Thursday, July 11, 2013

Joy (Isaiah's Doxology, Part I)

"I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall be joyful in my God...." Is. 61:10-11

The book of Isaiah is a fascinating work. It's also a large work, containing 66 chapters and covering a myriad of incidents, prophecies, blessings, and denouncements. Amidst it all, however, you can discover a singular reoccurring theme: the inevitable fall and corruption of God's people, the inevitable and preplanned judgment against them, and their inevitable and preplanned redemption. Their redemption usually centered around a messianic figure, whether it be Cyrus the Great (Is. 45:1-6, et. al.) or some future person unidentified in Isaiah's time (i.e., the main figure of the "Servant Songs").

Chapter 61 begins with a declaration made by the "Servant" (vs.1-3), a declaration Jesus would later claim He fulfilled (Luke 4:16-21). The declaration states what the "Servant" will do and how it will affect God's people. It then ends with a doxology by Isaiah speaking for those people (vs. 10-11), and in the process he provides some peculiar commentary on the exact nature of the work that God has wrought through His "Servant".

It just keeps spinning and spinning...
Isaiah (speaking for God's people) says he will "rejoice" and be "joyful" in God and what He has done. In the original language, the first word literally meant "to be bright" while the second literally meant "to spin," like a top or dancer. Now, we should all understand such notions. We have all experienced or seen someone's face "light up" over someone or something, creating a "glow" that affects everyone around them. We have also all experienced or seen moments when words fail and yet something must be done, so you shout or pump your fist or clap your hands or even spin about. You have been filled from top to bottom with ecstatic energy and you just have to release it. This is the idea Isaiah is trying to express: God has made the faces of His people light up by filling them with such immense joy that they can't sit still.

"Why so serious?"
Before I end this post (but continue the series), let me note something: joy is to be a form of evangelism (one of many). Who God actually is and what He has actually done should create an ecstatic delight in us towards Him, and that delight should be one of the things that leads people to ask for an answer to the hope that is within us. I am not referring to faked happiness. I have seen---we all have seen---and been around too many Christians to whom the "joy of the Lord" is merely trumped-up enthusiasm to be maintained at all costs. Let it be said here (if it is said nowhere else) that true Christian joy is not found in plastic smiles and voices worn like masks over dull and despairing souls. It is not found in common courtesy, naturally cheerfulness, a "sunny disposition," or even Southern hospitality. We like to think that's where joy comes from or what it looks like, but we are mistaken. Real joy, Christian joy, is something far different.

Joy comes from loving God, which comes by knowing God, which comes by trusting God. In other words, the life of faith is our channel of joy in God. We learn of His promises and truths (about Himself, ourselves, and all manner of things), we trust and believe in His promises and truths, and then we act on that trust and belief. Then, upon the moment of action or sometime thereafter, God delivers, and the reality of His presence is revealed (however briefly) to us; perhaps not in the way we expected, but still in a way impossible to misidentify. It is there, at the intersection where faith leads to action and action leads to sight, that is where God becomes real, becomes closer than a brother and more intimate than a lover; and in that knowing of Him we grow to love Him truer and deeper, and trust and believe Him more and more, and act again, and see again, and know and love again, and trust and believe again, and act once more, and see once more, and know and love once more, again and again, throughout all time and into eternity. That's where the joy comes from: "I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You."

-Jon Vowell (c) 2013

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