What's Amazing About
The surest mark of a Christian is not faith, or even love, but joy.
SAMUEL M. SHOEMAKER
* * * * *
At this point it is possible that we have enough evidence to say that Jesus came to earth on a joyous mission of salvation, and that one of His aims was that others might share that joy. Many people I have talked with acknowledge Jesus as the Author and Finisher of their faith, but they are wondering whether they might not have been missing something in their Christian lives. If Jesus had a secret, they don't know what it is. As for the New Testament's strong emphasis upon joy, they admit it didn't come through to them; they thought it was just preacher talk.
The time has come to say bluntly regarding this joy, "It sounds great if it's true," and then ask, "Where do we get it?"
To find out, we need to look at Jesus' mission. He came with orders to bring redemption to the human race, to draw men and women back to God, and to usher in His kingdom. After His baptism in the Jordan River He came into Galilee from the
desert joyously, fresh from His victory over Satan, filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and He launched His ministry on a high note. "The time has come," He announced. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the Good News."
This was uttered by no stern-faced prophet of doom. This was an elated, triumphant young Man saying, "Come! Join me! I know the way out of this. There is a good life, a great life. Take it from Me. Everything is ready. Come!"
And they did come, by the hundreds and the thousands. But even as we note the euphoria that accompanied this magnificent ministry, we should not lose sight of the fact that Jesus came to earth at His Father's behest and accomplished His earthly mission only with the supreme sacrifice of His own life. By dying upon the cross at Calvary and bearing our sins in His own body, Jesus removed the barrier between us and our Maker, and opened the gates of heaven to all who believe in Him.
The shedding of His blood upon the cross was not precipitated by mere action on the part of others. Jesus made it abundantly clear that His sacrifice was not intended to appease an angry deity; rather it was His own personal decision to carry out the work His beloved Father had commissioned Him to do.1 "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself."2 As the great Bible teacher Reuben Torrey so well expressed it:
In the atoning death of His Son, instead of laying the punishment of guilty man upon an innocent third person, God took the shame and suffering due to man upon Himself; and so far from that being unjust and cruel, it is amazing grace!3
At one time in my life I had to face two questions: Did Jesus die for me? And if He did, why did He? Since Sunday school days I had admired Jesus, but only recently had such questions begun to press me.
While in uniform during World War II I picked up a devotional booklet written by a fellow army chaplain. He was explaining the Passover to Jewish troops, and he used words like these:
"You will discover in life that the innocent must suffer for the guilty. Such is the way to peace. But instead of it being all wrong, it is the answer to everything. The secret of life is sacrifice." To illustrate, he pointed to the young troops who did not create international quarrels but were being sent into combat to settle them. "To understand that," he said, "is to know the deeper meaning of existence."
I thought of Jesus. He was innocent, yet He was said to have suffered and died for the guilty. I felt this chaplain was on the track of something. I was a sinner. Jesus went to the cross, the innocent for the guilty or so they said. It was, it seemed, the only way my sins could be forgiven. But did that mean Jesus actually took my place, that there had been a substitution?
It was evident there were some things I could not do for myself. I have never forgotten an occasion in the Aleutian Islands when two soldiers went to our commanding officer without my knowledge to defend their chaplain's actions. I was in trouble and could not defend myself. They went on my behalf and took my place to urge the bringing about of my vindication. Their kindness lingers in my memory as a sweet fragrance.
I was willing to grant that perhaps in some symbolic way Jesus died on my behalf, that He saw His role as that of a Messiah who would lay down His life for others in a kind of vicarious sacrifice.
What I couldn't see was why He would do it for me. In fact, I couldn't fathom why Jesus or anyone else would want to die for me. I told myself I was quite ready to take the rap for my shortcomings. I preferred to settle my own accounts, thank you very much.
A few years later a remarkable book made its appearance. It was a commentary on the Gospel of John by Arthur John Gossip, a Scottish preacher whom I had once heard and whom I deeply respected. I had read his other books and reveled in his wide learning and eloquent prose. I considered him a worthy man of God.
