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Joy To The World

Joy To The World

Sermon Transcript

Isaac Watts, who was born on July 17, 1674, had several God-given gifts.  He learned Latin at four, Greek at nine, French at ten, and Hebrew at thirteen.  Can you say, wow?! In his lifetime he became not just an amazing student of the Bible, but a powerful preacher and teacher as well. As a child, he also possessed the gift of rhyme.  At seven he wrote this acrostic of his name:

I  . . . I am vile, polluted lump of earth

S . . . So I’ve continued ever since my birth

A . . . Although Jehovah, grace doth daily give me

A . . . As sure this monster, Satan, will deceive me

C . . . Come therefore, Lord, from Satan’s claws relieve me


W . . . Wash me in Thy blood, O Christ

A . . .  And grace divine impart

T . . . Then search and try the corners of my heart

T . . . That I in all things may be fit to do

S . . . Service to Thee, and They praise too.

Can you imagine raising this young boy? His sensitivity to his own sin and the Savior’s provision in the gospel is, well, simply jaw-dropping.  Oh, for more young children like this.

By the end of his life, Isaac had put his creative mind to use for God, resulting in us having over 800 hymns to sing in worship of that living God. Here’s a few, “Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed,” “At the Cross,” O Bless the Lord, My Soul,” “We’re Marching to Zion,” and “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” to name a few.  Who has not been touched by the Spirit of God singing these tunes and meditating on the rhythmical words? Here’s a prayer for this Christmas, “Oh Lord, give us hearts which overflow in worship of who you are.”

Isaac’s book Psalms of David Imitated (1719) represented his quest to write lyrics and songs based on the rich theology of the Psalms.  Psalm 89, which talks about the hope God’s people have in dark, decadent days because of His future appearance to judge sin and erect His kingdom, prompted Isaac to write these words:

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

Sound familiar?  It should because this theologically happy, uplifting tune is the most published and sung Christmas carol in all of North America.

Interesting, isn’t it?  Even though we are still surrounded by sin, disease, corruption, disasters, geo-political upheaval, we, like Isaac, absolutely love to focus on the utter joy of the season as it directly relates to the person and work of Jesus, the Christ.  The song, of course, logically leads us to posit a very simple, though quite profound, question:

Why Should We Have Great Joy This Christmas Season?

As with our analysis of What Child Is This?, the answer to the query is directly wedded to the theological and prophetic titles of the Bethlehem baby.  Isaac thoughtfully wove three of those amazing, instructive titles into this wonderful carol.  Each one readily answers the question, Why should we have great joy this Christmas season?  For our limited purposes, however, we will only be able to dig into two of the three inspiring divine titles.

Because Jesus Is The Lord

First, I invite you to listen to the lyrics one more time, and then we will circle back around and offer some salient observations:

Verse 1

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

Ah there is it, the essence, the foundation of our joy:  “The Lord is come.”

From the very beginning of His life, Jesus was called the Lord, which is kyrios (κύριος) in Greek.[1]  He was, therefore, no ordinary baby but the Lord, God, in the flesh.  Lord, of course, represented the Hebrew name, Adonai, which was used by the Israelites in place of the holy tetragrammaton, Yahweh, the name from the burning bush of Exodus 3 fame . . . a name too holy to even pronounce. That kyrios replaced YHWH is clearly seen in NT texts which quote from the OT but use kyrios to replace the lofty, holy name of God (Rom. 4:8=Psalm 32:2; Rom. 10:16=Isa. 53:1; Rom. 11:34=Isa. 40:13; Rom. 14:11=Isa. 45:23).

The OT clearly taught there is only one Lord.

6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: 'I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides Me (Isa. 44).

5 I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; (Isa. 45).

When Christ, therefore, is called Lord it is quite the statement.  Here we have the second member of the Holy Trinity putting on human flesh and becoming the perfect God/man, or Lord/man.  You see this mystery disclosed in Luke account of the angels appearing before the shepherd near Bethlehem:

9 And an angel of the Lord (kyrios) suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord (kyrios) shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 And the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord (kyrios) (Lk. 2).

The glory of the Lord was the holy Father’s glory as God.  He had one of His angels tell the shepherds the Christ, or the long-awaited divine Lord as Messiah, was just born in Bethlehem.  Again, we see the holy trinity at work in the names of God.  As I stated, the Father’s revelation that dark, starry evening revealed the arrival of the divine Lord, the second member of the Trinity.

Question? From what the prophets foretold in the OT, should Israel have been looking for the divine Lord to come as the Savior and Messiah? The short answer is, yes.   Micah 5:2 tells us this much.

2 But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity (Mic. 5).

Contextually, Micah prophesied the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in chapter 5, verse 1.  Historically, this prophecy was fulfilled under the weak, feeble leadership of Israel’s last Davidic king, Zedekiah.

