By Pastor Glenn Pease
A funny thing happened to Jesus on the way to heaven. He met people, and as we all know, people are funny. Jesus was a real person as well, and he had a great sense of humor. I am so sure of this that I wrote a poem about it.
Jesus had a sense of humor,
Of this truth there is no doubt.
It is based on more than rumor,
If we search we'll find it out.
His was a real human spirit,
And we know that this is true.
He was human, not just near it.
He could laugh like me and you.
He's the One who gave us laughter
And made funny things galore.
And we know in the hereafter
We will laugh for ever more.
Jesus is the Lord of laughter
And for ever He will be.
He of humor is the Master,
He'll be that eternally.
Many doubt the truth of what I am saying, for they have heard it said that it is recorded that Jesus wept, but never recorded that he laughed. This is the argument from silence, which is a foolish way to come to any conclusion about Jesus, or anyone else for that matter. It is also not recorded that he ever smiled, or that any of the Apostles ever smiled or laughed. And so the logical conclusion is that Jesus and all of His followers were living in direct violation of all that the Bible reveals about laughter, good cheer, and rejoicing. Neither is there a record of his ever washing his hair, and so are we to assume he was not a clean person? There is no record of him ever hugging and kissing his mother. Was he really so cold and thoughtless as that? Folly! And we could go on and on with all that is not said and come to foolish conclusions.
Even the pessimistic author of Ecclesiastes said there is a time to laugh in 3:4, and Jesus had many opportunities to laugh as he dealt daily with people who were experiencing miracles that restored loved ones to them in health, and some even from the dead. Every night He would sit around the camp fire with 12 men, and who can imagine such a picture without joking and laughter. Jesus and His disciples would have to be total freaks of nature and not ideal men to never fill the night air with laughter after a day of the marvelous teaching and miracles of Jesus. It was definitely a time to laugh.
Tal Bonham wrote the book, Humor: God's Gift. It is one of the best you can read, and in it he writes, "Have you ever thought of Jesus as throwing back His head and engaging in a good, hearty laugh? Can you imagine Jesus telling a joke? Or a ripple of laughter in the crowd while He spoke? And can you hear Him saying 'That reminds me of a funny thing that happened in Nazareth when I was a boy'?"
"I contend that, from the beginning of His life to the end of His life on earth, Jesus was surrounded by and caused joy, happiness, merriment, gladness, rejoicing, delight, and laughter." Luke 10:21 and 19:37.
In our text we are using for a starting point we read, "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, "I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed then to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure." All three members of the Godhead are here associated with joy and pleasure. It is because God is the creator of joy and pleasure, and Jesus exhibited joy on its highest level, and this would be impossible had he never had the joy and pleasure of laughter. Deny him this and you do not have the ideal man and the perfect specimen of manhood, but a being unlike the best of men that we know of in history.
One of the best quotes in Bonham's book is that by Country Humorous Minnie Pearl. She had this to say about the solemn images of Jesus in religious paintings: "I don't agree with the image many Christians have of Christ as the sad, tragic man depicted in most religious paintings. You can't tell me He didn't laugh, or that He wasn't happy. I think He had a great sense of humor. If He had walked along the Sea of Galilee with a look of doom on His face I don't believe for a minute all those people would have followed Him. I think they found such joy in His presence they were willing to leave everything behind to go with Him. I am certain He knew the value of humor and the power of a smile."
When God is blessing people there is laughter, and never was He blessing people more than in the ministry of His Son. Look at the joy of people in the Old Testament when God blest. As the Jews returned from exile in Babylon, the Psalmist recorded this observation: "Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, 'The Lord has done great things for them'" Ps. 126:2. He was doing even greater things through Jesus, and He and those with him had to laugh and rejoice or they would be very abnormal.
The heavenly Father of Jesus has a great sense of humor and a spirit of joy, and Jesus is the express image of the Father and so we can assume that Jesus had the same joy and gladness of His Father. We read this of God: "Sing, 0 daughter of Zion; shout, 0 Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, 0 daughter of Jerusalem.... He will rejoice over thee with joy; He will rest in His love, He will joy over thee with singing" - Zephaniah 3:14,17. As God the Father entered into the joy of His people, so Jesus would enter into the joy of the people who followed Him.
