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The Joyful, Playfulness of Jesus

“The Christian owes it to the world to be supernaturally joyful.”

A. W. Tozer

SOMEONE who trusts in their religious practices and rules makes Christianity a serious matter! People say, “God is holy and is therefore serious!” or “Saving souls from eternal damnation is for certain a vital and serious matter”. But the way souls are to be reached is not by angry, finger-in-the-air, judgment preaching and warnings.

Does God Have A Sense of Humor?

It’s a message of good news: the word “gospel” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “Godspell”, which means “good news”. The original word comes from the Greek Evangelion, which also means “good news”. “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace, who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”’ (Is. 52:7).

Since Jesus was sinless and was therefore holy, He is portrayed as serious in most movies. The main reason, most likely, why people focus on the serious part of the Gospel and the Bible is because we cannot see the facial expressions of Jesus in the Bible. There are no emoticons. Some comedians almost only use facial expressions to make a grave accusation to the heart, and people laugh at it.

In contrast, add a few earnest and angry preachers to the package at church meetings where one is not allowed to cough, sneeze, or laugh. We have a very distant, untouchable Jesus hovering above the ground. However, that is by no means the truth. Can you imagine your Top Storyteller who does not use humor?

Joy in Nature

Joy and playfulness is part of creativity and part of our Creator. One of my favorite authors, John Eldredge, describes Jesus as follows from the perspective of nature testifying of Him in his book Beautiful Outlaw.

“I was sitting out back yesterday morning sipping coffee, watching the young chipmunks chase one another at breakneck speeds across the deck. One clever daredevil, hoping to get the advantage, jumped up on the fence rail and continued the chase from above, leaping at the last moment upon his littermate like a Hollywood stuntman. This morning one of them adopted a new strategy. The little rascal found an ambush spot, clinging from the side of the house, where he waited for his playmate to wander by unawares; he then pounced, and the two somersaulted off the deck and into the grass, squealing. Only to dash off and do it again. And again. Now—what does this tell us about the personality of Jesus, who created these little dynamos with striped masks and boundless enthusiasm? What do they say about his heart? Polar-bear cubs will hurl themselves down snowy hillsides headfirst and upside down, just for fun. Spinner dolphins love to romp in the bow-wake of a boat, cavorting, leaping into the air and, well, spinning. Otters play tag. Our horses play tug-of-war with a stick—which is really quite funny when you think of how nobly a horse normally likes to carry himself.[1]

Creation is full of things that makes one laugh! Playfulness is part of creation. Just watch in nature or even on Youtube videos the funny things that animals do: dogs play with each other; squirrels play hide-and-seek and chase each other; dolphins play in the waves. If everything was made in and through Christ, then playfulness is a significant feature of Christ (John 1:3, 10; Col. 1:16; Eph. 3:9; Heb. 1:2-3; 1 Cor. 8:6; Rom. 11:3).

Humor is Healthy in Building Relationships

The most beautiful aspect of a healthy relationship is playfulness, sense of humor, comfort and the ability to laugh at each other. Laughter and fun in any relationship is like fresh air.

“A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” (Eccl. 3:4).

“A merry heart makes a cheerful countenance, but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken.”  (Prov. 15:13).

“All the days of the afflicted are evil, but he who is of a merry heart has a continual feast.” (Prov. 15:15).

“A merry heart does good, like medicine, but a broken spirit dries the bones.” (Prov. 17:22).

Laughter In Learning and on Health

The well-known KIPP schools achieve success with children by, among other things, developing the children’s joy of life. Happy, contented children learn more easily. Their dream is to have 100% of all learners qualify for matric exemption.

Scientists have researched the effects that laughter has on humans and found that it, among other things, has a significant and immediate effect on almost every important organ in the human body. Laughter reduces stress that undermines health while allowing the major organs’ tissues to relax and exercise. It is claimed that laughter, even when forced, has a beneficial effect on us mentally and physically.

“The next time you are nervous and anxious, make sure you have a good laugh.”

—Executives ’Digest.

Famous Preachers and Reformers Use Humor

Martin Luther used humor in his work and life to support his biblical testimony. He made fun of people in positions of authority and to mock death and the devil. In Christ, everything is turned upside down.

