Was Jesus Joyful? (And Why It Matters for Us)

Jonathan Landry Cruse
Thursday, August 24th 2023

This article below is adapted from chapter two of The Character of Christ: The Fruit of the Spirit in the Life of Our Saviour, by Jonathan Landry Cruse (Banner of Truth, June 2023).

Do you think of Jesus as being a happy person? Does a joyful Jesus seem incongruous to you? After all, dealing with sin is serious business—maybe Jesus never had time to enjoy himself. We know he was “a man of sorrows, acquainted well with grief”—was he acquainted well with gladness? We know “Jesus wept”—did Jesus laugh, smile, or have fun? Was he happy?

The answer we must give to that is an enthusiastic and resounding yes!

The Person of Joy

There is anecdotal evidence in the gospels that Jesus was filled with joy and gladness. For one thing, it was not uncommon to find Jesus at parties and festivals. He enjoyed them so much that he was liable to the charge of gluttony and drunkenness—a charge unlikely to be leveled against a curmudgeon (Luke 7:34)! People of his day were not used to rabbis who could take God’s word seriously and somehow also enjoy fun and fellowship. Likewise, in his role as rabbi, it was not beyond Jesus to use irony and wit in his teachings (e.g., Matt. 23:24). Consider also that children were drawn to him and he to them. It takes the spark of joy to enter the world of children.

There are also numerous places in Scripture where the characteristic of joy is ascribed to Christ. Hebrews 12:2 tells us it was for “the joy that was set before him” that he could endure the cross. Jesus is the shepherd who “rejoices” at finding one lost and straying sheep (Matt. 18:13). See also a sub-point in Peter’s very first sermon that is about the gladness of Christ (Acts 2:25–28). Similarly, Hebrews 1:8, 9 quotes Psalm 45, telling us that these very words are spoken by the Father about the Son: “You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” Did you catch that? God has anointed his Son with gladness beyond that of his friends. Because he has followed and loved and obeyed the Lord with all that is in him, he has been given a measure of happiness that is over and above anyone else on earth. John Piper says, “Jesus Christ is the happiest being in the universe. His gladness is greater than all the angelic gladness of heaven. He mirrors perfectly the infinite, holy, indomitable mirth of his Father… [He is] glad with the very gladness of God.”[1]

Perhaps you are thinking, “Okay. So what? Why does it matter that Jesus was joyful?” It matters because it informs our understanding of what it means to be a Christian, of what it looks like to grow in Christ-likeness. If we have the Spirit of Christ, and if he is producing fruit for Christ in our hearts, it will come with this very joy. We are being re-created to reflect the character of Christ, and Christ was joyful.

In John 15:11, Jesus says to his disciples, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” We reach the pinnacle of happiness and joy when we fully receive who Jesus is and what he taught. When his joy is in us, that is when we are the most joyful. Our union to the joyful Vine is vital in order to bear that same fruit in our lives (John 15:4). But if we think Jesus is devoid of happiness and gladness, this cannot happen. If we have an incomplete picture of who Christ is, then we will have an incomplete joy.

Not only was Jesus happy, but he was the happiest man who ever lived. Again, Piper says that Jesus “is, and always will be, indestructibly happy.”[2] Happy has become too weak a word in today’s parlance, so note well that we mean a deep and abiding pleasure and contentment. If that sounds strange to us, then we need to rethink our perceptions of the Savior. He is the very incarnation of joy!

The Permanence of Joy

Ultimately, the joy of Jesus is rooted in the perfect will of God. On one occasion he tells his disciples not to get so excited in their prowess in ministry, or about their success, but to fix their happiness on God’s will for their salvation: “Do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20). Rejoice that God has a good plan and that you are a part of it, Jesus is saying. That’s exactly what he does. In the very next verse, we read: “In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, ‘I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.’”

This is godly gladness through and through: the Holy Spirit fills Jesus with such joy at the divine work and will that it can only be properly expressed in praise and thanksgiving to the almighty Father. This is what should come to mind when we think of the joy promised to us in the fruit of the Spirit. We should want that which is produced by the Spirit and finds it source in the unchangeable and perfect plans of God, not the unstable pleasurable circumstances of life or the fleeting successes of self. The Christian is one who cannot help but exult in God for all that he does and will do.

Why is God’s will worth our rejoicing? Because of what we know about it. We know that it is good and perfect (Rom. 12:2). It is informed by gracious love for sinners like us (Eph. 1:3–6). We know that it is never cruel but is marked by divine compassion and forbearance (2 Pet. 3:9). We know that God is directing the unfolding of all of history for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purposes (Rom. 8:28). And we know that this plan of God can never change or fail (Ps. 33:11, Isa. 40:8).

