Sunday, December 15, 2019 Brad Barrett
Advent: Joy to the World
We are in week 3 of a 4-week series on Advent. Advent is from a Latin word that means, “coming.”
The first and obvious meaning is Jesus’ First Coming to earth. But Jesus’ Second Coming is just as important.
To the First Advent we look backwards with reflection and awe. To the Second Advent we look forward with hope and anticipation.
Each week of this series spotlights on one well-known hymn that relates to Christ’s Advent.
Today we’ll look at one of the songs we sang this morning, “Joy to the World.”
We’ll look at this well-known and well-loved song, and look at Scriptures related to it.
It’s a beautiful song that actually was written to point us to the Second Coming of Christ, not the First Coming. Joy to the World is a powerful worship song.
My prayer is that from this morning, we would leave here yearning for the Day when Jesus Christ returns to earth. And that in that yearning, you would find great joy even now. That future joy is our hope.
Though we sing this song primarily in this season where we think of Christ’s FIRST Coming, I hope from this day forward, you will sing this song with greater yearning for and richer worship of the SECOND Coming. We can and should have joy even NOW! He is coming!
Background to Joy to the World
Here is verse 1 to the song:
Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King.
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.
The author of the hymn was Isaac Watts. He was a pastor in England in the early 1700’s. And he was a prolific author, known best for the hymns he wrote.
Watts wrote Joy to the World as a paraphrase of Psalm 98. In a publication of his in 1719, exactly 300 years ago, he published “Joy to the World,” under the title, “The Messiah’s Coming and Kingdom.”
His focus was the Second Coming of Christ, although we think of it primarily for the First.
Let’s look at the song and some of the truths that it points to.
He prompts us to sing of joy in the whole world! Everywhere we go, there is joy. WHY?
Because “the Lord is come.” Based on today’s grammar, that seems like bad English. But 300 years ago, this would have been more common. Watts’ meant, “The Lord HAS come.” So the perspective that Watts writes this is unique. Since Watts is writing with the Second Advent of Christ—the Second Coming– he is positioning himself into the future on that Day of Christ’s return. On that day, the greatest day in the history of the world, Jesus has just returned.
On that day, we will sing and shout and dance and laugh, “Joy to the whole world. The Lord Jesus has come back.”
Then with Watts, we sing and shout,
“All the earth should receive him as King. Every heart should make room for him. All of heaven and earth—the sea, the rivers, the mountains—will sing on that Great Day.”
Psalm 98: The King has Come in Justice!
As I said, this is the Scriptural basis for Watts’ song lyrics is Psalm 98. Let’s look.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody!
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
God’s people are celebrating the King, the Lord. Joyous song! Singing praises. No thought here of quiet, unemotional or melancholy music. This is loud hurt-your-eardrum singing! Sing with the lyre, a string-instrument like a harp. Play trumpets and horns with a joyful noise! This is an unparalleled celebration!
The psalmist continues:
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it!
8 Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together
9 before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.
Can you see where Watts gets his language in his song, Joy to the World.”
The psalmist speaks poetically of all of God’s creation—the sea, the world, the rivers, and the hills—all of it is called upon to make a joyful noise before God. They are roaring, clapping, singing.
This is a celebration unlike any other day in history. “Let heaven and nature sing.”
And this is important: Why does all creation—men, women, the sea, rivers, and hills—sing and shout for joy? Here is why: For he comes to judge the earth. “He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.”
Does that surprise you?
If left to my own imagination about how God would enter into this world, I might not think of it in terms of judgment. That doesn’t sound so happy. Nor joyful, nor celebratory.
But if we consider God and consider this world, Psalm 98 is the very happy, joyous, and right response. FINALLY (the psalmist says)….Finally… the world will have the justice it needs. And the justice it yearns for. Finally…. All wrong will be stopped. MY wrong. Your wrong. My friend’s wrong. My enemy’s wrong. Finally we will have peace and justice. Finally we will have a just and holy and righteous and beautiful ruler. No more selfish and unwise kings and presidents and prime ministers and governors. Wicked tyrants. No more! No more unjust laws. No more unsolved crimes. No more racial injustices. No more human trafficking. No more abuse. No more pain from abuse. No more sin in marriage. No more bitterness and unforgiveness in our hearts. No more arrogance and selfishness.
The King, the Lord, is coming back. And he will set everything right. Everything. Everything. He will rule the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.
And if you are a follower of this King, Jesus the Lord—if you are his disciple—he will know you. He will know you with a tender love. And you will know him. You will not be obscure. You will not be unnoticed. You will be loved and adored. You will be embraced.