“When we have to cry about our sin, we laugh,”

“When we have to laugh because we rejoice in Christ who died so that we may live forever, we weep.”

– Martin Luther

Spurgeon, the prince of preachers: “… brightened by eyes overflowing with humour and softened by a most gracious and sympathetic smile.” (Fullerton, C.H., Spurgeon: A Biography, p. 188).

“A light heart can bear heavy burdens”

The Salt Cellar 1:22

George Mueller would not preach until his heart was happy in the grace of God.

Ian Ruybroeck would not have written if he had been depressed. He would go to a quiet place and wait on God until he could feel the Spirit of inspiration. It is well known that the spontaneity of a group of Moravians convinced John Wesley of the reality of their religion, and this led him to true conversion a short time later. “The Christian owes it to the world to be supernaturally joyful.” —A. W. Tozer.

G.K. Chesterton said joy is the giant secret of the Christian. According to him, humor is part of a heart full of joy.

C.S. Lewis said the purest laughter on earth resides in the kingdom of joy.

Humor Is A Sign Of Effective Communication

The most famous speakers use humor not only to disarm people by their message, but also so that people will remember the message. It’s our emotions that make us remember.

As a professional comedian, Jesus used several recognized methods to make people laugh:

Picture Associations:

  • “Fishers of men” (Matt. 4:19).
  • Only Jesus could get away with “whitewashed tombs” (Matt. 23:27) by using humorous pictures, just as comedians make fun of famous political figures.
  • The image on the coin determines to whom it belongs (Matt. 22: 17-21)
  • “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matt. 23:24).

Furthermore, comedians use brilliant, clever angles to get away with serious, weighty statements: they usually use humor in a given situation, or see something funny in an event to make us laugh (think of Trevor Noah, Michael McIntyre or the famous Christian comedian, Michael Jnr.) The three excuses of the people who did not want to come to the wedding would have made His audience laugh because, even though they were legal excuses, they were actually ridiculous excuses. Another one says: “I bought five pairs of oxen and am going to try them. I ask you, please excuse me. ” Yet another says, “I have just been married, therefore I cannot come” (Luke 14: 16-23).

Literary Puns that Rhyme:

The word for mosquito and camel in Aramaic sounds almost the same: “galma” for mosquito and “gamla” for camel.

Building up a story, and then the sudden change of direction, makes us shake our heads and laugh. “So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.” But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided? (Luke 12:18-20).

Funny Nicknames and Characterization:

The statement that the fickle, highly emotional Peter is called a rock is not only funny but at the same time a call to the rock in all of us (Matt. 16: 16-18):

  • Jesus gave James and John a nickname: “To them he gave the nickname Boanerges, that is, ‘men of thunder'” (Mark 3:17). It was a loving and positive imagery with a touch of humor.
  • When Nathanael remarked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Jesus’ remark was, “Here is a true Israelite, a man in whom there is no deceit.” Jesus sees his sarcasm as a sign of his sincerity (John 1:44-51).
  • This loving connection with His disciples speaks of His accessibility, which is only possible if someone is endearing, loving, gentle and full of joy of life. Statements that are harsh, legalistic and “always right” repel people and push them away. The very human story of Jesus’ last appearance to His disciples on the beach beautifully illustrates His comfortable human way:  “Then Jesus said to them, “Children, have you any food?” They answered Him, “No.” (John 21: 5). They were close enough, less than 100 meters from the shore. He could see they had caught nothing. Peter’s first reaction is to jump out of the boat, and meet Jesus even before the boat is ashore. He actually had to feel ashamed of the fact that he denied Jesus. This after he solemnly promised in front of everyone: “Lord, I am ready to go into captivity and death with You.” (Luke 22:33). Possibly Jesus’ comfort at the moment, gave Peter the courage to go to Him so heartily. Later, Jesus, Peter, returns with the famous three questions: “Do you really love me?” Once again one sees Jesus’ face with a broad smile. Jesus was a very kind person. He did not take offense at His disciples’ immaturity and mistakes.

