Joy to the world – but some in the world go to hell?

I wonder how Christians can sing “Joy to the World” at Christmas-time and also believe that some people in the world end up in hell. The whole idea behind Christmas is that Jesus was born to rescue us from hell, in the same way he rescued Israel from the hell of slavery in Egypt. He came to begin a Second Exodus, this time for all humanity.

The words in ‘Joy to the World’ plainly show that. In the first verse, “the Lord has come, let earth receive her King,” describes what Jesus came for. He came to rule this planet as its Lord and King, which means that “hell” – however we describe it – doesn’t rule this earth anymore, nor does the devil, not do pagan powers or terrorists, nor does any power inside or outside our universe. That’s why we Christians can announce “joy” to the world with such confidence, because every power and force in existence now submits to Jesus’ rule, and his rule carries the same power today that wrenched Israel out of the grip of a vicious Pharaoh bent on genocide in the past.

We sing Joy to the World, because with Jesus as Lord and King there is nothing in our world that can stop him rescuing every human being and all creation – just as nothing could stop him rescuing all Israel from Egypt. And obviously whoever wrote Joy to the World understood it that way too, because in verse 2 he writes “the Saviour reigns.” Our Rescuer not only ripped us out of hell, he also “reigns.” He’s also in complete control of what happens to us from now on. And that’s the point in verse 3, that Jesus “rules the world with truth and grace, and makes the nations prove the glories of his righteousness, and the wonders of his love.”

In other words, what happens to the nations since Jesus took charge will PROVE just how righteous and how loving he is, just as the First Exodus from Egypt proved to the nations of that time that “I am the Lord,” Exodus 12:12. The First Exodus proved there was no god as powerful, or as caring, or as faithful, as the God of Israel, because against all odds he got them all out of their hell.

On Christmas Day, therefore, we get our reminder every year that Jesus will repeat what he did in the First Exodus for Israel in a Second Exodus for the whole world, and for the same reason too, to prove he has the power to get us out of hell, no matter how dark things may appear.


Joy inexpressible

Adam and Eve could have experienced joy inexpressible but the only route to such joy is faith. Joy comes through trust. So their faith was tested. Would they trust God, no matter what reason they were given for not trusting him?

Years later, Peter talked of the same thing, that joy comes through faith, 1 Peter 1:8-9. We are filled with “an inexpressible and glorious joy,” he writes, “for you are receiving the goal of your faith.” That’s where joy comes from. We trust, and because we trust, we’re receiving what we’re trusting God for, and when that happens it gives us joy beyond words.

So that’s why our faith is tested, just as Adam and Eve’s faith was tested. Do I believe without flinching, for instance, that I’m being “shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time,” verse 5? Do I trust that God will get me through this life to the glorious life beyond? Because “In this you greatly rejoice,” verse 6. I experience joy when I have that kind of faith, when I know with absolute certainty that my life is safe in God’s hands all the way to eternity, no matter what’s happening in my life at the moment.

Joy comes from such certainty. So we’re tested through “grief in all kinds of trials,” because testing proves our certainty. And on that point, a lady phoned me recently in deep distress. She was so weak she could hardly stand, but resting only filled her lungs up and she couldn’t breathe. She hated hospitals because of previous bad experiences, but she couldn’t look after herself. What should she do? So I asked her, “Do you believe you are safe in God’s hands, no matter what’s happening to you?” “Yes,” she said. “Then call an ambulance, go to the hospital and trust him,” I said. I imagine her reaction was, “Oh no, does it have to be that?” Yes it does because it proves her certainty that she’s “shielded by God’s power” even in a dreaded hospital! Is she certain? Because joy comes with certainty.

And here was the chance to experience what she was trusting God for – the “salvation of her soul,” verse 9. Joy comes from receiving the goal of our faith. And what is the goal of our faith? The certainty that our soul, our entire being, is safe in God’s hands in every circumstance in this life all the way to eternity. Where does such certainty come from? From being chucked into situations beyond our control and preference and trusting God – no matter what reason we’re given for not trusting him.

