One of the best parties I have ever been to was a surprise party.
It was a hot, humid night in Hong Kong and Camilla and I were running late. We were supposed to be at church for our weekly prayer meeting, but one of us was taking her sweet time getting ready.
No need to mention names.
When we finally arrived at church, the place was dark. I flipped on the lights and was greeted with a shout of “Surprise!” I was shocked to find a room full of people, all dressed in colorful sixties’ gear, waiting to celebrate my birthday.
A couple of things from that night endure in my memory. One was the dancing. I don’t dance much but that night there was such a happy, joyful vibe that everybody danced for hours. We almost missed the last train home.
Another memory: unexpected guests.
Some of my friends ducked out to buy drinks and they came back with five German tourists. One of the Germans was having a birthday so we celebrated his special day as well.
To appreciate the effect of this party you have to understand that the Hong Kong I lived in was all work, work, work. I worked seven days a week. Even church was work. This party was an unexpected break in the routine.
It was one of those moments of frivolity and festivity, that C.S. Lewis said reveal heaven.
It certainly it felt like heaven to me.
Jesus said the kingdom of God is a party. It is a party because Jesus is there and everywhere he goes there is celebration and joy.
The Son of God gave reasons to rejoice by turning thieves into givers and haters into lovers. He healed lepers (thank you, Jesus!), delivered the demonized (free at last!), and raised the dead (look who’s back!).
He told stories that ended in unexpected parties for undeserving prodigals. When he rose from the grave his surprised disciples were filled with joy and wonder. And after he ascended into heaven they returned to Jerusalem “with great joy.”
Jesus said “I am the life,” and his is a life of righteousness, peace, and joy. It is a life of freedom and celebration. And it’s a life of fun that offends the religious.
The Pharisees were not impressed by all the joy that followed Jesus. “He’s out of order. He’s not observing the rules. Why is he healing on the Sabbath?” These party-poopers tried to rain on his parade but the parade of his grace just kept rolling.
I can’t imagine the Pharisees throwing a party, can you? And yet by law they were required to do so.
According to Deuteronomy 14, the Israelites were supposed to celebrate the harvest by spending their tithes on “whatever your heart desires.” They were supposed to throw parties that included the poor widow and orphan.
They sound like awesome parties, but by the time Jesus showed up they had come to an end. Instead of throwing parties for poor people, the law teachers were stealing widows’ homes (Luke 20:47).
To be fair, the Jews were in no mood for celebrating, not with the heavy Roman yoke upon their necks. Burdensome taxes and cruel oppression don’t make for a party vibe.
But they do make Jesus’ preoccupation with joyful celebration all the more compelling, indeed, prophetic.
“The kingdom of heaven is not like this,” said Jesus pointing to the oppressive world in which they lived. “It’s like a wedding feast. It’s like a great banquet. And you guys are going to be surprised because many will come from the east and the west and take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
In other words, there will be Germans there.
Jesus spoke of parties because he was heaven-minded. There’s no oppression in heaven, no leprosy, no poverty. Knowing that God’s will for there is his will for here, Jesus shone in a dark world. He rebuked storms, drove out demons, and loved the loveless.
He was good news on a bad news day. He was fun in an unfun world.
On that humid Friday night, I went to church expecting one thing and discovered another. It’s like that with Jesus. People come to him on account of some need and find themselves caught up in the joy of heaven.
Who knew that following Christ could be such fun? Certainly this is not the picture we get from boring religion, but it is the blessed reality of grace.
It is my conviction that followers of Christ ought to be celebrating constantly. We ought to be a happy people because we serve a happy God who has entrusted us with a happy gospel.
When we enjoy the Lord and his many good gifts, we are painting a prophetic picture of the kingdom come. We are saying, “Life is more than tears.” We are agreeing with Jesus who said, “Blessed are those who mourn for comfort is at hand.”
Indeed, in his presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures forever more (Psalm 16:11).
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