Reaping the Joy to Come
Psalm 126 gives us a strange paradigm — one that doesn’t make sense apart from the gospel. The psalmist isn’t simply saying that tears precede joy, but that tears are the way to joy. And there is a difference. He is not contrasting opposites — one we dread and the other we desire — but he is showing us that our greatest desires are found on the other side of our worst dread. We want light, but it means going through darkness. We want life, but it’s after the valley of death. It is not merely cross and then resurrection — it’s resurrection through the cross. The God of resurrection power calls us to the way of the cross.
And it’s a paradox. It’s the upside-down, inside-out, forward-back paradigm of the gospel — the same gospel Jesus teaches when he says the last is first (Matthew 20:16), and the lowest is the greatest (Luke 22:25–27), and that gaining is losing (Mark 8:35); and the same gospel that Paul says is foolishness to the worldly wise and weakness to the fleshly strong (1 Corinthians 1:27).
Rubric for Life
God’s greatest victory comes through unfathomable loss. His most wondrous display of power is seen in the grossest vulnerability. That is the cross of Christ. It’s the only way we’re saved, and it’s the only paradigm that truly makes sense of life in this world. That’s why Paul calls the cross the “rubric” for life.
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
Paul is talking about the cross in verse 14. Then he says “new creation” in verse 15 — that is, resurrected life. It is all one package in his mind. It is resurrection through cross. That is his boast. And in verse 16 he says, “And as for all who walk by this rule…” The word “rule” could also be translated “rubric” (literally: “canon”). The cross and resurrection, or death and new creation, is a rule, a rubric, a canon by which to live. It’s the vision through which we should operate in this life. In fact, I think when Paul says in Galatians 6:16 “walk by this rule” it is meant to parallel what he teaches in Galatians 5:25 on “walk by the Spirit.” The Spirit-filled life is this cross-centered rubric.
Looking to the Future
And it will indeed lead to reaping with shouts of joy. The cross gave way to an empty tomb, and in the same way, our sufferings in this present world will be eclipsed by incomparable joy in the future (2 Corinthians 4:17).
But it’s important to underline future.
I should mention that Psalm 126 is an oft-quoted passage by prosperity charlatans. “Sow your seed,” they might say, “and reap a new car!” — and more gobbledegook like that. They are not wrong to think materially — a harvest of sheaves is material (Psalm 126:6), so are wagons full of produce (Psalm 65:11), and so is inheriting the world (1 Corinthians 3:21). They are wrong, however, to think it comes here and now, and to think that such materials are the main event. The prosperity heresy distorts the truth by teaching that Jesus exists for our material prosperity, and that we experience it today … right now … if you just call this number and say your credit card number aloud.
God indeed does lavish material gifts upon us in the present world — we have ice cream and job promotions and things like that, and we should receive them with thanksgiving (1 Timothy 4:1–5) — but the kind of reaping envisioned in the Bible is primarily about the life to come, and the material parts included are a backdrop to the real glory of seeing Jesus.
The Joy of Jesus
The transparent gold streets in the new Jerusalem will not distract our focus on Jesus, but only amplify it (Revelation 21:21). Nobody will sit at the marriage supper of the Lamb and go on and on about how good the fried chicken is (Revelation 19:6–10).
The real reaping of joy is Jesus reaping the worship of his redeemed. The point is not what we possess in addition to Jesus, but it’s that we are the possession of Jesus. It’s not what we are given, but it’s that we are given … given as a bride adorned for her husband, sanctified by his word, arrayed in splendor (Ephesians 5:25–27) — for Jesus’s joy (Hebrews 12:2) … that will also be our joy (John 17:26).
For now we sow, but we sow in hope.
In Jesus we shall reap with shouts of joy. Some is now, but much more, and much better, is yet to come. Peter calls this our “inheritance” — one “imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4) … and it’s “kept in heaven for you” … and that’s you, church, who “by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5).
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)