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The Gospel in the Carols | Joy to the World!

December 3, 2023
Psalm 98:1-9

1Oh sing to the Lord a new song, 

    for he has done marvelous things! 

His right hand and his holy arm 

    have worked salvation for him.

2The Lord has made known his salvation; 

    he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.

3He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness 

    to the house of Israel. 

All the ends of the earth have seen 

    the salvation of our God.


4Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; 

    break forth into joyous song and sing praises!

5Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, 

    with the lyre and the sound of melody!

6With trumpets and the sound of the horn 

    make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!


7Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; t

    he world and those who dwell in it!

8Let the rivers clap their hands; 

    let the hills sing for joy together

9before the Lord, for he comes 

    to judge the earth.

He will judge the world with righteousness, 

    and the peoples with equity.

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To discover and experience Jesus Christ in our midst

To cultivate mutually encouraging relationships

To participate in God’s mission to the world 

Opening Prayer

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came among us in great humility; that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Responsive Prayer—Isaiah 2:1-5

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say:

“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.”

For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples;

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.

Summary and Connection

We are taking a break from the series on Sermon on the Mount during the season of Advent. In this series entitled The Gospel in the Carols, we will explore the rich gospel themes in our favorite carols. When we sing our beloved carols, we sing the gospel truth. This week’s discussion focuses on Isaac Watts carol "Joy to the World," which is based on Psalm 98. It is interesting to note that “Joy to the World” was not intended to be a Christmas carol. Watts originally composed it as a poem in his anthology of poems titled—Psalms of David-Imitated in Language of New Testament, and Applied to the Christian State and Worship. In other words, this carol beautifully captures the all-encompassing nature—past, present, and future—of the redemptive history, accomplished by God, in and through Jesus Christ. 

The word Advent comes from Latin meaning ‘coming.’ Advent is the time of the year in which we celebrate two comings, looking back, and looking forward: Jesus’ humility, and weakness, and we anticipate his return in power and strength. We will consider the carol, as outlined by Psalm 98, under three headings: the cause for joy—Let Heaven and Nature Sing, the scope for joy—Far As the Curse is Found, and the call to joy—Repeat the Sounding Joy. Psalm 98 beautifully captures God’s victory-salvation motif in the past—Exodus, the reason for resounding worship in the present, and the joyful anticipation of God’s judgment and reign in the future. For Christians, Psalm 98, and “Joy to the World,” encapsulates the sheer joy of Jesus’ first coming—his life, death, and resurrection, and the hopeful anticipation for his second coming. We are called to joyfully worship our God, by singing the gospel, and hearing the gospel proclaimed, and by applying the gospel truth to our life in anticipation of Jesus’ second coming, knowing that the scope of the gospel is as wide as the need—far as the curse is found

Discussion Questions

1. Looking at the Bible

Observation: Read the passage privately. What does the text say? Who are the main characters in this story? What according to you is the theme of this passage?

  • According to the Psalmist, what is the cause for joy? Why should the nations, heaven, and nature sing?
  • How is God’s impending judgment a cause for joy, and a call to joy for Christians around the world?

2. Looking at Jesus

At Central we believe that all of Scripture points to Jesus. In other words, Jesus is the theological center of the Bible. Every passage not only points to Jesus, but the grand narrative of the Bible also finds its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus.

  • How does Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection provide the cause for joy, fulfills the scope of joy, and offers the call to joy in the midst of suffering?


3. Looking at Our Hearts

The following are personal application questions based on the stages of growth in Christian faith.

  • Reflect on the season of your life right now—Is the Advent season a cause for joy, or a source of assurance of God’s future justice, and comfort? Or is it both? If yes, how so? 
  • In the season of Advent we celebrate two comings—we look back to Jesus’ redemptive work on our behalf, and we look forward to Jesus’ return in power and strength. How does this reality influence your faith, hope, and joy in the present?
  • How does the reality of ‘the scope of the gospel is as wide as the need’ change your attitude towards self, and others?

4. Looking at Our World

  • How might we reflect the joy of Advent to the world? How might our call to joy be an act of defiance, and an act of mission to the world? 


God’s word is a lamp to our feet. Christ’s teachings are a light to our path. May God’s word take root in our lives. May Christ’s love nourish and sustain us. Amen.

