We Shall Behold Him

So what’s my favorite picture of Jesus?

Over the past few weeks we have considered some of our favorite descriptions of Jesus—such as touching a man filled with leprosy or hugging the little children that the disciples felt unworthy of His time and attention. Last week we reflected on Jesus’ hands, washing the feet of His friends at the Passover Dinner. The next day His hands and feet were nailed to the cross. 

So how would you describe Jesus?                                                              

Obviously, nobody has actually taken a photo of Jesus.  No first century artist painted His picture or considered this rabbi significant enough to chisel His likeness in stone, as they did with Caesar and other famous leaders. Centuries before He was born, the prophet Isaiah told us that “He has no stately form or majesty that we should look upon Him, nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him” (Isaiah 53:1, nasb).

Even the men who wrote the four gospels, who walked with Him over the course of several years, didn’t include a physical description of Jesus. We might wish they had, but they didn’t. So we can probably conclude that He looked like any other ordinary man.

Fortunately, the Bible contains descriptions of things Jesus did or said that help us identify with Him—to put a face on Him, if you will. Without these stories we wouldn’t know whether He was kind and gentle or harsh. Was He an extrovert or more reserved?  Did He prefer to hang out near the temple with the respected religious leaders, or was He comfortable around sinners? A resounding, “Yes!” to the last option. In fact, the elite religious accused Him of being a “friend of sinners.” These eyewitness accounts affirm that tax-collecting thieves and women of ill repute or those possessed by demons were part of His social circle. (Of course, each of these had been rescued and set free by Jesus.)

Mark summarized Jesus’ life in one descriptive sentence: “He did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

We find it easy to love the Jesus who was tender and kind-hearted—the healer and helper. We admire the great teacher who held multitudes spellbound with His simple, but probing, stories. Who wouldn’t admire Jesus the great miracle worker who fed a multitude with a boy’s small lunch?

We respect the Jesus who could have called an army of angelic warriors, but chose to die alone for sinners like us. We celebrate His victory over death—dedicating the first day of each week as The Lord’s Day and one day each year as resurrection Sunday. Every time we observe the Lord’ Supper the words, “Do this in remembrance of Me,” draw our minds back to His sacrificial death. That’s it! That’s the key! Remember Jesus for who He is and what He has done—for giving His life for us.

So, what’s my favorite picture of Jesus?

My very favorite picture of Jesus hasn’t yet been taken, but I know it will be the most splendid and glorious of all pictures in my memory album.

I love Jesus for all the above reasons and many more. I create mental pictures of Him when I read the gospels or sing songs about Him, and that’s good. But I am saving room in my Jesus memory album for one more picture—not of something that He has done but for something He has promised to do. 

At the Passover dinner, Jesus shocked His disciples when He said that He would die the next day. Then He added that they were to remember Him whenever they ate the bread and drank from the cup. The cup and the bread are like a photo of a loved one. You know what I mean. You focus on that photograph—that thin slice of time—and you remember that person and what he or she means to you. Remembering them can be comforting.

Jesus also gave His disciples something to anticipate.

Anticipation and hope are vital to our mental and physical health—sometimes even our survival. When life is very severe, some people may lose hope and choose death over life. 

Prisoners of war, such as those in the Nazi concentration camps have endured terrible conditions. Each had water, food and oxygen—the essentials for life—yet many died while others survived horrible abuse. The secret?  Those who survived had hope—something to anticipate: being rescued and returning home. The book and the movie, “Unbroken,” tell the story of Louis Zemperini. Louis spent 47 days adrift in a life raft with three fellow Americans after their bomber crashed into the ocean. He was eventually captured and incarcerated in a Japanese Prisoner of War camp, where he was tortured and brutalized for almost two years. But he never lost hope that the Allies would win the war and set him free. That’s the sustaining power of hope.

I believe all the stories in the Bible have been stitched together with hope. The first promise in the Bible, in Genesis 3:15, is a promise that the “seed of the woman” (that we now know is Jesus Christ) would someday destroy the serpent (Satan). The battle between the serpent and the Son of the woman would be severe. It would even appear that the serpent had won when they buried Jesus, but His resurrection would ultimately seal Satan’s doom forever. 

