If youíre serious about your walk with God, then you want to get to know your heavenly father. And so you may study his majesty, his power, his glory. But do you know your Lordís human face?
You may wonder what I mean by this. After all, we know God is spirit and that heís invisible to us. Scripture states plainly, (John 1:18) "No man hath seen God at any time..." So, how can God have a human face?
I believe part of Jesusí mission on earth was to reveal the heavenly fatherís human face to us. We see this in the passage when Christ told his disciples he was about to return to the father. He said, (John 14:4) "Whither I go ye know, and the way ye know".
When the disciples heard this, they were dumbfounded.
Thomas replied, (v. 5) "Lord, we know not whither thou goest; and how can we know the way?". In other words: "How can we know where youíre going? And if you leave us, how will we ever get to the father? You told us yourself that youíre the only way to him."
Jesus answered him, (v.7) "If ye had known me, ye should have known my Father also: and from henceforth ye know him, and have seen him". Philip was befuddled by this. He must have thought, "What does Jesus mean, weíve seen the father? How can we see a spirit? And how can Jesus be God, if we can see him? This is all some kind of incomprehensible riddle." Finally, he blurted out, (v.8) "...Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us".
Jesus knew Philipís request was sincere, so he answered it patiently: (v.9) "...Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?".
Jesus then turned and addressed all the disciples: (v. 11) "Believest thou not that I am in the Father, and the Father in me?...". After saying this, he gave them a glorious promise: (v. 20) "At that day [after my resurrection] ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you".
What an amazing conversation! Christ was telling these men, "Look at me! Donít you see Iím God, clothed in human flesh? Iím the very essence of the father. All that he is in nature, substance and character is in me.
Everything I say and do reveals what heís like. So, when I act and speak, youíre seeing him at work. Iíve come to earth to show you the human face of God!
"I realize you canít comprehend all this now. But when Iím raised from the dead, Iíll show you conclusively who the father is. Iíll manifest him to you, for he and I are one."
Today, we know Christís entire ministry was a manifestation of who the father is. Jesus did only what he saw the father doing, or what the father told him to do, and nothing else. In fact, Jesus stated outright, (5:30) "I can of mine own self do nothing...". He repeats this assertion throughout the gospel of John:
(12:49-50) "I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak". (v. 45) "He that seeth me seeth him that sent me". (10:30) "I and my Father are one". (8:42) "...I proceeded forth and came from God; neither came I of myself, but he sent me".
The apostle Paul confirms this when he says of Christ, (1 Timothy 3:16) "...God was manifest in the flesh..." Elsewhere, Paul calls Jesus (Colossians 1:15) "...the image of the invisible God..."
A clear picture emerges: God sent his son to show us exactly what he, the father, is like. So, to know and see God, we first must know and see Christ!
For centuries, artists have attempted to put a human face on God. In paintings and on stain-glassed windows in many cathedrals, God is pictured as a scowling, white-bearded tyrant in the sky, with lightning bolts leaping out of his fingertips. In one prominent South American cathedral, heís even shown standing over a kneeling mass of people, wielding a huge club. Sadly, this is an image shared by multitudes worldwide.
Of course, we have to acknowledge that God does have a severe side. The Lord is just and holy, and he wonít spare his wrath against hardened, wicked sinners who continually reject his gospel. Paul reminds us of this severe side of God, which appears hand-in-hand with his goodness: (Romans 11:22) "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off".
The Greek word for "severity" in this verse means "decisive, abrupt, peremptory." In turn, the word "peremptory" means "dictatorial, leaving no doubt, accepting no excuses." In other words, God will do what he says heíll do and heíll do it decisively!
Jesus manifested this severe aspect of Godís character in his walk on earth. For instance, he had no patience with hypocrites and Pharisees who mocked the Holy Ghost at work in him. And when the religious leaders allowed moneychangers to do business in the temple, Christ drove them out with a whip, calling them robbers. Beloved, that is severity!
