Whose Idea Was
Where love radiates its joy, there we have a feast.
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The secret of Jesus was and is His inner joy. That is the message of this book. Many intimations in the New Testament lead us to believe that while in our midst, Jesus had a cheerful disposition and a merry heart.
Here is what Gilbert Chesterton wrote at the close of his book Orthodoxy:1 "He [Jesus] concealed something . . . . He restrained something . . . There was something that He hid from all men . . . some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth." (jollity, lightness of heart)
That is a fascinating suggestion, with all kinds of ingenious ramifications. Even so, had I the temerity to respond, I would dare to suggest that mirth is only part of the secret. Mirth according to the dictionary is spontaneous amusement, manifested briefly. It is a pleasant temporary expression of a disposition to hilarity or glee. By contrast, the joy of the Lord is actually a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and is therefore a radiant condition of the soul.
Jesus' soul condition is described by my actor friend, Bruce Marciano, in these sparkling words which I have borrowed from his recent book In the Footsteps of Jesus:
Yes, Jesus smiled; yes, Jesus laughed. Jesus smiled wider and laughed heartier than any human being who has ever walked the planet. He was young. He radiated good cheer. The real Jesus was a man of such merriment, such gladness of heart, such freedom and openness, that He proved irresistible. He became known through Galilee for His genuine strength, the sparkle in His eyes, the spring in His gait, the heartiness in His laugh, the genuineness of His touch; His passion, playfulness, excitement, and vitality: His JOY! He made a dazzling display of love. He set hearts afire. He was an elated, triumphant young man with an incredible quality of life . . . so different from the solemn religious types He constantly encountered.
We ourselves may also express the joy of the Lord in smiles and laughter and good cheer, but those are not the only ways. We participate in His joy through acts of worship, praise, prayer, and song, in witnessing to the saving grace of God and in helping others.
One statement in the Gospel of Luke will illustrate what I mean. It will bring us close to what I call Jesus' secret. "At that time Jesus, full of joy through the Holy Spirit, said, 'I praise you, Father' " (Luke 10:21). That verse brings together God the Father, the Son of God, the Holy Spirit, and joy in worship.
Such a verse (and others like it) clearly suggest that our Lord Jesus was equipped with a buoyant disposition. If so, where did He get it? From what Source? On the human side, of course, there was His mother Mary, a true daughter of the Hebrew race. The Hebrew people have always been known as a joyous, singing, festive people. To this the Old Testament bears faithful witness, for beyond its inspired history and prophecy it contains the record of a great people's songs and celebrations.
Christians who have tapped the secret of Jesus' inner joy like to think it came from an even more profound source namely, from heaven. According to our scriptural authorities, heaven is the fountainhead for all such blessings: "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above" (James 1:17). Where else could joy have originated?
The Gospel of Luke tells us that before Mary was wed to Joseph, the angel Gabriel paid her a visit.2 He informed her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her. She would then bear a son whose name was Jesus, and He would be called the Son of the Highest. The Gospel of Matthew also says that an angel also told Joseph that Mary would give birth to a Son, whom Joseph would name Jesus, because He would save His people from their sins.3
When Mary went to visit her cousin Elizabeth prior to the birth of Jesus. Luke says that she declared, "My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!"4 Is anything more beautiful than Luke's story of the first Christmas, when the joy of the angels filled the air above Bethlehem? Today Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, at which time we recall the wondrous sings that accompanied that event, and especially the message of the angels bringing "good tidings of great joy . . . to all people."5
Later, in the unfolding of Scripture to the church, Jesus became recognized not only as the Son of God, but also as the Second Person of the Godhead and the Logos or Word who was in the beginning with God. Such profound theological concepts are not easily grasped by the human mind. To take them in, in order that we might look for the source of joy in Jesus' life, it becomes necessary to go back not merely to the first century, nor to the antediluvian or Mesozoic or Paleozoic eras, nor even to the beginning of time itself, but farther back into eternity.
Let me invite you to step out on the patio of our modest home. It is a clear, beautiful night. Just for a moment let us forget the problems that face us and gaze up at the moon, the stars, and the planets. As we watch we see the majestic Power of the
universe at work, and we find it easy to attribute personality to this mighty Power. We love Him. He is our God, whom we Christians call Father. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.
Psalm 19 begins with these thrilling words:
The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the firmament shows His handiwork.
Not everyone has such a poetic view of the cosmic beginning. In fact many people, when they get a good look at the starry heavens on a clear night, say they feel uncomfortable. Creation to them is a baffling puzzle. If they wonder, "Whose idea was all this anyway?" they probably dismiss the thought with "What does it have to do with me?"
Well, whose idea was it? When we turn to Revelation 4 we find the answer. John the apostle tells us that when in the Spirit on the island of Patmos, he saw four living creatures giving glory and honor and thanks before the throne of the Lord God Almighty. He also saw 24 elders, each bowing down before the throne and worshiping God with the words (in the King James Version) "O Lord . . . thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."6
This word of praise seems to give us a hint as to why God brought about the creation: He is God! He does as He pleases. He is beholden to no one and is in nobody's pocket. He created the universe in the first place not primarily to demonstrate His power or to declare His glory (which He does magnificently), but simply to fulfill His personal desire by doing something that gave Him pleasure. Surely one can infer from the elders' praise that they understood that deep within the heart of God is a joy expressing itself in His mighty acts of creation.
We humble mortals, when we are in a creative mood, easily recognize the presence of joy that comes along with our own creativity. Not for nothing did God make us in His image and likeness! Augustine writes in his Confessions that in his search for God he went to the "crawling things" of the sea and asked
them to tell him something about God. In response they all cried out with a loud voice, "He made us!"7 The book of Job tells us that when the creation took shape, the morning stars sang together and "all the sons of God shouted for joy" (Job 38:7).
I love the way my friend Dr. Shadrach Meshach Lockridge, one of America's great preachers, describes the forming of the universe. He says with a straight face, "God came from nowhere because there was nowhere for Him to come from. And coming from nowhere, He stood on nothing because there was nowhere for Him to stand. And standing on nothing, He reached out where there was nothing to reach, caught something when there was nothing to catch, and hung something on nothing and told it to stay there!"
So God, if our understanding of the text in Revelation is correct, hung something on nothing, and brought creation into existence and continues to sustain it. He did all this for His own pleasure, because He desired to do it. Not for power, not for glory, but for joy.
1. G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1959), p. 160.
2. Luke 1:26ff.
3. Matthew 1:20,21.
4. Luke 1:46, 47.
5. Luke 2:10.
6. Revelation 4:11 KJV
7. Augustine's Confessions, Book X, 6.
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