Man is the only creature that was made to laugh. We are made in the image of God and have this unique characteristic that no other creature possesses. This leads to the logical conclusion that God is a God of laughter, for we are made to laugh, and so this must be a part of the image of God. To be fully human is to be able to laugh. To be fully human is to be Godlike, and this means laughter has to be a characteristic of one's being. Humor then is both human and divine, for it has its origin in the nature of God. If Jesus was both God and man, then he had the gift of laughter and a sense of humor in greater proportion than any other person who ever lived. Helen Salsbury wrote,
Dear God, we make you so solemn,
So stiff and old and staid-
How can we be so stupid
When we look at the things you've made?
Who watches the ostrich swallow,
Then doubts you like to play,
Or questions your sense of humor,
Hearing the donkey bray?
Could the God who made the monkey
Have forgotten how to laugh-
Or the one who striped the zebra
And stretched out the giraffe?
To be truly human and to be an encouraging type of person you need to have a good sense of humor. If Jesus was the perfect man, then it follows that he had the perfect sense of humor. All agree that this is a vital factor in the ideal person.
John ends his Gospel by saying that Jesus did many things that are not written, for the whole world could not contain the books that would result if all was recorded. In that massive amount of material that is not recorded is much that has to be implied by what is recorded, and all we know of Jesus implies much laughter and smiling. It is arrogant and presumptuous for anyone to pretend that they know what is not in that massive material about Jesus that is not recorded. Is it possible that Jesus had many a good time laughing with his disciples? Of course it is, and that is what this book is determined to prove beyond any reasonable doubt. Jesus is our example and the pattern for life. If he did not smile and laugh then he makes the ideal life for the believer one of a sad and solemn face only, and not the joyful and vibrant face of one who has assurance of sin forgiven and eternal life.
It is foolish to try and understand the nature of Jesus by what is not said of him. We need to look at what is said, and what He said Himself to know about His sense of humor and laughter. Before we look at examples of this we want to quote those who have studied the life of Jesus and have come to the conclusion that He was, and is, the Lord of laughter.
Max Lucado has written much on the life of Jesus, and he make some strong statements about His humor. In his book God Came Near he writes, "In Nazareth he was known only as Jesus, the son of Joseph. You can be sure he was respected in the community. He was good with his hands. He had many friends. He was a favorite among the children. He could tell a good joke and had a habit of filling the air with contagious laughter."
Lucado does an excellent job of getting Jesus down on a level where He can appeal to the world as He did in his ministry. Jesus was not some ivory tower philosopher, or some hidden high priest seldom seen by the masses. He was down where the rubber meets the road. He was among the people, and not just the important people of leadership. He was among the common people, and He was at their weddings and their banquets, and their parties of all kinds. He was such a party person that His critics called Him a wine bibber and a glutton. He was having far too much fun in life for the sad sack Pharisees who looked like death warmed over because of their fasting to show how holy they were. Jesus did not fast, nor did his disciples. He was a feaster and a fun lover, and He loved to be with the people who were rejoicing because they were being healed, fed, and blest in many ways for which they were praising God.
Chuck Swindoll in the forward to the book Choosing The Amusing wrote, "Of all the things God created, I am often most grateful that he created laughter. How I love to have fun! In all honesty, I can hardly imagine a day spent without at least a few moments(preferably many) of sidesplitting laughter...either alone or with someone who can enjoy them as much as I. What healing it brings to our heavy hearts!" Millions of pastors and lay people through history would agree, and because of this they cannot imagine that Jesus did not love laughter as well.
It is the conclusion of wise men of all time that laughter and a good sense of humor is a vital characteristic of any ideal personality. Jesus was the only perfect man to ever live, and it is a logical conclusion that this means he had an ideal sense of humor. This should also be a characteristic of those who follow Jesus.
Elton Trueblood wrote the first book I ever read years ago on the humor of Jesus. It is called The Humor of Christ, and it got its start with the laughter of a child at a funny thing that Jesus said. Trueblood writes about it, and here is his story.
"The germ of the idea which has finally led to the writing of this book was planted many years ago when our eldest son was four years old. We were reading to him from the seventh chapter of Matthew's Gospel, feeling very serious, when suddenly the little boy began to laugh. He laughed because he saw how preposterous it would be for a man to be so deeply concerned about a speck in another person's eye, that he was unconscious of the fact his own eye had a beam in it. Because the child understood perfectly that the human eye is not large enough to have a beam in it, the very idea struck him as ludicrous. His gay laughter was a rebuke to his parents for their failure to respond to humor in an unexpected place." Trueblood goes on to write-
"Anyone who reads the Synoptic Gospels with a relative freedom from presuppositions might be expected to see that Christ laughed, and that He expected others to laugh, but our capacity to miss this aspect of His life is phenomenal. We are so sure that He was always deadly serious that we often twist His words in order to try to make them conform to our preconceived mold. A misguided piety has made us fear that acceptance of His obvious wit and humor would somehow be mildly blasphemous or sacrilegious. Religion, we think, is serious business, and serious business is incompatible with banter." There are endless quotes by those who agree with him.
