Joy and Overjoy

You may have the joy-bells
ringing in your heart.

— J. EDWIN RUARK

*    *    *    *    *

   The joy of the Lord is sometimes described as a quiet, warm, loving sense of intimate relationship with the Creator through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is not necessarily a tiptoe experience, full of ecstasy or ebullience; nor does it flicker on and off like a tired light bulb. It does not depend upon emotional experiences ("I just found my glasses!" or "I just won the lottery!"). The joy that comes from Jesus by the Holy Spirit is always bound up with the written Word of God, where inspiration keeps love flowing through the pipeline.

   Given the fact that the joy of heaven is a steady radiant light, there are still rare times in the life of God's people when the Almighty chooses to send a dazzling shaft of glory into the life of a believer. One of the newer Bible translations from the Greek renders the word agalliasis with the word "overjoy." I know many Christians who can testify to the reality of an overjoy experience in their lives.

   Lori Connett is one. She wrote me, "The most elated moment of joy that I can ever recall was when my husband, Ed,

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accepted the Lord as his Savior. That day my joy was truly made full and I rejoiced with the angels."

   Eric Thompson is another. He writes me, "I have experienced joy that feels like a well of water springing up inside me when I am thanking God for saving me from a very deep and terrible pit. In that moment I truly know who I am and who God is."

   Life for Christians is not always easy, and many wonderful group Bible studies are available these days, seeking to help people to resolve some of the difficulties and challenges that they have to face in life. I have been helped by such studies, and I thank God for them. It is because our book has a rather uncommon purpose that in this chapter we shall strike a different note. We're going for the joy. We shall see what the Bible says about believers who have found themselves in a glowing, lifting, enraptured state of "overjoyment!"

GOD'S MIRACULOUS PROTECTION

   Our first story is one of the all-time favorites in the Bible.1 It tells of a king named Darius the Mede, who ruled a country named Babylon (now Iraq) which had just been conquered by his army of Medes and Persians. One of the conquered citizens of Babylon was a Hebrew prophet named Daniel or Belteshazzar. He had held a high position in the Babylonian government and was now equally well regarded by the new King Darius, who considered him a fine statesman.

   Daniel had enemies, however, and they informed King Darius that Daniel had violated the king's own recent religious edict by praying to the God of the Hebrews. Darius personally made an effort to save the man, but was unsuccessful in having his own royal law annulled, which called for the violator to be thrown to the lions.

   As he issued the decree, King Darius expressed the hope to Daniel that his God would rescue him. That evening the king was disturbed, and canceled his usual entertainment (the Hebrew word here, according to Delitzsch, is "concubines") and

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went to bed but could not sleep. At daybreak King Darius hurried to the lions' den, ordered the royal seal broken and the stone rolled back, then called out, "Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God . . . been able to deliver you from the lions?"

   The Scripture record indicates that Daniel gave a joyful shout, "O king, live forever! My God sent His angel and shut the lions' mouths, so that they have not hurt me."2 He might have added (as I heard a preacher relate this story once), "Ever since you sealed me in here, O King, those big cats have been purring up a storm and rubbing themselves against my legs!"

   Daniel 6:23 NIV says that King Darius himself "was overjoyed" at the intervention of Daniel's God. He proceeded, pagan fashion, to throw Daniel's enemies into the den, where their reception by the lions was not so friendly. The record states further that Daniel "prospered" during King Darius' reign, and that the king issued yet another decree praising the "living God" of Daniel.3

GOD'S DIVINE GUIDANCE

   Our next story is about the first of many millions of non-Jewish or Gentile seekers to come to Jesus.4 They came early, when Jesus was probably under two years of age. They were magi or astrologers, probably from the region around Iraq, who said they had seen a strange star in the heavens and had interpreted it as signifying the birth of the "king of the Jews."

