November 30, 2023

Joy to the World Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: Joy to the World
Psalm 85:4-7 (ESV)
Robert Tansill

Watch the sermon here


Good morning, Gateway Church! I am Robert Tansill, the Pastor of Care and Counseling. And, as always, it is a pleasure and joy to worship with you here at County Road 9 Campus and with those joining us from North Main Campus and online.



‌This morning, we are continuing our Christmas series where we consider different Christmas carols that help tell the Christmas story — carols you’ll know and love — like Angels from the Realms of Glory, O Little Town of Bethlehem, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and O Holy Night. And this morning, we will look at the Christmas carol “Joy to the World.”

"Joy to the World" is a timeless Christmas hymn with a rich history that dates to the early 18th century. The lyrics are attributed to English hymn writer Isaac Watts, who wrote them in 1719. The music we associate with the hymn today was composed by Lowell Mason in the 19th century. The tone of triumph and celebration in "Joy to the World" has made it a loved and enduring part of Christmas celebrations around the world. It proclaims joy as it anticipates the Messiah's arrival, making it a staple in Christmas carol repertoires and a source of inspiration for generations.

But why is it written with such joy and exuberance? Said another way, why should we be joyful? What do we have to be joyful about? That’s the question we want to ask this morning as we look at this Christmas carol together. To help us answer this question, we will first look at Psalm 85:4-7.

What do we know about Psalm 85? Well, for one thing, this Psalm is known as a “community lament” where God’s people are grieving his displeasure over their unfaithfulness and disobedience, which is a pattern of behavior they have shown throughout their relationship with the Lord. And because they know that God is displeased with them, the people are singing the words from Psalm 85, seeking forgiveness and asking God to show them the same steadfast love he has shown them in the past, which finds its basis in Exodus 34:6 when God said to Moses, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” (ESV) So, as we think about the Christmas hymn “Joy to the World” in light of Psalm 85, what do we discover about what should motivate our joy?

Listen to these words from Psalm 85:1-7, our passage this morning.



1 LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah 3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger. 4 Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us! 5 Will you be angry with us forever? Will you prolong your anger to all generations? 6 Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? 7 Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation. (Psalm 85:1-7, ESV)


 As we look at the first half of Psalm 85, we find our answer to what should motivate our joy. And we can sum it up this way…


Point 1: God’s love is the reason for our joy (Psalm 85:7a)

Returning from Babylon after being in captivity for 70 years, in verses 1-3, the Psalmist reflects on all the Lord has done for his people in the past and reminds God of his faithfulness. He says, “LORD, you were favorable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. 2 You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. Selah 3 You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.” Then, based on his past faithfulness, he pleads to God in light of their sin, saying, “Restore us again, O God of our salvation, and put away your indignation toward us!” (ESV) That is a bold statement!

Do we ever do that? Do we ever intentionally sin against God, and when he responds by disciplining us, we plead with him to relent from his anger and restore our relationship with him? I know I have! Why do we respond to him that way? I believe it’s because, deep down, we know what God is really like. Not only do we know that he is holy, but we also know that he loves us. Like the Psalmist, we can look back over our lives as believers and see how faithful God has been to us in the past.

And this is why, in verse 7, the Psalmist says, “Show us your steadfast love, O LORD…” The translation called The Message captures the sentiment behind these words when it says, “Show us how much you love us, GOD!” (The Message) Feeling the weight of their sin against the Lord and remembering how good God has been to them in the past, they are telling him they want to “see” his love again. What does that mean? The Hebrew word for “show” at the beginning of verse 7 can mean “to see or to make something visible,” but the Hebrew tense in this verse takes it even further, as something to be “experienced.” (Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament)

This deeper meaning has in mind the idea of “causing to look intently at, to behold, to cause to gaze at with joy” or “to feast one’s eyes upon.” Seeing God’s love is meant to move our emotions. And that is the idea the Psalmist wants to convey here.

What difference does the wording make? It’s the difference between a husband saying to his wife, “I love you,” with no actions to back it up versus saying, “I love you,” and then buying her flowers, listening to her intently when she speaks, showing her affection, and serving and caring for her needs.

