The angel’s message to the shepherds at Jesus’ birth condenses the gospel to its core. He said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). The gospel isn’t for some; it’s for all. The Greek adjective translated “great” here is megas—this isn’t just news, but good news of “mega-joy.” It’s the best news there has ever been or ever will be.
What characterizes this good news is a deep, everlasting joy for any who will receive it. The Contemporary English Version renders the verse this way: “good news for you, which will make everyone happy.”
Isaiah wrote, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness.” And Paul clearly refers to Isaiah 52:7 in Romans 10:15 as he references the gospel, demonstrating that this “good news of happiness” is in fact nothing else but the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ.
If the gospel we preach isn’t about happiness, then it contradicts God’s words in Isaiah 52:7. The gospel offers an exchange of misery-generating sin for happiness-giving righteousness provided by Jesus Himself. In bowing to Him, the shepherds bowed to joy incarnate, happiness in human flesh.
Joy, exultation, and happiness are proper responses to Jesus.
Each stanza of “O Come All Ye faithful” contains sentiments of true happiness: “joyful and triumphant,” “sing in exultation,” “born this happy morning.”
A gospel not characterized by such overwhelming gladness isn’t the gospel. Think about it—delivery from eternal damnation is delivery from eternal misery.
Those who trust and serve Christ receive this mind-boggling invitation: “Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matthew 25:21, NIV). Those who trust in riches, in contrast, are told, “Weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you” (James 5:1).
Our happiness is certainly not the only thing the gospel is about. However, it’s one of the wonderful things Christ accomplished through His redemptive work.
As a young believer, I often heard testimonies in which people happily recalled the day of their conversion. Years later, it dawned on me that instead of only being happy about what Jesus did in the past (on the cross and at my conversion) and what He’ll one day do (at His return), I should be happy in what He’s doing today. The psalmist was onto something when he said, “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). Yes, he spoke of one particular day, but God has ordained all our days.
I have a friend who genuinely believes that nearly every meal, get-together, retreat, or vacation is the best he has ever experienced. His capacity to enjoy the moment and savor present happiness becomes a treasured memory of past happiness. The present is the only place we live. Circumstances constantly change, and good news comes and goes, but the Good News of happiness has come, it is still here, and it will never go away!
Happiness is our natural response to good news.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with the question, “What is the chief end of man?” and offers the reply, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” For theologians to come up with “glorify God” is no surprise. But to enjoy Him forever?
Why not “obey or fear” Him forever?
The catechism writers understood that the Good News includes more than one dimension. There’s the God who deserves to be glorified, and there are the people He created not only to glorify Him but to enjoy Him and delight in Him unendingly.
When we hear good news, what’s our reaction? Happiness, excitement, wonder, and celebration, right?
The gospel is a concrete, reality-grounded call to happiness. Jesus really did become a man, go to the cross, and rise from the grave. He truly is with us and in us now and will return again one day. These facts are what separate the gospel from wishful thinking.
In Hebrews 3:13, God calls us to happiness this way: “Encourage each other daily, while it is still called today” (HCSB). If God wants us to be happy in Him, today (not tomorrow) is the time to experience Christ-centered happiness.
Choosing to rejoice by rehearsing reasons to be happy and grateful even in the midst of suffering is an affirmation of trust not only in what God has done but also in our belief that He will bring a good end to all that troubles us. The gospel infuses hope and joy into our circumstances because it acknowledges God’s greatness over any crisis we’ll face.
Today’s happiness in Christ is drawn from an infinite deposit of happiness that God has already placed in our account. It isn’t something we have to wait to experience after death, though only then will we experience it completely.
If the gospel doesn’t bring us true happiness, then what we believe is not the gospel. When a pastor or author says, “God never intended for humans to be happy,” it may sound spiritual. But unless being happy is a sin, it’s not true.
Unfortunately, we diminish the Bible’s overflowing happiness when we separate “holy” things that give us joy, such as prayer, Bible reading, and church, from “worldly” things that bring us happiness, such as pets, hobbies, barbecues, vacations, and sports. This turns us into spiritual schizophrenics, creating false divisions between “Jesus time” and “world time,” “God time” and “me time.”
How can we “glorify God in everything” and “pray without ceasing” if we can’t glorify God and pray while working, riding a bike, playing games, or watching a movie?
The truth is, the Good News should leak into every aspect of our lives, even if we’re not consciously talking about God or witnessing to someone. Every time we ponder the gospel, live by it, share it, and anticipate its culmination in a world without sin and death, “good news of happiness” will permeate our lives with . . . well, happiness.
That’s exactly what happened when Paul and Barnabas took the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul said, “We bring you the good news [glad tidings (KJV)]. . . . And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing [the Gentiles were very happy to hear this (CJB)]. . . . The disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit [The disciples were overflowing with happiness (CEB)]” (Acts 13:32, 48, 52).
Fred Sanders writes in The Deep Things of God, “A gospel which is only about the moment of conversion but does not extend to every moment of life in Christ is too small. A gospel that gets your sins forgiven but offers no power for transformation is too small.” I would add that a gospel incapable of making you happier than you have ever been is too small.
God timed the incarnation of Jesus—joy personified—perfectly.
“When the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman . . .” (Galatians 4:4, NIV). God’s timing in sending Jesus wasn’t just perfect for the world in general; it was ideal for Israel in particular. The hand of Rome was heavy on the Jewish people, and life under an emperor who claimed to be a god was particularly oppressive to those who believed in the one true God.
Though the Jews had long hoped for God’s intervention, the promises of redemption and judgment on their enemies seemed no closer to fulfillment. Discouragement and pessimism were rampant.
When Christianity emerged, the appeal of Jesus’ teachings was widespread. He emphasized truth and virtue, as did Stoicism, and the goodness of pleasures and happiness—including eating and drinking—as did Epicureanism. He also offered a true relationship with God, which the mystery religions fruitlessly sought. Just as He does today, Jesus offered the genuine happiness everyone wanted but had not found.
Wise happiness-seekers accept God’s offer of eternal, unending happiness.
Jesus tells a story about a great party thrown by God: the great banquet (see Luke 14:15-24).
When a good, happy king (who represents God), with vast wealth and unlimited resources threw a party, the people the king invited made all kinds of excuses for not coming. When those who were invited refused, the king sent invitations to anyone his servants could find. So the wedding hall was filled with grateful people.
This parable exemplifies God’s sincere invitation to happiness and our tendency to turn down His invitation to pursue things we believe will make us happier.
Refusing the King’s invitation to endless celebration in His presence is refusing happiness itself.
The moral of the story? When God invites you to a party, say yes. You’ll be happy you did!Adapted from Randy’s book Happiness.