Did Jesus ever laugh? In traditional pictures of Jesus he is portrayed as somber, serious, unsmiling. We know from the gospels that Jesus experienced a full range of emotions. At times he was exhausted and needed to get away from the crowds that came to him. He expressed anger at injustice in the temple as well as in his confrontations with the Pharisees and teachers of the law. He grieved when his cousin John the Baptist died. He wept with Mary and Martha because of their grief when their brother Lazarus died. He had a heart full of compassion. In the gospels, over and over again, Jesus looks, he sees the situation, he has compassion, and then he acts. He was frustrated with the disciples for not understanding the depth of what he was teaching them. He agonized in the garden of Gethsemane because of the crucifixion that was coming toward him.
He felt a lot of the emotions we feel and yet there is no record in the gospels that Jesus ever laughed. Why is that? I am certain that Jesus laughed. Why didn’t the gospel writers record any of those times? Maybe they were focused on the last week of his life, which was a pretty solemn time. Arrest, beatings, flogging, mockery, crucifixion, and being laid in a tomb are pretty serious things.
One of the things that makes me fall in love with Jesus is the joy and delight he experienced when people came into his kingdom. Let me share where I find evidence for this.
In Luke 15 Luke records three stories about the delight of God when the lost are being found: The Parable of the Lost Sheep, The Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost Son.
Luke 15:1–10 The Parable of the Lost Sheep Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3 Then Jesus told them this parable: 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? 5 And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders 6 and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ 7 I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
The setting for this parable was Jesus speaking to a crowd of tax collectors and sinners. This was not a respectable crowd. There were no suits and ties or dresses and fancy hats to be seen. These were not people who would be welcomed into a synagogue.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law were muttering. When we read the accounts of Jesus’ interaction with them they always seem to be muttering. (Muttering is complaining or objecting under your breath, not meant to be heard by others.) They muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” The Pharisees and teachers of the law were devoted to the law of Moses and worked hard to maintain purity. Mingling with these tax collectors and sinners was not something a respectable Jew did.
They muttered, but even when they did not mutter, Jesus knew what was in the heart of those he met with. So Jesus responded to what they were muttering.
He talked about a man who had a hundred sheep. In Jewish tradition, a flock of three hundred sheep was considered a large herd. So this flock of one hundred sheep was not inconsequential, but it was not the flock of a wealthy man. He had a modest herd of sheep. If Jesus had wanted to make a point about the wealth of the shepherd, he would have said he had three hundred sheep. But he chose a modest number of sheep to fit the lives of his audience.
When the shepherd and his helpers brought the sheep into the pen for the night to protect them from predators, he counted the sheep and came up with ninety-nine. He recounted them to make sure he had not missed one and once again there were only ninety-nine sheep. So he left the ninety-nine sheep in the care of his helpers and went out into the night to look for the lost sheep.
It was the end of a long day. He was tired and hungry. He was anticipating a good meal and relaxing on some cushions. But he put his desire for food and rest aside and went out into the night.
He made his way back to where the sheep had been grazing. As he walked he called. Shepherds had individual calls that their sheep recognized. When two or three shepherds were in one place for grazing, all the shepherds had to do to separate their flocks was to give their call and the sheep would come to them. (This is what Jesus was talking about when he said in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”)
He called and then listened to hear the faint bleat of the lost lamb. He kept on walking, exploring crevices in the rocks where the sheep might have been stuck. He listened for the sounds of wild animals who may have killed the lost sheep and were now eating their meal. He kept calling, kept walking – until he finally heard the bleat of the lost sheep.
He put the lost sheep on his shoulders and walked home. He joyfully put the lost sheep on his shoulders and walked home. As he was walking home he was happy, delighted, relieved.
What did he do when he got back to the sheep pen? He put the lost sheep in with the other ninety-nine and then the parable tells us, “Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.”
The word used here indicates a formal celebration. Now maybe a shepherd would not do that in real life, but this is a parable and Jesus is talking about something much grander than a party with neighbors and friends because of the lost sheep being found.
If they did have a meal, did they cook a lamb to celebrate? If so, that would negate having found the sheep the shepherd had searched for. But this kind of analysis distracts from the point of the parable Jesus was telling.
With the sheep in the pen and the shepherd rejoicing with his friends and neighbors, Jesus now made his point.
I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.
There is rejoicing in heaven when a sinner repents. There is a party in heaven to celebrate the arrival of a new person into the kingdom of God.
The Pharisees grumbled and Jesus rejoiced.
The Pharisees and teachers of the law who viewed themselves as righteous, heard what Jesus said as a slap in the face. Fortunately, there were Pharisees and teachers of the law who eventually learned that they lacked the righteousness required of them, who understood that they too were sinners in need of a savior, and who became followers of Jesus. They too were guests of honor at the party for their entering the kingdom of God.
Jesus told a second parable with the same theme.
The Parable of the Lost Coin “Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
A silver coin was a day’s wage, so once again, this is a modest amount. The woman sat down at the end of her long day. It was a day with a lot of hard work. She had accumulated ten silver coins, the fruit of many days of hard work. Like the shepherd, at the end of the day she was tired and looked forward to relaxing in what time was left before she fell asleep.
