There are times when it’s easy to rejoice: when the Shockers get back on a winning streak; family coming home for the holidays; the birth of children and grandchildren; safe return of military from dangerous and active duty overseas; good medical report and many more.
And there are times when it is hard to rejoice: lost job or unemployed and can’t find a job; terrorist on the news; shootings in your neighborhood, concern for family members far away; mourning the death of a loved one; member of the family in prison.
This weekend we have two Scripture readings about two men who were imprisoned – John the Baptizer and St. Paul, the apostle – both imprisoned because they spoke the truth of God’s Word. Paul writes: “Rejoice in the Lord always!” and John asked, “How can I rejoice when I’m sitting here in this prison?”
John the Baptizer was in prison because Herod was trying to silence him from speaking out against his sins. John sent his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are You the One who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” This question is surprising because it comes from John, the man who baptized Jesus – “who saw the heavens opened and the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus in bodily form like a dove and a voice from heaven said, ‘You are My Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This question comes from the man who said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, 36) But now John was in prison, knowing that it would most likely end in his death. It appears that John was struggling and questioning why God didn’t do something – NOT UNLIKE the times we ask “Where are You, God?” “Why don’t You do something about my terrible situation?” “Why does God let so much bad happen in my life?”
In obvious contrast, Paul, also imprisoned because of following God’s will, writes: “Rejoice!” What a contrast! How can this be?
Rejoice? Yes, God’s Word says, “Rejoice in the Lord always!” Those three words “in the Lord” are absolutely necessary if we are to understand the “rejoicing” that God’s Word commands of us.
First of all, God’s Word NEVER says that Christians will never experience anxiety nor depression / there ARE times when we will ask honest questions (as John is doing). In fact, God’s Word tells us when Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” (Matthew 26:38) Luke, the physician, writes: “And being in anguish, He prayed more earnestly, and His sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Luke 22:44)
Note Jesus’ answer to John’s question: Jesus didn’t rebuke John for asking an honest question, but merely pointed the men to what Jesus was doing and had done – “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cured, deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the person who does not fall away on account of Me.” / i.e. when trials and troubles come, don’t let them distract you from what Jesus Has done, Is doing and Promises to do for His children.
Jesus never promised that our lives would always be pleasant. Rather, Jesus clearly tells us that “in this world we will have trouble.” But Jesus promises: “take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) Jesus promises: “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) and “Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:38-39)
Simply put, Scripture teaches “Rejoice in the Lord always!”… “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
When life gets hard, worldly joy leaves us. Our rejoicing doesn’t depend on the things of this world. Our rejoicing depends on the Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. That is why we: “Rejoice in the Lord always.”
See you in worship this weekend as we continue to receive His blessings, pray and praise Him and “rejoice in the Lord, always!”