  • View Study Guide Notes

    Question 1:

    Question 1a. The Psalmist invites the worshippers to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Notice the verbs in verses 1, 4, and 7—sing, shout, and resound. We see the reason for this superlative joy and celebration in verse 1b-4. According to the Psalmist, the Lord has done marvelous things. What does he mean by this? Some versions of the Bible translate salvation as victory.  The Psalmist wants us to particularly remember God’s deliverance of Israel. The Lord, as the king, defeats the Egyptians, and victoriously leads the Israelites to deliverance. However, the marvelous nature of God’s work is not limited to deliverance of physical slavery, it extends to their salvation—spiritual deliverance from the slavery of sin. 

    According to the Psalmist, the nations, heaven, and nature ought to make a joyful noise to the Lord, as he is steadfast in his love and faithfulness to his people, and furthermore, he will one day establish justice and righteousness. God’s deliverance of Israel as a nation points to God’s deliverance of true Israel—all the nations of the world, and the creation itself,  in and through the king of kings, Jesus Christ. This is indeed a joy to the world as the Lord Jesus has come to save, and will come to judge and reign.

    Question 1b. We see the theme of God’s deliverance and judgment recurring throughout the Psalms. In his book on the Psalms, C.S. Lewis wrestled with this kind of language: Why do Psalmists speak so positively about God’s judgment? If you think about it, to be judged by the perfectly holy and righteous God instills fear and dread in our hearts. On the one hand, it is legitimate fear, as God is holy, and utterly intolerant of sins. On the other hand, our fear is shaped by our understanding of God’s judgment as a criminal court proceeding wherein we are the accused desperately hoping to escape punishment. In contrast, the Psalmist sees God’s judgment as a civil case, wherein he is the plaintiff looking for justice. The difference is staggering: In a criminal case, one hopes for acquittal or pardon, whereas the Psalmist hopes for justice—resounding triumph with heavy damages for the guilty. 

    Lewis captures this reality poignantly: “In most places and times it has been very difficult for the ‘small man’ to get his case heard. The judge (and, doubtless, one or two of his underlings) has to be bribed. If you can’t afford to ‘oil the palm’ your case will never reach court…We need not therefore be surprised if the Psalms, and the Prophets, are full of the longing for judgment, and regard the announcement that ‘judgment’ is coming as good news. Hundreds and thousands of people who have been stripped of all they possess and who have the right entirely on their side will at last be heard. Of course they are not afraid of judgment. They know their case is unanswerable—if only it could be heard. When God comes to judge, at last, it will.”

    Question 2: Alec Motyer, an Old Testament commentator, calls Psalm 98 ‘a Psalm for both the Old Testament, and New Testament people.’  For Old Testament believers, the Exodus is what calls forth for joy. For Christians, the redemptive work of Jesus, and the return of Jesus in power and strength is what calls forth for the new song. 

    Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king: We, as Christians, have access to unparalleled joy as we look back on the incarnation of Jesus. When Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey, the prophecy of Zachariah 9:9 was fulfilled. With the incarnation of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, culminating in the Pentecost and advancing of the church, God had made his salvation known to the world, and revealed his righteousness in Jesus to the world. When we sing the carols, celebrating the birth of Jesus, we proclaim the richness of the gospel, calling the world to rejoice—“He comes to make His blessings flow, far as the curse is found.” Remember the words of Tim Keller: “We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. If you are seeking God, suffering, or struggling, rejoice in the fact that the scope of the gospel is as wide as the need! Rejoice as there is now no condemnation for those who belong to Christ.” 

    Furthermore, Advent is also a season of anticipation of a glorious future renewal when Jesus returns to judge and reign in power and strength. Jesus’ return has a tremendous universal impact: the nations rejoice, the creation shouts for joy, and there is much celebration in heaven. Christians from all tongues, tribes, and nations rejoice in anticipation of Jesus establishing justice, and wiping their tears away (Revelation 21:4). The creation that is groaning, rejoices in its liberation from decay. In Romans 8:18-22, Paul links the renewal of creation to the restoration of humanity when Jesus returns in power and glory. Jesus, as the theological center of the Bible, fulfills God’s redemptive purpose. In and through Jesus, one end of the scripture answers to the other: “God speaks to man at the beginning, in Eden, in Genesis 3:17, ‘Cursed is the ground because of you.’ He speaks again at the end, in Paradise, in Revelation 21:5, ‘I am making everything new!” So, rejoice! Shout for joy! Make a joyful noise to the Lord!

    Question 3: These are personal application questions. 

    Question 4: This is a personal application question.