Your pain will be gone. Your tears will be wiped away. Financial stresses are gone. Worry is a thing of the past. Loneliness will never be in your future. The fear of death will never cross your mind again.
The Lord of heaven and earth has come. He will set everything right. He will make everything new. And this is great joy to the world. Receive your king, earth! Prepare him room in your hearts, people!
Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy.
This is like verse 1: Joy will cover the earth, for the Savior of the world reigns. He rules!
Someone holy and righteous and powerful and beautiful is now in charge. Someone loving and faithful and wise and eternal is now ruling. All creation will sound out the joy. The fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains keep shouting out with joy!
What a great day. A joyous day. The greatest day in history.
Now, a few of you may wonder something right now. If Jesus will rule over the earth in finality and totality on that Future Day when he comes to earth, who is ruling now? Isn’t God in charge now? If he is, why are there so many problems? Why do so many people rebel against their King? But if he isn’t in charge, then who is?
These are rather unsettling questions that we must address.
Here’s the answer: Jesus reigns now. Yet not fully. He does, but he doesn’t. (How’s that for a confusing answer?)
When he came the first time, he was called a king.
At his birth.
Matthew 2:1–2 ESV Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
At his death.
Matthew 27:37 ESV And over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.”
Moments before Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples in Matthew 28,
Matthew 28:18 ESV “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”
All authority in heaven and on earth. This is quite clear. Jesus Christ now… today… has all authority.
Yet he has not established his kingdom on earth yet. He ascended from heaven and rules there, but in a real sense this world is trying to rule itself without Christ as head. The world is still in rebellion against its King.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, this is the “Already but not yet” of Scriptures. Christ is already over all things, but not yet. The King has come, but he is not reigning fully right now.
We know that for now we, the people of this world, we are going our own way in wickedness. We know the world’s philosophies are deceiving us. We know that Satan is real and is still powerful.
The Apostle Paul describes it so succinctly.
Ephesians 2:1–3 ESV And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Though Jesus has all authority in heaven and earth, and he should not be crossed, the people of this earth are still in rebellion. Our flesh, the world’s philosophies, and Satan all are at war against the Lord… Jesus Christ. This is why the gospel must be preached, to bring dead and dying mankind into a living relationship with their Creator and Lord and King.
With all authority in heaven and on earth, Jesus Christ allows the rebellion to go on for a time, and he patiently and mercifully offers forgiveness for our rebellion.
So Jesus rules supremely now, but he doesn’t rule in the fullness of his kingdom yet. “Already, but not yet.”
However, the day is coming soon when he will return. That day Psalm 98:9 sings of.
“Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy, for he is coming to judge the earth.
That is the day Isaac Watts’ sings of. The day that Jesus Christ comes to earth once again.
“Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him. Let heaven and nature sing.”
“Joy to the earth! the Savior reigns;
For all who love Jesus, that Day will be the greatest day of their lives. That Day will be the greatest moment in human history. He comes to defeat all his enemies. He comes to reign as the King of kings and the Lord of lords. No one will stand against him. All things will be made right.
No more let sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found…
When Watts wrote Verse 3, he surely had Scriptures in mind other than Psalm 98. Psalm 98 has no language of sin, sorrow, thorns, blessings, or curses.
Let’s look at both blessing and curse. These are opposites.
Let’s start with the curse. We go to Genesis 3.
God created paradise. Man rebelled. God judged man with a curse.
One part of that curse says,
Genesis 3:17–18 ESV And to Adam he said, “…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you…you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
We have to give some background. In Genesis 3, the greatest tragedy ever occurred. Not merely the greatest in Scripture, but the greatest in all of human history. Without exaggeration. It’s the tragedy that has led to all other tragedies.
If I can state it in simple terms:
- The holy, all-powerful God created this world. All that we can see.
- And the crown of his creation was a man and a woman made in his image. In his glorious image.
- He revealed himself to them. He loved them. They were in glorious, intimate fellowship with God.
- Shockingly, they rebelled. They spurned his wishes. It’s called sin.
- That rebellion resulted in judgment. The severest of judgment. It’s called The Curse. It was a heartbreaking moment. A grieving, heartbreaking loss of glory. If we grasp the gravity of that day, we will feel a bit of despair. A tragic day that has led to countless other tragic days in history.
- The Curse brought hardship on the earth. Toil. Suffering. Pain. Thorns and thistles in the ground where mankind was to grow his food. And death (“you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”).
- Paradise was lost. Life would never be the same again.
For us today, that curse is upon us and upon this earth. All of the suffering you and I encounter—large and small—is founded upon that terrible day.