Irony

See the humor and truth in everyday events – The blind leaders lead the blind are still an ironic image of truth: 

  • “Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.”.” (Matt. 15:14).
  • “But to what shall I liken this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their companions, and saying:‘We played the flute for you, And you did not dance; We mourned to you, And you did not lament.” (Matt. 11:16-17).
  • Who hasn’t already tried to entertain bored children! Jesus hits every heart with the parable.“If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish?  Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion?” (Luke 11:11-12). Jesus uses a bit of a shocking technique to capture the image. Who would do such a thing? It’s unthinkable!

Hyperbole

Exaggerated, absurd comparisons relating to the listener captures attention. Listeners who regularly worked with materials and leather sheets would smile, shake their heads and say to themselves, “Who is so stupid? Nobody does that!”

  • “And Jesus said to them, “Can the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; or else the new piece pulls away from the old, and the tear is made worse. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; or else the new wine bursts the wineskins, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But new wine must be put into new wineskins.” (Mark 2:19-25). This is the secret of good speakers: Through a well-known association, they form a bond with the audience.
  • This picture would long remain in people’s minds: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10:25). It’s an extreme hyperbole. The largest riding animal, through the smallest man-made opening. Impossible! “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” (Matt. 7:6). Try to physically stage or film this picture – it’s the highest form of stupidity, foolishness, madness. Again a hilarious, exaggerated play of the folly of people’s deeds.
  • “Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house”. (Matt. 5:15). Try to do it physically. Place a flashlight under a bucket or under the bed. It’s madness, the light shines through!

Parabola

The best example of a parabola is: “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?” (Matt. 7: 3). Quickly form this picture in your mind: Someone is trying to remove the splinter in someone’s eye with a fine pair of pliers, while a huge wooden beam pierces through his own eye. Jesus’ example of not building your house on the beach would also have been funny at that time. Even the poorest person knows this! (Matt. 7: 24-27). Jesus again alludes to the foolish stubbornness of the people not to follow good reason.

Subtle Acumen

Jesus’ subtle acumen is also noteworthy: When they wanted to trap Jesus over taxes: “When they had come, they said to Him, “Teacher, we know that You are true, and care about no one; for You do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?” But He, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, “Why do you test Me? Bring Me a denarius that I may see it.” So they brought it. And He said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They said to Him, “Caesar’s.” And Jesus answered and said to them, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” And they marveled at Him.” (Mark 12:14-17). See the naughty smile on Jesus’ face as He asks them this question.

Jesus ‘remark about the Greek woman who came from Syro-Phoenicia should also be read with a cheerful smile on Jesus’ face rather than a negative, religious outcry as you would expect from the Pharisees. “For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” (Mark 7:25-26). Her condescending response points to the human connection made here between strangers: “Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matt. 15:28).

Jesus Is Not Frivolous

“…neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” (Eph. 5:4).

The difference is, someone who is frivolous has no character depth and tries to hide it through a form of focus misplacement. Like magicians who distract you so they can perform the trick with the other hand. Jesus is honest, sincere and without pretense. He says things the way they are: “And He said to them, “Go, tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.’ Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:32-33). It is again, a brilliant, but negative, characterization of Herod. Fox in this case indicates Herod’s cunningness and impurity. Jesus declares that He is in control and that only He will determine His own end.

What Joy Is and What Joy Is Not

  • Joy is not sarcasm – when someone is being laughed at.
  • Joy is not frivolous – we do not make holy things cheap.
  • Joy is not denial. Denial is a form of arrogant belief. You do not have a certain Word from God, but only wish that the problem would disappear by itself. No one should cause a deviation by making jokes to avoid tackling the core of a problem.

The Power of a Cheerful Heart

The Lord does not want us to serve Him as slaves without joy. “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything” (Deut. 28:47). Therefore, there were seven feasts on the Jewish calendar. God wants us to be able to celebrate! (Esra 6:22).

Jesus was such a cheerful, joyful man. Luke 10:21: “Rejoiced in spirit” (agalliō) – to leap. To rejoice, to jump from joy, to show your joy by jumping and leaping, to show exuberant or ecstatic joy and pleasure.