   These "wise men" (we don't know how many there were) undoubtedly came across the desert by caravan, intending to worship the child and to offer gifts. They went to King Herod's palace in Jerusalem and inquired of him where the royal child was. Herod in turn inquired of the temple rabbis and learned that the prophet Micah had predicted the birth of such a ruler in nearby Bethlehem.5

   Herod sensed in the arrival of the magi a threat to his own throne, and asked the visitors to notify him after they had located the child so that he too might "worship Him." The men went on and discovered that the star they had seen in the East

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had reappeared and was not going before them. It led them until it "stood over where the young child was." The King James record then says, "When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy."6 The magi then entered the house, greeted Mary, worshiped the infant Jesus, and presented gifts. After days and weeks of difficult travel, the magi had reached their goal and were overjoyed. Then, warned in a timely dream, they gave King Herod the slip and returned home by a different route.

THE LORD APPEARS TO HIS OWN

   Next we come to a dramatic late-night meeting of some of the disciples in a locked room in Jerusalem. The strange things that occurred in that room are described in Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20. At first the men were utterly grief-striken and weeping as the loss of their Leader was borne in upon them. Then someone came in and reported that Peter had seen Jesus alive after the crucifixion!7

   This news seemed so preposterous that no one believed it. But soon afterward Cleopas and his companion came in, breathless from their night travel, and said Jesus had walked with them on the road to Emmaus and had shared a meal with them. This too seemed incredible.

   In 1 Corinthians 15:7 the apostle Paul states that after His resurrection Jesus appeared to His half-brother James, as well as to others. Those incidents probably occurred later, but it is worth speculating whether James might also have come into the room that night with word that he had seen Jesus. Someone else might have reported that some women had seen Jesus near the tomb.

   Just imagine the excitement and pandemonium that must have prevailed in that room! They were already terrified by the religious opposition and had to keep the door bolted. Three days after His death on the cross and His burial in the tomb, here were people saying they had seen Jesus alive. Were they seeing ghosts? What was going on? Some continued to weep,

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but others began to wonder and even tremble. Was God doing something? Was this another miracle? Or was it the end of everything?

   Then suddenly Jesus Himself appeared. Great fear swept through the room, mixed with wonder, doubt, disbelief, and then, amazingly, joy. Jesus smiled, gave a greeting of peace, visited with His disciples, showed them His hands, His feet, and His side, and asked for something to eat. They gave Him a piece of broiled fish and a honeycomb, and He ate.8

   It took awhile for the disciples to believe that the last enemy, death, had really lost its sting and the grave had really been defeated. At last they came to recognize Him and were fully conscious that the Man standing alive in their midst and talking with them was the Master whom they had just seen crucified. The text in John says it well: "The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord."9

GOD HEARS HIS CHURCH'S PRAYER

   For our fourth story we begin with Peter's miraculous escape from prison in Jerusalem and his visit to a group of believers who had been praying for him.10 Peter's arrest came during a persecution instigated by the tetrarch Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, during the Days of Unleavened Bread. When Herod saw that the Jerusalem rabble applauded his execution of the apostle James (brother of John), he had Peter arrested and confined overnight, planning to execute him the next day.

   While prayers were being offered to God for Peter by the young church, sixteen soldiers were assigned to guard Peter overnight in the prison. The soldiers were divided into four watches of three hours each. Peter slept chained to a soldier on either side while the other two guards kept watch at the door. Herod's plan was to keep Peter in custody until after the Passover observance, then to present him before the people for the death sentencing.

During the fourth watch of the night, between 3 and 6 A.M., an angel appeared and struck the chains off Peter's wrists, then

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told him to put on his clothes, sandals, and cloak and "follow me." Peter rose, and incredibly they passed the first guard station, then another, and finally came to a large locked iron door that led to the street. The door opened "of its own accord," and they passed through and descended the steps, after which the angel disappeared. Only then did Peter grasp that what he thought was a dream was a miracle, and he was a free man.

