"Bruce, I have one word for you: JOY!"
THESE WERE THE WORDS SPOKEN to me by film director Regardt van den Bergh over lunch in December 1992. He had asked me, an actor, to play the role of Jesus in The Visual Bible: The Gospel of Matthew, and this was the sum total of his direction joy.
I will never forget it as long as I live. He whipped a dog-eared Bible out of his rear pocket, cracked it open to Hebrews 1:9, and read straight from the Scriptures: "Therefore God, Your God, has set You above Your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." Then he looked me in the eye with all the conviction of a man who would bet everything he owns on something he knows beyond knowing and proclaimed, "Bruce, I've prayed and prayed about this, and I'm convinced this is what the Lord would have us do in Matthew: to portray Jesus as a man of joy."
I remember staring blankly across the table at Regardt that afternoon, cautiously nodding. I had no idea at the time, but his words would rewrite completely my understanding of my Savior and liberate me into a level of relationship with Him I never dreamed possible. And what's more, those same words expressed on film many months later would liberate untold thousands across the planet into a level of relationship with the Savior they never dreamed possible. And all of it stemmed from what could very well be the most obvious, most overlooked, most disregarded, most neglected, most misunderstood, most undefined,
most manipulated left-behind, swept-under-the-carpet-and-barred-from-hallowed-church-halls reality in all of Christendom: that Jesus was a man of joy.
"But, Bruce, what's the big deal? So Jesus laughed. So Jesus smiled. So what if He was a nice guy to be around. After all, I've got premillennial dispensationalism to think about, and then there's the 10-40 window, and choir practice, and that homeschooling seminar. And besides, God is serious business, and what have wrath and judgment got to do with joy and smiling and stuff like that? Stuff that's, well, frankly, for kids." And I think Jesus might reply: "Have you never read, 'from the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'? And unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven . . . for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."1
May I read to you from a letter I received about a year ago?
Please bear with my penmanship, as my hands have become stiff with age and arthritis. I have loved the Lord as my Savior for many years ever since I was a teenager. I always thought I knew who He was. In fact, I never once questioned who He was (is). But a few weeks ago I was halfway watching TV and happened to look up and there was "Jesus" (you) walking along the banks of the Sea of Galilee with the wind blowing His robes and hair. He slowly looked over His shoulder, smiled a big smile, and motioned to follow Him. My heart leaped right out of my chest! Even though it was only a two-second glimpse, I couldn't believe my eyes. It was Jesus like I'd never considered Him to be, and in a moment I was convinced in my heart that Jesus just had to be this way completely different from everything I'd ever thought! Glowing with excitement from His face from His eyes. A strong, energetic, passionate, joyous man! It instantaneously transformed my relationship with Him so much so, I grieve to think of all the decades I've wasted knowing Him, but not knowing Him; loving Him and receiving His love from some distant place, but never being
"in love" with Him. Well, I want you to know that I am now! I've thrown out every picture of a stale Jesus I ever owned. Martha is out, and Mary is in. I've stopped cowering before my Lord and started celebrating Him! All the old people at the home here think I've gone crazy, but I feel that I'm sane for the very first time in my life! Oh the Joy! My Jesus, my Lord!
Christian, I know you walk with the Lord, but in all humility I ask, "Do you know Him? Do you really, really know who He really, really is?" Non-Christian, I know as of this reading you're not all that interested in Jesus, at least to the point of inviting Him into your life as Lord and Savior. But in all humility, I ask, "Do you know? Do you really, really know?"
In the pages that follow, Sherwood (but you can call me "Woody") Wirt, has the privilege of unveiling the reality of Jesus Christ of Nazareth in all the explosive joy that being the Son of the Living God "made man" had to be. It is an absolute treasure, this reality, this joy a treasure of life-transforming value that, sadly, has been lying at our feet almost completely overlooked for far too long.
I have read some of the pages that follow countless times. I have carried them with me on countless airplanes and into hotel rooms across this country and the world. I had a well-marked copy sitting on my dresser in Morocco every day of the Matthew film shoot and in South Africa every day of my six months of ministry that followed. I even have an original copy sitting on my coffee table right now and a still-in-the-plastic spare tucked safely into a cupboard, just in case.
You see, as I ramble through the busyness of life, career, and ministry, there is one thing I must always be keenly aware of: who Jesus really is. That reality is an absolute treasure, and it is a treasure contained in this book, Jesus, Man of Joy.
So rejoice and be glad! It's a gloriously new day! And whether you've walked with Jesus for a hundred years or never at all, open your heart that through the pages that follow you might possibly meet Him in a brand-new way.
Come! And as the Letter to the Hebrews proclaims, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus!" Let us sit at His feet: let us hear His heart and feel His embrace; let us gaze into His smile, hear His laughter, touch the hem of His garment, and be liberated into His joy! Ultimate joy! The joy of Jesus!
1. Psalm 8:2; Matthew 18:3,4 [BACK]
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