Exploring the Happiness of Jesus
My wife led a women’s Bible study group in discussing a lesson she’d written about the happiness of Jesus. One woman who’d grown up as a churchgoer was startled. She shared how horrified she’d once been to see a picture of Jesus smiling. Why? Because she believed it was blasphemous to make Jesus appear happy!
She’s not alone. Ask a random group of believers and unbelievers, “Who is the happiest human being who ever lived?” and few would correctly answer: “Jesus.”
Jesus is depicted with a glad heart.
In the first-ever gospel message of the newborn church, the apostle Peter preached that Psalm 16 is about Christ: “David says concerning him, ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced. . . . For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. . . . You will make me full of gladness with your presence’” (Acts 2:25-28, emphasis added). This effusive statement, attributed to the Messiah, is a triple affirmation of his happiness!
The passage Peter ascribed to Jesus includes Psalm 16:11. The New Life Version translates it, “Being with You is to be full of joy. In Your right hand there is happiness forever.”
I’m convinced we should view this first apostolic sermon as a model for sharing the gospel today. Peter, full of the Holy Spirit, asserted three times the happiness of the one at the center of the gospel—Jesus. Yet how many people, unbelievers and believers alike, have ever heard a modern gospel message that makes this point?
What if we regularly declared the happiness of our Savior? Imagine the response if we emphasized that what Jesus did on that terrible cross was for the sake of never-ending happiness—ours and his.
Jesus was—and is—the happiest of people.
In Hebrews 1:8-9, a direct reference to the Messiah quoted in Psalm 45:6-7, the Father says of his Son: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” The Contemporary English Version renders it, “your God . . . made you happier than any of your friends.”
Who are Jesus’ companions in this passage? This could refer to His immediate group of friends, all believers, or all His fellow human beings. If it’s the latter, He has gladness that exceeds that of all people (which makes sense, because He created us).
Reflecting on these passages in Psalm 45 and Hebrews 1, John Piper writes, “Jesus Christ is the happiest being in the universe. His gladness is greater than all the angelic gladness of heaven. He mirrors perfectly the infinite, holy, indomitable mirth of his Father.”1
The Bible repeatedly suggests that Jesus exemplified the joy of living.
Scripture contains many additional indications of Christ’s happiness. It takes a joyful person to instruct His disciples in the art of rejoicing. Jesus said, “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). The CEV renders the verse, “Be happy that your names are written in heaven!”
The next verse connects His disciples’ joy to Jesus’ joy: “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit” (Luke 10:21). The Weymouth New Testament reads, “Jesus was filled by the Holy Spirit with rapturous joy.”
Consider this part of the verse: “At that very time [the Son] rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, ‘I praise You, O Father . . .’” (Luke 10:21, NASB). This clearly affirms the Trinity’s gladness—Jesus overflows with joy from the Holy Spirit, and the Father finds pleasure in revealing himself to his children.
Imagine this scene: “Children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away” (Matthew 19:13-15). This passage leaves no doubt about Jesus’ love for children. And the fact that children flocked to Him is telling: children are drawn to happy adults, not unhappy ones.
Jesus says, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11, KJV). The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament says that chara, the word translated here as “joy,” means “a state of joy and gladness—joy, gladness, great happiness.”2 The CEV renders the verse, “I have told you this to make you as completely happy as I am.” What a great life goal: to become as happy as Jesus!
Jesus’ happiness set Him apart from the religious leaders of His time.
First-century Pharisaism, with its endless rules, often negated the joy that God intended through feasts, celebrations, Sabbath days, and everyday life. But Jesus stood in stark contrast to “holy people” of his time. Serious rabbis were never in danger of being accused of gluttony and drunkenness, because they never went to parties. (They probably didn’t get many invitations!) Jesus wasn’t serious enough for their tastes, so they imagined he couldn’t be holy.
When I wrote my first graphic novel, Eternity, I had to decide how I wanted the artist to portray Jesus’ face in a typical scene. Having read the Gospels many times and known Jesus for forty years, I knew His default look should be one of happiness. Yes, I asked the artist to portray Him as angry when facing off with the Pharisees and sad when heading to the cross. But the man who held children in His arms, healed people, fed the multitudes, and made wine at a wedding was, more often than not, happy!
Jesus was both a man of sorrows and a man of joy.
It is written of the Messiah, “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised” (Isaiah 53:3). Note that He’s called “a man of sorrows” specifically in relationship to His redemptive work.
When He was headed to the cross, Jesus said, “My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death” (Mark 14:34, NASB). But this was the worst day of his life—he was heading to a worse death than any human has ever faced. It doesn’t indicate the typical, day-to-day temperament of Jesus.
Given the price He paid for our sins, does being “a man of sorrows” contradict the notion that Jesus was happy? Absolutely not. Sorrow and happiness can and do coexist within the same person. Jesus knew that the basis for our sorrow is temporary, while the basis for our gladness is permanent. In Christ’s case, He’d known unbounded happiness since before the dawn of time, and He knew that it awaited Him again. That had to infuse His days with gladness even in the face of suffering and grief.
William Morrice writes, “The very fact that Jesus did attract hurting people to himself shows that he cannot have been forbidding in his manner. It suggests that the ‘man of sorrows’ conception of his personality has been overrated in the past. Had he been a gloomy individual and a kill-joy, he would not have had such an appeal to common people and to children.”3
In Luke 4:17, Jesus unrolls the scroll of Isaiah and reads the first few verses of Isaiah 61, after which He says, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). Isaiah 61 continues with its prophecy about Jesus: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). This passage tells us that the Father is the Son’s source of joy. The New Century Version renders the verse, “The Lord makes me very happy; all that I am rejoices in my God.” Again, God’s Word explicitly affirms the everyday happiness of Jesus.
Another remarkable verse tells us that “For the joy that was set before him [Christ] endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2, emphasis added).
On Good Friday, Jesus experienced the terrible burden of atonement, the trauma of dying on the cross, and the anguish of being temporarily alienated from his Father when He became our sin (see Matthew 27:46; 2 Corinthians 5:21). But this suffering was overshadowed by the joy of our salvation. When Jesus walked the Earth, He lived every moment with divine happiness in His past, the happiness of an eternal perspective in His present, and the anticipation of unending happiness in the future.
Since Jesus is happy, His disciples should follow Him happily.
Francis de Sales, the bishop of Geneva (1567–1622), said, “I cannot understand why those who have given themselves up to God and his goodness are not always cheerful; for what possible happiness can be equal to that? No accidents or imperfections which may happen ought to have power to trouble them, or to hinder their looking upward.”4
One explanation for our cheerlessness is simple: many of God’s people don’t believe that the Christ we serve is cheerful.
Spurgeon said, “We are happy to think Christ is happy. I do not know whether you have ever drank that joy, Believer, but I have found it a very sweet joy to be joyful because Christ is joyful.”5
Scripture commands us to follow in Jesus’ footsteps (see 1 Peter 2:21). When we become convinced that our Savior walked this Earth not only experiencing suffering and sorrow, but also doing so with an ancient yet forever-young happiness in His heart and a smile on His face, it will inspire us to love Him more deeply and follow Him more cheerfully.
1. John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), 36.
2. Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), s.v. “chara.”
3. William Morrice, Joy in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 86.
4. Francis de Sales, “Spiritual Life,” Christian Register, December 28, 1916.
5. Spurgeon, “The Special Call and the Unfailing Result” (Sermon #616).