Joy to the World! The Savior Reigns!

By Mark D. Roberts

December 26, 2018

The LORD has made his salvation known
and revealed his righteousness to the nations.

Let the rivers clap their hands,
let the mountains sing together for joy;
let them sing before the LORD,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples with equity.

Psalm 98:2, 8-9


A Christmas tree farm on a snowy evening.In yesterday’s Life for Leaders devotion, I began a four-day reflection based on Isaac Watts’s beloved Christmas carol, “Joy to the World.” I mentioned in that devotion that “Joy to the World” was part of a collection of hymns Watts based on the biblical Psalms. The carol we know as “Joy to the World” was his Christian rendition of Psalm 98.

In 1719, Isaac Watts published The Psalms of David, Imitated in the Language of the New Testament. In this collection of hymns, Watts used the biblical Psalms for his foundation. Then he rewrote the words, both so that the final result could be easily sung in English and so that it reflected the reality of Jesus Christ. The result was a collection of metrical psalms “in the Language of the New Testament,” as Watts noted in his title.

One of these reframed psalms provides the text for our carol “Joy to the World.” Ironically, Watts did not write this to be a Christmas song. In fact, apart from the fact that “the Lord is come” and the overall sense of joy, there isn’t anything “Christmassy” about “Joy to the World.” Yet, for obvious reasons, it has become one of the most loved and most frequently sung of all Christmas carols.

The second stanza of Watts’s hymn repeats the same opening phrase as the first stanza: “Joy to the world!” But now Watts adds an additional reason for rejoicing: “The Savior reigns.” In Psalm 98, the Lord has made “his salvation known” (v. 2). He is the Savior. But he is also the Lord who reigns, the judge who assumes rightful authority over the whole world (v. 9).

As the Lord brings his justice to the world, as his salvation restores the brokenness of the world, this will be an occasion for rejoicing, not just by human beings, but even in a sense, by the earth itself. Psalm 98 says, “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.” Isaac Watts puts it this way in the second stanza: “While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains, repeat the sounding joy.”

Something to Think About:

Do you think of the salvation offered by Jesus as having anything to do with the physical world? Why or why not?

Why should the earth rejoice if the Lord is coming to judge the world? What kind of judgment will God bring through Christ?

Something to Do:

Read and reflect on the words of “Joy to the World.” Discover what in this hymn resonates with your heart.


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 the sounding joy. Amen.


Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
Keeping Christmas Well: Like Ebenezer Scrooge

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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