However, in verse, two, the prophet turned to give the nation joyous hope in the face of tragedy and horror.  Yes, God would judge them nationally for their sin against Him over the years, yet in wrath God would remember messianic mercy.  Not even captivity would thwart God’s kingdom/redemptive plan to bring the Messiah to earth.  Verse 2 makes this quite clear by, one, giving the specifics regarding the Messiah’s birthplace (Bethlehem), two, by identifying this coming One as THE Rule who would come directly from God’s presence, and three, by definitively stating the King would be divine because He would be eternal in His person.  This is exactly how the Hebrew reads:

His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity

‎  וּמוֹצָאֹתָ֥יו מִקֶּ֖דֶם מִימֵ֥י עוֹלָֽם (Mic. 5:2)

One could the phrase “from the days of eternity,” could be translated “from days of antiquity,” and thus not be speaking of timelessness.  However, the preceding prepositional phrase “from long ago,” as highlighted, is used in Deuteronomy 33:27 to speak of God’s eternal nature,

27 The eternal God is a dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms; And He drove out the enemy from before you, and said, 'Destroy!' (Deut. 33).

Well, then, does Charles Feinberg state “The phrases of this text are the strongest possible statement of infinite duration in the Hebrew language (Ps 90:2; Pr. 8:22-23). The preexistence of the Messiah is being taught here, as well as His active participation in ancient times in the purposes of God.”[2]

The eternal Lord did come to Bethlehem as prophesied and many people, starting with the shepherds new it.

  • The angel knew as stated in Luke 2:10-11.
  • The religious leaders at least knew of the Messiah’s birthplace when asked by Herod (Matt. 2:4-6).
  • John the Baptist knew: 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet, saying, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, 'Make ready the way of the Lord, Make His paths straight!'" (Matt. 3).
  • The Devil knew when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness and Jesus respond by calling himself the Lord (Matt. 4:7, 10).
  • Peter knew: “16 For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty (2 Pet. 1).
  • Thomas, who doubted the resurrection of Jesus at first, knew.When he finally encountered the risen Christ, he exclaimed, “27 Then He said to Thomas, ‘Reach here your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand, and put it into My side; and be not unbelieving, but believing.’ 28 Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20).  Mark carefully how Thomas equated Lord, kyrios, with deity, God, theos (ὁ θεός).  He couldn’t have been more spot on.

Isaac Watts knew, too, and that is why he wrote the opening lines of this carol with “Joy to the world! The Lord is come.”  Nothing greater could have happened in sin-stained human history than for the second member of the Trinity, the Son, the Lord, to be born as prophesied for He, and He alone, would, as God, has all power to not only defeat sin and death, but to take out the Devil and bring in His long-awaited kingdom of righteousness.  You might need to hear that one more time because it is so important.  A man, Adam, got us into our current spiritual and sinful predicament, so it took the coming of the God-man, Jesus, to set things right in due time (Rom. 5:12-21).

In light of the fact the divine Lord took on human flesh some 2,000 years ago, it is no wonder this old Christmas carol calls us to make a decision about Him.

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

Where the words “earth” and “heart” are I invite you to place your name.  Go ahead. Do it.  I don’t think Isaac will mind from his heavenly vantage point.

9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; 10 for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed” (Rom. 10).

Note you, a sinner, are confessing, or agreeing with the historical/theological fact that Jesus was and is the divine Lord, and that God, the Father, raise Him from the death.  Paul’s challenge comes here in the middle of Romans 9 through 11 which deals with how Christ’s redemption program relates to Jews. This gives his conditional statement even more impact because for a Jew to say and agree with the that Jesus was/is the divine Lord was/is quite an admission, but a necessary one to be saved. Mark well, then, when you do this, whether you are a Jew or a Gentile, you will have much to be joyous about because you will be eternally saved at that precise moment of confessional faith.  Joy will, also, flow over you because you will at that precise moment in time and space move, by God’s redemptive/cleansing power, from being a sinner to being a saint for all time.

Christ’s role as Lord gives us all the reason we need this Christmas to  joyously sing unto Him because it means the divine Lord came with all the power at His disposal to do for us what we could not do ourselves: sin by a finite man, Adam, could only be dealt with by a divine man, Jesus. 

                  A second reason why we should be joyous at Christmas time every year is tucked away in the next two verses.  Here we encounter a familiar but all-important spiritual truth.

Because Jesus Is The Savior

As before, I invite you to hear the memorable, moving lyrics:

Verse 2

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

First, Watts educates us regarding how our joy is wedded to the fact that Jesus is the reigning Savior.  The unknown author of Hebrews puts this truth in bold relief:

12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Heb. 10).

