A few weeks ago, I stumbled across an art exhibition called “Jesus Laughing.” It’s made up of 60 paintings, drawings, and papercuts from sixteen different countries. The purpose of the project, according to one of its organizers, Sir Maxwell Macleod, is to show that “Jesus was a cheerful, exciting character and not the miserable man in a nighty with a plate attached to his head” who is so often portrayed in art. Those involved with the project want to emphasize that Jesus came to bring joy to the world, not to make us miserable, guilt-ridden wrecks, nor to turn our minds constantly to suffering.
So, as a spinoff of the “Happy Jesus” series, I’d like to now ask the question, “What makes Jesus happy?” What are some of the things that he smiled about and is still smiling about today? Jesus delights in . . . what, exactly?
This question has many answers, and throughout the next week or so, I’d like to suggest just a few of them, using the “Jesus Laughing” pieces as illustrative aids.
First, an episode that resonates with me, and one that I’ve treated before in a previous post on “Doubting Thomas.”
Jesus delights in revealing himself to us—in a way that is real and personal and tailored to our own particular mode of knowing and accepting. The disciple Thomas needed to see the resurrected Jesus physically before he could profess faith in him as Lord. Other individuals may be persuaded more by a beautiful sunset, or by an inner prompting of guilt or moral obligation, or by a passage of Scripture, or by a dream or vision. Whatever our communication preference, if we are honest in our seeking, Jesus will reveal himself to us. And it pleases him to do so.
Even when we are not seeking him, he still speaks in a general way and is happy when we open ourselves up to his voice. But most of all, it makes him happy when we respond, like Thomas, by professing faith in him and committing our lives to the fuller knowing and spreading of his truth. I leave you with a Bible passage, Philippians 3:10-16. The words are written by Paul (who himself experienced one very real, very direct revelation), but I’d like you to read them in light of Wardani’s painting (in a Thomarist context) and also to consider making Paul’s goal your own:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.
What is this “prize” Paul speaks of? It’s knowing Jesus in the fullness of his glory. That involves not only acknowledging his suffering, death, and resurrection, but experiencing these things personally. Touching the nail prints, but then going one further and actually identifying with them in your own life. If you know Jesus, you can claim his power over sin and death, you can claim his joy in the midst of suffering, and you can anticipate the glorious resurrection of your body and soul. This is what makes Jesus happy: to reveal to us his glory, and to bring us into it.