Consider also Jesusí severe words of judgment: (Matthew 11:21-22) "Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee,
Bethsaida!...It shall be more tolerable for". And he said to the scribes and Pharisees, (23:33) "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?" Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you
Finally, Jesus prophesied with severity to Israelís beloved capital: (v. 37-38) "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate".
Paul confirms this severe side of God, stating, (Romans 1:18) "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness". The apostle adds that God will recompense the wicked for their deeds: (2:8-9) "Unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil...".
†Tragically, however, many preachers today have done away with Godís severity. They speak only of his goodness and love, never mentioning any penalty for sin. In effect, they remove the fear of God from believersí hearts, and take away one of the strongest motivations to holiness.
Yet Godís word says in no uncertain terms: "...fear the Lord, and depart from evil" (Proverbs 3:7). "...by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil" (16:6). Paul had this fear in mind when he instructed Timothy, "Preach the word...reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Timothy 4:2). Paul said this kind of preaching was "sound doctrine" meaning, "a healthy, life-giving gospel."
Godís severity is only one side of his human face. The other side is his goodness and unconditional love. We see this revealed in Jesusí ministry also. Everything Christ said and did revealed the marvelous lovingkindness of the father.
I must ask you: Do you have this concept of your heavenly father that heís loving and gracious to you, his child? And do you believe that you bring him joy and pleasure? Or, do you see God only as a vengeful, judgmental father who stands over you, waiting to pounce on you when you make a mistake?
The fact is, God is very concerned about your concept of him. And thatís why Jesus was so determined to reveal the fatherís goodness toward his children, in three special manifestations. Johnís gospel records that each of these manifestations took place after Christís resurrection. And each reveals to us something important about our heavenly father:
The first time Jesus manifested himself, heíd just been crucified, and his remaining disciples were scattered. But soon the disciples gathered together again, locking themselves inside a room "...for fear of the Jews..." (John 20:19).
The Greek word for "fear" in this verse means "terrified, frightened, exceedingly afraid." These men were paralyzed, gripped by the fear of man. A mere knock on the door could make their hearts race; it might be Roman soldiers coming to arrest them.
Yet, Jesus had promised them before he was crucified: (16:25) "...the time cometh, when I shall no more speak unto you in proverbs, but I shall shew you plainly of the Father". The word "plainly" here means "assurance, beyond doubt, visibly."
Little did these men know, Jesus was speaking of their present moment, as they sat trembling in that locked room. He was saying, "When you see me again, watch me closely, and listen carefully to my words. Youíll see and hear your heavenly father in me!"
Suddenly, a knock came on the door. It was Mary Magdalene and she exclaimed, "I saw the Lord! He spoke to me! He said to tell you heís going to ascend to the father. And he called him Ďmy father and your father, my God and your Godí" (see 20:17-18).
The disciples listened with curiosity but they just didnít get it. They now knew Jesus was alive but they couldnít comprehend his resurrection. So, instead of going outside and proclaiming, "Heís alive!", they remained huddled together all day.
That same night, Jesus appeared among them in that locked room: "...Jesus...stood in the midst, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side..." (verses 19-20).
What an amazing thing to behold! Jesus suddenly appeared among the disciples and when he did, he didnít speak a single word of rebuke or condemnation to them. Instead, he said simply, "Peace to you." By this he meant, "Youíre living in fear because youíre not walking in the light. But I say to you, thereís no need to fear. Have peace!"
Itís important to remember here Jesusí previous promise to his disciples: "After my resurrection, Iíll come and reveal the father to you." Now, at this very moment, something was happening in that room that had to do with a revelation of who God is. And the first thing we notice is Jesusí offer of peace. He was revealing the nature of our heavenly father: Godís first words to us are never words of condemnation, but of peace!
Luke gives us an expanded picture of what happened. He says when Jesus appeared, the disciples "...were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit" (Luke 24:37). But Jesus urged them, "...handle [touch] me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have" (verse 39).
Jesus wanted them to know not only that he was God, but that he was flesh and bone as well. Even when he later ascended to glory, he never gave up his humanity. He was spirit, yes but he remained a human being, just like us. And so, today, we can know that even in glory, our Lord is touched with the feelings of our infirmities.
