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Monday, April 21, 2014

Rejoice Always!

Acts 5:40-42

“They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”

            Peter and the apostles continued to teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ after the Pentecost. They healed people, preached, and taught, "The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins” (vs. 30-31). They said that they were witnesses of this and so was the Holy Spirit by whom everyone knew they received spiritual power as seen on Pentecost day. The Chief Priest and the Sanhedrin put the men in jail. During the night an angel of the Lord released them and told them, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life." The Sanhedrin did not know they were no longer in jail but found out when they sent the captain of the guard to bring the apostles to them. The captain and the Sanhedrin were dumbfounded as to how they were out of the jail and that the apostles still preached in the temple after they forbade them. When the Sanhedrin confronted the apostles, Peter replied, “We must obey God rather than men” (vs. 29). Once again, the Sanhedrin forbade them to speak in the name of Jesus and ordered them flogged.
            Maybe you remember this true story from previous readings. Possibly you have never heard it. What the apostles said after being flogged amazed me. Read verses 41 and 42 again. It says, “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. And every day, in the temple, and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” What struck me was that they rejoiced because of their flogging and imprisonment. How many of us can say we are joyful and happy when we go through difficult times? I know in the past that has not been my first reaction. Rejoicing is something we must develop. It could be another mindset. This made me think and wonder where else in the New Testament people rejoiced and for what reason.
            Before looking at the instances of rejoicing, we need to understand the Greek word that translated to mean rejoice. The Greek word for rejoicing used in this passage in the New Testament is chairo. It means to be glad; to rejoice exceedingly; to be well and to thrive.[i] Rejoicing comes from acknowledged joy within oneself over what has occurred to you or someone else. Rejoicing is aimed toward and comes from a source. For Christians, that source is God. When you consider the astounding fact of God’s love and that He went so far as to have His Son die for our sins, rejoicing is the automatic reaction. Joy is the emotion when someone realizes he or she does not have to pay the penalty for his or her wrongdoing. Someone else chose to take his or her place instead. That someone is Jesus, the Son of God. Joy is not the same emotion as happy. Joy is “a state of mind and an orientation of the heart. It is a settled state of contentment, confidence, and hope.”[ii] Happiness is feeling or showing pleasure or contentment. Notice though that hope is not part of the definition of happy. Hope comes from Christ and thus, true joy can only come from a person who experiences a relationship with Jesus. Jesus provides the hope to happy and it becomes joy, which He gives through the Holy Spirit. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, as listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Joy brings rejoicing.
            With this understanding in place, we must move forward to see in what cases rejoicing occurs in the New Testament. This will allow us to understand why/how the apostles could rejoice after being flogged and forbidden to speak of their faith. The New Testament writers used chairo 68 times. That is phenomenal! Upon studying the 68 instances of rejoicing in the New Testament, I discovered that in 19 situations people rejoiced in the midst of negative occurrences. So, when the apostles rejoiced in Acts 5:41-42, it was not a strange occurrence. Four of those 19 times of rejoicing occurred when Paul, Peter, and their helpers suffered for telling others about Jesus. (See Acts 5:41-41, Philippians 2:17-18, 1 Peter 4:13, and Colossians 1:24.) Religious leaders considered them Christian enough to create a problem for the status quo. The apostles and disciples rejoiced that they had grown so much in Christlikeness that they were worthy to suffer persecution just as Jesus did. The apostles taught, as Jesus taught them, to rejoice in these sufferings because you have the hope of eternal life with Him in heaven after life on earth. Jesus told His disciples they would weep and lament, but the world would rejoice at their sufferings. He said they would receive grieve, but their grief would turn to joy (John 16:20). Peter and Paul both taught this in Romans 12:12 and 1 Peter 4:13. Paul spoke of times when people he taught and prayed for went through times of trouble. He said afterward about the Corinthians that he rejoiced because their difficult times brought them to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:9 and 16). Difficult and trying times do not always bring unremitting grief; God can use anything for His good for those who seek Him and follow Him. Paul said this in Romans 8:28, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” As much as Satan wants you to give up on God or feel rejected by God, God never lets go of His children or those who call upon Him. He desires each person to call upon His name. Joy can come through trials. David said this in Psalm 30:5, “For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”
