“Your joy no one shall take from you.”+
What kind of joy is this, so indestructible, so invulnerable even to the violent grasp of persecutors and maligners? While Jesus does not guarantee that this joy cannot be thrown away by us once possessed, the promise that it cannot be taken from us by another is a sign that it is something ingrained and persistent, something independent of temporary circumstances of life. From where does this joy proceed? How do we come to possess it in the first place, and what is it nature?
It seems that Jesus teaches of three stages of such joy in this chapter (16) of St John's Gospel. To see this we must look both before and beyond the limits of the passage assigned for today.
The first joy is that attached to the vision of Christ as the Resurrected One. Since verses 21 and 22 compare the Disciples' joy to that of a woman giving birth, and Revelation 1.5 refers to Christ as “the firstborn of the dead”, we may safely say that this is the primary joy our Lord is speaking of. This is also the most natural understanding of the statement regarding the timingof the joy : “a short time later you will see me again ... I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy”.
The second joy is mentioned after the end of today's passage. Jesus said “Ask and you will receive, so your joy shall be complete.” Answered prayer is the next stage, then, and completes, perfects or fulfills the first stage.
The third joy is not so obviously referred to, but it is difficult to deny its implicit presence in this teaching. When Jesus talks about the disciples' joy at seeing him again after an absence, this could also refer to His Second Coming. After all, the earlier verse 10 of this chapter connects the seeing him no more with Him “going to the Father”, which more easily fits the absence due to His Ascension than his absence between Good Friday and Easter Day. (Nevertheless, even though Jesus' body was then in the tomb and his soul “harrowing hell”, so to speak, even this period involved a journey towards the Father -- and His purposes.) Additionally, the later verse 28 Jesus says “I leave the world and go to the Father”, which also more naturally fits the Ascension and what followed than the period between Crucifixion and Resurrection. So, the third stage of joy is the unending joy of the eternal vision of God.
Of course, this is all one joy with each stage intrinsically interconnected. Now, while the joy of the first Disciples was due to a literal vision of the Risen Christ, and the accompanying realisation of his Lordship over death and life, we too can have this joy. For we are meant to “see” and know His Resurrection glory by faith (cf. 2 Co. 3.18), by inner vision. More than that, we are meant to gaze lovingly upon Him in heart and mind, trusting His incomparable power to save. Without this Resurrection-faith and reflection, our joy can hardly begin. Unless we believe and know that we have a Risen, Victorious Lord, that he really does have power to heal and to save us, we cannot rejoice. But as we increasingly grasp onto that truth of grace and glory, we grow in the joy that cannot be touched by our environment because it is grounded in a transcendent and eternal reality, a promise that cannot fail. This is not to say we will always be “happy” in the conventional sense, which depends on “happenstance”, what happens. But beneath the fluctuating emotions and despite the times of suffering, all unavoidable, we will have an anchor of peace and hope that brings joy in the depths perpetually and erupts into “felt” joy as well at various times. This is an important element in being “filled with the Holy Spirit”, which naturally includes joy, as we are frequently reminded in the New Testament (e.g., Ac. 13.52, Ro. 15.13).
And this Resurrection-faith and joy will also lead to empowered prayer that is rightly offered and affirmatively answered, this harmony with God's will and works completing our joy in this world. (Stage 2.)
Thus, as we pray for final salvation and perseverance for ourselves and others, we will move irrepressibly toward that final joy (the “third stage”), when we see Him “face to face” (1 Co. 13.12 cf. 1 Jo. 3.2).
So, what is the common link? The essence of the one joy? Christ, the Risen Lord of life, has conquered sin and death, and shares that victory with us now and unto eternity. He is alive, he lives for us, and his life is ours, forever. Rejoice! +