On Having The Last Laugh
Psalm 119 is a very lengthy psalm, containing many glorious passages. I lift up for you now, just one of those passages. Psalm 119, beginning to read at the 49th verse, and I shall be reading from the New International Version. This is the Word of God. “Remember Your word to Your servant. For You have given me hope. My comfort in my suffering is this. Your promise renews my life. The arrogant mock me and laugh at me without restraint. But I do not turn from Your law. I remember Your ancient laws, O Lord, and I find comfort in them. Indignation grips me because of the wicked, who have forsaken Your law. Your decrees are the theme of my song wherever I lodge. In the night, I remember Your name, O Lord, and I will keep Your law. This has been my practice. I obey Your precepts.”
Soli Deo gloria. To God alone be the glory.
Let us pray. Now, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
You know the childish verse that goes like this, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s a lie. The truth could be more accurately told like this, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words may break my heart.” Words can hurt. Oh, they can hurt very deeply. I know at least a little something of what that kind of pain is. My full name is John Howard Edington. For family reasons, my parents chose to call me Howard, rather than John. And that, when I was very young, was a source of some pain to me. Because, you see, there were those who seemed to take great delight in calling me “Howard the Coward,” and following that with gales of laughter. All of which brought me no delight at all.
Words can hurt. They can hurt so deeply. So what do you do when you encounter that kind of hurt in life? What do you do when people laugh at you and make fun of you in life? What do you do?
Several years back, I happened to meet a man on an airplane. We struck up a conversation, and since that time we have become much better acquainted. But on that occasion, on that airplane, he shared with me that he had just been forced to resign from his position as the president and the chief operating officer of Holiday Inns, Inc., the great national motel chain. You see, it seems that the board of directors of Holiday Inn had before them a proposal, which would take the company into the field of casino gambling, primarily in Atlantic City, New Jersey. As president of the company, this man opposed that step, and he worked vigorously to try to defeat it. He thought he could win. Instead, he lost. And he was forced to resign. But he said it wasn’t the fact that he lost the vote that hurt. And it wasn’t even the fact that he lost his job that hurt. No, it was the fact that, as he took his stand before the board of directors and told them that he was taking his stand because of his faith in Jesus Christ, they laughed at him. That’s what really hurt.
What do you do when you encounter the laughter of scorn and ridicule and derision in your experience? That is not a childish, frivolous question. Because, the fact is that those who are truly Christian in our day, sooner or later, are going to encounter the laughter of scorn and ridicule and derision from those who are about them. The question is a serious one. And it deserves our attention today. And so, that’s why I want us, for these few minutes together, to break open the Scriptures and see if we can frame a response.
The first thing that we can do when other people laugh at us and make fun of us is to laugh with them.
Yes, that’s the first thing that we can do. Yeah, we can learn to laugh at ourselves. We do make some rather silly mistakes in life, don’t we? Some things occur in our experience that are indeed laughable. Well, if that’s the case, we need to learn that, sometimes, it would do us good to laugh at ourselves, because laughing at ourselves has a way of reducing the pain and the embarrassment of those mistakes.
Oh, I know there are some Christians who don’t agree with that. They almost seem to feel that laughter has no place in the Christian faith. They seem to believe that if you have Jesus in your heart, you can’t have a smile on your face. You know, that’s a terrible distortion of Christianity. For exactly the opposite is true. Christianity fills you with a greater joy than any other joy you can ever know in this life. And besides that, the Scriptures are absolutely filled with humor, great humor. And the Bible reminds us that God has made us alone, among all of creation, God has made us with the ability to laugh. And not only that, but he’s given us all kinds of things around us to laugh at. I mean, have you ever seen an ostrich swallow? Have you ever heard a camel gurgle? Have you ever watched a group of monkeys playing in a tree? These things are hilarious, and they’re all around us. But what we need to remember is that not only are there funny things all around us, but sometimes the things that we do ourselves can be quite hilarious. And it’s good for us to laugh at ourselves occasionally. It has a way of correcting our conceit. I don’t know about you, but once in a while I need that.
This past summer, I happened to be standing where I could overhear a conversation between two men. I didn’t know them, nor did they know me. One of them was telling a joke to the other. The joke went like this. It seems that out in a certain jungle, there was a cannibal butcher shop. And one day, one of the cannibals came into the cannibal butcher shop and said to the butcher, “What do you have today?” And the butcher said, “Oh, we’ve got a special on today. We’ve got a special on missionary brains. We have some very good Baptist brains at $5 a pound. And we have some excellent Methodist brains at $5 a pound. And then we have some very succulent Presbyterian brains at $32 a pound.” I thought to myself, “The young man certainly is telling the joke right.” And the customer said to the butcher, “Why is it – tell me, why is it that Methodist and Baptist brains are $5 a pound and Presbyterian brains are so much more expensive at $32 a pound?” And I swelled up just a little bit. I could hardly wait to hear the answer. And the butcher looked at the customer, and he said, “Have you ever stopped to think how many Presbyterians you have to kill to get a pound of brains?” Hoo, that let me down in a hurry. But, you know, I needed to be let down. It was good to laugh at the joke, but it was also good to laugh at myself.
