Rejoicing in the Holy Spirit
Nov 30, 2014
The Mandate of Thanksgiving
The Apostle Paul exhorts the church: “giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Ripped out of its theological context, such an appeal would clang like a hammer upon a steely heart. But Paul’s exhortation springs from the transcending power of the gospel. Appropriately grasped, this mandate to thanksgiving gently and super-naturally overflows in the heart of the redeemed. The transforming realties of grace in Christ Jesus propel the heart to sing a new song of thanksgiving.
Accordingly, before gratitude can become the genuine attitude it must first draw upon graciously bestowed gospel aptitude. To know Christ in his glory, Paul will affirm, is to get blown away by the scope and power of the gospel. Such apprehension comes to us only by the grace of God. Only with eyes graciously illumined to the person and work of Christ Jesus will we find every trial and sorrow to fade in intensity. Trials, properly grasped, are merely “a momentary light affliction . . . preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).
Such gospel recalibration delivers stunning force. The Apostle Paul exhibits it himself. In all circumstances, even in the most difficult, he has learned to be content. Why? The gospel of Jesus Christ has transformed his heart, his vision, and his understanding. “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:11-13)
To be sure, gospel grace removes any ostensible bluntness to the thanksgiving mandate, but we must not deny the transforming power of the gospel for the sake of preserving its extraordinary declarative affirmations. The command to thanksgiving is no less transparent and non-negotiable than the finality of God’s forgiveness in Christ: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  Do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-19).
In short, gratitude is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus. It is that simple. It is also that important.
Window into the Soul
Expression of gratitude opens windows to the human soul. Show me a soul that gripes and grumbles, and I’ll show you one who either has never met Jesus or has faithlessly turned his gaze away from him. Show me a suffering saint whose words flow in unceasing praise, and I’ll show you a believer enraptured in the gripping sight of Christ Jesus and his glory.
Even in the midst of horrible tragedy what such believers have seen in the glorious Christ Jesus cannot be unseen. In fact, as many will attest, it is only because of the trial that they have appreciated the beauty of Christ and efficacy of his gospel. Like Paul, they have “learned in whatever situation . . . to be content.” The school of contentment graduates students because of the trials, not in spite of them.
A word of clarification is in order. What is in view here is not merely gratitude for possessions, material comforts, and daily bread. To be sure, Christians should praise God for these things. All provisions come from God, but even unbelievers can see that (Acts 14:17). And though they don’t always do so, anyone can express thanks in times of plenty. Yet gospel gratitude contemplates much more.
Our prayers suffer myopia and anemia if they conclude with thanks for food, family, and fun. Gospel praise transcends such contemporary and temporary comforts; the Christ-absorbed sufferer finds palaces of praise even when life ostensibly crumbles to smithereens. He sees Jesus in and because of his suffering. She rests in Jesus through and blessedly, a rest found only because the suffering has taught her heart to repose in his adequacy. Oh, blessed sufferings!
The Thankful Heart of Jesus
The four Gospels record the life of Jesus, giving us snapshots of his personal and public life. While not exhaustive in their accounts, they sufficiently expose the prevalent features of the Lord Jesus’ habits and practices. One striking feature of Jesus’ ministry is the manner in which he gives thanks to his Father.
Despite the sorrow and suffering he himself encounters, he does not fail to express praise and thanksgiving. He rejoices and gives thanks, because “ . . . for the joy that was set before him [he] endured the cross, despising the shame, and [now] is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). From a human point of view the juxtaposition of joy and the cross does not compute. But that which Paul commands the Church, Jesus has accomplished for it. His joy becomes ours.
In Luke 9:51, we find Jesus resolutely moving toward Jerusalem. From this point in Luke’s Gospel until 19:27, Jesus’ entire orientation is Jerusalem-ward, or to put it more starkly, cross-ward. The pathway to Jerusalem takes him to the culmination of his ministry: his death—the very reason he is going to Jerusalem in the first place. Committed to fulfilling his Father’s will, that is, to accomplishing the purpose for which he came, this Travelogue1 takes on a cruciform shape for Jesus. Isolation, alienation, incomprehensible suffering await him. He knowingly and contentedly marches on, joyful in the Spirit.