She sat down and pulled out the sack with the coins and counted them. There were nine. She recounted them and once again there were only nine coins. The coin was not circular so it would not have rolled far away. So what did she do?
She lit a lamp and looked over the floor of her small house. She looked in crevices to see if the coin was stuck somewhere. If coins, like sheep, could respond to her call, she would have been calling out for the coin. She looked everywhere and did not find the coin. So she got her broom, probably some palm leaves tied together, and began to carefully sweep her floor. She listened intently, listening for a tiny clink sound that would tell her she had found the coin. She kept sweeping and looking and eventually there was a clink. Her broom had found the coin. She picked it up and then what did she do?
She called her female friends and female neighbors and said, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.”
Once again, the same word is used indicating a formal celebration. If she paid for the celebration, would it have cost her one of her silver coins?
But as with the parable about the shepherd, the point leads to something far more valuable than a silver coin, a day’s wage. Jesus said, “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
God and his angels celebrate the entry of one more person into the kingdom of God.
If Jesus told these parables, don’t you think he celebrated when he saw people coming into the kingdom?
A teacher of the law asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment. (Mark 12:28-33) Jesus told him, “The most important one is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
The teacher of the law responded, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Mark finishes the telling of this encounter with this,
When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.”
What was Jesus feeling when he said this? Was this a dispassionate response? Was this like a professor telling you that with a little bit more work you might pass the course? I think Jesus was yearning, hoping, longing for the teacher of the law to continue opening himself to the truth Jesus was teaching. Jesus wanted this teacher of the law in his kingdom.
I think Jesus celebrated, rejoiced, was happy, could not keep a smile off his face when someone was delivered from a demon, or was healed of leprosy or bleeding, or was able to see, to talk, to walk for the first time in years or in some cases the first time ever.
Why do I think Jesus celebrated and rejoiced?
What happens in a football match when someone scores a goal. Do they slowly walk back to the center of the field to begin playing again? No, they jump in the air, they turn to the crowd and rip off their shirt (if I had a chest like that I might do the same thing). Their teammates run in and they all celebrate together.
Why do they do this? Because goals are how the game is won. Football is not played so people can run up and down the field, kicking a ball. Everything the players on the field do is directed toward scoring a goal and when a goal is scored, they celebrate.
God and the angels celebrate when a repentant sinner enters into the kingdom of God because that was the reason Jesus came into the world. Jesus was not on a pleasure cruise, trying out planet earth to see how it was like. Jesus was born into this world to accomplish a mission.
NASA just landed a vehicle on Mars a couple weeks ago. The team that planned this, build the rocket and vehicle, and carried out the mission burst into celebration when the landing was successful.
When heaven sees another person entering the kingdom, the mission is successful. There is celebration. When people open their hearts to the love of God and turn to him, submitting to him, becoming followers of Jesus, heaven rejoices.
Jesus told a third parable to make clear that he was talking about more than sheep and coins. This is the Parable of the Lost Son, sometimes called the Parable of the Prodigal Son, or the Parable of the Two Sons, or the Parable of the Loving Father. You can tell this is a more complicated parable because of all these names.
We may come back to this parable so I am not going to go into detail about it. But briefly, the youngest of two sons went to his father and asked that his father give him his share of the estate. This was incredibly dishonoring and when Jesus told this parable, the people listening must have gasped. The son left with his money, wasted it in wild living, and then when it was gone, came to his senses and decided that if he returned home and his father accepted him as a servant in the household, that would be better than where he was.
But his father had kept looking for him. Like the shepherd with his sheep and the woman with her coin, the father kept looking down the road, straining his eyes to see if there was any dust on the road indicating that someone was coming. When he saw the dust he waited with great anticipation to see if this was his son coming home.
But day after day, the people he saw were not his son. He did not get discouraged, he did not give up. He continued to look each day. He never stopped looking.
And then one day, the dust on the road kicked up, the father strained to see who it might be. The walk of the person seemed familiar. The father stared and stared and finally knew that this was his son coming home.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
The father had been dishonored by his son asking for his share of the estate, basically telling his father, “I can’t wait for you to die so give me what is mine now.” Now the father added to his dishonor by lifting his robe and running to greet his son. And then what happened?
He threw a party to welcome his son back home. They celebrated his return. They rejoiced that his son who was lost was now found.
But not everyone celebrated. The older son, the dutiful son, complained that his brother did not deserve this honoring. He muttered like the Pharisees and said, “When did you ever throw me a party?”
The father responded,
“ ‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ ”
These are such powerful parables and so, once again, don’t you think Jesus celebrated when repentant sinners entered the kingdom and began following him?
Matthew, also called Levi, was a tax collector, one of the people the Pharisees and teachers of the law despised. Here is Luke’s account of Matthew being called to be a disciple of Jesus. (Luke 5:27–32)
Jesus Calls Levi and Eats With Sinners
After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, 28 and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.
29 Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. 30 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?”
