If you were to play the part of Jesus in a movie, how would you approach the role? That was the challenge faced by Bruce Marchiano, who played Jesus in the 1993 Visual Bible movie Matthew. Knowing that millions of viewers would draw conclusions about Jesus based on his work, the weight of getting Christ “right” felt overwhelming. He fell to his knees in prayer and begged Jesus for—well, for Jesus.
Bruce gained insight from the first chapter of Hebrews, where the writer tells us how God the Father set the Son apart by anointing Him “with the oil of joy” (1:9). This kind of joy is one of celebration—a gladness of connection to the Father expressed wholeheartedly. Such joy ruled in Jesus’ heart throughout His life. As Hebrews 12:2 describes it, “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Taking his cue from this scriptural expression, Bruce offered a uniquely joy-filled portrayal of his Savior. As a result, he became known as “the smiling Jesus.” We too can dare to fall to our knees and “beg Jesus for Jesus.” May He so fill us with His character that people around us see the expression of His love in us!
The letter to the Hebrews contains some of the most revealing Christology (the study of the person and work of Christ) in the New Testament. In Hebrews 1:8–12, God speaks about the role of the Son—understood to be the Messiah. This Son will have a just kingdom that lasts forever (v. 8), and because of the Son’s love for righteousness and hatred of wickedness, God anointed Him with “the oil of joy” (v. 9).
The oil of joy is a way to describe what Jesus faced while on earth. Yet joy is used of Jesus again in chapter 12. There the author says that it was because of the joy before Him (perhaps this anointing of the oil of joy?) that He endured the cross. Neither His ministry nor the cross were the joy; it was what followed that was so extraordinary that Jesus willingly suffered.