How does this relate to our interaction with the Lord? That is, how do we experience God’s love? Using the Hebrew word “hesed,” which is translated in verse 7 as “steadfast love,” the Psalmist is talking about a love that is defined as “kindness or concern expressed for someone in need; mercy, compassion, pity.” (A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd Edition. University of Chicago Press; 3rd edition. January 15, 2001)

It's a love that, as author Paul Miller describes it, “combines commitment with sacrifice. Hesed is one-way love. Love without an exit strategy. When you love with ‘hesed’ love, you bind yourself to the object of your love, no matter what the response is. So if the object of your love snaps at you, you still love that person. If you’ve had an argument with your spouse in which you were slighted or not heard, you refuse to retaliate through silence or withholding your affection. Your response to the other person is entirely independent of how that person has treated you. Hesed is a stubborn love. Love like this eliminates moodiness, the touchiness that is increasingly common in people today.” (Paul E. Miller, A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships. Crossway; January 31, 2014)

Folks, this is the kind of love that the Father has for us as his children. And it is what drives our joy, even when the circumstances in our lives are difficult. It’s the confidence we have that God not only says he is committed to us but proves it by extending his compassion, mercy, and kindness to us on a regular basis.

Yet not only is God’s love the reason for our joy, but it also does something for us, which is the second thing we see in verse 7 and could sum up this way…


Point 2: God’s love leads us to salvation (Psalm 85:7b)


At the end of verse 7, the Psalmist says, “and grant us your salvation.” Now, I want you to see two important things in this verse that we need to keep in mind. First, when God does anything for us, he does it because of his love and for no other reason. This is what the Psalmist means when he uses the word “grant” in our passage. This word, which is used 2325 times in the Old Testament, means “to give, to place, or bestow.” However, when it is used in relation to God, it is always viewed as something he permits as a right, a privilege granted, or a favor bestowed. And they are granted out of an understanding heart of mercy with the intent to bless.

And this raises a question that I have been pondering and one that we should all consider. When God gives us anything, do we treat it as something we are entitled to or something that we graciously receive out of humility? How we answer that question will impact everything we do and, more importantly, how we respond to God. If we feel like we are worthy in ourselves of the things that God gives us, not only are we more likely to show contempt when it is not exactly what we want, but we won’t appreciate its value and the heart from which it is given.

Let me give you an example. When I was a kid, around fifteen, all I wanted for Christmas was a huge, cassette-playing, sound-blaring, attention-getting “Boombox.” That was it. In fact, out of my arrogance and sense of entitlement, I remember saying to my mom and dad, “If you don’t get me my ‘Box,’ then I don’t want anything!” What I was really saying was, “If you don’t get me what I’m entitled to, then my Christmas will be ruined, and that’s on you!” How arrogant is that?

Well, a few days before Christmas, as I always did, I started snooping around the Christmas tree for packages with my name on it. And there it was—one big, gift-wrapped box bearing my name. As was my Christmas tradition, I decided to take a peek at what was inside. So, when nobody was around, I reached under the Christmas tree, grabbed the gift, carefully undid the tape, gently pulled back the wrapping paper, opened the box, and looked inside. And much to my surprise, there were a couple of pairs of blue jeans. I was livid! Did I need jeans? Absolutely! Badly. But because I knew I was getting the jeans and not the gift I wanted, I walked around the house angry with everybody in my family before Christmas.

Then, when Christmas day arrived, I got out of bed grumpy, went to our living room where the rest of my family had gathered, plopped down on the floor, and waited for my name to be called as the gifts were sorted out to everybody. And, as expected, I got my box with my jeans in it. I was not happy, and I wanted the whole family to know it. But just then, one of my sisters said in a sarcastic tone, “Oh look, there is another package with Robert’s name on it. I wonder what it could be?” It was a big box, and it was heavy. It was then that I realized the whole family was in on it! Looking at my mom and dad, I thought, “Did they really get this for me?” I knew they couldn’t afford it. And I also knew that I didn’t deserve it, especially in light of how I acted toward them. But as I tore into the Christmas wrapping, there it was. My Boombox! I was beyond happy. I just sat there looking at it, overwhelmed by the thought that my parents actually got me what I wanted even though I knew it would come at a significant cost to them, and they did so even though I treated them with contempt. This was not just something “given to me.” It was a gift that was bestowed upon me. I didn’t deserve it, and I knew it. But it was given to me out of my parent's love for me. It was a humbling moment that I will never forget.