Next, Jesus explained from the scriptures his mission why he had to be crucified and raised from the dead. Then he showed the disciples his nail-scarred hands and his wounded side, telling them, "I want to reveal something to you about the father. All of these things my death, burial and resurrection point to one thing." "That repentance and remission of sins should be preached in (my) name among all nations..." (verse 47).
Jesus said it was all about reconciliation! I ask you what does this reveal about our heavenly fatherís nature? It says heís like a father who has lost his children and is so determined to be reconciled to them, he gives up his own life for them, in his son.
Paul writes: "...God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself..." (2 Corinthians 5:19). "All things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ..." (verse 18). "...be ye reconciled to God" (verse 20). The word "reconcile" here means "to restore divine favor; to remove all hostilities." Paul is saying, "Be reconciled to God by coming back to his grace and mercy!"
Do you want to know Godís heart toward you? Then listen to Jesusí words in that locked room: "Look at my scars, my nail prints, my wounded side. Iíve done all this by the will of my father your father to reveal his heart toward you. He wants to restore you, to remove all walls and barriers to reconcile you to himself. Forgiveness is now provided, because my blood has paid the price. Now, be reconciled to God!"
If you think God angrily pulls away from you every time you fail if you think his love turns to displeasure each time you sin you donít know the fatherís heart at all. You simply canít know him until you know he wants to reconcile you to himself. He wants you to be one with him enjoying his blessing and favor!
Jesusí second manifestation took place for the sake of one disciple
Thomas. Thomas wasnít in that locked room when Jesus first appeared. But he later joined the disciples, and they tried to explain to him what happened: (John 20:25) "The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he [ Thomas] said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe".
The Greek word for "thrust" here means "push violently and forcefully."
Thomas was saying, "I wonít believe heís alive until I can push my fist into his side." He was speaking tongue-in-cheek, of course, as an expression of total unbelief.
As I read
Thomasís words in this passage, I want to say to him, "You ungrateful, unmindful man! How can you doubt the word of the risen Lord, after all the miracles youíve seen? Jesus himself told you heíd rise up on the third day!"
Yet, the moment my anger flares up, I realize, "Oops Iím describing me!" Often in my life, when crises arise but I see no evidence that God hears my prayers, doubts come flooding in. Iím tempted to think, "I canít just walk around in the dark. If the Lord expects me to keep trusting him, he needs to show me some kind of sign."
This must have been
Thomasí thinking. But now, once again, Jesus appeared in order to reveal to his followers and to us today the human face of God: (20:26) "After eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you". Again, Jesus offered peace. Then he said to Thomas: (v. 27) "...Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing".
Thomas exclaimed, "...My Lord and my God" (v.28). Jesus answered him, "... Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed" (v.29).
What is the lesson here? What does Jesus want us to learn about our heavenly father? It is this: God takes great pleasure when we trust him without needing evidences for belief!
Jesus was saying to
Thomas, "When will you stop needing signs to believe in me? Youíve seen my life. Youíve watched me go into the mountains to pray. You know I never make a move without consulting the father. Well, heís your father too, Thomas. And without faith, itís impossible to please him!
"You just called me your Lord and your God. But if Iím truly God to you, then let me be God to you. Live wholly dependent on me! I canít be God to you until you resign all things into my hands, with full trust and confidence."
As we ask the question again who is God and what is he like? we see heís a father who not only wants to reconcile us to himself, but he also wants to rule over our lives with his love, wisdom and power.
So far, Jesus has taught us two lessons through his manifestations, lessons about his reconciliation and his rulership. Now, hereís the lesson of his third manifestation:
Scripture says, (John 21:1) "After these things Jesus shewed himself again to the disciples at the
". (v. 14) "This is now the third time that Jesus shewed himself to his disciples, after that he was risen from the dead". sea of Tiberias; and on this wise shewed he himself
Hereís the setting: Peter and the other disciples were gathered together still confused, still lacking direction, still reeling in their minds over all the events theyíd seen. Peter felt it was all so far above his head, he declared, "Iím going fishing!" (verse 3). Quickly, all the other disciples jumped up and said, "Weíre going with you!"
