Was Jesus happy?

Oh, I know, I know. Recent video portrayals of Him show Him laughing, joking with the disciples. Only problem is, no biblical evidence for this exists.

Ok, Jim, so now you’re going to advocate for a humorless, somber Christianity. Great, Jim. Just great.

Not so fast. The case can be made that Christians should indeed be happy. The word “blessed,” which occurs often in the New Testament, indicates that. The investigation of this “blessed” idea is a study in itself, but the following passage should give us a good overall view of happiness or blessedness as it is portrayed in the New Testament: “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:15–17).1

This kind of happiness is different from, well, buying the latest smart phone. It is rooted in the character of God and our following Jesus’ example and teaching. Nevertheless, it is safe to say that Jesus was happy. How that happiness played out when He walked the earth, well, we just don’t know any more than what Scripture indicates.

Along with that understanding of happiness, however, we can’t escape the reality of Isaiah 53.

“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces. He was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:2–4).

Jesus was a man of sorrows. Acquainted with grief. His own people rejected and despised Him—the God of their forefathers. His own disciples were disloyal.

We see two incidents where Jesus cried. One was at Lazarus’ tomb. We are not told why He cried, but I speculated in the book, The God We Do No Know: “Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus. We are not told why. Was He crying over the reality of death and the sadness it brings? Was His weeping an intermingling of profound joy and deep sorrow because He knew in the unfathomable depths of His being that He would die to defeat such death, such soul-crushing grief?”2

Jesus also wept over Jerusalem. In this passage, we are given some understanding of the reason: “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation’” (Luke 19:41–44).

Jerusalem and the Temple would be destroyed several years later because God’s own people did not know their Messiah had visited them.

Earlier in Luke, Jesus had lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 13:34–35).

Israel had rejected their God’s lordship for millennia. He allowed them to be defeated by their enemies. He allowed them to be taken captive to a foreign country. They killed, ignored, and stoned the prophets whom He sent to call them to repentance. Israel was the people He Himself chose to glorify His name in the earth. Yet, here they were, ignorant, rebellious, unknowing.

I take three things away from these truths.

First, I will be happy—the Bible kind of happy—if I endeavor to incorporate into my life the godly characteristics as they are taught in the New Testament. That is where true happiness lies, which is not necessarily the happiness that the world offers, although I think we would all agree there is a mingling of those types of happiness. Marriage and having children are two examples that come immediately to mind.

Second, I am like Israel. I must constantly be aware that I am a hair’s breadth from ignoring Him, denying Him. I should never be proud of who I am by man’s measure.

Third, I should be challenged by Jesus’ sorrowful nature. It is easy for me to remain unchallenged by the sorrow that Jesus must have continually felt for the destructiveness of sin, rebellion, and darkness. I have recently read that a famine is looming in southeast Africa that may take the lives of twenty million people. Twenty million. Do I care about that? Kinda. Am I sorrowful that people are losing their eternal lives every day? Somewhat. That the Church has been compromised by sin and the culture? Somewhat. That disciples are so difficult to find? A little. Lamenting like Jesus that His people have found Him unrecognizable?

So, we come to the fourth thing I hope I have learned here. It seems clear that I need to pray that I am burdened, pray to be sorrowful over these issues because I am not, not in the way Jesus was. The suffering, the ignorance, the loss of millions of souls to a no-hope eternity, the falling away of the Church; these are just too easy for me to ignore, unless they strike close to home.

Lord, please give me a heart that sorrowfully laments for these things. I do not possess it on my own.

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

2 Jim Thomson, The God We Do Not Know. (Eugene: Resource, 2016), 122-123.