Guilt – the great destroyer of joy

The joy is ripped out of Christianity by guilt – the constant awful feeling we’re falling short of expectations. We should be doing more, praying more, studying more, helping out in the community more, inviting people over more, getting to know the neighbours better, talking more openly about God with our kids and workmates, visiting the sick more, staying longer at church, evangelizing more, and the list goes on (and on). But we do more and it still feels like we’re not doing enough. It’s horrible. No matter how hard we’re trying, it never feels like God is satisfied with us.

But how much of that is the influence of the culture? Everywhere we turn we’re bombarded by guilt. Endless guilt-trip magazines harp away at us how we’re not eating right, not exercising enough, not looking after our skin, hair, feet and sex life properly, we’re drinking too much coffee, downing too much sugar, missing out on sleep, spending our money carelessly, not investing enough for our retirement, ignoring our families, leading chaotic, disorganized lives and our homes are a mess. We’re constantly falling behind in our responsibilities, growing old before our time and letting life pass us by. Guilt, guilt, guilt.

We live in a culture that feeds on guilt, backed up by very influential people telling us from the great heights of their superiority how lacking we are, like mothers-in-law, TV evangelists, priests, preachers, well-known health fanatics, documentaries by famous people with a bee in their bonnet, patronising politicians, newspaper and TV commentators, letter-writers to the editor – all the usual know-it-alls who figure if everyone was like them the world would be a much better place.

And how many Christians get caught up in all this rubbish, thinking God is looking down on us from his great superior height too, rating our behaviour, timing our prayers, and tut-tutting constantly at how lacking we are? But God sent his Son to show us he isn’t like that at all. He tells us outrightly, frankly and as clearly as anyone could – in John 3:17 – that it wasn’t to condemn, evaluate, rate or judge us that Jesus came for, it was to help us see how much, how intensely and how personally God loves us, verse 16. He even loved us “while we were yet sinners,” Romans 5:8, and he “made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in our transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5.

We don’t have to be good enough for God to love us. He loved us at our worst – and how can you feel guilty when you’re loved at your worst?! God doesn’t want us eaten up by guilt, he wants us realizing we’re loved, because it’s joy he wants us filled with, not guilt.

Joy like God’s joy – but how?

Christ came to share his joy with us, John 15:11 – and all of it too, 16:24, 17:13. And once we’ve got his joy it’s good forever, no one can take it away from us, 16:22. So this is joy like God experiences joy: it never goes away; it’s constant; it’s what happens all the time. And we don’t have to wait for God’s perfect world to come first to experience it, either. We can be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” right now, in this lifetime, 1 Peter 1:8.

So where does this indescribable joy come from? From “receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls,” verse 9. Our joy comes from getting what we’re trusting Jesus for. Because that’s our life now. As Christians we put all our eggs in one basket. We put our souls – all that we are and hope to be – entirely in Christ’s hands, trusting HIM to make happen what God made us for in the first place, because when we had the chance to make it happen, we blew it. We made a right hash of things, but God sent Jesus to save us, in two ways – first, to save us from what we’d done to ourselves and, secondly, to give us another shot at what we could’ve had. It’s these two things that become the “salvation of our souls” we’re trusting him for.

And it’s for good reason that we trust him, Romans 5:10, because in Christ dying for us we know God hasn’t given up on us, despite what we’ve done. In fact, he adores us, and proved it by dying for us. We never need wonder if God loves us, then. What a relief. We’re loved, full stop, so suck it up and enjoy it!

Paul also wrote in verse 10, “how much more shall we be saved through his life,” because it’s through his life that we get another shot at what we could’ve had. Jesus, in his human lifetime, lived what we never had. He lived a marvellously real, personal and loving relationship with God, which he now gives to us by living that same relationship all over again in us through the Holy Spirit. What a relief. We never need wonder if we can love God in return, then. We can love God just like Jesus did, so suck it up and enjoy that too!

No wonder we have joy. We know God loves us and we can love him back. And isn’t that the “goal of our faith,” or our reason for trusting Christ? It’s to have both those things guaranteed to us, forever – which they are.