Sunday, August 28, 2022

JESUS: LIFE OF THE PARTY? - Isaiah 61 Devotional #21

"... The LORD has anointed Me ... To console those who mourn in Zion ... Therefore in their land they shall possess double; everlasting joy shall be theirs."
– Isaiah 61:1b-7c
"...If God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times to be glad and rejoice, He must want us to do it--SOME!
- Pollyanna, Chapter XXII (1913) Eleanor H. Porter
* * *

When Eleanor Porter, an unassuming writer from Massachusetts in her early 40s, wrote the novel Pollyanna, little could she have imagined how it would "go viral."  According to book publisher Simon & Schuster: "First published in 1913, her story spawned the formation of 'Glad' clubs all over the country, devoted to playing Pollyanna's famous game. Pollyanna has since sold over one million copies, been translated into several languages, and has become both a Broadway play and a Disney motion picture."

This might seem puzzling, since the term "Pollyanna" has, in our day, become synonymous with a certain detachment from reality, a tendency to pretend away whatever unpleasantries life may bring.  But, on the contrary, Porter's Polyanna knew the secret source of strength to face adversity: by focusing on joy, as Scripture commands us to, rather than on the negatives.  Timely was her message, too, since the five short years following the book's publication would bring with them the twin tragedies of world war and pandemic.

If you have been following this Isaiah 61 series, you will remember from the last two devotionals how our Lord's task force of "Blessed Mourners" are heirs together with Jesus Christ, the Firstborn.  They possess IN HIM -- according to verse 7 -- both great honor, and the rights and privileges of sonship, equipping them to carry forth His great commission of turning the world upside down.  A heady job description, sure; but the verse doesn't end there.  The "inheritance stool" does not stand on just two legs.

There's one more thing -- a thing of utmost importance -- that we must seize as our rightful inheritance: EVERLASTING JOY!  Until we grasp the magnitude of the importance of JOY of the Lord, and allow it to flow freely from the wellspring of our heart, we will never be that City on a Hill, bringing light to the valleys of sin that surround.

If we study the major revivals of the past, we find that they evoked from the heart of man two responses: great repentance, and great joy.  As a child brought up in the U.S. "South" during the tail end of the "Latter Rain Movement," I recall the great tent-and-sawdust revival meetings, where worshipers would pack in around the front, before the platform, singing, whooping, and dancing with the joy of the Lord.  Then came the "Jesus Movement" in the late '60s and early '70s, where, once again, repentance and great joy were on full display.  Topping the list of "Jesus People" worship songs were "Break Forth into Joy, O My Soul!" and "The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength."

Though space would not allow us to list even the scriptural references to joy (let alone quote the full text) ... as Polyanna put it, "... God took the trouble to tell us eight hundred times ..." Still, we can meditate on a few.

- Think about the nine Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) -- the visible evidence by which the world may see His work in our heart and come to believe in Him.  The first (and greatest, as He reminds us) is LOVE.  But the very next, perhaps we may call it the "second greatest," is JOY!

- During the revival of Nehemiah's time, when the people responded with open, weeping hearts to the Word of the Lord, what did he instruct them to do?  "Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!" (Nehemiah 8:10)

- How about Jesus?  After all, we're studying Isaiah 61 -- the playbook for the earthly ministry He initiated, which He handed off to us, to be continued until His return.  Well, to kick off His ministry ... He went to a party!  That's right, along with His disciples and His mother, he attended a wedding, which, in those days would include a blow-out celebration with plenty of good foods, drinks, and enjoyment.  And when it became clear that the caterers' error had left them short of beverages, which would certainly put a dent in the day's joy, Jesus supplied an abundance of wine -- of the very best quality, as the maĆ®tre d' observed!

We shall leave the theologians to debate, as they have for centuries, whether the wine they were drinking that day contained alcohol.  In any case, it is irrelevant.  The point is that our Lord Jesus chose -- certainly not by accident, since He has no accidents -- to perform as His first miracle the act of bringing joy to the hearts of many with fine beverage for their party.  And, thereby He manifested His glory so they believed in Him. (John 2:11)

And He certainly didn't stop there.  We see numerous occasions in Scripture where Jesus was "eating and drinking" at this or that house.  "The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!'" (Luke 7:34)

Of course He was no "glutton and winebibber" as His critics slanderously said of Him.  Rather, He was a Person Who did not hesitate to joyfully keep company with people -- of all walks of life -- that He might show them the way to peace with God.  This clearly stuck in the crop of the chief priests, Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees -- who hadn't a freckle of true joy of the Lord on their whole carcass!

What's this have to do with us?

Well, consider the average Christian's daydream.  Up walks his work buddy, lays a fawning hand on his shoulder and wistfully purrs, "O dear friend, you have something I don't, but I really, really want it!" And he has a wide-open door to lead his friend to Jesus.

That daydream can become glorious reality right now, today, in your life and mine.  But for that to happen requires that we let the Holy Spirit come in and regenerate our curmudgeonly, trash-talking, fault-finding, bellyaching selves and install that third leg of our "inheritance stool": EVERLASTING JOY.  Then, as we truly manifest the fruits of love and joy ... well, THAT is when the "Nations will come to [our] light, and kings to the brightness of [our] dawn." (Isaiah 60:3)

Why not pray ...  

"Dear Father,
I can no longer ignore the importance You assign to JOY in my Christian life and ministry. Please throw open the doors to my inner storehouse of negativity, and blow it all away with your divine influx of EVERLASTING JOY!  That the world may see Your light in me, that the world may know Your joy.
In Jesus' name. Amen."

Originally published as a “Bradstix” devotional on the National Minute of Prayer Facebook page 8/28/2022.

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