  • He understood the power of joy in the Spirit and it gave Him the power to endure His suffering (Heb. 12:2).
  • He lived from an intimate relationship with the Father, knowing that the Father answered His prayers (John 11:41-42).
  • He received favor from the Father (Matt. 3:17).
  • The Father glorified Him (John 8:54). His relationship with the Father, and obedience to the Father, was the source of His joy.
  • “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Neh. 8:10). Note the emphasis in this verse. His joy gives us strength. As a husband gains strength when his wife is happy, we gain strength when we know our life pleases the Lord.

Although Jesus was a man who knew suffering and pain, He still lived with joy. Sinners are drawn to Him and remember, they are not exactly known for seeking out the serious, consecrated, most holy people! “Now it happened, as He was dining in Levi’s house, that many tax collectors and sinners also sat together with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many, and they followed Him.” (Mark 2:15).

Laughter Defies Corruption

A Beautiful example of the power of a positive outlook on life and the power of joy we find in the film, Life is Beautiful. Rick Lawrence explains it beautifully in his book, Shrewd.[2]

Pain is a predator and we all have experienced all its bites – some have been eaten alive by it. But laughter shows defiance for a corrupt world and declares: “It cannot destroy me!” This is the message proclaimed at the end of the 1997 Oscar winner, Life Is Beautiful. In the film, a Jewish-Italian man, Guido (played by writer / director / actor Roberto Benigni), uses laughter to help his four-year-old son survive in a Nazi concentration camp. He convinces his son that the camp is just an exaggerated game. The boy is convinced that he will win a real tank if he is the first child to collect a thousand points. Guido explains that he will lose points if he cries, complains about his mother being away, or if he begs for food. Despite his dire and horrific circumstances, the boy believes his father’s version of reality. The murder-factory becomes his playground. In the end, as the American liberators approach the camp, Guido is captured while trying to find his wife and the Nazi guards lead him away to be shot. He sees his son watching while being led away, so he imitates and makes jokes behind the guard’s back to the great amusement of his son. The father is executed, but the boy and his mother survive. Later, when he is old enough to understand what happened, he realizes that his father’s fine sense of humor saved his life.

How Do We Receive And Live In This Joy?

  • Our connection with Christ, the Father and the Holy Spirit (John 15:11-12). “These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” Our connection with Jesus gives us eternal joy. As a vineyard is grafted into the tree and receives its life from the tree, so we live abundantly in Christ. But we cannot be grafted into the tree without being automatically grafted into each other as well. Compare Colossians 1:27 in the Old Translation and the New Translation: Christ IN and UNDER us.
  • Our connection to one another in His body – Todd Adkins says on his Twitter page: “No man can follow Jesus alone.” True apostolic leaders like John’s presence filled the hearts of his friends and fellow believers with joy (2 John 1:12):
    • John’s first letter echoes Jesus’ prayer in John 17:21: “that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me.”   
    • “…that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” (1 Joh. 1:3-4). John Piper follows the same line of thinking when he explains that discipleship is actually a corporate and group event, because you become part of the “Jesus” group.
  • His tangible presence and glory – through our relationship and intimacy with the Father, we retain joy. He is joy! His presence is pure joy and filled with ecstasy!
    • = rapture. Shekhinah – “that which dwells”; the splendor, glory, or presence of God that dwells among His people is used by the Targoemis and rabbi to reveal God Himself because legalistic Judaism does not like to attribute form or emotion to divinity. It refers to times when God revealed Himself visibly, such as on Mount Sinai (Ex. 24: 9-18) and in the Most Holy of the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple.
    • This term does not appear in the Bible. It was later used by Jews and Christians borrowed it from them to express the visible majesty of the divine Presence, especially when He rested or stood still between the cherubim on the mercy seat in the tabernacle and Solomon’s temple.
  • The Shekinah is the closest Jewish equivalent to the Holy Spirit. Early Christian ecstasy: The early church had an element of ecstatic prophecy. John describes his ecstatic experience as follows: “I was in the Spirit on the day of the Lord” (Rev. 1:10). This incident and also others he describes involve an out-of-body experience during which John saw visions of the heavenly realm, and received commands and revelations from God and / or the glorified Christ. Peter (Acts 11: 5) and Paul (2 Cor. 12: 1-7) had similar ecstatic experiences.
  • Eph 5:18: Be not drunk with wine, but be drunk with / filled with the Holy Spirit. Full of joy, filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:52; compare Acts 2: 2 – the outpouring of the Holy Spirit).
  • Eugene Peterson says the Hebrew stem of the word for “prosperity” should rather be translated as “leisure” – the relaxed attitude of someone who knows everything is right because God is over us, is with us and for us is in Jesus Christ. “as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” (2 Cor. 6:10).
  • Fruit of His character permanently in us – Joy is part of the fruit of the Spirit. And the fruit is singular. The primary fruit is love! The other eight fruits are a maturity of love. Compare 1 Cor. 13: 3-4: Love is patient, kind, and so on. Joy, cheerfulness are an inherent quality of love. There are mainly two primary emotions we experience as human beings – either love or fear. Anger, revenge and hate is the highest emotion of fear. Euphoric, sparkling, jubilant joy is the highest emotion of love! To be reconciled to God, and to be right with Him, brings peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 8:17).