He is not a Savior, but the Savior and that’s why He sat down on His throne post-resurrection. His redemptive job was completed. Ostensibly, then, this means there is no other Savior nor will there ever be.  Again, we appeal to the prophet Isaiah where God speaks definitively:

“10 You are My witnesses,” declares the LORD, “And My servant whom I have chosen, in order that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me. 11 I, even I, am the LORD; And there is no savior besides Me. (Isa. 43).

After God named Cyrus, the future king of Persia, some 150 years before his birth, as the one who would deliver Israel from bondage, God turned and contrasted himself with worthless idol with this statement:

21 "Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me (Isa. 45).

God says, “Yeah, if your false belief system, be what it may, is divine, then go ahead and tell the future with specificity.  But you can’t because your system is false.”  And so it is even in our day with all religious systems vying for people’s hearts and minds.  At their core their false nature is founded upon the hard, cold fact that their holy books contain NO SPECIFIC prophecies.

But, please, let this go for now.

What is crucial to understand is the God who does foretell the future with specificity (so as to give you valid reasons for belief) is the only true divine Savior.  Such is the rightful name of Jesus, the second member of the Holy Trinity. The first use of His name verifies this truth. Imagine the situation.  Elizabeth, who is pregnant, and her relative, Mary, meet in the foothills outside of Jerusalem.  The moment Mary walked through the door with news an angel had told her she’d be the mother of the Messiah, Elizabeth’s baby, John, went joyously crazy and lept in the womb (Luke 1:41).  Mary then gave what has become known as her Magnificat, or Song of Praise, to God. Her opening words tell us all we need to know in relation to our carol in question:

My soul exalts the Lord, 47 And my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior (Luke 1).

God the Father, the Savior, had chosen her to be the virgin born mother of the messianic Savior.  We know she knew her baby would be the Savior, because the angel Gabriel  told her to name him, Jesus, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew, Jeshua, which, in turn, is built off the word for Savior (Luke 1:31).  The fact the Savior was born to Mary was solidified by the angel’s revelatory word later to the shepherds as we stated earlier:

10 And the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2).

Rightly then did John proclaim when he saw Jesus approaching him to be baptized, “

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1)

John knew the Savior when he saw Him.  The question is, do you?

Why did the Savior, Jesus come?  To offer His infinite, holy life as the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin inherited from Adam.  Many Scriptures teach this truth:

13 For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Col. 1).

He lived, died, and rose again to give us the opportunity to find divine forgiveness for our sinful status before the Father.  Paul puts it eloquently and simply with these words:

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared,

5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,

7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life (Tit. 3).

Why did we, why do we, need spiritual washing?   Because we were spiritually stained with sin, as Paul says in Romans, “23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . .” (Rom. 3). Only the Savior, Jesus, is capable and powerful enough to do this when you come to Him in repentant faith.  Now, that is something to be joyous about when you sing.  Again, no wonder Watts wrote the second verse of this carol with the particular word, for they are words which are filled, really flowing over, with joy.

What should be the response of the sinner who becomes a saint?  The rest of verse 2 and verse 3 gives you the answer:

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

Verse 3

No more let sins 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

For one, you should sing songs of joy because the Savior has saved, you!  Let your words be heard in open fields, and may they echo off the rocks of canyons so all can hear.  The Savior has made you a saint, when you were a sinner.

For another, since we know Jesus is the Savior, then we know that there will be a limit to the growth and sorrows related to sin, and thorns and thistles, which are a result of the curse, will not always be present.  No. There is coming a day in the future when the Savior will return and return the earth back to its Edenic state, and then we will enjoy it all along with Him.

19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now (Rom. 8).

Now, here is some joy for the whole world. A sin-polluted world is going to be replaced by Paradise.

When this day arrives I must know, Will you be there?  Christmastime is all about making sure you know how to make sure your answer to that question is a definitive, Yes.  Make that faith commitment right now in the Christ who is the Lord and the Savior and you’ll not only join Him in Paradise, but you will have a whole lot of reasons to sing Joy to the World like you’ve never sung it before.

                  [1] Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon[Fri] κύριος, ου, strictly, a substantive of the adjective κύριος (strong, authoritative); hence, one having legal power lord, master; (1) in a nonreligious sense; (a) one controlling his own property owner, lord, master (MK 12.9); (b) one having authority over persons lord, master (LU 12.43); (2) as a form of address showing respect sir, lord (JN 4.11); (3) in religious usage, as a designation and personal title for God (MT 1.20) and Jesus Christ (JN 20.18) (the) Lord; translation of the Hebrew adonai, which in the public reading of Scripture replaced the tetragrammaton yhwh.


                  [2] Charles Feinberg, The Minor Prophets (Chicago: Moody Publishing, 1982), 173.