THE GLADNESS OF JESUS
"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad."
- Matthew v:12
WE are trying to see Jesus of Nazareth. Our one question is: What kind of man was he? We are not studying his personality or considering his ideas – all we want to know is what kind of a man he was, how did he impress the people who saw him in Galilee and Judea. We are trying to get rid of impressions that have been made upon us by painters and our own imagination. It is by no means easy to see him as he was; the mists blow in between us and him, and blur the features of his face. The dust settles upon the picture that the evangelists have painted and the man becomes dim to our eyes. All sorts of men – poets, philosophers, painters – have like so many human spiders woven cobwebs over the picture, so that until we brush the cobwebs away it is impossible to see him. In the words of the familiar hymn, "We would see Jesus," we would bring him out of the shadows and see him as he is. It is an interesting enterprise in which we are engaged, because all the Christian churches take their name from this man. The churches differ widely from one another in worship, in government, in teachings, – Protestants of many kinds are separated from one another, and Catholics of many classes are also separated from one another, – but this one thing is remarkable, that all the Christian churches of the world are clinging tenaciously to the garments of this man. They all without exception call him Master; they all hold him up as the pattern of a perfect life. "He," they say, "is our example. We are to reproduce the characteristic notes displayed in him." And therefore it becomes not only an interesting enterprise, but one of tremendous importance, this effort to find out what kind of man he was. If we get a distorted image of him, we harm ourselves and rob the world. just in proportion as we see him clearly and understand precisely what sort of man he was, do we become able to pattern our lives after his and become the men God would have us to be.
Pushing then all the poets and philosophers aside, let us ask ourselves the question: Did Jesus of Nazareth impress men as glad or sad, solemn or radiant, jubilant or melancholy? There is no doubt about the answer that the painters give. They nearly always paint him sad, they love to paint him on the cross, they picture him dying with a great melancholy in his eyes – or if they do not paint him on the cross, they paint him on the way to the cross with the crown of thorns on his head, bending under the burden as he staggers up Golgotha. In all the Catholic churches of the world you see the twelve Stations of the Cross. The Jesus of Christian history is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; there is sadness in his face and a great pang in his heart. Christianity is the religion of sorrow, said Goethe, and Carlyle declared that Goethe’s judgment was correct. And not only do the painters paint him sad, but so also does our imagination. When we think of him we think of him as crucified. In that wonderful painting of Holman Hunt the cross on which Jesus died casts a shadow out across Jerusalem to the end of the world, and that is what the cross does in the pictures which our mind paints of Jesus and the world in which he lived – we always see him with the shadow of the cross upon him, we always think of him as severe and sad. But we cannot afford to follow the painters. They paint Jesus with a halo. Nobody in Jerusalem ever saw the halo. They paint him with a shadow on his face – do you suppose the men in Palestine saw the shadow? We want to see him as he was.
In order to find out what impression he really made upon the people of his day, it will be worth our while to listen to what his enemies had to say. Of course his enemies will not speak the ungarbled truth, they will deal in falsehoods; but even falsehoods are of great advantage in trying to make one’s way toward the truth. There is nothing that so dumfounds a lawyer in the questioning of a witness as unbroken silence. If a witness will only speak, if he will only speak falsehoods, his speech is more illuminating than continuous silence, for falsehoods when arranged in a row have a curious fashion of pointing in the direction of the truth. When a man begins lying, if you can only keep him lying long enough, he will by and by put you on the track of discovering what the truth is. And so it is with the enemies of Jesus. They have said certain things that are invaluable to us in our search after authentic knowledge of the character of Jesus. Among other things that they said, they declared he was a glutton. Of course he was not, but they said he was. Now a glutton is never a glum and sour-faced man. Gluttony is a form of pleasure. Men overeat because overeating gives enjoyment. A glutton is likely to be round and rotund. When the men of Jesus’ day said he was a glutton we may rest assured he was not an ascetic in his looks or habits. They also called him a winebibber. Of course he was not, but the very fact that they accused him of guzzling wine points in the direction of the kind of man he was. A winebibber is usually a jolly man. Wine unlocks the lips and gives temporary brilliancy to the mind. A man under the influence of wine is exceedingly social and talkative and genial. The enemies of Jesus would never have called him a winebibber if he had been as glum and sad as some of the artists have painted him. They called him also the friend of publicans and sinners. By publicans and sinners we are to understand non-churchgoers. This man not only went to church and associated with pious people, but he associated with people who had no piety at all. When they declared he was a friend of these non-churchgoers, they implied that he was of the same stripe as they – "Birds of a feather always flock together." He would never have associated with such godless people if he himself had not had a godless heart. So his enemies declared, and if Jesus had been taciturn and sullen, grim and morose, his enemies would never have declared he was a boon companion of light-hearted men. Their lying would have taken another form. Put, then, these three bits of falsehood together, and what is the direction in which they point? They are the most precious bits of slander that ever slipped from slimy lips. They prove indisputably that whatever Jesus was or was not, he was not morose or sour or melancholy.
Having listened to the testimony of his enemies, let us now study one of the words Jesus applied to himself. There were pious people in Palestine who were greatly scandalized because Jesus never fasted, nor did he teach his disciples that it was their duty to fast. Fasting was a recognized feature of the Jewish religion. Every person of orthodox piety in Palestine fasted twice every week. Fasting had been prescribed by the greatest of the rabbis; it had also been the requirement of John the Baptist himself. Some people came to Jesus one day in disgust, saying, "Why do your disciples not fast?"