And that leads me to the second thing I want you to see in verse 7. What is the Psalmist asking God to grant him? The Lord’s salvation. What does he mean by that? The word used for “salvation” is the Hebrew word for “Yesha,” which means “to deliver, rescue, or liberate.” As we read verse 7, we need to see that the greatest way that God shows us his steadfast and enduring love is by granting us his salvation. As I said before, it is a gift, not something we deserve. It is what we look to as our primary means of knowing that God loves us, and that drives our joy.

So, what are you looking to to save you? What gives you the greatest joy? What have you put all your hope in? Though it’s probably an unconscious choice, most of us would say it is our job, kids, possessions, or accolades. If we are honest with ourselves, we probably look more to those things to “save us” than we do anything else. But throughout the Scriptures, the answer to where we will find our only source for salvation is clear. Psalm 27:1 sums it up best in these words, “The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

So often, when we read words like this in Scripture, they feel like words we can’t identify with at the moment. Unless we are going through something life-changing, the truth of these words, which are true at every moment in the believer's life, don’t truly impact us as they should. I know that’s true for me. Typically, we just keep doing life.

But two weeks ago, I had an epiphany. I was sitting with my sisters in my mom’s bedroom in Charlotte, NC. My mom had just passed away, and God had granted me the gift of being able to be there for it. As we were sitting there in complete silence, looking at my mom's body, my sister said through her tears, “How do people go through this without the Lord?” That was when the thought hit me. As many things as we strive for in this life and as many things that we look to for “deliverance,” in the end, the only thing that matters is the Lord and the salvation that he grants to those who place their trust in him alone. He is the only one who has the power to save. And for that reason, he must come first in our lives.

In verse 3 of “Joy to the World,” this is what Isaac Watts had in mind when he wrote, “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.” He is trying his best to lyrically capture how amazing and wonderful God’s love is for us, a love shown in the salvation he has given us.

Are you amazed by God’s love for you? Are you in awe and wonder that he freely grants salvation to you when you ask in faith even though you don’t deserve it? Or do you take it for granted? In a fallen world impacted by sin and death, are you not amazed that the Lord “rules it with grace and truth” and is still revealing his glory and righteousness? The Psalmist asked God, “Show us your steadfast love, O LORD, and grant us your salvation.” Where do we see it revealed to us most clearly today? That’s the third thing we want to see, and we can sum it up this way…


Point 3: God’s love is fully revealed in Jesus (Luke 2:1-7)


Stepping away from Psalm 85 for a moment, I also want to look at Luke 2:1-7 together because, in this passage, we see how God’s love and salvation are most clearly displayed and how to live it out in a fallen world. Listen to Luke’s words in Luke 2:1-7.


1 In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (ESV)


In Luke’s passage, Joseph and Mary are making their way to Bethlehem because a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that everyone needed to register for a census. What seems like a typical government census being taken is actually the revelation of the long-awaited Messiah prophesied about in the Old Testament, who would die for the sins of the world. In this story, we see that God’s plan of redemption is in full effect. 

This is what Micah, the Old Testament prophet, was talking about when he said, “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, are only a small village among all the people of Judah. Yet a ruler of Israel, whose origins are in the distant past, will come from you on my behalf.” (Micah. 5:2, NLT) And the prophet Isaiah wrote, “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” (Isaiah 9:6-7, NLT)

Even though this is happening in the background, as we read the text, it looks like a typical day in Bethlehem. You have a government census being taken, and you have a young couple, engaged to be married, going back to their hometown to register. It's just another day in the life of. But behind the scenes, God is at work. In fact, he is always working, which oftentimes catches us by surprise.

And as we read Luke’s words, God has two surprises for us. The first surprise is that the child this couple is about to give birth to is the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus. He is also called “Yeshua,” who would come to save God’s people. The name “Yeshua” is the Hebrew name for “Joshua,” and the name “Jesus” is the Greek transliteration of this Hebrew name. Is this just a coincidence? I don’t think so. This child about to be born will not only fulfill all the Old Testament prophecies spoken about him but is the manifestation of God in the flesh, who will save us and bring us deliverance once and for all. He is the one referred to by the psalmist in Psalm 85:7 in the words, “and grant us your salvation.” He is also the same one Isaac Watts refers to in “Joy to the World” when he says, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let Earth receive her King.” Are you surprised yet? Well, prepare yourself. I have an even bigger surprise for you.

