If you were here last week, you heard me say all sorts of exciting things about living in Resurrection Time. You might remember the riff.
It isn’t evil has the last word time. It’s God’s love has the last word time. It isn’t Jesus is dead and gone time. It’s Jesus is alive and at work time. Because it isn’t despair time. It’s hope time. It’s isn’t fear time. It’s faith time. Whatever you face, God will love you through it. God will give you triumph over it. Because it’s not death time. Sisters and brothers, what time is it? It’s resurrection time.
Now that makes for a powerful Easter message, but how does it happen? How do you actually live in Resurrection time? How do you live with confidence and peace, even joy on a daily basis? Can you live that way not only on your best days, but on your worst? Is that even possible?
In the words you’re about to hear, and the words we’ll explore over the coming weeks, God shows you the way. So, today, let’s start to explore what God has to say.
How do you actually live in Resurrection time? How do you live with a profound sense of confidence and joy even on your worst days? Is that even possible? Here God says. It is. You can live with joy and peace. But how? It comes when you know the two realities that change everything. But before you get to the realities, you need to understand the joy.
As the apostle John, finishes up the words we just read, he tells them. We are writing these things to make our joy complete. He’s not saying. I’m writing to you because it makes me feel so awesome to tell you these things. Now, it certainly does make John feel awesome, but that’s not what he’s saying. He’s talking about a joy they all can have.
You see. As John begins the letter, he tells them. I and my fellow apostles, we actually saw and experienced Jesus. We saw it all. But then the “we the apostles” switches to a “we” that includes not only the apostles but these folks too. So when he gets to this last sentence, he is saying. I am writing so that all of us, you and me, can have this complete joy that Jesus brings. But what is this joy?
The preacher Tim Keller paints a picture that describes it well. When Keller and his family lived in Abingdon, Pennsylvania, outside of Philly, they lived in a neighborhood where all the houses were built into the slope of this huge hill, a small mountain really. Soon after they moved in, Keller noticed something weird. No matter how little or how much it rained everything in their yard, stayed green. And whenever it did rain, their basement always flooded. One day, Keller was talking about how weird that was with one of his neighbors. And the neighbor said, “Oh, I thought you knew. All our houses are built on a huge river.” Underneath Keller’s house, all the houses of that neighborhood actually, he learned, flowed a huge underground river. So even when a drought came, the lawns stayed green. And sure enough, when the rains did come, the water didn’t just come down. It came up too.
And that’s what God is telling you here. God is saying. You can have a subterranean river of joy like that in your life. Whatever you are going through, even the hardest things, this joy will be there, flowing underneath it all. Now God isn’t saying that you’re going to go through life, with a blissful smile on your face, never crying or feeling pain. That’s not joy. That’s denial. That’s detachment from reality. Jesus felt grief, sadness, discouragement, all the painful emotions of life. But like Jesus, whatever pain you face, you will have underneath it all, a powerful river of joy and peace welling up from inside you.
Do you know the name of Helen Keller? At one point, she became one of the most famous people in the world. What was her first claim to fame? She graduated from college, something no one like her had done before. And when she did, she changed everything for those with disabilities forever. When Helen was not even two years old, she experienced a brain illness that completely took away her hearing and sight. But through the work of a remarkable teacher, Anne Sullivan, she learned to write and then to talk, and became one of the most celebrated writers of her generation.
And when I was looking for quotes on joy, her words kept popping up. In fact, I found more quotes from Helen Keller on joy than from any other writer. And when I looked to understand why, I found accounts of this joy that characterized her life. A newspaper reporter wrote this about a talk she gave in 1916;
According to those who attended, Helen Keller spoke of the joy that life gave her. She was thankful for the faculties and abilities that she did possess and stated that the most productive pleasures she had were curiosity and imagination. Keller also spoke of the joy of service and the happiness that came from doing things for others.
Just to give you some idea of what she did for others, among other things, she founded with the businessman George Kessler an organization to combat blindness and malnutrition around the world. Today, that organization, Helen Keller International still exists. It has a budget of almost a quarter of a billion dollars. And in 120 programs in 22 nations around the world, it works to eradicate blindness, hunger, and disease
Helen Keller described the joy that led her to do these things and more as this. She wrote. “Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.” Helen Keller went through more than her share of pain but underneath it all, lived that holy fire, a fire lit by a profound experience of Jesus’ presence in her life. How do you experience that joy, a joy that led a deaf and blind woman to this life of deep fulfillment and remarkable joy?
It comes from knowing the two realities of which John speaks, the two realities that Keller knew intimately. It comes first, from a living day to day relationship with God, and second, from a deep certainty of how tightly God’s love holds you.
You see. When John uses this phrase “making our joy complete,” he wasn’t just making up. He was quoting Jesus.
Jesus before he died, said to the apostles, I am the vine and you are the branches. You need to abide in me like that, with the intimacy that a vine has with its branches. Why did Jesus tell them this. He said. “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” – the same phrase John uses here.
Jesus in those words isn’t simply talking about saying your prayers. Jesus is talking about an almost constant interaction with God’s presence, one that connects you with this river of joy, this holy fire. What does this look like?
Let me ask. Do you sense God guiding you, restraining you, encouraging you as a normal pattern in your life? For example, how did I know about this vine and the branches connection? As I was working out this Wednesday and doing my devotions, I was mulling over these words on joy in John. And as I read through the scriptures preselected for that day, there it was; these very words from Jesus on the vine and the branches. God was guiding me there, but other times, I sense God keeping me from my worst impulses or calling me on my own self-righteousness. And trust me, I am not special. Any person can have this connection. And when you have this sense of day to day intimacy, it taps you into that river, so that no matter what you face. You know. You are never alone.
But God gives you more than just this intimacy. God gives you a certainty that no matter how badly you mess up, his love will never let you go.
It always stuns me when I hear people say something crazy like, “Well, it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you live a good life.” Why in God’s name would anybody want a belief like that? Who the heck knows what a good life looks like? I mean. What’s the passing grade for a good life? Every religion and philosophy has a different idea. So do you just have to wait until you die to know, if you’ll even know then? I can’t imagine a more anxiety producing belief than that.
This is why when anyone tells me that they’re not religious, I agree. I tell them. I’m not religious either. You see, religion tells you that it’s your life that saves you. You do these things. You obey these rules. You live by these rituals. And you experience fulfillment, joy, peace, salvation. But the gospel tells you. You’re not saved by your life. You’re saved by his life.
If when someone asks you if you’re a Christian, and you say “Well, I’m trying to be.” Then you don’t get that. “You can’t try to be a Christian. Nothing you do make you a Christian. God makes you a Christian.” Your life doesn’t save you. His life does, God in Jesus giving his life for you does that. And when you know that, really know that, you have a confidence that nothing can defeat. And it has nothing to do with arrogance or pride. Yes, you know. You are so right with God. But you also know. You had nothing to do with it. God did it all. You know. You are a frog on a fencepost. Why? Because when you see a frog on a fencepost, you know that frog didn’t get there by itself. But it’s there now, and it’s riding high. And that’s you.
And when you know that, it frees you from anxiety and it opens you up to joy. It leads you into a life lived with God not just on Sunday, but every day, every hour, every moment. And no matter how badly you mess up or how hard your life becomes, you know. God will never leave you. God’s love will never abandon you. You know the joy of which John speaks, a joy that flows underneath you, like a mighty river, a joy that lights your path, like a holy fire. And in that joy, you realize, you are only getting a foretaste of the joy still to come, a joy that will bind you to God’s beauty and love forever. Do you want that joy? All you gotta do is ask.