Godly people of faith have clung to that promise throughout Scripture, enabling them to survive the most severe challenges. The promise was passed from generation to generation—from people like Seth, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David and the prophets. The older testament closes with an affirmation that the promised seed would come; the newer testament opens with the announcement of the birth of the promised seed to a young Jewish virgin. The gospels tell about his life, death and resurrection and conclude with another promise that Jesus would return again. The Book of Acts opens with an angel promising Jesus’ disciples: “This same Jesus will come in the same manner.”  

I can imagine, as Jesus was being visibly lifted up into heaven, the disciples standing with mouths gaping in wonder. The promise that Jesus would return became the motivating factor that sustained the apostles through persecution and even martyrdom. 

The New Testament letters reverberate with the promise that we also will someday rise again to new life when Christ returns. It’s called the “blessed hope and glorious appearing” of the Christ.

The Book of The Revelation is just that—an unveiling of Jesus as both lion and lamb, sovereign and savior. Revelation closes with the most glorious descriptions of Jesus Christ:

 “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:11–16, ESV) 

No matter how we may interpret these verses, the point is clear: Jesus will return as the warrior king and righteous judge. His judgments will be severe. 

The imagery changes from the warrior Jesus riding on a white warhorse to Jesus, the King of Kings seated on a white throne. 

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  (Revelation 20:11-15, ESV)

How would you describe the above scene? Solemn? Dreadful? Threatening? Yes! No matter if a person is powerful and famous or insignificant, each will stand before the Great Judge to be judged on the basis of what they have done in this life. My name is written in that book. Yours, also.

The following paragraphs in The Revelation describe a renewed heaven and earth where God will again dwell among His people as He did in the Garden so long ago. Try to imagine that scene!

Even more amazing are these words: “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 22:4,5, ESV)

Then this amazing promise from the lips of Jesus himself: “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.” Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates.” (Revelation 22:12, 13, ESV)

Finally, the Bible closes with this grand invitation: 

The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. …He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.”  (Revelation 22:17, 20, ESV)

How should we respond to such a person and such a promise? Can there be better words than these? “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen.” (Revelation 22:20, ESV)

And that is our hope. That is our strong motivation to stand strong through whatever storms threaten to destroy us. 

Yes, sometimes life may feel like a prison. The culture around us seems to be rapidly disintegrating—wrong is right and right is mocked. Trusted friends betray. Health breaks. We feel like we’re adrift in a sinking boat on a stormy sea. All hope is sinking with the boat.

In times like these, when life feels hopeless, where shall we turn? To whom? 

How about reflecting on this promise? Jesus will return, perhaps today, and we shall behold Him face to face. In that moment, we won’t wonder anymore about “what He looks like.” No, we will actually see Him face to face in all His glory—no longer just another ordinary man—but glorious, majestic, indescribably beautiful!

 Imagine our first impression—our response—the truly over-the-top emotions. There are no words in human language suitable to describe His beauty or to measure our emotional response.

That blessed hope should sustain us in the midst of trials.  

I realize the song may be dated, but I believe you will be encouraged by listening to Sandi Patti signing Dottie Rambo’s, We Shall Behold Him. 

Sandi Patty – We Shall Behold Him (Official Live Video) – Bing video

Looking Forward

As a child, I eagerly looked forward to Christmas and birthdays. Mostly, I confess, for the anticipated gifts

One Christmas remains fixed in memory. As the magical day approached and gifts began to collect under the tree, I kept watching for a uniquely shaped package—one that might possibly conceal a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun.

I believe that we human beings have been hardwired by our Creator with a sense of anticipation. We look forward to special days, special achievements, and reaching long-desired goals. A person with nothing to anticipate, nothing to look forward to and nothing to strive for, is in a very bad place. 

Remember counting the days until your 16th birthday and a driver’s license? I certainly do. Other milestones follow: graduations, marriage, parenthood and career advancements. Life is filled with pleasant and difficult episodes linked by the hope that things will turn out well.