I remember when I was in Arkansas and made the decision to leave the church there and to come here to the First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, my resignation was announced in a letter to the congregation during the week. And on that following Sunday, after worship, a good many of those good people came up to me to express their feelings to me about my leaving. And, well, I have to tell you that, you know, as they came by one after another after another, I began to enjoy that. I mean, it felt good to be so wanted. And then there came one lady, an older lady, she was quite old, in fact. And she walked up to me, and she had a trace of a tear in her eye, and she said, “You just can’t leave. I don’t know what I’m going to do if you leave.” And I was moved by that and I said, “Well, thank you ma’am. Gee, that really makes me feel good that you care that deeply. But, you see, I’m trying to be responsive to God’s call in my life.” And she said, “Oh, you don’t understand. You can’t go. You see, I’ve been in this church through five preachers and every one is worse than the last.” Ah, that took the air out of my balloon.
But, you see, there are times when it’s good to laugh at ourselves. The Bible says a merry heart doeth good like a medicine. And sometimes laughing at ourselves is just the dose we need. But, there are some times when you just can’t laugh at all. There are some times when the scorn and the ridicule and the laughter are much too severe and cutting. What do you do then?
Well, that brings me to the second point in this sermon, and it’s this.
The second thing that we do when other people laugh at us is to still believe in ourselves, because we are the children of God.
You see, we need to remember that if ever we are laughed at, in scorn or ridicule we stand in some rather noble company. All kinds of people from Scripture – Job, for example. You know, the Bible says he was the finest man who lived in his time, and what does Job say? Job says, “I am laughed at and derided every single day.”
King David, what does he say? “My enemies take great pleasure in laughing at me.”
Jeremiah recorded that never a day went by that he was not ridiculed in some way or another.
Elijah was laughed at by small children, do you know why? Because he was bald.
There’ve been a lot of people on the pages of Scripture and all through history who’ve given themselves to doing great and noble and wholesome and righteous things in this world, and they’ve been laughed at because of it. But, the important thing is they kept on doing the righteous, noble, wholesome things. That’s what the psalmist is talking about when the psalmist writes, “The arrogant, the proud. They mock me. They laugh at me without restraint. But I do not turn from your law, O Lord.” Yes.
You see, the point is this. No one can ever make you feel inferior unless you permit them to do so. I heard that this past summer from the lips of Dr. Balmer Kelly. And the statement hit home to me, and I think it’s true. It’s worth repeating. No one can ever make you feel inferior unless you permit them to do so. You see, the truth is that when you begin to understand that if you get a grip on God in your life, you can get a grip on yourself. When you begin to understand that you are God’s. You are a child of God. You are His and He is yours. When you begin to understand that God loves you as if you are the only one in all the world to love. When you begin to understand that the only court of judgement which has any validity at all is the court of Almighty God. When you begin to understand that, then the scorn and the ridicule and the derision and the laughter of other people, it cannot even touch you.
Viktor Frankl, the great psychiatrist is such a help at this point. You know, he says that life is like a play on the stage. And we are the lead actor in our play. And the people who are around us play the supporting roles. And then, Frankl says, the audience is God. Our lives are played to God. And if that’s true – and I believe it is – then what difference does it make if some bit player belittles you for the way you handle a certain scene? What difference does it make if some stage hand guffaws when you blow a line? What difference does it make if some self-appointed critic shoots holes all in your performance? The only thing that really matters is the audience. And the audience is God. And the Bible tells us that when, at last, the curtain rings down, that God, the audience, God will stand and applaud and sing praise. Bravo! Great performance. Bravo.
Many years ago, a wise old man was hired to be the tutor for the son of the king of France. The old man’s biggest problem was the matter of discipline. I mean, how do you discipline royalty? So then, one day, he hit upon an idea. And he took the king’s son up into his lap, and he took a piece of purple ribbon, purple being the royal color of France. And he pinned that piece of purple ribbon on the boy’s tunic, right over his heart. And then, the old man said to the boy, “Your Highness, whenever you act in a manner which is unworthy, I shall appeal to the purple.” Oh, I wish that I could take each one of you into my arms today and pin on your heart a piece of the purple. To remind you that you are a royal child, a royal daughter or a royal son of the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. And that nothing and no one, nothing under Heaven or on Earth can ever take that away from you. So when other people laugh at you, in scorn or derision or ridicule, remember who you are, and remember Whose you are. You, yes, every one of you, you wear the purple.
