The Son of God ministered before mankind as a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isa 53:3). “I am in trouble” said the psalmist portraying the spirit of Christ in its stark reality, “mine eye is consumed with grief, yea, my soul and my belly. For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing” (Psa 31:9-10). In another psalm, the Son of Man is depicted as being weary of his crying and of being “poor and sorrowful” (Psa 69:3,29).

We have a picture in these records of one who was subject to the harrowing emotions that grief and sorrow leave in their wake. The sorrow was not just in his eyes. It consumed his life and ate away at his insides. It was grief that spanned years; in fact his voice became dry and hoarse with the intensity of his crying.

We are spared a great deal of detail in the gospel records about the Lord’s sorrow but every now and then we catch a few glimpses. He was grieved at the hardness of the rulers’ hearts (Mark 3:5). He was overcome with weeping at the tomb of Lazarus (John 11:35). In the garden he said to his disciples: “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death” (Matt 26:38) and there he offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears (Heb 5:7).

This feeling of intense sadness and distress, however, needed a counterweight; something to ensure that the grief didn’t embitter him or distress him to the extent that he could no longer endure its pain. He needed to have something that could lift his mind beyond the present and allow him to see through the night of sorrows. That something was “the joy that was set before him” (Heb 12:2). Notice that the word ‘joy’ in this reference is accompanied by a definite article. It was ‘the joy’ – a specific type of gladness that had been deliberately laid out before his view. It was described in Luke 24:26 as “his glory” which he alone could enter.

This joy was none other than that which had been spoken of beforehand in the psalms and prophets; words which were specifically for him alone. There are many references that depict the glory that the Son of God would inherit at his second coming but there are only a few that describe a sense of unbounded joy that would pervade his life soon after his victory over death. One of these passages is in Psalm 16; another is in Psalm 21. In both psalms we can feel a sense of the unbounded delight that the Father was offering the Son and we can imagine that this unutterable joy would have left our Lord marvelling at the overwhelming goodness of his Father towards him.

In Psalm 16:5-6 the spirit of the Messiah describes the inheritance he has received. It is a picture of God casting forth the lines of inheritance and they land in pleasant places. “Yea”, the Son is recorded as affirming, “I have a goodly heritage”. This is his assessment – it is beautiful! He will inherit the whole earth but there will be a place specifically assigned to him in the kingdom age that will be absolutely spectacular (Isa 60:13). It is styled by Ezekiel, “the Prince’s portion” (Ezek 45:7).

He then expresses how he felt as he emerged from the tomb and received the reward of everlasting life. “My heart is glad and my glory (Acts 2:26 – tongue) rejoiceth”. Furthermore he goes on to describe in verse 11 how he felt when he ascended to heaven: “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore”.

The Son who had declared that he had always set his Father in front of him and had always placed Him at his right hand during every step of the way (v8) was to be rewarded with eternal life in his Father’s presence and take his seat at the Father’s right hand (Psa 110:1). Whilst there, God would reveal further things to him, making known to him the course his life would now take in relation to the culmination of His purpose. And there in the Father’s presence would be “fulness of joy” and “pleasures for evermore”. Not just joy, but fulness of joy; in fact the Hebrew is even more expressive: ‘fulness of joys’. It is no longer joy mingled with sorrow, or tainted by grief. It is full, complete, satisfying, and undiminished. Each new phase of his work would be a pleasure to execute as he recognises that his Father’s right hand is never empty and His fulness is inexhaustible. It is a new path of life he experiences and his joy is to know no bounds.

When we come to Psalm 21 we are introduced to a king who asks for everlasting life and receives it willingly from the hands of his God (v4). This is the very language the Lord used when he prayed for life and glory in John 17:1 and received the answer soon afterwards. David’s conquest and victory anticipated the strength and victory that his greater Son would achieve against sin and death. Hence the first seven verses of the psalm recount Messiah’s royal blessings in the presence of his Father and the remaining verses describe the Lord’s decisive judgment on all his foes at his return.

From the very start of the psalm we have the Lord’s joy outlined. Young’s Literal Translation captures the present tense of the original: “in Thy strength is the king joyful, In Thy salvation how greatly he rejoiceth”. Here is joy despite weakness. He had no strength outside of the power the Father had bestowed upon him (John 17:2) and he was absolutely reliant on the Father delivering him from death (Heb 5:7). He constantly reiterated the point that he could do nothing of himself ( John 5:19,30; 8:28,42; 14:10) and in this he rejoiced greatly, says the psalmist. So although he was a man of sorrows he possessed a joyful appreciation of God’s strength and salvation, something he was later to call “my joy” ( John 15:11; 17:13).

Once more we have expressions describing something beyond ordinary joy. In verse 1 he “greatly rejoices” and in verse 6 he is “exceeding glad”, or more literally, “rejoices with joy”. This is because God has given him his heart’s desire, answered his prayers, placed a crown of pure gold on his head (cp Heb 2:9), and granted him everlasting life in His own presence.

In the context of being granted life eternal (v4) we have a wonderful description of the coronation of the Son of God in verse 3: “Thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness: thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head”. The word ‘preventest’ carries the idea of going in front, or, of being be in front, with the idea of anticipating. It’s as though the Father is anticipating the Son’s every need and when the time comes for every blessing of goodness to be granted, including the crown of righteousness and life, the Father is already there, anticipating the coronation, ever-ready to bestow the reward.

No wonder the Son was exceeding glad. The Father was there waiting for him, as it were, so that He could bestow the blessing of His presence and the gift of everlasting life upon His beloved Son. This is what spurred the Lord on to victory. Its reality gave him a capacity to look beyond the sorrow and heartache and seize hold of the scenes of ‘the joy’ that were outlined in these psalms.

We need to follow his example. We may feel crushed by the weight of our failures and downcast at the pain and sorrow of unrelenting difficulties that beset us. But our Lord has set the standard and encourages us to do the same. This is why we are exhorted to “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Rom 5:2), to “joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:11), to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil 4:4) and to “rejoice evermore” (1 Thess 5:16).

These words should not be empty platitudes. They are there to remind us that our hope is real and that our relationship with our God must be one forged through joyful service. A day is coming when our Lord will return to bestow everlasting life upon the faithful. He will say to them; “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt 25:21,23). The Lord’s joy will be merged with ours and that’s why it is styled unspeakable joy in 1 Peter 1:8. No words can express the joy that lies ahead of us. Let us therefore “rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy” (1 Pet 4:18; Jude v24).