That’s also the storyline in the Bible. After the fall and subsequent judgments, God promised to send a deliverer who would defeat the evil invader and lift the curse that had fallen over the entire creation. Anticipation of that promise—like a flaming torch—was passed from generation to generation throughout the Old Testament. 

The New Testament opens with breaking news delivered by angels. Their message? The promised deliverer had at last been born.  The four gospels record Jesus’ teaching and miracles—and the simmering hostility that would boil over into His arrest and violent death. The serpent appeared to have dealt a deathblow at the cross. But all of those dashed hopes were restored on that incomparable Sunday morning when Jesus walked out the tomb under His own power. 

I love the way Luke 24 quotes two of Christ’s followers, who had witnessed their Lord’s crucifixion: “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.” They had given up hope, trudging back to the village of Emmaus, kicking stones along the way, feeling as empty as they had ever felt in their lives. But the story wasn’t over, was it? And what was it about that Stranger who seemed to join them out of nowhere on the long walk home? Listening to the resurrected Jesus—hidden for a moment from their recognition—share that the Old Testament prophets had predicted His death and resurrection re-ignited the smoldering flame of hope.

The rest of the New Testament is awash with hope.

The book of Acts opens with a promise that Jesus will return. As His disciples stand with gaping mouths watching Jesus ascend into heaven, an angel said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:10, 11 esv). What would it have been like—watching Jesus defy the law of gravity and rise up into the clear blue sky? I really can’t imagine. But the promise that He will someday visibly return ought to motivate everything that I do.

Anticipation of Jesus’ return to earth sustained and motivated followers of Jesus throughout the New Testament. From Paul’s magnum opus to the Romans through Jude’s brief letter the promise of Christ’s return is offered as hope to early Christians. That same hope, that anticipation of Christ’s return at any moment, ought to encourage us today.

Hope in Christ’s return provides encouragement to endure suffering. Paul reminded believers in Rome that, no matter how severe their hardships and heartbreaks became, they were insignificant compared to the glory yet to come—glory not only for people like Paul, but also for all creation that had also been suffering under the curse. Five times, in just three short sentences, Paul offers the word hope to encourage his readers in hard times (Romans 8:24, 25).

Peter encouraged Christians that were suffering harsh persecution to “set your hope on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation (return) of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). 

Anticipation of Jesus’ return motivates us to live godly lives.  In his letter to Titus, Paul writes that Jesus’ promised return should motivate us to live godly lives: “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11–14, ESV)

John also encourages his readers to live holy lives in anticipation of Jesus’ return: “And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him. See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 2:28–3:3, ESV)

Hope in Christ’s return comforts believers in times of loss and death. Grief is a normal, even healthy, response when a loved one has died. However, we do not need to bgrieve like those without hope because we can anticipate Christ’s return. “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, ESV)

Hope in Jesus’ return provides confidence and stamina to finish strongly. The author of Hebrews encouraged Christians that were experiencing pressure to abandon their faith. He offers a list of Old Testament characters that endured hardship through hope; he points to Jesus as the ultimate model for enduring hardship through hope: Jesus, “for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

The resurrection Christ and the promise of his return provided motivation for Christians in Corinth to finish well: “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58, ESV) No trial is insurmountable, and no task is insignificant if we truly believe Jesus will return to judge and to reward.

I believe that hope is like a thread that binds the New Testament letters and their readers together. This hope is more than a doctrinal truth to claim or to debate; it is a promise to anticipate in good times and bad.

Paul began a letter to the church at Thessalonica with a prayer of thanks, remembering their “steadfastness of hope” in Jesus, and how they turned to God from idols to serve Him and to wait for His Son from heaven.

I close with Paul’s prayer of blessing on his friends in Thessalonica: “Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word” (2 Thessalonians 2:16).

Christ’s return is the promise that we can cling to and the hope that sustains through thick or thin.

No matter where we are in life—in the strength and beauty of youth or in our final days in a nursing home—we have something to look forward to that is better than a thousand Christmases. More precious than any present you could dream or imagine, wrapped and under the tree. 

On the day that we close our eyes on earth and open them in heaven, we will experience, face to face, what we have known in our hearts all along. Hope has a Name.