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Joy to the World . . . in Lent?

March 25, 2021 • Life for Leaders

Scripture – Luke 19:37-40 (NRSV)

As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,

“Blessed is the king
+++who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
+++and glory in the highest heaven!”

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

Focus

As Jesus entered Jerusalem on the day we know as Palm Sunday, his disciples celebrated the coming of their king with loud praise to God. Some less enthusiastic onlookers told Jesus to get them to stop. He answered by saying if they were silent, the stones would shout out. His response is consistent with the Old Testament image of nature offering praise to God as he comes to bring justice and salvation. Today may we join with fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains in offering joyous praise to God for the coming of Jesus our King.

Today’s devotion is part of the series Following Jesus Today.

Devotion

This coming Sunday is Palm Sunday, the day when Christians remember the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem five days before his crucifixion. Though I recently shared a reflection on Luke’s account of Jesus’s entry (see Welcoming King Jesus), it seems good to me to revisit this story today, focusing on something I didn’t comment about last time.

As you may recall, when Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a colt the multitude of his disciples welcome him with shouts of praise, “Blessed in the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” (Luke 19:38). But not everyone was pleased. Some Pharisees – apparently not all of the Pharisees present there – cried out to Jesus, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop” (19:39). Jesus, however, did not do what they had asked, answering, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (19:40).

That was certainly a bold claim. Jesus was saying that the celebration of his kingship and God’s glory are so necessary, so right, so inevitable that silencing the disciples wouldn’t stop the praise. Nature itself would continue the celebration.

The notion of nature praising God and the coming of God’s justice was not original to Jesus. It can be found at various places in the Hebrew Scriptures (for example, Isaiah 44:23 and 55:12). Psalm 98 is one of the most familiar Old Testament passages in which nature celebrates the coming of God. The whole earth is invited to “Make a joyful noise to the LORD” (Psalm 98:4). More specifically, the psalm writer says, “Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it. Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the LORD, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity” (Psalm 98:7-9). So, when Jesus comes to Jerusalem to complete the work of salvation, he echoes Psalm 98 in recognizing that praise is mandatory, if not from people, then from nature itself.

We are acquainted with the themes of Psalm 98 because they are engraved in our hearts through the words of the beloved Christmas carol “Joy to the World.” Isaac Watts wrote this song as a Christ-inspired interpretation of Psalm 98, adding it to a collection of Psalm-based hymns. Notice how praise from nature appears in these familiar lines:

Joy to the world! the Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.

Joy to the world! the Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

So, it might even be appropriate to sing “Joy to the World” in Lent, especially on Palm Sunday. Now I must confess that my tradition-shaped sensibilities might struggle with this a bit. I suppose it could even be good for me to have to stretch a little. But, whether or not we actually sing “Joy to the World” in this season of the year, we do welcome the coming king, indeed the King of kings and Lord of lords. We join with fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, to repeat the joy of Jesus’s coming.

Yet we also recognize that his entry into Jerusalem set in motion the events that led to his crucifixion. In a few days his kingship will be mocked by “King of the Jews” posted on the cross above his head. So, our celebration on Palm Sunday is tempered by what lies ahead for Jesus, even as it will be surpassed by the joyous celebration yet to come on Easter.

In the season of Lent, our worship is often quiet as we acknowledge our mortality and get in touch with our need for a Savior. But we still rejoice because of the goodness and grace of God in Christ. We can’t be silent, allowing the rocks to praise in our place. Rather, we join all creation in celebrating the coming of King Jesus. He came to Jerusalem to die for us that we might live now and forever in his kingdom.

Reflect

When you think of nature offering praise to God, what comes to mind? What images? What memories? What places?

If your church were to sing “Joy to the World” on Palm Sunday, how would you react?

In what ways do you intentionally live under the rule of King Jesus?

Act

Take time today to offer intentional and joyful praise to Jesus the king who has come to save us.

Pray

Lord Jesus, I am moved by the image of the stones offering you praise. Indeed, you are worthy of worship from all creation, from fields, floods, rocks, hills, and plains. May I join my voice to theirs today, welcoming you as King, not just in Jerusalem, but also in my own heart and life. May I live for the praise of your royal glory each day, in all that I do. All hail, King Jesus! Amen.

P.S. from Mark

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2 thoughts on “Joy to the World . . . in Lent?

  1. Guy Troup says:

    “Joy to the world” is one of my favourite Christian hymns. Love the idea of nature praising Jesus. Come Lord Jesus!

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