   Walking quickly, Peter arrived at a "safe house" where lived Mary, the mother of John Mark and aunt of Barnabas. Here occurred one of those little incidents that reveal the way people really act in abnormal situations. It helps to confirm us in the belief that the Bible is a faithful record.

   Peter knocked at the door of the gate, and a young girl named Rhoda came to answer. She was one of a group of Christians who had been meeting in the house all night apparently, praying for Peter's deliverance from what seemed certain death. Whether it was still dark is not clear, but when Rhoda opened the door she recognized Peter's voice and was filled with joy. So overjoyed was she that instead of opening the gate so he could come in, she turned and ran back inside to announce to the prayer group that Peter was out there standing at the gate.

   The other Christians inside refused to believe her, and when Rhoda insisted, they decided it must be "Peter's angel." Meanwhile Peter himself was left outside knocking until finally the door and the gate were opened and he walked in, to everyone's astonishment. As with Rhoda, the joy of the believers must have known no bounds as they looked at the living answer to their prayers.

   Peter didn't stay long, but he did take time to tell his friends about the angel and the prison escape. Presumably he partook of some refreshment; and before leaving he asked that they "tell these things to James [the Lord's brother] and to the brethren." He then left, and later in the book of Acts Peter is seen participating in the first church council in Jerusalem.11 As for the hapless prison guards in the fourth watch, they were executed by royal order.12

MY CUP RUNNETH OVER

   The word "overjoyed" is an English translation of the Greek word agalliasis, which is also rendered "exultation" and "exuberant joy." It appears in many significant places in the Bible in addition to those just described.

   Luke uses the word twice in the first chapter of his Gospel, 1:14 and 1:44. The priest Zacharias was informed that his wife, Elizabeth, would bear a son (John the Baptist), and that "you will have joy and gladness" and that "many will rejoice at his birth." Later his wife, Elizabeth, received a visit from her cousin Mary, and the Holy Spirit informed her that Mary would give birth to the Messiah. Elizabeth addressed Mary as "the mother of my Lord" (1:43) and told Mary that when she first heard Mary's greeting, her own unborn baby "leaped in my womb for joy."

   In Acts 2:46, 47 Luke gives a warmhearted description of the early church as he writes: "Continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved."

   In the letter to the Hebrews the author addresses Jesus in these words taken from Psalm 45:7: "You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions." That verse seems to tell us convincingly that in the opinion of those who knew Him and loved Him, Jesus was a man of joy.

   The word "overjoyed" (agalliasis) appears finally in the closing verses of the letter of Jude (24, 25). I first heard that magnificent benediction when I was eight years old: "Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen."

   Those words from the King James Bible were first recited to me and my brother in 1919 by my father's diminutive, devout,

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withering elder sister, Julia J. MacPherson, as she stood before us in her little cottage in Saranap, California.13

   Aunt Julia had no children. Her husband had left her and disappeared. She spent her retirement years writing poems for the Walnut Creek Weekly, and sharing with her poor neighbors her Western Union pension and the cherries from her tiny orchard. She died in 1946 at age 99 years 11 months, and is now in heaven, filled, I'm sure, with agalliasis!

   Since joy and laughter have played such vital roles in the lives of Christians for two thousand years, why don't you take a few minutes right now to recount an experience of your own where you were overjoyed by the presence of God in your life. Compose an email with it and send it to the web host (Douglas) of this online edition of the book. Share the joy!

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1. See Daniel 6:1-28

2. Daniel 6:21

3. Daniel 6:26-28

4. Matthew 2:1-12

5. Micah 5:2

6. Matthew 2:10

7. Luke 24:33-34

8. Luke 24:36-43

9. John 20:20 NIV

10. Acts 12:1-19

11. Acts 15:6ff.

12. Acts 12:19

13. As a young girl in Michigan, Julia Wirt became the first woman telegrapher in the United States, endured gender harassment, and was befriended by a young fellow telegrapher named Thomas A. Edison, whose large autographed portrait she cherished.

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