Rob Buckingham's Blog

Falling in Love with a Joyful Jesus

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I realise that a joyful Jesus is not everyone’s experience.  I mean, I’ve met some of his followers and joy wasn’t the first word that sprung to mind.  When I was in Grammar school, my divinity teacher was Reverend Harry – the meanest guy in the school.  I came top in his class with 63%, and it looked like he’d been baptised in lemon juice.  Atheism seemed like a good option to me for some years afterward.

Since converting to Christianity, I’ve met Christians who, in my opinion, are not necessarily good representatives of a joyful Jesus.  Maybe they are joyful, but it seems the joy was buried quite deeply!  It’s a shame because the Jesus we read of in the Bible is anything but joyless. 

Now it’s true that Jesus was “a man of sorrows”.  He was despised, rejected and familiar with suffering[1], but that only applied to him concerning his work on the cross, and even that he endured with joy.[2]  The problem is that some Christians and churches emphasise Jesus as the man of sorrows and forget joyful Jesus.  Someone may object to this by reminding me that “Jesus wept.”  That’s the shortest verse in the Bible and one of my favourites because it’s so easy to memorise!  The Bible records that Jesus wept because it was news that is an unusual event rather than a daily occurrence.  The Bible doesn’t record that Jesus laughed because it wasn’t news; he did it all the time.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was a happy man; in fact, he had the oil of joy poured out on him more than anyone else.[3]  He was filled with the Holy Spirit and thus had the fruit of the Spirit including joy.  Jesus attracted people, especially children, and no one finds a sourpuss attractive.  Jesus told people to be of good cheer.  Surely He practiced what He preached!  Jesus gave his joy to others,[4] and you can’t give what you do not have!  Jesus used humour in his teachings.  Although his humour doesn’t come through into English translations, statements like “take out the beam from your eye” or “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” or “a camel going through the eye of a needle” would have been hilarious to his audience.[5]

The overly serious Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of being gluttons and drunkards.  Of course, they were neither, but in the eyes of the stern religious people of the day, they were guilty by association.  The first miracle Jesus did was turning water into the best wine at a seven-day wedding feast.  Unfortunately, some Christians over the centuries have tried to reverse the miracle.

Jesus let Matthew throw him a great feast along with all of his sinful tax-collector buddies (Luke 5:27-39).  The happy party caused the religious leaders to criticise, complain and talk about fasting and prayer (obviously because that is more spiritual than eating with friends).  Jesus responded with humour, sarcasm, a story, and then a sigh that despite his presentation of truth they, like fools, will stick with their old glum ways.[6]  Even the morose and peevish John Calvin (known for burning opponents at the stake) had to admit in his Institutes of the Christian Religion (III: 19:9): “We are nowhere forbidden to laugh, or to be satisfied with food, or to be delighted with music, or to drink wine.”  Thanks, John, we were hanging out for your permission!

I understand that a joyful Jesus may mess with your theology.  If that’s the case, I suggest your theology could do with it.  When I imagine Jesus, it is not merely as a person who healed the sick, raised the dead and preached the good news. It’s also as a man of considerable goodwill and compassion, with a zest for life, someone unafraid of controversy, free to be who He knew Himself to be and brimming with generous good humour and a playful and fun demeanour.  So let’s set aside the idea that Jesus was a humourless, grim-faced, dour, unsmiling killjoy and let’s choose to be just like him – joyful!

 

[1] Isaiah 53:3

[2] Hebrews 12:2; John 16:19-24

[3] Hebrews 1:9

[4] John 15:11

[5] In his book, The humour of Christ, Quaker author Elton Trueblood examines in detail 30 humorous passages in the Gospels.

[6] Ken Westby, The humor of Christ (http://www.godward.org/commentary/KW/humor_of_jesus.htm)

 

 

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