely read books at DavidBryantBooks.com. Enjoy his regular Daily CHRIST TODAY podcast.