Welcome to Week 8 of our devotional series on those common Christian beliefs that have been overlooked or misunderstood. Ask anyone what the most famous verse in the Bible is, and they’re likely to tell you it’s John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” If I asked you what this verse is selling, what would you say? The answer seems easy: eternal life. But what exactly iseternal life?
God of Life — guide us today by your Word and your Holy Spirit, so that in your light we might see light, and in your truth, we might find freedom, and in your will we might truly discover peace. Amen.
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And you know the way to the place where I am going.” 5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”
8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?”
“Be Thou My Vision” — Traditional Irish Hymn; performed by Audrey Assad (YouTube video for in-home worship: Click here for Video)
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.
Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Next to my desk hangs a slip of paper, and on that slip of paper are six words: “Life is not a second God.” It’s a quote I ran across one day by a famous theologian who’s had his fair share of them. I printed it out as a reminder of two things. First, when we talk about “eternal life,” we should have in mind a lot more than not dying. In fact, for centuries Christians have quietly assumed that everyone lives forever. The only difference is where. Though the idea of “hell” may be less popular today than it once was, our own history of faith suggests eternal life might actually be a lot more than what happens to us after we die.
Which brings me to the second thing those six words on my wall remind me of, and that’s the fact that nothing is more important than God. God is God — not our current health, our grasping for life after death, or a mansion in heaven. Unfortunately, the way we talk about faith and the gospel tend to place our life (not God’s) smack dab in the driver’s seat. After all, John 3:16 does tempt us to believe in Jesus by offering us eternal life, and Jesus is famous for sayings like, “If you want to save your life, you should lose it.” Verses like these, strewn all across the Bible, place our desire to live front and center. When it comes to what the Bible is selling as the good news, it sure does seem to be our life.
But God’s view of what makes up “our life” and our own human view of it differ dramatically. In John 14:1-10, we’ve got another few verses about life and belief, and fortunately a lot more to go on about what “eternal life” might really means. For all Jesus’ talk in this chapter about preparing a place for us to go, the goal is not really for us to get to heaven or to live forever and ever. “Father’s house” and “dwelling places” are metaphors for something else. They’re stand-ins for God’s own presence. What does Jesus say in John 14:3? “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” The emphasis isn’t on the glories surrounding Jesus — heaven’s “jeweled houses” and “golden streets.” It’s on Jesus himself. It’s on being in God’s presence. Remember those six words on my wall? “Life is not a second God.” Only God is God. No wonder Jesus will go on to say a few verses later that he’s more than just the way to life and the truth about it. He’s that very life itself.
And yet, so much of the gospel we preach is wrapped up in selling something other than Jesus. Just this past week, I ran across a statement which stuck with me: “What you win them with is what you win them to.” What you sell is what people buy and what will then fuel their vision for life. That’s rather obvious, but it leaves us with an important question, “What actually are we selling? What vision of God and life are we winning people with and thus to? What’s our good news? Is it something other than Jesus himself? Is it simply something Jesus can get us, as if he’s only the shopkeeper and not actually the thing being sold?”
A long time ago, St. Augustine famously prayed, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” The good news of Christianity isn’t that faith will get us out of hell and into heaven. It’s not even that we’ll live forever. It’s that we get to be with God. It’s being in the very presence of Jesus Christ himself. No wonder Philip asks Jesus in verse eight to show him the Father, because then, he says, “we will be satisfied.” Philip knew what Augustine knew, that true satisfaction is only possible in the presence of God, not in his gifts. The only problem is Philip missed the fact that he was already in that presence. He had Jesus. That’s the real good news. That’s our actual eternal life. But if that’s the case, how might that change how we live and how we dream, how we worship and how we pray? How might that change your good news?
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — be our satisfaction. Be our holy vision. Be our eternal life today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.
– St. Augustine, The Confessions (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004).