In Luke 10, Jesus commissioned 72 disciples to be his advance teams into the surrounding villages. Their instructions included healing the sick and proclaiming the arrival of the kingdom of God (Luke 10:9). What an amazing experience! Having completed their mission, the 72 surged with joy over their exertion of power over demons (Luke 10:17). Like teenage boys who have survived a harrowing escapade on the face of a cliff, the disciples high-fived one another, and doubtlessly touted their spiritual conquests! Endorphins surging, they boldly celebrated before Jesus.
Responding to these gloating (if not cocky) disciples, Jesus affirms the subjugation of the spiritual forces of darkness (Luke 10:18–19), but then issues a gentle but pointed rebuke: “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).
Luke states that while the disciples had “rejoiced,” Jesus “rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (10:21). The contrast is noteworthy. The disciples celebrated what they had done in their spotlight moments; Jesus, in the Holy Spirit, celebrated what God was about to do in his own darkest hour. He admonished the disciples to rejoice in their grasp of the grace that grasped them, not in their exploits—even endorphin-charged ministerial ones. Theirs were “American Idol” moments; Christ’s call was to destroy idolatry of all sorts.
The physician turned disciple and gospel writer records these words of gospel gratitude from the lips of Jesus: “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’” (Luke 10:21-22).
In earshot of the disciples, Jesus praises his Father for redeeming grace! He praises his Father for its hiding and its disclosure, pointing to God’s absolute sovereignty both in the effecting of salvation and in the application of it. Saving knowledge of God in Christ is a divine gift, and Jesus celebrates this very grace. Recipients attain knowledge of God only by grace through childlike faith. As Jesus indicates, no amount of excellent education, prestigious pedigree or intellectual acumen secures saving comprehension. Wise men are no better than wise guys!
By “little children”, Jesus does not rebuff skilled people and those of highest intellect. Rather, he reveals how redeeming understanding does not come because of any competency in the recipient. As he puts it, in Matthew 18:2–3, “And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’”
Christ’s poignant praise delivers instruction and correction. His thanksgiving illumines what really matters. It also rebukes the shallow and ephemeral celebrations of the disciples. Like their Master, disciples must too rejoice in the Spirit, singing songs of praise over the unfathomable grace of God.
Rejoicing in the Spirit
When Jesus rejoiced in the Holy Spirit, he gave thanks for divine sovereignty, divine love, and divinely determined disclosure of redemptive grace. Calling the eyes of the disciples away from their successes, his prayer urges them to rejoice in gospel grace grasped by grace. Saving knowledge of Jesus changes absolutely everything.
With Jesus’ eyes fixed upon his redemptive death in Jerusalem, he celebrates his Father’s amazing grace, and compels his disciples to celebrate their life that his own death will secure for them. Gripped by his Father’s will for him to secure redemption, Jesus found even the road to his own death paved with the Father’s good purposes.
Following in the footsteps of Jesus and enabled by his grace, so too must we delight in the Father’s good and perfect will. United to Christ by his Holy Spirit, we must rejoice in the Holy Spirit in a manner reflective of his own thanksgiving. Failure to rejoice and failure to give thanks quench the Spirit, and cause us, in effect, to deny the power of the gospel in our own trials and sorrows.
By the Spirit of Christ, God given aptitude for gratitude produces an attitude of gratitude. God-honoring rejoicing occurs when we rejoice in the Spirit of God, the very Spirit of adoption who seals and confirms our union with Christ Jesus. Only the revitalizing winds of gospel grace will turn sour circumstances into sweetness.
For those in Christ, this thanksgiving is no option. It is our obligation and privilege. It is the window into our souls, exposing and proclaiming the truth of God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
1See, for example, Darrell L. Bock, Luke, Volume 2: 9:51–23 (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 957.