Keeping the Joy-thief Away

John 17:13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

If you read through chapters 13 to 17 of John’s gospel, you will see that Jesus understood the thief that threatened to rob his disciples of their joy. It wasn’t external stresses and disappointments. In the context of the last supper, the disciples were grieving because Jesus kept talking about the fact that he was going away. He was returning to his Father. He didn’t go into detail about how horrible the next day was going to be for him, at least not here, but he made it clear that his time with the disciples–visibly, at least–was just about over.

But the problem had less to do with Jesus’ absence, more to do with the disciples’ ignorance and lack of faith. They didn’t understand how necessary his sufferings and death were for their salvation. They couldn’t appreciate the advantage of having him ruling the universe from his Father’s side in heaven. They couldn’t process the many promises he made to them this same evening. All they knew was that very soon Jesus would be gone, and this replaced their joy with grief.

The disciples’ joy was stolen by the thought of losing Jesus. We lose ours by removing him ourselves. Again, the blame has less to do with our external situation, more to do with misplaced priorities and lack of faith. This theft of our joy turns out to be an inside job. No one and nothing from the outside takes Jesus or his promises away from us. We replace them ourselves. There are thousands of ways of perpetrating this heist all through the year. But the culprit remains the same: Hearts that failed to value Jesus properly, that let down their guard, and ended up giving his place to someone or something else.

Stop thief! It doesn’t have to be this way! The truth remains: Jesus gives us reason for joy! “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them.”

Remember that the things Jesus was saying at this very moment were words of a prayer. He was praying on behalf of his disciples. “I’ll keep you in my prayers” so easily becomes nothing more than a sentiment with you and me–the same thing as saying, “I feel sorry for you,” with no real prayer to follow. Jesus recognized the joy-thief in the disciples lives at this moment. He recognized the danger it could be for their faith. And he prayed for them. He prayed that they might have the full measure of his joy.

That’s not the last prayer he has said on behalf of his people. He prays for you every day. Actually, he never stops praying for you, even for a moment. John says in his first letter, “If anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense–Jesus Christ, the Righteous One” (1 John 2:1). Do you still sin? I know that I do, every day. But Jesus doesn’t hold those sins against us. He is constantly praying for us, reminding his Father of the sacrifice he made to take those sins away.

The things Jesus said so that the disciples might have the full measure of his joy aren’t limited to this prayer, however. During these hours at the last supper and on the way to Gethsemane he gave them words and promises specifically aimed at replacing their grief with joy. He promises to prepare a place in heaven for them; to come back to take them to be with him; that so long as they remain in Jesus’ words, Jesus and his Father will make their home inside of them; that after he goes, he will give them whatever they ask in his name; that he will send the Holy Spirit to be with them and comfort them and give them peace. He promises them that after a little while they will understand all of this, and their grief will turn to joy.

These promises are still our common property. Hold them close, and keep the joy-thief away.

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