The story of John Nevins Andrews, traveling with his two teenage children to Basel, Switzerland, to become the first official Seventh-day Adventist cross-cultural missionary, is a treasured part of Adventist history. Andrews was a well-known scholar, author, and administrator. Adventists cherish his work on the history of the Sabbath. We appreciate his writing skills and leadership. What stands out most, however, is his willingness to hang on to Jesus in the midst of personal pain and loss.
He was burying his only daughter—a victim of the same dreaded disease that had claimed his wife six years earlier. Overworked, undernourished, and challenged, John Nevins Andrews was candid about what the accumulated pressure and grief had done to him: “Brother Kinne, I seem to be having hold upon God with a numb hand.”¹ Numb hands, numb hearts seemingly have no connection to joy.
WHAT IS JOY?
Joy encompasses a wide variety of sentiments and states. While it involves emotions, it’s also a state of being or can become a source of delight. We often think of joy as something fragile or bubblelike that can dissipate quickly, yet there seems to be something more profound at work.
Joy is more than blue sky, glorious sunlight, and fluffy white clouds. While external circumstances affect our being and emotions, joy goes beyond warm feelings or quick fixes.
Biblical authors had a lot to say about joy moving people to greater trust and worship of God (see, for example, Job 33:26; Ps. 21:1; 42:4; 51:12; 105:43). As we worship and recognize the God who has given everything for us, we are filled with a joy that tells us that we are safe in His arms.
JOY AND ADVERSITY
Joy appears in unlikely places in Scripture. James 1:2 tells us to “consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds” (NIV). How can the Bible speak of joy and trials (or “tough tests,” as the Greek suggests) in the same breath?
The biblical concept of joy shatters our ideas about joy. By connecting joy to the God who acts in history (and in our lives), we are reminded that faith and joy need to be intimately connected. James encourages his readers “to embrace their trials not for what they were but for what God could accomplish through them.”² He wants to turn us toward potential divine victory over human reality; faith that looks beyond the limitations of human vision.
That same attitude seems to have been part of Jesus’ motivation as He faced the ultimate trial or testing of the cross. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews describes it like this when he encourages us to fix our eyes on Jesus, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2, ESV).³ The joy in saving His creation helped Jesus to endure the darkness of the cross—even when He cried out to the Father: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42, NIV). We hear pain and desperation in this prayer, but they also speak of surrender and commitment. In His darkest hour Jesus was able to see beyond the pain of the cross and consider the joy that salvation would bring to uncounted millions and billions who had been claimed by Satan, the great deceiver. Jesus saw our liberation from Satan’s darkness and constant lies.
THE CROSS—AND BEYOND
Darkness and desperation seem to be appropriate backdrops for the cross. Following a sham trial before a Sanhedrin not following its own rules, Jesus is nailed to a cross surrounded by two other crosses. The message from the authorities is clear: here hangs a sinner among other sinners. Many in the multitude watching Him suffer mocked Him (Matt. 27:39-44), while a small group of women, who had followed Him, wept and lamented (Luke 23:27; Mark 15:40, 41). A strange darkness covers the land for three hours (Mark 15:33). When Jesus finally dies, the veil separating the holy from the Most Holy in the Temple rips from top to bottom, an earthquake shakes Jerusalem, and graves are opened (Matt. 27:51-53). Creation mourns, and joy seems as far away as the East is from the West.
Jesus rests in the grave that Sabbath until the unimaginable happens on Sunday morning. When some of the women and the disciples come to the tomb to embalm Jesus for death they find the tomb empty for God had raised His Son. John tenderly describes the moment when Mary Magdalene weeps at the sight of the empty tomb after seeing two angels sitting in the place where they had laid Jesus. Suddenly there is a gentle voice behind Mary asking, “Woman, why are you crying?” (John 20:15, NIV). Mary doesn’t recognize the voice—for what cannot be cannot be. But then He speaks her name (verse 16).
“He is risen” has been the traditional Easter greeting of Christians throughout the centuries. He is risen changes everything. Darkness becomes light; hopelessness turns into recognition—and recognition finally becomes joy.
Joy truly comes in the morning after a night filled with darkness, death, guilt, and despondency. Resurrection morning offers us a preview of what God has planned for those who have fallen asleep in Him throughout history. Resurrection morning reminds us that Satan doesn’t have the final word. Resurrection morning offers hope and infuses faith.
David had it right when he wrote these lines a thousand years before the cross: “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Ps. 30:5, ESV).
He is risen—have you heard it in your heart? Can you feel the strength of that joy seeping into your life?