In his book Abundant Living, E. Stanley Jones observed, “The early Christians did not say in dismay, ‘look what the world has come to,’ but in delight, ‘look what has come into the world.’”
What has come is Jesus Christ. Through the miracle of his incarnation, he made God visible to us: “No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side — he has revealed him” (John 1:18, CSB). Yet God’s Son did not merely bring the grace, justice, peace, love, and truth of God with his arrival, but also his eternal happiness.
Jesus himself says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). One translation renders this verse, “I have told you this to make you as completely happy as I am.”
Birth of Exceeding Joy
We see glimpses of that happiness reflected in the wise men, who were “overwhelmed with joy” (Matthew 2:10, CSB) to see the star pointing toward Jesus. Mary, Elizabeth, the shepherds, the angels, Simeon, and Anna also were overcome with happiness at the Messiah’s coming, and the preborn John jumped for joy at the presence of Jesus (Luke 1:44).
“God’s Son did not merely bring grace, justice, peace, love, and truth, but also his eternal happiness.”
Consider the angel’s message to the shepherds at Jesus’s birth: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). This is not just an announcement of joy but great joy — the best news there has ever been or ever will be. But sadly, many people overlook or completely miss the happiness of Jesus and the joy he brings, throughout the year and even at Christmastime. Ask a random group of believers and unbelievers, “Who is the happiest human being who ever lived?” and very few, if any, would give the correct answer: Jesus.
Gladness Beyond His Companions
The Bible clearly teaches that although he also was called “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3), he also exceeded all humanity in his joy. The author of Hebrews captures Psalm 45:6–7 and applies it to the Messiah, where 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” (Hebrews 1:8–9).
Who are Jesus’s companions in this passage? Given the context of Hebrews 1, where Jesus is portrayed as God incarnate, “companions” probably refers to all his fellow humans. This appears to be a direct affirmation that the gladness of Jesus exceeds that of all humans who have ever lived. Reflecting on 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” (Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ).
When I wrote my first graphic novel, I had to decide how I wanted the artist to portray Jesus’s face in a typical scene. Having read the Gospels many times and known Jesus for over 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 anguished 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!
If we picture Jesus walking around in perpetual sadness or anger, grumbling and looking to condemn rather than to extend grace, we’re not seeing the Jesus revealed in the Bible.
Christ’s Everyday Happiness
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 (NCV) renders the verse, “The Lord makes me very happy; all that I am rejoices in my God.”
“A gospel not characterized by overwhelming gladness isn’t the gospel.”
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’s 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.”
Man of Sorrows
Yes, the Messiah is called “a man of sorrows” specifically in relationship to his redemptive work (Isaiah 53:3). 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, as we too can know, 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.
His Happiness Matters
This present world is still cursed with sin, suffering, and sorrow, but these obstacles can’t trump the joy or diminish the light that dawned at Christ’s incarnation. He has already come, and with him came grace, hope, redemption — and happiness.
Each stanza of “O Come, All Ye Faithful” contains sentiments of true happiness: “joyful and triumphant,” “sing in exultation,” “born this happy morning.” Joy, exultation, and happiness are proper responses to Jesus and the gospel, which tells us that in Christ we are created by God, loved by him, redeemed, indwelt with and empowered by his Spirit, and assured of an eternally happy and abundant life in his presence. What happiness is ours! That’s why a gospel not characterized by overwhelming gladness isn’t the gospel. A Christmas without a deep, God-given happiness isn’t reflecting the good news of Jesus.
Charles Spurgeon preached, “Jesus — man, yet God. Jesus — allied to us in ties of blood — oh, here is a reason for holy mirth! Here is Christmas all the year round!” (“How to Become Full of Joy”). It’s hard to overstate the liberating, gladness-producing result when Christ’s people recognize and share his happiness. Knowing a Savior who is so happy that his delight spills out in the universe and in us changes everything, both now and forever.
So, may the happiness of Jesus be a central part of the fantastic good news we share with a hopeless, desperate world — not only each Christmas, but all throughout the year.