Now, these men werenít just going fishing for the night. No they were saying, "This stuff is too heavy for us. All these events, all these doctrines Jesus talks about theyíre beyond us. Weíre going back to our old occupation."
Scripture says, (v.3) "They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately; and that night they caught nothing". (v.4) "But when the morning was now come, Jesus stood on the shore: but the disciples knew not that it was Jesus".
Once again, Jesus manifested himself to his disciples for a purpose. He was going to show them one last, important truth about their heavenly father. The story is familiar:
The disciples had struggled all night but caught nothing. And now they were tired, hungry and frustrated. Then, suddenly, they heard a voice yelling at them from the shore, about three hundred yards away, saying, "Have you caught anything?"
They answered, "No, we havenít had a bite all night." Then the voice came back to them: "Throw your nets on the other side." They did and they hauled in a catch that was so heavy, it almost tore their nets!
As John looked down at all the fish swirling in the water, he said to Peter, "Itís the Lord. Only he could perform this kind of miracle!" Peter knew it was true and immediately he jumped into the water and swam to shore, while the others followed in the boat. When they arrived, they found Jesus cooking bread and fish for them to eat.
What an amazing scene! Not long ago, I heard a young southern preacher describe the passage this way: "We serve a God whoís so concerned for his children, he cooks biscuits for them!" When I heard this, I whispered to myself, "Yes, Lord! Youíre a God who cooks breakfast for your people. Youíre concerned for our welfare, our jobs, our families everything about us!"
After the disciples had eaten, Jesus proceeded with his last manifestation of the human face of God. Once again, he never uttered a single word about the disciplesí forsaking his call and turning to their old occupation. Instead, he looked at Peter and asked him, "Peter, do you love me?"
Now, many sermons have been preached about this, to try to learn why Jesus asked Peter this probing question three times. I believe Christ simply wanted once more to show us something about the father. And the lesson here is this: Our heavenly father is all about relationship about loving us, and about us loving him!
Peter answered, "Yes, Lord you know I love you." But he must have been in deep despair, thinking, "I may look bold on the outside, but inside Iím a jellyfish. I actually denied and cursed the God of glory. I canít go back to being a fisher of men for Jesusí kingdom. Iím not worthy."
Jesus interrupted his thoughts by repeating the question: "Peter, do you love me?" He was saying, in other words: "Peter, this is what God really wants from you. Itís not about your wisdom, your willpower or your works. All he wants is for you to love him more than anything in the world!"
Peter answered, "Lord, you know I love you." But he still must have been thinking, "Thereís too much to understand. All these doctrines are too deep, too difficult to grasp. Others may get them, but theyíre beyond me. Sure, I have zeal, but itís without knowledge. Iím just an uneducated fisherman. I donít even understand the leading of the Lord. How could ever I live wholly dependent on him?"
Finally, Jesus asked the disciple a third time: "Peter, do you love me?" And I believe this time, Peter got the message. Suddenly he saw that knowing the father was about more than reconciliation and rulership. It was also about having a relationship with him!
So, we return to our question a final time: Who is God, and what is he like? Heís a God who wants you to receive his love and in turn he wants to be loved by you!
In turn, how do I know God loves me? I know it because Jesus has said, "...he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father..." (John 14:21).
Godís very nature is love. John writes in his epistle: (1 John 4:8-9, 16, 19 "...God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him... 16 And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him... 19 We love him, because he first loved us").
I pray that Godís Spirit will guide you in appropriating these lessons from Jesusí manifestations. Remember these three words: reconciliation, rulership and relationship. And know that they show you the human face of your heavenly father!
He seeks to reconcile you to himself. And he wants to rule over you in love. Finally, he loves you. So, will you accept his love and will you love him in return?
†This is knowing the human face of the father!
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