Don Sweeting serves as president of Reformed Theological School’s Orlando campus and the James Woodrow Hassell Professor of Church History. An ordained minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, Sweeting served as senior pastor of Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church in Greenwood Village (a Denver suburb) for 12 years. In addition to pastoring, Sweeting also taught as an adjunct faculty member at Denver Seminary. After earning a master’s degree from Oxford University, Sweeting completed a Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Did Jesus have a sense of humor? In one church I pastored, when I arrived, there was a portrait of Jesus laughing. Is it legitimate to picture him this way? Some people say no. They’ll tell you that the Bible explicitly says he wept, but not that he laughed! Besides, they add, he was here for pretty serious reasons and did not have time to play around.
I don’t buy this gloomy assessment. Of course Jesus laughed.
Realize we don’t have all the information on Jesus’ life in our New Testament. John says that Jesus did many other things that were not written in his book. So the absence of explicit reference proves nothing.
We know that God laughs. The psalms tell us he laughs at the defiant nations. Genesis says that God brought laughter to Sarah with the birth of her son in old age. We also know that God created us to laugh. That’s significant. Eccl. 3:4 says that for people, “there is a time to laugh.”
On top of that, God also gave us much to laugh about. When I asked my daughter if Jesus ever laughed, she said, “Of course he did, because he made Kiwi birds and funny looking roosters!” Creation is full of things that prompt laughter!
Orthodox Christianity says Jesus is both fully God and fully human. Denying the genuineness of either is heresy. If Jesus was truly human, he laughed. Humor is a fundamental part of having human emotions.
Can you imagine Jesus going to dinner parties and never laughing? Can you picture him changing water into wine to keep a wedding party rolling and never cracking a smile? Can you fathom a master story teller who never used humor?
There are many kinds of humor. There is humorous hyperbole, irony, the humor of baffled disbelief. There’s the humor that snickers with stinging one liners. There’s painful humor, malicious humor, playful humor, and the humor of wit.
A careful reading of the Scriptures shows that Jesus employed some of these in his ministry, even though we sometimes miss his humor in our overfamiliarity with the text. There is ironic humor when Jesus gives impetuous Peter the name “rock.” What about the painful comedy of Jesus’ story of the rich fool and his barns? When he learned he was about to die, we encounter probing humor in the question, “Then who will get all your stuff?”
Then there are his zingers about people who strain out gnats and swallow camels. He said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. He said some people are more concerned over the speck in their brother’s eye than the plank in their own. These incongruities prompt a kind of laughter.
Finally, think about the nature of joy itself. G.K. Chesterton said that joy is the gigantic secret of the Christian. To him, humor is a component of a glad heart. C.S. Lewis said that the purest laughter on earth dwells in the kingdom of joy.
Consider the striking picture of the people of God in Psalm 126. It says “when the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion…our mouths were filled with laughter and our tongues with shouts of joy.”
Is not this picture of freedom from captivity and exile with saints laughing a glimpse of the redeemed in heaven? Can you imagine the Son of God not laughing?
This article originally appeared in the NAE Insight.