Martin Luther "It is pleasing to the dear God whenever thou rejoicest or laughest from the bottom of thy heart."
Charles Gruner "Human societies treasure laughter and whatever can produce it. Without laughter everyday living becomes drab and lifeless; life would seem hardly human at all. Likewise, a sense of humor is generally considered a person's most admirable attribute. Indeed, few people would be willing to admit that they are deficient in this quality."
John Wesley "A sour religion is the devil's religion."
Terry Lindvall "The joy of heaven incarnates in the humor of earth."
Samuel Johnson "The size of man's understanding might be justly measured by his mirth."
George MacDonald "It is the heart that is not yet sure of its God that is afraid to laugh in His presence."
Henry Ward Beecher put it this way: "A man without mirth is like a wagon without springs. He is jolted by every pebble in the road."
Jesus had a normal life as a boy, and this means he played with friends and would, like all boys, do his share of fun things, and have laughs with his playmates. When Mary and Joseph could not find him after their visit to Jerusalem when he was a young boy, they headed for home assuming that he was with his friends, as we read in Luke 2:44. It was common for Jesus to be playing with others as a young boy, and they thought nothing of it. They did not worry about Jesus even though they did not see him, for to be off playing with others was a part of his life. John Oxenham wrote,
He was a boy like other boys,
And played and sported with the rest.
He has his troubles and his joys,
And strove for mastery with the best.
He was a boy like you-and you-
As full of jokes, as full of fun.
But always he was bravely true,
And did no wrong to anyone.
If this be so, then we would expect to see Jesus grow up as a healthy adult with a good sense of humor. When we go to the Gospels what do we see? We are so brain washed into thinking that Jesus was always serious, sober, and even sad, that we miss all his humor. Until recent times nobody ever saw a picture of Jesus smiling or laughing. But let's stop and do some thinking. Jesus said he came to give us life and life more abundant. He told his disciples that he was leaving them with his joy to be in them. One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy, and Jesus was filled with the Spirit. When you put that altogether, it sounds like a foolish contradiction to think that Jesus never smiled or laughed.
Tennyson did not miss seeing the reality of it, and he said that humor is generally most fruitful in the most solemn spirits, and, "You will even find it in the Gospel of Christ." Much of the humor of Jesus is in short statements of irony, or of the ridiculous. When we read Mark 4:21 we see nothing funny, but if I said in modern language, what do you think of John Smith, who built his home with all the light fixtures under the bed? You would chuckle and say how stupid can you get! That is what Jesus is saying. You don't go get a candle and then stick it under the bed. This is a humorous way of saying how ridiculous for a Christian to hide his testimony when that is the very reason for his existence, to let light shine.
When Jesus denounced the Pharisees we see his sense of humor in the exaggerated pictures. We see him picture a cup all clean on the outside, but inside filthy; we see a blind man leading another blind man and both fall into the ditch; we see a camel going through the eye of a needle, and of swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat. We need to note that Jesus had a humorous way of expressing himself.
Jesus spent a good deal of time in celebration, and he spoke of celebration in such a way that you know he loved a good party and a good time of fellowship and socializing with people. This is impossible to conceive of him in those situations and not laughing with the rest of the participants. He began his ministry at the wedding of Cana. It was a great time of fun and laughter and Jesus was a contributor to the joy of the occasion by his miracle supply of new wine. Listen to his description of the party at the return of the Prodigal. "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly, bring out a robe--the best one--and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!' And they began to celebrate, (Luke 15:22-24, NRSV)."
Some prefer to think of Jesus out with the older brother refusing to go in to laugh, dance and sing with the joy of the party, but those with common sense recognize that every normal man on earth would be enjoying laughter in such a setting as that. It is hard to imagine a party or celebration of any kind in which joyful people do not express that joy with laughter. Their are killjoys that cannot laugh in any situation, but God forbid that we put our Lord in that category. The perfect and ideal man is not that sulking brother outside the party, but the rejoicing Lord who added his laughter to every party he was a part of.