God can use anything for His good. Consider the three times where people rejoiced because they captured Jesus or mocked Him. The chief priests, Judas, and the soldiers who tortured and crucified Jesus each rejoiced when they encountered Jesus in His final days (Mark 14:11, Luke 22:5). Judas’ “Greeting” to Jesus was false (Matthew 26:49). It was a way to set Him up for the Chief priests and their soldiers. The soldiers mockingly “hailed” Him King of the Jews (Matthew 27:29. Mark 15:18, and John 19:3). These incidents by Jesus’ antagonists show an important fact. When people rejoice, they aim their rejoicing at someone. For the chief priests, Judas, and the soldiers, they aimed their rejoicing at themselves for their cunning/deception. Cunning and deception are a part of Satan’s arsenal. What Satan meant for harm, God used for the good of humankind. Satan sought to thwart salvation for people. By putting Jesus to death, Satan thought it was finished. For God, “it is finished” had another meaning. “It is finished” meant there would no longer be a battle raging in people concerning their guilt. Jesus’ death provided redemption for the sins of humankind. What Satan meant for harm, God used for His purposes and His good. Other than the six passages above where people aimed their rejoicing at themselves, rejoicing in difficult times focused on God, the One who gives hope for the future and gets the person through the hard times. John tells us what Jesus taught the disciples. Jesus said we have joy or hope of joy because we will see Jesus (John 16:22).
            Most times rejoicing occurs in the New Testament come through positive situations in which we see God’s hand working in that time. Of the 68 incidents of rejoicing in the New Testament, 46 occur at positive times. Eleven of these occurrences arise because of the hope a person has in God and His promises. In Matthew 2:1, the Shepherds “rejoiced exceedingly” when the angels told them of the birth of the Messiah. When the angels “greeted” Mary and told her God favored her, the word used in the Greek is chairo. They rejoiced when they told Mary she was favored of God (Luke 1:28). Zachariah rejoiced when he was told his son would be the “voice crying out in the wilderness” for the Messiah (Luke 1:14). Matthew 28:29, Luke 10:20, Luke 13:17, Luke 19:37, John 14:28, John 20:20, 2 Corinthians 13:11, and Philippians 3:1 show people rejoicing for the hope they received from God or have in Him. The apostles rejoiced when they saw Jesus Christ alive after they heard of His resurrection. The disciples rejoiced over having power over demons. Jesus told them to rejoice at having their names written in heaven. The crowds in the synagogue rejoiced over the miracles Jesus performed. The people rejoiced when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Jesus even told the disciples, “If you loved me, you would rejoice because I go to the Father for the Father is greater than I am” (John 14:28).
            These are not the only cases of rejoicing because of positive occurrences. The New Testament records eight passages where people rejoice because others have come to salvation in the Lord. Luke recorded them in Luke 15:32, Luke 19:6, Acts 8:39, Acts 11:23, and Acts 13:48. John recorded then in John 3:29, John 4:36, and John 8:56. The parables of the prodigal son, the sower and reaper, and the friends of the bridegroom relate strong images of joy when people believe in Jesus Christ as their Savior and accepting Him as Lord of their lives. Jesus said that even Abraham rejoiced to see Him.
            Rejoicing comes when people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus. It also occurs when brothers and sisters in Christ are faithful. Paul spoke of this joy 6 times. He rejoiced over the Romans obedience in their faith to Christ (Romans 16:19), over the faithfulness of the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 2:3, 7:7, 7:13, and 13:9), and over the Colossians good discipline and stability of their faith (Colossians 2:5). John spoke of faithful Christians and rejoiced over their faith (2 John and 3 John).
            Other instances in the New Testament of rejoicing (chairo) to God include rejoicing and being thankful for being ministered to, being glad (rejoicing) that Lazarus died before Jesus arrived, greetings (chairo) from the apostles, and love rejoicing in truth (1 Corinthians 13:6). What is most important to recognize is that whether a person was in trying times or pleasant times, they rejoiced because they, as believers, had hope in God and His promise of eternal life with Him.