Many of you know tragedy in your lives. Some small, some large. For example, in my little world I’ve been exposed to tragedies just in the past couple weeks.
- In the past 3 weeks, I’ve been to two funerals. Death may be the most horrific tragedy.
- Political news: impeachment process (regardless of what side you may land on).
- In the news Friday: A son who may have shot his mother but is now suing his own father and the government.
- A 50-car pileup on the Interstate in Des Moines. One man is paralyzed from that accident.
- Illness and disease, even right here within the Stonebrook family. I can quickly list one or two dozen people
The curse reaches every facet of life.
It’s all because God is righteous and holy, and he brings judgment—a CURSE—upon the open rebellion against him on the earth.
But we also find that God is merciful beyond our wildest dreams. God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to be the Reverse of the Curse.
Galatians 3:10,13 ESV For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them… Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree…
Jesus, the Son of Man and Son of God, has broken the curse to renew the creation, to make whole what is now broken.
The curse has been addressed. But the total effects of the curse have not been lifted yet. It’s the “Already But Not Yet” conundrum.
But when Jesus Christ comes again, all will be changed. That is why Watts writes in verse: “He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.” His mercy and his blessing will now flow over all the earth. Wherever the curse was, blessing will wash over it. Like taking a large bucket full of water, and pouring it on your floor. It spreads everywhere and covers everything.
So put yourself on that Great Coming Day of Jesus Christ returning as King of kings and Lord of lords to defeat all his enemies, and to make all things right. To fully UNDO the Curse. No more sorrow. Only joy. No more lying. Only truth. No more hatred. Only love. No more bitterness. Only forgiveness. No more division. Only oneness. No more heartaches. Only satisfaction.
No more will sin and sorrow grow, Nor more will thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow Far as the curse is found,
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love…
Verse 4 celebrates Christ’s rule over the nations.
We already looked at this in Verse 2. “Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns.”
As we position ourselves on the Day when Christ returns, this will be our song. “He rules the world with truth and grace.”
AMEN!! A Ruler like none other. Every nation in every age has had flawed rulers. Even very flawed. But finally on that Great and Glorious Day, we will have someone who reigns eternally with truth and grace.
And that Ruler, Jesus the King of kings and Lord of lords, will compel the nations—people in every corner of the globe—to declare the glories of his righteousness and the wonders of his love.
Jesus— the Ruler like none other.
Joy or Terror
Let’s go back to Psalm 98.
Psalm 98:8-9 ESV “Let the rivers clap their hands; let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.”
The Lord’s coming day of judgment will be a joy to all creation–the sea, the rivers, and the hills– and to many men and women who love him and believe in him.
But that day will be a terror to others who have spurned his love and rejected their Creator.
One stunning description is found in Revelation.
Revelation 6:15–17 ESV Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
I don’t know the timing or the circumstances of this moment. But it gives us a clear picture of the terror of facing God in his wrath. That moment will be the worst possible moment of anyone’s life… anyone who has rejected the King.
If you or someone you love has rejected the King, I would implore you and them—more importantly God implores you—believe in the Son.
John 3:36 ESV Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Only those who have believed in him will be able to sing, “Joy to the world,” on the Day Christ returns to establish his kingdom.
One thing we do know, as Psalm 98 tells us: God’s judgment will be righteous. It will be done with perfect equity. No one will be able to justifiably say, “That’s not fair! That is unjust!”
God’s judgment will be beautifully holy and right and fair and just.
“Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her king. Let every heart prepare him room, and heaven and nature sing.”
What do we take from all this?
What do we take from all this?
If you have not bowed your heart to your King, Jesus Christ…. If you have not yet yielded to the One who has been given all authority in heaven and earth… the One who made you and owns you… the One who loves you deeply… then I would urge you to look to Jesus.
He has come to make his blessings flow as far as the curse is found. His blessings of life. Of light. Of truth. His blessings of reward. Of glory. Of hope. His blessings of forgiveness. Of peace. Of grace. All this is yours if you bow to the King and believe.
If you have already bowed to Jesus…. He is your Lord…. He is your Savior… then let us cast off all temporal hopes, all earthly pleasures to rejoice in the Great Coming Day when we will sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord has come.”
Have great joy…NOW.
Yes, you have pressures and pains and problems. Yes, you have stresses and sins and weaknesses.
But a Day is coming when the Glorious Blessings of God will flow all over this land and all over your soul.
Set your hope there. We all hope in something. Hope in the right thing. The sure thing.
1 Peter 1:13 ESV Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.