Joy Thieves

This oneness with God and with one another is only possible if one’s heart is completely free from offense (resentment). Afrikaners struggle with this word. The dictionary translates offense as follows:

  • to take offense, be resentful, offended, feel insulted, disturbed, touchy, hurt.
  • Luke 17: 1-5 teaches us the steps to follow if someone comes too close to us. The more you follow these steps, the stronger you become and the less you feel overwhelmed.

Joy And Gladness Is A Spiritual Weapon

  • Joy strengthens us under oppression: “Great is my boldness of speech toward you, great is my boasting on your behalf. I am filled with comfort. I am exceedingly joyful in all our tribulation.” (2 Cor. 7:4).“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another.”” (Rom. 15:13-14).
  • Joy strengthens your faith. Hope and joy are partners.
  • Joy is the keeper and bearer of hope. Joyful anticipation of hope. Joy keeps you in the atmosphere of faith, hope and the supernatural!
  • Joy makes us better witnesses of Jesus’ life. His narration of parables and clever humor disarmed His listeners to listen with a fresh ear and an open heart. A lively, upbeat and joyful teacher will not struggle to get his or her children’s attention.
  • Inner joy and happiness are an antidote to addiction. Someone who experiences inner joy is not going to try to chemically supplement or get it. You are full!

Celebration In Christ Jesus

Who does not like a party? Party tables full of delicious treats; music and dancing; laughter and chatting; watching the most beautiful sunset with your best friends – a holy feast! The well-known Northern Irish praise group Rend Collective has created a hit album in the art of celebration: It was number-one in the genre, Christian album, and deals with the lost art of still being able to celebrate in the most difficult of circumstances.

Jesus’ message is an invitation to a feast! In fact, He is the sum-total of all the Old Testament feasts. “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” (Col. 2:16-17).

Jesus invites everybody to the celebration! “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.” (Luke 14:13). “Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke14:23).

Jesus loved to go to celebrations even before His ministry began. The wedding in Cana (John 2). “Then Levi gave Him a great feast in his own house. And there were a great number of tax collectors and others who sat down with them.” (Luke 5:29).

The first church was known for their Agape Love meals. And of course the abuses (Jude 1:12; 1 Cor. 11: 17-31), when people only think of themselves and do not recognize the need of people around them. Of course, Jesus also created two spontaneous feasts by multiplying the loaves – the 5,000 (Matt. 14:16) and the 4,000 (Matt. 15:27).

Our heavenly reunion is going to be a wonderful feast (Heb. 12:22; 2 Pet. 1:11; Rev. 3:20; 19:17).

The gatherings of believers should no only be solemn but holy feasts of refreshment in the Holy Spirit. Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19). “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:18-19).

Only a life on a journey with Jesus can bring about this festivity!

Jesus is a feast!


[1] Eldredge, J. (2013). Beautiful outlaw. New York: FaithWords.

[2] Lawrence, R. (n.d.). Shrewd.

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