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 the general stresses and disappointments that come with life. By themselves, those things don’t have the power to take away our joy.
The real thieves of our joy are things that rob us of Jesus himself. In the context of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, 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, but he made it clear that his time with the disciples–visibly, at least–was about to end.
The disciples’ joy was stolen by the thought of losing Jesus. We lose ours by removing him ourselves. The blame has less to do with our external situation, more to do with misplaced priorities and lack of faith. Things have taken Jesus’ place. You know that even when we have plenty, things offer such little satisfaction. Within days children tire of new toys. Adults also fail to fill the emptiness inside with the purchases they make. All the hopes for joy pinned on material things rob us of the real joy of having a Savior.
The source of this problem lies within our own hearts. This theft of joy turns out to be an inside job. Nothing from the outside takes Jesus or his promises away from us. We replace them ourselves. Hearts fail to value Jesus properly. They 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!
Remember that Jesus was praying at this very moment, praying on behalf of his disciples. He still prays for you every day. He never stops praying, 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? 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. His unending prayers for our salvation are effective. He has saved us completely, and that gives us reason for joy.
The things Jesus said to give his disciples the full measure of his joy aren’t limited to prayer, however. During these hours at the last supper and on the way to Gethsemane he gave them words and promises specifically aimed at removing their grief. He promised to prepare a place in heaven for them. He promised to give them whatever they asked in his name. He promised to send them the Holy Spirit, the Spirit who would give them comfort and peace.
We have those words from Jesus and more. Because Jesus has come we have redemption, forgiveness, the light of the gospel, eternal life, and peace. If we will only listen, if we will only believe, these all combine to give us the gift of joy.
We Christians can have such joy even in the worst situations. James urges us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3). Pure joy James says. Paul writes almost the same thing to the Romans: “But we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance…” (Rom. 5:3). Peter takes up the same theme in his first letter. “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering…But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ…” (1 Peter 4:12-13).
If you come to your pastor with some grief, what do you expect he will do? He will take some time to listen to your problems, and he will listen with a sympathetic ear. If he hears any sin that need to be confronted, he will confront it so that he can promise you forgiveness. That is what pastors do. If he has any solutions to offer, he will propose them, though he knows that often what you seek isn’t solutions so much as a chance to get things off your chest.
In the end he will close with a word of promise, a devotion on Jesus’ words, a reminder of our joy. Then he will lead you to God’s throne to lay your grief before him in prayer. In those words and prayers, we can still find the full measure of Jesus’ joy.