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The Paradox of Joy

(Prepared to go with a sermon on Hebrews 1:7-14, particularly verse 9)

There are a lot of paradoxes in life – things which seem counter-intuitive or contradictory, yet nevertheless are true. For example, the purpose of a water-pump is to lift water from a subterranean reservoir to the surface so we can use it. But sometimes, in order to get the pump to work, you have to first pour water down the well. We call it ‘priming the pump.’ Pour water down the well in order to get the pump to take water out of the well? To do so goes against all our inclinations, yet if we don’t do it, we can pump all day and achieve nothing except to damage the pump.

Here’s another paradox. When we’re driving a car, normally we turn the wheel in the direction we want the car to go. If we want to turn right, we turn the steering wheel to the right. However, if the car goes into a skid, it’s necessary to turn the wheel in the direction of the skid. If we turn the wheel in the direction we want the car to go, we will merely make the skid worse.

How about this? Let’s say that you get an infection in your finger. Instead of applying medicine to the finger, the doctor gives you pills to swallow. We accept this kind of treatment for our illnesses because of long experience, but it isn’t intuitive.

Our spiritual life is full of these kinds of paradoxes as well. Perhaps one of the most difficult to accept is what James writes in chapter 1, verse 2. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds,” (NIV) We’re supposed to be glad when we encounter problems? Well, yes. Because, as James goes on to explain, it is through trials that we grow and mature.

It shouldn’t surprise us that joy comes out of pain. After all, it’s something which most of us have either experienced or observed. In fact, we’ve distilled this paradox into a proverb, “No pain, no gain.” Jesus gave this illustration: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21 NIV)

It’s significant that Jesus gave this illustration while referring to His own death. It was necessary for Him to die in order to achieve the purpose for His life. Not only would His death be extremely painful, it would cause pain to those who loved Him. Yet, the pain of His death would be transformed into joy. In chapter 12, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that it was because of the joy He anticipated that Jesus could not only endure, but scorn the shame of the cross.

The cross was also necessary for our joy. Without the death and resurrection of Christ, we would have no hope. Paul writes, “He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 4:25-5:6 NIV)

Today as we eat bread and drink juice in memory of Christ’s death, let’s not only remember the pain, but give thanks for the joy we have because of His sacrifice.

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