Costly Joy

Rejoicing in the LORD is wonderful. What a glory to be able to stand together as God’s people and praise the LORD from renewed and thankful hearts! Remember how the Israelites joyously sang the “Song of Moses”: “The LORD is my strength and my song, and He has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him!” (Exo. 15:2). But this rejoicing was costly. Israel did not initially rejoice in the LORD’s goodness. Before Israel rejoiced in the LORD, Israel first had to learn to trust God in tribulation.

Israel was God’s son (Exo. 4:23), redeemed from slavery only to find more trouble awaiting him in the wilderness. Even before Israel could get safely to the wilderness and enjoy the presence of God, the enemies of God vigorously and maliciously pursued him. Pharaoh hardened his heart and decided to seek to bring his former slave back into dreadful captivity (Exo. 14:5-9). God had promised through Moses he would save his dear Israel. But when Israel found himself stuck between the enemies of God and the Red Sea, there was a tremendous temptation to fear rather than rejoicing.

The Red Sea didn’t seem like the best route to take to slip out of slavery, but it was the only one at the time. In fact, the Red Sea was the best way, because Israel was led by God to this place of trouble, but he could not see it at the time (cf. Psa. 77:19). Israel’s fears gripped him and essentially said: “God doesn’t love you; you are here only to die in misery and insignificance; this is what you deserve.” “You shouldn’t have believed; it was too good to be true”; “Is God really good?” Israel specifically responded in this place: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us…?” Interesting how sarcasm and cynicism can be indicators of fear and unbelief?!

In Israel’s trouble, God spoke through His chosen mediator. What a kind God to speak to us when we need Him the most! Israel’s mediator spoke to him words of faith: “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you…The LORD will fight for you…” (Exo. 14:13-14; cf. Eph. 6:10-18). He did: “…HE WILL WORK FOR YOU…HE WILL FIGHT FOR YOU…” (Emphasis: all of grace!! Emphasis: What would God not do for His people??!!). God fought and delivered Israel from all of his fears! Israel’s tribulation eventually brought deep joy and rejoicing in the LORD! This was God’s way to bring his people through tribulation and fears to the freedom of great exultation and rejoicing!

Many years later, one true and faithful Israelite, God’s own Beloved Son, would be in an extremely difficult place. On one side would be God’s enemies, on the other side, the just wrath of God the Father poured out on a Roman crucifix. It didn’t seem like the best route, but it was the only one. This was God’s perfect way, and this Israelite knew it and had lovingly come for this reason (John 10:17). And God’s Son had real and deep temptations to fear (Let this comfort you in your fears that he sympathizes with you!). Yet He conquered in faith by saying: “Not my will, but yours be done.” It was the joy that was set before Him that helped Him to endure (Heb. 12:2b). Joy can do that!

As God had brought salvation and life to His people through the Red Sea, so now God would bring the ultimate salvation and deliverance from all sin and evil through crucifixion. As Israel went down into the sea in a kind of baptism into death, and rose to a newness of life in God’s presence on the other side. So, the LORD Jesus would cut a permanent path of peace and eternal joy through His own death on the cross, and rise to newness and life and eternal glory for all of his own (cf. Rom. 6:4-5).

In Christ, let us mediate upon His love for us. Let this perfect love cast out all of your fears (1 Jo. 4:18). Christ came to speak sweet and comforting words as our Mediator: “Fear not, I am with you. I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Like Israel before us, our fears say: “God is not with you”; “God is not good”; “God will not help you, you are only getting what you know you deserve.” Yet let us hear our great mediator enthroned in exalted glory in heaven say to us, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today…the LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent” (Exo. 14:13-14). Let us hear our gentle Jesus say: “’Thy will be done’ will lead to great rejoicing for you. Trust me as you keep your eyes on me.”

Recently, I saw some arrogance in myself (that I’m sure you saw first!), and I asked God to make me more humble, and to be able to rejoice in the LORD in all times. It was costly. I was humbled. My fears said: “God is not with you”; “You are getting what you deserve”; “You are a loser!” (I know, sad, but that’s what I hear!); “Does God really care about you?!” My faith said: “This is good for me”; “Christ is in this to answer my prayers, and to give me lasting joy that is my strength in learning to trust in Him alone”. I was humbled unto joy at that point. Sure, the humbling was still painful, but I could rejoice knowing the LORD is good, and was committed to answering my prayers! God was bringing further salvation joy as He has promised he would (Exo. 14:13; cf. Phil. 1:6).

Let this bring you to rejoice in the LORD, too! This is the joy of the LORD that is our strength! (Neh. 8:10). It is a costly joy, because it cost the LORD Jesus Christ his own precious blood to bring us into the safe and comforting communion and union with Him through faith, so that we could indeed rejoice in the LORD always! It is a costly joy, because we must learn to trust Him in tribulation, and that can be hard, but it is the only way, the right way. We will struggle against fears and flesh, but let us have faith in the LORD Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of all things good in us, and the glorious hope of our lives. Remember: Through times of tribulation, joy will eventually come (Lam. 3:21-28)! Let us rejoice by faith in this Biblical truth!

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

ESV Philippians 4:4