But, there is something else. The third thing that we can do when other people laugh at us is to remember that God always has the last laugh.
Eugene O’Neill’s play, Lazarus Laughed, there’s a great scene where one of the characters is describing what happened when Jesus and Lazarus met for the last time on this Earth. He says, “Jesus approached. Lazarus went and knelt before him and reached out to Jesus, and Jesus touched him and blessed him and called him my brother. And then the two of them began to smile at each other. And then Jesus moved on.” He then goes on to say, “As Lazarus watched Jesus go, suddenly he began to laugh. Softly, at first. But then louder and louder and louder. And such a laugh it was, that my ears were drunk with the sound of it. So sweet was the sound of his laughter that, even though I was frightened, I found myself laughing, too.” Lazarus laughed, why? Because Lazarus knew that God has the last laugh. Lazarus knew that the very worst thing that can happen to us in life is death. And Lazarus knew – of all people, Lazarus knew that God laughs at death. That’s what resurrection is all about. It’s hilarious. God laughs in the face of death.
I love the three chapters in the Book of Job, chapters 39, 40, and 41. You ought to take up your Bible sometime and read those three chapters. I love them. There are descriptions there of some of the great animals God has created. Marvelous reading. I love, especially, the one about the horse. It says that the horse is strong, has a neck like iron. He snorts majestically and he paws the earth with his hooves. And he’s unafraid of conflict. And he does not fear his enemies. And he leaps majestically. And then the description ends like this. When the trumpet sounds, the horse cries, “Haha!” That’s what it says. And I love it. Because, you see, that’s the way we’re supposed to be. Strong in the strength of God. Pawing the earth in confidence. Snorting the praise of the Almighty. Unafraid of the enemies of God. So that when, at last, the trumpets sound, we laugh with God, “Haha!”
And the New Testament is filled with that kind of laughter. Words like these, “O Death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? Haha!” Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Can death separate us from God? No. Can life? No. Can angels or principalities or powers? No. Can things present or things to come? No. Can height or depth? No. Can any other creature? No. We are more than conquerors in all of these things, for nothing can ever separate us. Nothing, haha! Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s the great laughter of God. God always has the last laugh. And the last laugh is always victorious.
Some of us in this church have had the pleasure of hearing Elisabeth Elliot speak. She was introduced to the world some years ago by an inexplicable tragedy. Her young husband and several of his missionary colleagues were slaughtered by a tribe of Auca Indians in Ecuador. While the world was numb with shock over this heartbreaking massacre, Elisabeth Elliot wiped away the tears in her own eyes and with her little child, walked back into the jungle where the Auca Indians live. It was not a matter of publicity. It was not a symbolic gesture. She went to stay. And I believe that when the history of this century has at last been written, a century with unprecedented, spectaculars in space and a century with overwhelming disasters and war, I believe that none of those things in the end will overshadow this young widow’s act of courage and faith. For, you see, she didn’t go back to be apart from them. She went to be a part of them. She went to stay. She went to live with them. She went to become one of them. And, ultimately, that made the difference. For she stayed there until the months became years and until, at last, every one of the Auca Indians became her kinsmen in Christ. She was not the stereotype of the presumptuous missionary bending susceptible minds to her own beliefs, no. Rather, she saw what she was doing as being, well, like a theater where the Gospel of Jesus Christ was simply played out in real life.
The convert she made, she says, with a smile, may have been herself. And she tells this story with a smile. And why not? Because, you see, she understands that God has the last laugh. In the face of life, or even in the face of death, God has the last laugh. And because she belongs to God, the last laugh would be hers as well.
So, what do we do when people laugh at us, make fun of us, ridicule, scorn us, deride us? What do we do when we encounter that kind of pain in life? Well, sometimes, we just laugh at ourselves. It’s good for us to do that. But, always, we remember who we are and that God has written right across our souls the words, “Born to win.” And always, always we remember the solemn, yet hilarious truth that God always, in the face of life or in the face of death, God always has the last laugh. God, haha! Yes! God has the last laugh. The last laugh belongs to Him. And it also belongs, hahaha, to His people. To you, hahaha. Yes. To you. And to me.
Let us pray. Almighty God, we do encounter the hurt of scorn and ridicule in life. Help us to remember who we are and Whose we are. Help us to remember that the gospel is not tearful chidings, but cheerful tidings. Good news of a life-changing, world-changing Christ. We are His. Amen.