Paul King Jewett said, "It has been documented that laughter, along with a well-rounded sense of humor, is one of the surest signs of intelligence." If Jesus was intelligent, and we know He was, then He would have a great sense of humor.
Alfred North Whitehead said that he had always noticed "That deeply and truly religious persons are very found a joke," and he admitted "I am suspicious of those who are not." Billy Sunday added, "If you have no joy in your religion, there's a leak in your Christianity somewhere."
"The ability to laugh is one of the most characteristic and deep-seated features of man." Raymond A. Moody.
"Laughter is fundamentally an act of celebrating existence. Laughter is an expression both of enjoyment and of thanksgiving." Conrad Hyers.
"The most thoroughly and substantially a human being exist, the more he will discover the comical." Kierkegaard.
"A Christian theologian without a sense of humor seems to be a contradiction in terms." John E. Benson.
These, and hundred of others just confirms that the perfect humanity of Jesus demands that He be one with an excellent sense of humor, and one gifted with the spirit of laughter on a higher level than the average.
Jesus spread good cheer everywhere He went, and especially to His disciples.
Vance Havner claimed that our Lord gave every believer "three cheers":
The cheer of forgiveness: "Be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee." Matt. 9:2.
The cheer of companionship: "Be of good cheer: It is I; be not afraid." Mark 6:50.
The cheer of victory: "Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world." John 16:33.
Fulton J. Sheen said, "We are made for His gladness and His cheerfulness, and we shall not be able to fulfill our destiny until we know how to be glad."
Henri Cormier in his book, The Humor Of Jesus, says that the fear of looking at the laughter of Jesus is due to our neglect of his humanity. We think we will detract from his deity, dignity and majesty by portraying him with a sense of humor. In other words, we will ignore the clear teaching of His word to exalt him in a way that he rejected. He wants us to feel he was one with us, and truly human. In contrast Cormier writes, "...he has a perfect humor, because he enjoys primacy in everything, since he is the psychologist, the pedagogue, the psychiatrist, the sociologist par excellence. etc." He reminds us, however, that it takes a sense of humor to find a sense of humor. Those who do not have it will not find it in Jesus, for they feel it is not a value to possess. They are wrong!
Leslie Weatherhead in his book When The Lamp Flickers writes, "I expect he was the life and soul of the party. I should like a manuscript to be discovered which said that he told funnier stories than anybody and had the table in a roar of happy mirth. Indeed, through all his parables the grace of a lovely humor lightens the lessons he tried to teach. It is incongruous to hear the fun taken out of his stories. It is sometimes really funny to hear some solemn, ponderous parson trying to pretend that there is no humor in Christ's words, and reading the story of the man who choked at a fly and swallowed a camel, or of the man who put his lamp under the bed instead of on the lamp stand, or of the man who couldn't come to a feast because he had married a wife, and so on-with a score of other illustrations one could give-as if the words "Here beginneth the first lesson" must necessarily precede some solemn exhortation from which all humor must be rigorously excluded."
Gary Webster in LAUGHTER IN THE BIBLE, writes, "...attentive reading of the gospel record reveals that Jesus certainly did have a well-developed sense of humor. In fact, he employed humor in such a variety of ways and upon so large a scale that it can be regarded as a major element in his recorded teachings."
I could go on and on quoting from men and women who have studied Jesus and His teaching and are fully convinced that he was gifted with a great sense of humor. Those who have this gift are better able to cope with all the trials of this fallen world, and better able to hope for the world to come. Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and it is vital that believers bring the joy and laughter of Jesus to a world in endless need of healing, hope, and encouragement. If you lack a sense of humor, it is time to be praying this prayer that someone composed:
Prayer for a Sense of Humor
Lord Jesus Christ, for some reason many Christians seem to lack a sense of humor. They become so bogged down in the gravity of things that they are perpetually tense and serious-minded. I ask today that I may cultivate a sense of humor and use it to help others as well as myself. Let me realize that humor is also a creation of yours and that a smile is one of the greatest blessings of life. Teach me to stress the positive side of life and develop a fine sense of humor. Amen.
If anyone is interested in deeper study, here are the 30 passages that Trueblood writes about in his book. It is hard to see the humor in some of them, but easy in others.
Matt. 6:2,5,16 Luke Mark
7:12 Luke 6:37
15:5 Mark 7:9-13
19:24 18:25 10:25