I know what you’re thinking. “That title’s an oxymoron.” But I wrote it that way to bring attention to something interesting: the ability of the believer to be both sorrowful and joyful at the same time. A unique characteristic of the Christian life is the simultaneous call to be both solemn and still be filled with rejoicing. Let’s take a look at a few passages from the Old Testament.
“Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is holy to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”” — Nehemiah 8:10
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.” — Isaiah 53:3
As you can see, these passages are quite a bit different in their tone. Nehemiah’s rallying call to be joyful in the Lord and Isaiah’s dark, prophetic words about the coming Messiah, known as a “Man of Sorrow,” may seem contradictory at first glance. But when you dig a bit deeper and examine Scripture in light of Scripture, the proper picture comes into focus.
Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:10: “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
Does this mean the Christian is to suffer from a certain kind of bipolar disorder? By no means! The Apostle’s words, instead, called the early Christians – and us – to be simultaneously sorrowful and joyful. That is to say, downcast and uplifted at the same time!
How is this possible? What would this condition even look like? One of those weird paintings of a crying clown? Not hardly. You see, the Christian, or literally “follower of Christ,” is to emulate Christ in every way possible. This includes his emotional state. Jesus was one who was sorrowful about many things. But, ultimately, He took joy in the fact that His life was meant to fulfill a purpose – the ultimate purpose, that is.
Let’s look at another verse.
“…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” — Hebrews 12:2 NIV
Some ask what “joy” was before Jesus in reference to this verse from Hebrews, but think about it. What could be more joyful than to sit down by the throne of our Heavenly Father? Furthermore, I have great confidence that, for Jesus, the prospect of saving the world from the clutches of sin filled Him with great joy despite the sorrow and shame and suffering it would inevitably bring.
Jesus was indeed a man of many sorrows. But those sorrows he felt had a purpose. They lead Him to the cross.
““Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” — Luke 13:34 NIV
Here, in Luke, we clearly see from Christ’s own words that he felt a deep sadness for the sin condition of His people and their rejection of Him. But, according to God’s divine plan, if it hadn’t been for that rejection, Christ would have had no purpose or real love in saving them and us. Jesus was not someone who died without a cause. His death was the perfect prescription for what should have been an incurable disease: death. But He conquered it.
And it brought our Lord great joy to do so. How much more, should we, as sinners, take joy in the fact that our transgressions have been blotted out? We should all have a certain degree of healthy, useful, godly sorrow for the condition of those who reject Christ. But, at the same time, we should also remember what Christ did for us.
And that should bring us joy too.