This leads us to the most important passages on joy and rejoicing in my opinion. Jesus taught it in the Beatitudes and Paul wrote on it five times. Jesus taught to rejoice no matter what a person’s circumstances. Matthew and Luke recorded the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:1-12 and Luke 6:20-23. In this section of His sermon, Jesus said rejoice when you are poor in spirit, mourning, persecuted, and when you are insulted for your reward in heaven is great. Jesus continued by saying rejoice you gentle people who seek righteousness, give mercy, are pure in heart, and are peacemakers for you have a great reward in heaven. Jesus taught no matter what your circumstances, seek after God’s way and you can rejoice knowing He is in control and has a plan. Paul affirmed this with his teachings, too. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 6:10, “We live as sorrowful yet always rejoice.” Rejoicing can turn a negative time into a positive time. Paul told the Thessalonians to rejoice before God for the joy He gives them (1 Thessalonians 3:9) and rejoice always (1 Thessalonians 5:16). Paul repeated this to the Philippians in a most emphatic way, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!”
Life can be difficult and it can be messy. Remember, Satan is still loose on earth, but the sun rose on the third day after Jesus’ death and the people of the world claimed hope. We can have joy because we believe in Jesus (John 16:22). We can rejoice if we are Christians knowing that no matter what the circumstances are, good or bad, that Jesus is Lord. We have a promised hope of life forever with Him in His kingdom. There will be no Satan and no tears. There will be joy and rejoicing. We can have this joy and rejoice now. The greatest Bible passage on rejoicing is found in Revelation 19:7 at the marriage of the Lamb (Jesus Christ) and His bride (the people who follow Jesus). This occurs when God’s kingdom comes and He calls His children to live with Him forever. In that day, Revelation says, we will rejoice, be glad, and give the glory to Him.
We can consider the times on earth when we rejoiced to be practice for the day of Christ’s return. We can practice rejoicing in the easy times, which is not so difficult, and in the trying times, which takes great effort. The hope Jesus gives His children who follow Him enables them to do this, the hope of His return to take us to live with Him forever. This is why Peter and the apostles rejoiced when the Sanhedrin had them flogged. They rejoiced because the leaders of the time recognized they were Jesus’ followers by their words and actions. They considered it an honor to be so associated with Jesus that they could bear wounds for following Him.
I wonder, how often do we think about rejoicing when we are in the midst of difficult times? How often, when we are being insulted or persecuted, do we consider giving up or not continuing walking in the way of the Lord? The apostles rejoiced that they could suffer as Christians. They continued teaching and preaching in homes and the synagogue also. For weak humans, giving up is easy, but it takes fortitude to continue. It takes strength from within to keep walking in Jesus’ path. Jesus did not leave us to walk on our own. He gave each of His followers the power of His Holy Spirit, His own power. The Holy Spirit is that strength within that Christians have. Jesus did not give up and He gives us that power. When we consider this, we realize we have more than one reason to have joy: 1) The Holy Spirit gives joy to us; 2) We will live with Jesus in heaven; and 3) We have the power to overcome or endure whatever obstacles come our way. Rejoicing is the expressing of the joy within us to God as thanksgiving to Him. Rejoicing is our offering of praise and thanks to God. Joy is not just a gift the Holy Spirit gives us. It is a gift we give back to God as praise and thanksgiving - rejoicing.
The questions that arise are these: Do you have the ability to rejoice in the midst of trying times? If not, have you asked Jesus to be your Lord and Savior? Alternatively, have you acknowledged joy as a gift from the Holy Spirit and relied upon God to get you through your circumstances? When you accept Jesus as your Savior and Lord and allow Him to become your strength, you can get through anything because of His power. You can rejoice knowing He gave you eternal life with Him. He is in control. He is stronger than every thing that will come against you. He knows and loves you.
Paul said, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice!” He spoke from experience with trying times and glorious times. His experience with Jesus allowed him to rejoice always.

Do you have a relationship with the risen Lord?

He is waiting for you. 

James said in chapter 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And, let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Paul said in Romans 5:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you will abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

[i] Thayer and Smith. "Greek Lexicon entry for Chairo". "The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon". . 1999.