31 Jesus answered them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Matthew began to follow Jesus and they celebrated this turn in his life. A large crowd of the friends of Matthew were invited to the party. Like the shepherd with his sheep and the woman with her coin, Matthew called his friends and told them to come celebrate with him. This was not a solemn meal. This was an exuberant celebration.
Jesus went into Jericho and was walking along the street. There was a crowd of people around Jesus and Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector, wanted to see Jesus but was too short to see over the heads of the crowd. So he climbed a sycamore-fig tree to get a better view.
Tax collectors stood on the roads and in the marketplace collecting taxes from people and then they gave the tax money to the chief tax collector. So Zacchaeus, as a chief tax collector, was a wealthy man. He was not respectable in the eyes of pious Jews, but his wealth gave him a certain kind of respectability.
Climbing a tree is not what a wealthy, respectable man does. It invites ridicule. But the desire of Zacchaeus to see Jesus was greater than his need to be respectable. It makes me think of the rich young ruler who ran to Jesus and knelt in front of him. There was a spiritual hunger to know Jesus in both of these men that caused them to do what they normally would not do.
In this story we see the familiar pattern with Jesus. He looked up and noticed Zacchaeus. Jesus saw the situation. He saw that Zacchaeus was a wealthy chief tax collector. He had compassion on this man who was too short to see above the crowd. He had compassion on this man who was rejected by pious Jews for his collaboration with the Roman occupiers. He saw the spiritual hunger in Zacchaeus that caused him to climb the tree. He saw a man who was about to enter the kingdom of God. And then Jesus acted.
“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
What was the expression on Jesus’ face when Zacchaeus climbed down from the tree, passed through the crowd, and came to him? I think he was beaming with delight. He was bubbling over with joy.
But then again, there were the mutterers.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
Once again the mutterers grumbled while Jesus rejoiced.
Zacchaeus was overwhelmed with joy and said,
“Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
9 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
There is no description of the meal Jesus shared with Zacchaeus, but I am confident Zacchaeus invited his friends and they had a grand celebration.
Let me tell one more story, the calling of Peter to follow Jesus.
The Chosen is a television drama bringing the stories in the gospels to the screen. There are eight episodes in the first season. The second season is being filmed and the website says it is to be released sometime around Easter of this year. I expect since this is a covid year, that will be delayed.
I highly recommend it. I loved watching it and want to watch it again. You can watch it on Youtube. It is being translated into many languages so it will have more of a universal appeal.
In telling the story, the film makers engage in some speculation – which we all do. Preachers, teachers, bible study leaders, all speculate. We try to fill in the details that are missing from what we read in the gospels. How close do we get to what actually happened?
I imagine a comedy night in heaven when the angels will bring up clips of the speculation we engaged in and then there will be great laughter to see how far off we were. Peter, for example, will sit through all the speculation about what he was thinking when he walked on water and then will stand up and tell us, “Actually, this is what I was thinking.”
The Chosen gives Peter a backstory that seems to fit with his character. He gambles with his friends. He and a couple friends collaborate so while Peter is fighting someone, his friends collect bets on who will win. Peter pretends to be losing and then when enough money has been wagered, he wins the fight. Peter goes out fishing at night to escape having to pay tax to the Romans. But then he gets caught and the Romans threaten to take his boat and home unless he helps them find the other fishermen at night. Peter manages to incapacitate the boat so they never find the other fishermen, but the other fishermen are angry because he is working with the Romans.
Finally, he goes out one night, a last chance to get a big catch so he can pay off his dept to the Romans. But he comes to shore with an empty boat and empty nets. He tried and failed. Now he faces the loss of his boat and home. He has to tell his wife they are going to lose their home.
As he is cleaning the nets, Jesus comes up and asks him to throw his nets into the water one more time. Peter objects but finally gives it a try and then as the nets are miraculously filled with fish, enough fish to pay off his dept, Jesus stands on the shore, bubbling over with joy and laughter as he watches them pull the fish into their boats,.
I love this scene. Peter comes to shore, kneels before Jesus, and tells him he is a sinful man. He tells Jesus, “You don’t know me, you don’t know all the things I have done.” Jesus tells Peter, “Lift your head, look at me.” Then Jesus kneels in front of Peter and Peter says, “What do you want from me. I’ll do anything you want.” And Jesus tells him, “Follow me.”
A repentant sinner entered into the kingdom of God and there was celebration. Jesus rejoiced.
Peter went home to his wife and told her what had happened. She had been grieving for the things he had been doing and now they celebrated that Jesus was honoring Peter, asking Peter to follow him.
There was joy and celebration in heaven when you entered into the kingdom of God. For those who have not yet made the decision to surrender to the love of Jesus, there is eager anticipation for the day you step over the line into paradise.
When someone has a party for you for some occasion in your life, you feel honored and special. When I see the delight of God in our turning to him and surrendering to his love, it makes me fall in love with Jesus. I feel honored and special. I know I am loved, deeply loved. How can I not love someone who loves me so well?
Jesus is passionate about his mission to rescue people and invite them into his kingdom. There is celebration when we turn to him and enter into a relationship of love.
It would be good for us to celebrate with God what God celebrates.