Joy to the World in Lent?

By Mark D. Roberts

February 23, 2018

Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
burst into jubilant song with music…

Psalm 98:4


Today is the second Friday in the Christian season of Lent. This is a time when many Christians get in touch with our mortality, our humanness, our fallenness, and, therefore, our need for a Savior. It’s a solemn season of preparation, a time to ready our souls for a joyous celebration of Easter.

As you probably know, on Fridays, Life for Leaders focuses on the Psalms. We are working our way slowly through the entire corpus of 150 psalms. Today, we explore Psalm 98. Almost three centuries ago, this psalm inspired an English hymn writer who was working on a collection of compositions based on the Psalms. Most of Isaac Watts’s psalm-based hymns have been long forgotten. However, one of his compositions remains extremely popular today. In fact, I’ll bet you could sing at least one verse from memory. This hymn is based on Psalm 98.

Children jumping for joy in their Christmas pajamas.We know Watts’s hymn as the beloved Christmas carol, “Joy to the World.” If you take the words of the carol and lay them alongside Psalm 98, you’ll see many parallels. For example, the root of “Joy to the world, the Lord is come” is found in verse 4: “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music.”

But there is one significant difference between Psalm 98 and the carol we know and love. From the perspective of the psalmist, the world should celebrate because the Lord “comes to judge the earth” (98:9). The celebration anticipates God’s visit to earth as Judge and Savior. Isaac Watts wrote about that visit from a different perspective than that of the psalm writer. In Jesus, the Lord did come to earth. And he did judge the earth, finding it guilty of sin. But, amazingly, he also took upon himself the penalty for sin. This expression of divine love goes beyond what is stated in Psalm 98. Thus, in light of the saving work of God in Christ, the final verse of “Joy to the World,” exalts “the glories of his righteousness, and wonders of his love.”

Now, I realize it might seem odd to focus on “Joy to the World” in the middle of Lent. But Isaac Watts did not actually write “Joy to the World” as a Christmas hymn. Though it has found a rightful home in the canon of beloved carols, the truth expressed in “Joy to the World” is appropriate for any time of year. Even in Lent, we should praise God with joy for his victory and salvation. Even today, we can receive Jesus as our king by honoring him in all that we do. Thus, it is fitting to “shout to the Lord” because of who he is and all he has done, even in Lent.

Something to Think About:

How have you experienced the victory of God in your life?

What does it mean to you to relate to Jesus as your king?

Do you worship with joy?

Do you ever shout to the Lord?

Something to Do:

Find a copy of the words for “Joy to the World.” I’ve provided them below as our closing prayer. Then, turn in your Bible to Psalm 98. Read both the carol and the psalm, noting the similarities and differences.


Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room;
And heav’n and nature sing,
And heav’n and nature sing.
And heav’n and heav’n and nature sing.

Joy to the world, the Savior 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.

No more let sin and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as the curse is found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness.
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders of His love. Amen.

“Joy to the World” by Isaac Watts, 1719. Public domain.


Explore more at the Theology of Work Project online commentary:
Make a Joyful Symphony to Christ the King

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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