At the end of our Luke passage, we read, “6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:6-7, ESV) If you are like me growing up, whenever these words were read, “because there was no place for them in the inn,” your mind automatically conjures up a hotel or inn like the Red Roof Inn, Motel 6, or something like that. But that was probably not the case.

Though the Greek word in verse 7 can be interpreted as “the inn,” it can also mean “guest room or lodging place.” In fact, Bible scholar Craig Keener writes, “The traditional ‘inn’ could as easily be translated ‘home’ or ‘guest room,’ and probably means that, since many of Joseph’s scattered family members had returned to the home at once, it was easier for Mary to give birth in the vacant cave outside.” ( So, what we typically interpret as a story about a young, engaged couple going home to register for the census who cannot find a room in a hotel may be radically different. Let me paint a completely different scenario that I believe is closer to what is happening in this passage.

As this young, engaged couple travels back to Bethlehem to register, the man asks his relatives if they can stay in the guest room all Jewish homes would have for visiting family. Because the city is flooded with guests who have traveled from far distances, the chances of finding a family member who has an empty guest room would be difficult. But that might not be the only factor preventing them from finding lodging.

Imagine what it would be like if this Jewish man and his fiancée showed up to your house unexpectedly. The city is bustling with travelers looking for a place to stay with family and friends, and this man and his pregnant fiancée, who is about to give birth at any moment, want to stay with you. Scandalous! You are a good, Law-abiding Jew. What do you do? What appears to have happened is that Joseph’s relatives didn’t allow him to stay in their guest rooms, either because the rooms were already taken or because they were too embarrassed by Joseph and Mary’s situation to allow them in their homes. Instead, they were relegated to the stable. However we interpret this verse, this is where “Yeshua,” the Savior of the world, was born.

And from the very beginning, Jesus, the King of Creation, Sovereign Lord in the flesh, was rejected, even before birth. This is one of the reasons Isaiah 53:3 says, “He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care.” (Isaiah, 53:1-3; NLT) And John, in his gospel, says, “He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:10-12; NLT)”

So, as I conclude, I want you to think about this. At the beginning of “Joy to the World,” we read these words, “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.” If you were to honestly assess your life right now, does Jesus have any room in your heart? In Jesus, Yeshua, our Deliverer, and Redeemer, are you experiencing the love of God in your life? Do you know, as a believer, that because you have trusted in Jesus and all he has done for you through his life and death, you stand before the Father holy and righteous at this very moment? And is his love for you the driving force in your life and the seedbed in which your joy grows as you do life in a fallen and sinful world?

Folks, Jesus did not come into the world to redeem people who would be driven by anything other than his love for them. He did not come for people who would try to find time to fit him into their schedule. And he did not come for people who worship him once a month, let alone twice a year. He came to save us from our sins, deliver us from death, make us his own, and for us to find our complete satisfaction and joy in him alone. And because we have received the greatest gift known to man, the salvation of our souls, we sing with joy, rest in his love for us, and live our lives fully devoted to him alone. For this is why he came. As author Fleming Rutledge so rightly says, “The Eternal has done a temporal act, the Infinite has become a finite fact. For us and for our salvation, he came down from heaven.” (Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ)


Let's pray together.



Father, words cannot express how grateful we are to you for the gift of salvation you have given us in your Son, Jesus. For he alone saves. Forgive us for those times when we take your salvation for granted as if it is a box to be checked off rather than a gift to cherish and rely upon. As busy as our lives are, don’t let us just make room for you, but may you reside in the Master Suite of our hearts, helping us by your Spirit to live out on a daily basis the salvation we have in you alone. For those who call themselves Christians but to whom you are merely a second thought, I pray that they would see the gift of salvation that you have granted them and make you the priority in their lives. And for those who have not yet trusted you for their salvation, I pray that, as John’s gospel said, they would believe Jesus and accept Jesus, that he may grant them the right and privilege to become children of God and to live accordingly. As it is with all those who call on the name of the Lord, this is your work initiated by you for your glory alone. Father, may you receive all the glory. We ask this in the name of Jesus. - Amen



“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)


Brothers and sisters, you are sent!

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