Rejoice

Kyle McIver


We have three discipleship rhythms at Redeemer: Remember, Rejoice, and Relate. As someone who loves alliteration, those four R’s make me very happy! Last month Dan preached from Psalm 40 about our first rhythm, remembering the gospel of Jesus Christ. This morning, we’re moving to the second rhythm, rejoicing in Jesus and his redemptive work.

Now right up front I want to be honest and say that when I mention joy or rejoicing in Jesus, I feel a tension. On one hand, we know that the Bible teaches us that we are to be glad in God. The Psalms especially are full of this language, and it is a theme that runs through the entire Bible. The world around us is full of good things, and God commands us to enjoy them and in doing so, glorify him. And at the same time, joy is hard. We need only to turn on the news or scroll through social media or talk with a friend or co-worker to encounter sin, sorrow, and brokenness. And yet we are supposed to rejoice. To be glad. To sing.

So what do we do with this tension? How do we sincerely rejoice when we are constantly faced with things that evoke emotions that seem to war against our joy? These questions and tensions are not at all foreign to the Bible, and we find them in our text for this morning in Romans 5, along with God’s solution and his provision of everything we need for a life of joy in the midst of our present circumstances.

Three Aspects of Joy

So here’s what we’re going to see this morning in this text - the main idea is joy, and we see three different aspects of joy here:

The source of our joy (5:1-2)

The circumstances of our joy (5:3)

The direction of our joy: upward to Jesus and forward in hope (5:3-5, 11)

The Source of Joy

First Point: The Source of Our Joy (5:1-2, 6-10)

Alright, let’s get into Romans 5. There’s so much we can say here - this passage is like a grand tapestry, and what we’re going to do this morning is trace the thread of “rejoicing” that we find here.

So first I want to briefly help us locate where we are in the book of Romans. That’s important to what we see in chapter 5. Up to this point in the letter, the Apostle Paul has been laboring to make clear the gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s made his case for the universal sinfulness of all people and their guilt before God. And he has begun to unfold the great mystery of all history, that God is both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. That God is just in that he punishes sin fully by Jesus paying the penalty for sin, and that he is justifies the ungodly when they put their faith in Jesus. In Romans chapter 5, Paul is still on this theme of being justified before God, and how that happens.

And we need to look at that. Let’s define that term, “justified.” To be justified simply means that we are made right with God. We are sinners. We aren’t just people who do wrong stuff sometimes. The natural condition of every human being is fallen and broken and in rebellion. Apart from God’s grace, we reject God’s law, and we are separated from God. The fellowship that once existed between God and people - just two people, Adam and Eve - long ago in the Garden of Eden was shattered when they betrayed God and forfeited right relationship with him.

And ever since that moment, God has been at work to redeem and reconcile a people for himself. To restore what was broken. And God’s solution, the manner in which he restores and reconciles us, is justification by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus dies in our place on the cross so that sin is punished and grace may be given to sinners who do not deserve it. This is the core of the gospel message. This is profound! God, in his wisdom, is able to be just and punish sin in the measure that it deserves, while at the time time justifying - forgiving and reconciling - sinners to himself.

This is what we’re looking at when we see that phrase in Romans 5:1, “since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Those who are trusting in Jesus have been reconciled to God and are united to Him. We have received grace and we now have peace with God.

Now, what does all of this have to do with joy? The answer is that God himself is our joy. God, to whom we have been reconciled, is the great gift of the gospel. He is our joy. But how? How is God the source of our joy? How does that actually work? Have you ever wondered that? Have you read books and heard people talk or preach about joy in God and walked away saying “Yes!” while at the same time, “wait, how does that work now?” I have! I’ve asked that question and wrestled with it over and over again. And for a long time, I think I was missing the essential ingredient. Do you know what it is? God is happy. God is happy. That’s it! He’s happy! He really, really is! And when we are in Christ, when we’re trusting in Jesus, He’s happy with us.

Do you find that hard to believe? Don’t we all have those days where we look at ourselves and get stuck on our performance and think “C-“? Or other days when we say “F”. And not just any “F”, but the big red pen “F”. Did you ever get one of those in school? Maybe not… but I did. I found out that my ceiling in math was Calculus. I tried hard, but I just couldn’t do it. I felt like a bum. Like a failure. I thought my teacher hated me because I just didn’t get it! And sometimes, I think we view God like my calculus teacher. We’re fixated on our performance and our shortcomings, and we think that God is pretty much tolerating us. He doesn’t really like it - he doesn’t really like us - but he’s persevering in putting up with us. Although, you know, he’s not very happy about it. Do you feel that? I have! But is that true? Does God exist in this state of “Meh… I guess I’ll put up with Kyle for a little while longer…”? No! Of course not! He is happy! He’s actually really is happy! And here’s why, just a couple reasons at least, and we’re going to hit them really briefly: God is sovereign, and he is Triune. When I say sovereign, what I mean is that God does whatever he pleases. Psalm 115:3 says it outright: Our God is in the heavens, he does whatever he pleases. He always does what he wants and what makes him happy. Always!

