O Christ, My Joy Forever
Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
September 23, 2018
If you were to hold to one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be? If you were to say, this is the thing that I need to keep in front of myself, the thing that I will cling to even if everything else fails, what would that one thing be?
You might say that it would be God. The Triune God is the only true God. We confess God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in the Creed, having promised to renounce all before renouncing Him. Even the Creed, following the teaching of Scripture, hones in on exactly who the Triune God is and what He does to save us.
A much more specific focus is the way you just sang it in the Hymn of the Day, “O Christ, my joy forever.” How would your thinking day to day be like if this were your foremost thought, Christ is my joy forever? What would your life look like if you were always looking to Christ as your only joy not only now but for eternity?
In the Gospel reading today Christ is showing you this kind of focus. It is what the experts in the Law of God and the Pharisees were missing. In the Scriptures we often see lowly, ordinary people express the kind of focus that the high and religiously inclined so often miss.
In the Old Testament Hannah was unable to have children. She grieved over this inability and God finally blessed her with the gift of a son. Her son was Samuel and he became a faithful prophet of God. In her prayer of thanksgiving she said, “My heart rejoices in the Lord.” She was grateful for the gift of a son. But her joy was in the Lord. Her focus was on Him.
In the New Testament a young girl who was not able to have children because she was not married was suddenly blessed with the gift of a son. This was a miraculous pregnancy, brought forth by the Holy Spirit. The son she would bear would be greater than the prophet Samuel, He would be the Savior that Samuel and so many prophets before and after him had pointed to. The virgin Mary gave thanks to the same God Hannah had and prayed these words, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” She did not even fully comprehend that the very Lord she magnified was in her womb.
The hymn writer of the hymn we just sang had a similar thought, “O Christ, my joy forever.” He, and you, know the whole story. Hannah and Samuel and originally Mary did not see the fullness of their rejoicing in the Lord. You do. Even so, their trust was in the Lord.
In contrast to this focus on the Lord was the religious leaders in the Gospel reading. Jesus was at the home of one of the rulers of the Pharisees and eating a meal on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was instituted by God as a day not only of physical rest but also spiritual rest. What were those religious leaders doing with Jesus in their presence? They were watching him carefully. They were focused on Him, all right. But they were not rejoicing in Him in the way of Hannah, or Mary, or the writer of our hymn.
They were focused on Him in order to bring Him down. Hannah and Mary believed in the Lord, their joy was in Him. The religious leaders did not believe in Him. They did not trust in Him for their salvation but rather in themselves. Their focus was on the same person but for the wrong reason.
Receiving the blessings of the Lord, Hannah and Mary could not help but speak in praise and thanks to the Lord. You and I who have received the same blessings from Him cannot help but sing as we did in the Hymn of the Day. By contrast, the religious leaders remained silent.
When a man who had dropsy, a condition where he swelled with water, was before Him, Jesus spoke to the religious leaders. Luke says that Jesus was answering them. They had not spoken. They had been watching Him closely. So Jesus answered them. He spoke to their stubborn hearts: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?” They had been silent, and yet communicating in spades their despisemnet of Him. He tried to elicit a response from them, “Is it the right thing to do to heal a person in need on the day of rest?”
What did they do? They remained silent. You might say they didn’t do anything, that they didn’t respond to Jesus. But their remaining silent spoke volumes. They were entrenched in their despising of Jesus.
Jesus took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him away. Jesus spoke again to those religious leaders: “Which of you having a son or an ox that had fallen into a well, would not immediately pull him out though it was on the Sabbath?” This is one of those rhetorical questions, a question given more as a statement, rather than to elicit an answer. You might call it a “duh” question. Of course you would pull your son or ox out of the well even though the Law of God says you can’t do any work on the Sabbath.
How did the religious leaders respond to this? Luke says they were unable to respond to these things. They remained silent. Still focused completely on Jesus, but with hatred in their hearts. Unlike Hannah and Mary, rejoicing in the Lord, they repudiated Him. Hannah and Mary could not help but speak, these men refused to speak.
Hannah and Mary praised God in humility. They expressed their unworthiness for the Lord’s gifts and blessings. The religious leaders boasted of their own spiritual worth. It is tempting to look at yourself and boast in your own spiritual value and good works. In the Epistle reading the apostle Paul guards against this temptation, saying, “I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness.”
The religious leaders looked at the Law of God, such as the command to keep the Sabbath day, and used that as a measure to show how much God must be pleased with them. Far from focusing on Jesus, they were wrapped up in their own spiritual self-worth. Humility was not the order of the day, although they thought they were very humble, because after all, they knew God’s Word and kept God’s Word!
But they didn’t see that humility comes from looking at God’s Law and measuring it against yourself and finding that you fall very, very short. That you are not only unworthy of any good gift from God or blessings from Him, but that you deserve His judgment upon your sin. In humility, you see hope only in Christ, not in yourself. In humility, you see that repentance is looking not to yourself to do good things for God but to repudiate your sin and sinful desires.
Hannah and Mary express the joy of focusing on Christ because they understand what true Sabbath rest is. It is hinted at in Jesus’ healing of the man and His speaking of the obvious action of helping your son or ox. Jesus has come to give us ultimate rescue and healing. This is why on the Sabbath, which since the resurrection of our Lord Christians have been celebrating on Sunday, our Lord comes to give you Himself, giving you His body and blood. Giving you in the gift of Himself forgiveness of your sins and strength for your faith.
When you see that He gives you Himself you see that He is your joy forever. Forever includes now, in this life. When you are focused on Him you are not focused on yourself. When you are not focused on yourself you see that the greatest joy you have in Him is in loving others. As He has rejoiced in loving you, you rejoice in loving others. Being forgiven, you forgive. Being blessed by your Lord, you bless others by helping them and being patient with them. The joy of Christ is to help, rescue, and save you. Because He has done so He is your joy forever. Amen.