As I read Dr. Gossip's exposition of the Gospel of John, the old questions came back, still haunting me: Did Jesus die for me?
And if He did, why did He? I had reached the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel, which tells of Pilate's offer to release Jesus, since one prisoner was customarily set free at the Passover season. The crowd responded that they preferred the release of another prisoner named Barabbas, rather than Jesus.
At this point Dr. Gossip observed:
With reason and truth scholars keep pointing out that when the New Testament Scriptures tell us that Christ died for us, the Greek preposition used means "on behalf of," and not "in the place of." For Barabbas at least there was no such distinction. And it is never clean cut. "On behalf of" keeps merging into "in the place of," do what you will.
Dr. Gossip then paid tribute to the British army troops with whom he served in France during World War I, saying that
those who laid down their lives there did it for us, on our behalf. That, certainly. That undeniably. But many feel that even that is an inadequate account of what they did and what we owe them, that they bore and died not merely upon our behalf but literally in our stead.
In conclusion, Gossip quoted Dr. James Denney, another noted Scottish theologian of the early twentieth century:
What then is it which we are spared or saved from by the death of Jesus? What is it we do not experience because he died? The answer is that He saves us from dying in our sins. But for His death, we should have died in our sins; we should have passed into the blackness of darkness with the condemnation of God abiding on us. It is because He died for us, and for no other reason, that the darkness has passed away, and a light shines in which we have peace with God, and rejoice in hope of His glory.4
Since I read those words I have never again had problems with what theologians call the "substitutionary atonement of
Jesus Christ." The Holy Spirit has swept all my doubts off the lee side of the deck and they have never blown back. I believe that Jesus Christ took my sins upon Himself and died for me because He loved me and wanted me to be in heaven with Him. When I hear a preacher say, "God said it, Christ did it, I believe it, that settles it," I now add, "Amen. Hallelujah!"
That answer, however, does not take care of the question asked earlier in this chapter: Where do we get the joy? If it be true that we cannot have the joy without the salvation, it seems to be equally true that many Christians who have the salvation have missed out to a large extent on the joy.
So how do we get it?
The answer of Scripture is that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Fruit comes from abiding in the Vine, and Jesus is the Vine. When the fruit is ripe it is plucked, but we don't grow it, God grows it; and we don't pluck it, others do. As John implies, we pass on the joy and share it.
Thus joy is not something we do, but something we receive and to which we respond. It is a gift of grace through the Holy Spirit. And what is grace? It is unmerited favor from the hand of God, without any effort on our side unearned, undeserved, and often unexpected. It is something that comes by the Holy Spirit without our initiating it, or causing it, or even fully understanding it. And the joy of our salvation is something that comes by grace.
The grace of God is like the sunshine; we didn't put it there, but we accept it thankfully, bask in it, use it, flourish and glory in it. Joy is something God wraps up in the gift of His grace. Actually it's everywhere. It is in the eye of a child, the trill of a meadowlark, the flight of a crane, the smile of a sleeping infant, the twinkle in the eye of a grandparent, the touch of a lover, the somersaults of a sea otter, the opening bars of the "Moonlight Sonata," the hug of a lost teenager who has come home
. . . a sunset touch,
A fancy from a flower bell . . .
A chorus-ending from Euripides . . . 5
and the passing of one of God's beloved into the holy Presence.
Joy is there for the taking, and if you wish to grasp it, open your Bible to the hundredth Psalm and start to read. May the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the touch of His ineffable joy be upon your spirit as you read and believe.
1. John 10:18
2. 2 Corinthians 5:19
3. R.A. Torrey, Questions Answered (Chicago: Moody Press, 1909), p. 9.
4. A.J. Gossip, "Exposition of John," in The Interpreter's Bible, vol. 8 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1952), pp. 770-71.
5. Robert Browning, Bishop Blougram's Apology.
Chapter 23 || Table of Contents