And we put that truth alongside the truth that God is Triune, God is Trinity. If you’re unfamiliar with that term “trinity” or “triune”, it means that God is one God, but three persons. There’s a lot of mystery here, but one thing it means is that God has always existed in the perfect, infinitely happy fellowship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God, in himself, in the fellowship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is perfectly happy. And he does all that he pleases! This happy God does all that he pleases! So we see that God is sovereign and God is Triune, which means he is happy. Invincibly happy.

So how does this relate to our joy? What’s the point here? Let’s think about this. We are united by faith to this infinitely happy God. He is sovereign and he is for us and he will never let us go. Because we have peace with God and are justified by faith, we’ve been brought into eternal fellowship with the invincibly happy God. Think about that... Doesn’t that make your heart sing right now? Do you feel that sense of thrill and awe and wonder? That’s the source of our joy. We see the glory of God and taste it together, and our hearts cannot help but rejoice. We are experiencing and worshiping and in fellowship with the happiest being there is. Which is exactly what verse two is saying: we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

Joy doesn’t exist all by itself, does it? Joy is not disconnected from our reality. There’s always something that produces joy. Laughter produces joy. Loved ones produce joy. Food and sports and art and reading produce joy. And the glory of God and the profound gladness of God expressed toward us in the gift of his Son Jesus produces joy. So we really can say that God is our joy. Knowing God, relating to God, being reconciled to God, who is infinitely and invincibly happy - this is the source and sustaining strength of our joy.

The Circumstances of Joy

Point Two: The Circumstances of Our Joy (5:3)

How then does this joy in the invincibly happy God operate in our lives when we are faced with financial hardship, miscarriage, broken families or friendships, and the many other difficult things we walk through? We all suffer, don’t we? What do we do with that? This is our second point, the circumstances of our joy.

I said I feel a tension with joy. These verses talk about rejoicing even amidst suffering, and we need to also acknowledge that life isn’t all suffering, right? It’s a mixed bag. We suffer, and we laugh. There are trials and there are vacations. We’ve talked a lot about suffering, but there are also things that are purely and simply good - you know what I’m talking about. Well, maybe you don’t, but you thought of something. You just thought of something that is good. Really, really good. By the way, I thought of nachos with a lot of jalapeños and way too much sour cream. I also think of sports, and friendship, and nature, and so many other created things that we enjoy. There is good in this world and in our lives. And Christian joy is big enough to enjoy all of these good things to the fullest. We play sports and eat food and watch movies and go for walks and have deep conversations and laugh with children. We really get to enjoy these and so many other good gifts. And we glorify God when we do that with a heart full of gratitude toward the giver of those good gifts. And. And, there’s suffering. So we have to hold both. We have to learn how to see God as our greatest good through good gifts that he gives, and to hold on to God as our joy and sustaining strength when we are suffering, which is where we’re at in our text right now.

So, back to our question. What do we do with suffering?

Let’s look at verses 3-5: Paul says that we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Did you hear it? Paul says that we rejoice in our sufferings. Suffering is either present in our lives right now, or it will be at some point. And Paul makes that point here. He just assumes suffering is part of our lives, doesn’t he? He assumes that suffering is a reality that his readers are acquainted with - he doesn’t try to convince us or persuade us that suffering is real. He just comes out and says that we’re going to suffer.

So what does Paul mean when he says that we rejoice in our sufferings? Well, what He doesn’t mean is that Christians like suffering. We’re not this weird twisted bunch of people looking for suffering because God says we are supposed to enjoy it in a strange, disconnected way. We don’t enjoy suffering for suffering’s sake. Suffering is not an end in itself. God doesn’t bring trial and hardship into our lives “just because.” No, there are layers here. We first have to recognize that we are living in a good world gone wrong. God made it good. Sin has tainted and twisted everything. That’s where we all are. Because sin is really as bad as God says that it is, because the world at large lives in rebellion against God, we should expect that life will be messy, right. We shouldn’t be surprised when things go awry. We’re saddened by it certainly. But not surprised.