The reply of Jesus is illuminating. He said, "How can the children of the bridechamber fast when the bridegroom is with them?" Did you ever mark the use of that word "bridegroom"? Jesus says that he is a bridegroom. He seized upon a word that is the symbol of human joy. If ever a man is happy in this world, it is on his wedding day. Jesus says that he lives in an atmosphere of wedding joy, and so also do his disciples. It is impossible therefore for either him or his disciples to take up any of the old fashions of the grim and solemn piety of the past. He told the men who criticized him that his life was different from the life of John the Baptist and also from the life of the Pharisees. You cannot mix the two kinds of piety, the two forms of life will not mingle. Let me give you an illustration or two, he said: "A man does not put a new patch on an old garment, because the new patch will tear out and the rent will be still worse. Neither can you put my form of life on to the old form of piety, the two will not hold together, the strength that is in my form of life will simply tear the old form of life to pieces. Or, to give you another illustration, men do not put new wine into old wineskins, for there is too much life and movement and sparkle in new wine for the old skins. If you attempt to put the new wine into the old skins, the old skins will burst and the wine will be lost. So do not think that you can put the new life which I live and which I want all my followers to live into old forms of pharisaic piety, for this cannot be done. I am living a new kind of life, and I want a new kind of man, a new spirit, a new form of religion."
It would seem, then, that Jesus was a man abounding in joy. Gladness was one of the notes of his character. Listen to him as he teaches, and again and again you catch the notes of happiness. He was all the time saying, "Unless you become like a little child, you cannot enter the kingdom of God" – and what was it in the little child that attracted him? One thing that attracted him was the child’s sunny heart. What would we do in this world without the children laughing away the cares and sighs? Have you ever listened to their laughter in the streets while the funeral procession was passing by? Have you ever seen a golden-haired little child with beaming face at the center of a room in which there was a casket around which brokenhearted men and women were gathering? Look at that child in the center of the chamber of death that is the picture of the Christian amid the shadows of this darkened world. Or listen again to what he says about worry. He defines it as one of the deadliest of all sins. We are not to worry about the present, about the necessities of existence, about to-morrow, about what we ought to do or say in the great crises that lie ahead of us. It is not right, he says; it is contrary to the law of God. Look at nature: see the lilies and the birds, there is not a trace of solicitude in all nature’s lovely face. Listen again to the exhortations that he gives his disciples. He tells them that when men persecute them and say all manner of evil against them falsely, they are to rejoice and be exceeding glad. The English translation does not do justice to the Greek. He says, "Rejoice and leap for joy." Let your joy express itself. When matters are at their worst, then you ought to have the happiness that leaps. Certainly a sad-hearted man could never give advice like that. Listen to him again as he says to the great crowds, "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest; for my yoke is easy and my burden is light." A glum-faced prophet could never speak so. He was glad even to the end. Even in the upper chamber, with death only a few hours away, he goes right on speaking of the joy that is bubbling up in his own heart and he prays that the same joy may abound in the hearts of those that love him. He tells his disciples that all of his teaching has been granted them because of his desire that his joy might be in them and that their joy might be full. There was no shadow on his face that night. The cross is near, but it casts no shadow over him.
But does not the New Testament say he wept? It does. And does the New Testament ever say that Jesus laughed? Are we therefore to infer that Jesus often wept and never laughed? The inference is unfounded. Why does the New Testament say that Jesus wept? Because it was so exceptional. It is the exceptional thing that is written down. There are four million people in New York City; let one of them kill another – he gets at once into the papers. Murder is exceptional and so it is always noted. Thousands of people walk the streets, let one of them fall and break his leg and that accident is noted – no attention is paid to the thousands who meet with no accident. Jesus laughed so frequently it was not worth while calling attention to it. He wept so seldom that when he did weep it struck the disciples with consternation. John could never forget it. He remembered the day at the tomb of Lazarus when Mary was weeping and her sister and all the relatives and friends, and it was then that Jesus wept, so tender and sympathetic was he that he broke down – that great strong, radiant, exuberant man wept. John saves that the world itself could not contain the books that could be written if he attempted to put down all the things which Jesus said and did. He will crowd back a million things to make room for that one surprising fact that at the grave of Lazarus Jesus wept. The sentence, instead of proving that Jesus was lachrymose and doleful, bears eloquent witness to the fact that Jesus was buoyant and exultant.
A Christian must then, if he would follow Jesus, be a joyous and jubilant man. Some one says at once, "Ah, I know many Christians who are anything but happy, they are the most doleful creatures in all the world, they whine and whimper, they sob and cry, their very faces are images of woe – how will you explain that?" The explanation is that all such persons, although they profess to follow Jesus, follow him afar off. You may be tempted to say that glum and dismal Christians are not Christians at all. That is probably somewhat too severe. It would be nearer right to say that they are not developed Christians, mature or ripened Christians. The very finest apples, you know, in the earlier stages of their growth are sour and green., It is not until the sun has done his perfect work that they are golden and luscious. just so it is with souls in the earlier stages of development – they are often green and sour, crabbed, and full of acid. But if they will only subject themselves to the shining of the sun, the great joyous, exuberant, laughing sun, all the juices of their nature will grow sweet and mellow, and they will find themselves at last in the kingdom of peace and joy.
It is the tragedy of this world that there are so many people in it who find it impossible to rejoice. What is the matter with you that you are not happier than you are? Certainly there is something wrong! What a pity it is to live in a world like this and not enjoy living! It is amazing that any one should live in a universe so glorious, and not feel like shouting! If you are lachrymose and drooping it is because there is something wrong. You are not well in body or in mind, or, it may be you are sick in both. You have not yet learned the high art of living, you have not yet come to Jesus. Why not come and sit at his feet? Why not take his yoke upon you and learn of him, for his yoke is easy and his burden is light.