Experiencing the Hilarity of the Gospel

If someone wrote a book on your life, what would the title and subtitle be? Would it be something like, John Doe: A Bitter, Angry, Cantankerous Man? Or would it be something like, Jane Doe: Sophisticated Bluestocking? I think the title for the book of my life would be something along the lines of Joseph Romeo: Proof that God Has a Sense of Humor. Here’s why I say that.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home, no one ever talked to me about God, I wasn’t seeking God. At one point in high school, I considered myself an atheist. Add to this that I was a terrible student: My grades in high school were so bad I was sent to a dropout prevention program. I would have dropped out of high school, but my mom informed me that if I did, I had to move out. Suffice to say her cooking and the free room and board were strong motivators for me to stay in school. Not only did I never expect to be a Christian, I also never thought that I would be a pastor. I don’t really like speaking in front of people, so God called me to a position that requires me to do just that. When I compare what I deserve with what God has given me, sometimes all I can do is laugh.

Holy Laughter

And I think there’s something to this whole laughter thing. Do you remember the stories recounted in Genesis 17-18? Abraham is told that he and his wife are going to have a child. As you recall, both of them are past the age of childbearing and Sarah is barren! So notice Abraham’s response to this message: “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed . . .” (Gen. 17:17). When Sarah hears the news, we read: “Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’” (Gen. 18:12). God’s goodness is so overwhelming it causes his people to laugh. I love the gospel-centered way Sally Lloyd-Jones concludes this narrative in The Jesus Storybook Bible: “And one day, God would send another baby, a baby promised to a girl who didn’t even have a husband. But this baby would bring laughter to the whole world. This baby would be everyone’s dream come true.”[1] I smiled as I read that to my children last week.

Although Israel and Judah were taken into captivity, God sent prophets to his people to inform them that one day they would return to their land. And he fulfilled his promise. What was the response of the people? They wrote a song about it! They sang, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad” (Psalm 126:1-2, emphasis mine).

Then there’s Jesus’ interaction with Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10). Here’s a man who was a “chief tax collector” (V. 2), someone who ripped his own people off for a living. He was a heathen, a degenerate, the scum of the earth in the eyes of the world. Yet when Jesus sees him, he says, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today” (V. 5). Why “must” Jesus do this? It’s his way of saying, “This is what I came for; I came to save people just like Zacchaeus! I came for the worst.” And the crowd understood this. That’s why you read in verse 7, “And when they saw it, they all grumbled, ‘He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.’” They can’t believe Jesus would insert himself into this man’s life. As Darrell Bock so wisely comments, “Too often people are unwilling to let the despised find God.”[2]

But what was Zacchaeus’s response to Jesus? He received Jesus “joyfully” (V. 6). And then he spontaneously serves Jesus with gusto! Repaying anyone he defrauded, going far above and beyond anything one might expect. Nowhere are we told this was because Jesus sat him down and lectured him. Nothing. This is all out of joy! Zacchaeus has experienced the hilarity of the gospel!

Water for the Thirsty Soul

Proverbs 25:25 says, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.” The gospel is the ultimate good news from a far country. It’s the good news that the worst student gets a full ride scholarship to the best Ivy League school. And to top it all off, this God who binds himself to us as we’re united to his Son by faith, says to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).

Theodore Ferris Parker, former pastor of Trinity Church in Boston in the early part of the last century, was having dinner with a young man from his congregation one evening. The young man was distraught because he had recently received a dishonorable discharge from the Army, and he knew he needed to inform his father of what had happened. And to make matters worse, this man’s father was known for being a strict and exacting man. But after talking to his pastor, he decided to tell his father of his discharge through a letter. He sent it and waited for his father’s response. After a number of days, the father wrote his son back. To the young man’s surprise, his father’s letter had no more than three sentences: I will stand by you no matter what happens. I will be there in the morning. Remember whose you are.

Remember whose you are, dear Christian. Remember what the prophet Zephaniah said so many years ago: “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (3:17, emphasis mine). He loves to give his children good gifts, and the gospel makes this demonstrably clear. Receive it. Believe it. Rejoice in it. Share it! Laugh, sing, and dance.

 

[1] Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 60.

[2] Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53, BECNT (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 1524.

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