So if we aren’t just supposed to enjoy suffering for some odd reason, then what? What does Paul mean? We need to keep reading. He says that we rejoice not in suffering for suffering’s sake, but that we can rejoice in our suffering because we know what God is doing. It’s because he has a greater purpose for us than suffering itself. So what do you do when suffering comes? How do you not just survive suffering, but rejoice in the midst of it?” The answer is the direction of our joy. The direction of our joy, and this is our third point.

The Direction of Our Joy

Point Three: The Direction of Our Joy: Upward to Jesus and Forward in Hope (5:3-5, 11)

Our first point was that God is sovereign and invincibly happy. God’s sovereign happiness and love for us in Christ is the source of our joy. So we’re happy because God is happy, and we also suffer. The circumstances in which we are to rejoice are often full of sin, suffering, and brokenness. So where do we go now? How do we sustain joy and press on when we feel crushed by our circumstances?

I know for me, one of the most common results of a difficult season of life is that I end up feeling stuck. Just plain stuck. No energy, no motivation, no joy, no hope. Stuck. Maybe you’ve felt that too. Maybe you’re feeling that right now. You feel that because of the suffering you are enduring, you can’t move. You don’t know how you’ll get out of bed each morning or make it to work or make breakfast for your kids. What do we do? God tells us in Romans 5 is that joy has two directions. Two realities that sustain us and make it possible to rejoice even when we are suffering. Two places we need to fix our eyes. Two places we are going. Here they are, two directions: upward to Jesus and forward in hope. Upward to Jesus, and forward in hope. Let’s take those in turn.

The first direction of our joy is upwards to Jesus. We saw that joy has a source, and Jesus is the source of our joy. He is the radiance of the glory of God. He came and was made to be sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. It is in Jesus that we see and experience the happiness of God. So when we are suffering, we look to Jesus. We fix our eyes on him. Look at verse 11 here in Romans 5, “More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” This is the end of the progression that we see in Romans 5:1-11 - there isn’t another, “and more than that, we rejoice in…” This is it! God himself, revealed to us most clearly in the person and work of Jesus Christ, is our highest joy. God is invincibly happy. He is for us with all that he is. And that doesn’t change when we suffer. So we can look to Jesus no matter the circumstances, and he will sustain you. We find reason to rejoice no matter what else is happening when we look to Jesus by faith.

And in saying that God is happy when talking about our suffering, I don’t mean God is happy because he doesn’t care, or that he’s disconnected from our suffering. He’s not. He cares so much that he died and bled for us. What I mean is that God’s happiness doesn’t change, it’s unassailable. And that’s really good news because God’s happiness is our good.

So we look upward to Jesus, and then we look forward in hope. Let’s look back to the progression in verses 3-5. Paul says we rejoice in our sufferings because of what suffering is producing: endurance, which leads to character, which produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. God is always working something good in our suffering. Suffering is never God’s end goal. We never suffer just for suffering’s sake.

Here’s one way to think about it. Our lives are like a story. God is the author, he’s written the entire story, start to finish. He knows what is going to happen at each turn. And he knows how it is going to end. It’s kind of like reading a really suspenseful novel. There are so many twists and turns, so much drama, so many times you aren’t sure which characters are going to make it. But here’s the thing for you. For your story. Suffering is going to be woven into our stories. We know this. When you are suffering, remember that God has written each of your days. Not just today, but tomorrow and the next day and the next day and the next day, until he brings you home to glory. Which means there’s a spoiler - we know how the story ends! Each of our stories looks different, but the ending is the same. We are all hurtling toward the New Heavens and the New Earth where God will dwell with us. For eternity. And that’s what I mean in saying that the second direction of our joy is forward in hope. We know where we are headed. We know how the story ends. We have no clue how we get there, but knowing that we are headed toward the New Heavens and the New Earth where God will dwell with us forever, that is incredibly strengthening and encouraging.

These two directions are how we apply God’s word here. This is where it comes together. Joy in God himself is what Jesus has won for us by his death and resurrection. He has reconciled us to God in all of his holy, perfect happiness. And even though we suffer, the direction of our joy means that we look to Jesus and find in him grace sufficient for every circumstance. Joy bright enough to break through even the darkest clouds. And we look forward in hope because we know where we are headed. This present suffering is not the end for you. God is bringing you to greatest ending ever written for any story. Which brings us to the table.

This table is where we take heart. This table is where we remember the body of blood of Jesus, given for us, that we might be forgiven of all our sins. And at this table we enjoy fellowship with the infinitely happy God. It’s a foretaste of the great meal we are all moving toward when we will dine together with Jesus in what the book of Revelation calls the marriage supper of the Lamb.