When the source of our joy is the perfect and permanent plan of God, our joy will be permanent, too. This is the only thing that can make sense of the numerous New Testament commands for Christians to be joyful, an instruction that is seemingly easier said than done when you consider how hard life can be. James encourages us to “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” (1:2). The world which finds its source of joy in circumstances cannot make any sense of this teaching. As Christians we struggle with it, too. How can James possibly expect us to be joyful even when we are going through trials and difficulties? An understanding of what God’s will is during those trials is the only answer. We know that God uses trials to make us more Christ-like, more dependent on him in all things. Trials make us better people, really—“perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (verse 3). For the unbeliever, the fiery trial is nothing other than a precursor to the hellish fires of eternity, and quite understandably would suck the happiness out of the soul. But for the believer, the fiery trial is preparing us for heaven, and therefore does not consume us or our joy.

Of course, the New Testament writers were not expecting Christians to always be in a good mood, so do not misunderstand. Nor are they discounting the seriousness of hardships and heartaches that we will face in this world. Remember, Jesus Christ was a “man of sorrows”—and yet he was also a man of joy. What the Holy Spirit is producing in our hearts is the joy of the Savior, which is a serious joy. It is a joy that can face the seriousness of life head-on and still come out on top. Nothing can overwhelm a joy that is rooted in God. This is the very joy Jesus had. As B. B. Warfield puts it, Jesus had:

…not the shallow joy of mere pagan delight in living, nor the delusive joy of a hope destined to failure; but the deep exultation of a conqueror setting captives free. This joy underlay all his sufferings and shed its light along the whole thorn-beset path which was trodden by his torn feet.[3]

The Place of Joy

We have asserted that to have a permanent joy it cannot be rooted in this passing world, but rather the unchanging and unchangeable character of God, especially as that is revealed in Christ. One Appalachian folk hymn speaks in rich theological reality of what the here and now offers us: “No tranquil joy on earth I know, no peaceful sheltering dome: this world’s a wilderness of woe, this world is not my home.”[4] If woe is the trademark of a fallen earth, joy is the trademark of heaven. Therefore, if we are to have a permanent joy, we must keep our hearts fixed upon the place where joy will be permanent: the new heavens and the new earth.

Kingdoms tend to take on the characteristics of their king. Think of how C. S. Lewis captured this for our imaginations in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When the evil White Witch rules Narnia, grey and cold cover the land, the subjects cower under the shadow of terror, and no one dares go outside for fear of being turned to lifeless stone. Under her tyrannical reign, Narnia is best described as “always winter and never Christmas.”[5] And yet when the true king Aslan returns, the snow begins to melt, the rivers run and glimmer like crystal, and the White Queen’s winter is destroyed. With the warmth of his breath, frozen statues are brought to life, and the world begins to again dance and rejoice as it once did when he first sang it into creation.

Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight,
At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more,
When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death
And when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.[6]

How much more wonderful to know that Christ is the King reigning in heaven! As he is the King of joy, so too heaven will be the land of joy. The character of Christ will radiate through his kingdom and benefit and bless all who dwell there: “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The wilderness of woe will have given way to the land of pure delight.

Until then, dear Christian, maybe you need to be reminded that God wants you to be joyful. Go ahead, let yourself be happy. The Christian has every reason to be! Moses said the very same to Israel: “Happy are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD?” (Deut. 33:29). We know the saving work of God. As one writer explains, the Christian turns from the world and to the gospel, and “to [our] unutterable and indescribable delight, [we] encounter the rare and refreshing words: ‘It is finished!’” Are there any happier words in the universe? What can shake the joy of the one who receives these words in faith?[7]

[1] John Piper, Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), pp. 36-7.

[2] Piper, Seeing and Savoring, pp. 35-6.

[3] Warfield, The Person and Work of Christ, p. 126.

[4] Elizabeth Mills, ‘O Land of Rest, for Thee I Sigh!,’ 1837.

[5] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: Collier, 1970), p. 16.

[6] Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, p. 75.

[7] David Murray, The Happy Christian: Ten Ways to Be a Joyful Believer in a Gloomy World (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2015, p. 47.

Photo of Jonathan Landry Cruse
Jonathan Landry Cruse
Jonathan Landry Cruse is the poetry editor of Modern Reformation, pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and author of The Character of Christ and What Happens When We Worship. He is also a hymn writer whose works can be found at
Thursday, August 24th 2023

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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