Worship and joy

For forty days after that first Easter, the resurrected Jesus kept coming back. He met with women, Peter, the two on the road, the disciples sans Thomas, the disciples with Thomas, and even a group of as many as 5,000. Apparently, after lingering a few days in Jerusalem, the disciples made their way back to Galilee, and He appeared to them there. And when they returned to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost, He appeared to them some more before, with about 10 days left until the feast, He led them out to the Mount of Olives, in the vicinity of Bethany, and ascended into heaven. Luke 24:50-51 tells us that, before he left them, Jesus blessed His followers, and then, in verse 52, we see the disciples’ response: “After worshiping Him, they returned to Jerusalem with great joy.”

Now, at first glance, that doesn’t seem all that interesting. But as I continue my quest for a better understanding of joy, its characteristics and causes, etc., I am struck by two things. The first is that this joy springs up in the wake of Jesus’ ascension. Now, I suppose it’s possible that they didn’t get it. But if you add together all of the different ascension accounts that we have, it’s hard to believe that it wasn’t pretty clear in that moment that Jesus was not going to appear anymore. At least, not nearly as frequently as He had been the last six weeks. In other words, I truly think Jesus’ disciples knew that His earthly ministry was at an end. And worse, He still had not inaugurated the terrestrial kingdom of God that – as Luke reminds us in Acts 1 – they were still very much expecting to see at any moment! Add all this up, and I imagine that, as exciting as it was, seeing Jesus rise up into the clouds that day was nevertheless tinged with more than a little disappointment, discouragement, and even grief. And yet they returned to Jerusalem later with great joy.

The second thing that strikes me about this verse is that the disciples’ joy follows directly on the heels of them worshiping the risen, ascended Jesus. As painful as it must have been for them to know that this was the last time they would see Jesus in the flesh, literally, and as hard as it must have been for them to realize that He wasn’t inaugurating His kingdom and promoting each of them to his right-hand men, they nevertheless worshiped Him.

Well, now that I think about it, that does make sense. I mean, regardless of the disappointment, discouragement, etc., that they undoubtedly felt at that moment, worship was the natural response to what they had just seen. You simply don’t see men who have been raised from the dead rising up into the clouds to the fanfare of angels every day. Or just about any day, for that matter. So it’s logical that they respond to the scene with worship.

Maybe the surprising thing, then, is that out of these things – disappointment, discouragement and grief and worship – springs joy. Here’s what I take home from this revelation:

Real worship is not discouraging, but encouraging. The only thing that happened from the moment they saw Jesus’ ascension to the moment they returned to Jerusalem with great joy was their worship. And during that time of worship, their entire outlook changed so that they knew, once more, that even though they may not know what’s going on in this instant, God is still at work. And when God is still at work, for those who love and follow Him, things will work out in the end. In fact, more than just joy for promises yet to come, we are told also in verse 53 that they went on to the temple complex, where they would hang out a great deal from this point on, “praising God.” In other words, they were celebrating who God was and what He had already done, including taking Jesus from them back into heaven. I’m supposed to leave worship with a surge of joy. And while I don’t know that I’m ready to say that, if I don’t leave worship with that joy, I’m not really worshiping, I must admit that, more often than not, that is the case. Instead, I’m usually focused on my part in the service, worried about low attendance, frustrated by something someone said or did, looking forward to whatever is coming up later on, etc. Worship is supposed to encourage joy, and when it doesn’t, there is something wrong, often with me.

When I need a boost of joy, I should worship. It seems simple enough, but how often have I prayed that God would just magically bestow joy? Or, probably more, how often have I just sat there and stewed in my joylessness? What I should be doing is raising my head, heart, and hands in worship of the King. No matter how discouraged, disappointed, or grieved I am. No matter how much trouble I’m in. No matter what’s going on at that moment in my life. When I need a boost of joy, I should worship.


1 Response to “Worship and joy”

  1. 1 fullofhisgrace January 14, 2012 at 3:26 pm

    You are so right…
    It is easy to give praise and worship God when things are going well for us, but it’s challenging to praise when encountering trials. God calls us to worship in all things! Sometimes it’s just easier than others. Thank you so much for sharing this! I will definitely be visiting this blog 🙂

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