“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” —1 John 4:9
Not long ago I was invited to a gala banquet inducting a number of famous individuals into a hall of fame. The stately hall was packed with thousands of people. Though my place was at a table in the very back corner— a long way from the action—I felt privileged just to be there. As the evening began, each honoree was introduced and made a grand entrance to the crowd’s ovation. I applauded from a distance as a sports hero and champion I particularly admired made his way into the room. Before this, magazine covers and television were as near to him as I had ever gotten.
A close friend of mine came by my table a few moments later. As we chatted, I asked if he knew any way I might be able to meet the champion.
“Jim?” he asked. “Why, he’s been a friend of mine for 30 years! I’ll take you over right now and introduce you.”
Before I could straighten my tie or think about what was happening, my friend had taken me by the arm, steered me right up to the table of honor, and was saying, “Jim, there’s someone I’d like you to meet.”
With that warm commendation from our mutual friend, I was “in”—not just for a handshake or a photo opportunity, but as if I were a long-lost family member. Entering into relationship with God is something like that. It’s one thing to view His majesty from a distance, but through the Son we are able to get “up close and personal.” You see, it is the Son, the one who calls us “friend,” who gently takes us by the arm and ushers us into God’s presence.
Through the Son we hear God speak. Through the Son we see God’s compassionate heart. And even more, through the Son we draw near and personally experience God’s presence.
Hearing God’s Voice
When John wrote his gospel, he chose not to begin with Jesus at the manger in Bethlehem. He wanted his readers to understand who this Jesus was and always had been, so he started at the very beginning.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.
By way of introduction, John tells us two fundamental truths about Jesus. The first is that He existed from eternity past with God. We might be apt to breeze past this statement, but it has powerful implications. It means that the Son naturally belongs in the presence of the Father; if we’re His friends, then we can go where He goes.
The second truth is that Jesus unequivocally is God. John applies a vivid designation to Jesus: “The Word” (logos). This term captures the essence of everything that makes the Son of God unique. Logos means not only “concept or idea,” but an “expression” that reveals an idea and communicates it to others. As we hear the Word, we are hearing God Himself.
When Jesus was transfigured on the mountain before Peter, James, and John, a bright cloud overshadowed Him and a voice sounded from heaven, saying,
This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!
“Listen to Him,” the Father said, “because when you hear Him, you are hearing Me.” Elsewhere, Jesus tells us that the perfect truth of the Father is expressed in the words of the Son:
If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. . . . These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
Paying close attention to what the Son communicates is imperative in relating to God. Through the Son, the truth of God’s mind is perfectly expressed. Jesus wants us to hear and follow His Father’s truth so that we can enjoy a unique, intimate relationship with Him and His Father and be at home with God.
Seeing God’s Compassion
When Moses asked God to reveal His glory, he was given a rare glimpse as God passed by and declared who He was: “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God . . .” (Ex. 34:6). Notice the very first thing God declared: He is full of compassion.
The Hebrew word translated “compassion” (used many times in the Old Testament to describe God) comes from the word womb and speaks of the deep, tender love that flows from a mother’s heart toward her child. Though hard to explain, every mother knows it. It’s an attentive love that can distinguish the cry of her own child across a noisy room. It’s an emotional love that is moved to the most inward parts just by a sound.
Like any tender parent, God’s compassionate heart is moved by the joys and sorrows of His children. Though He is exalted above the heavens, God draws near when we are the lowest and reaches out to touch us when we are the neediest.
In Jesus, we see that glorious, compassionate heart expressed in the flesh. We had heard of it, but not until the Son came could we see it and understand. The incarnation was the ultimate expression of an exalted God who draws near to us in our time of greatest need.
When Jesus stooped in the dust alongside a woman discarded in condemnation, He revealed Himself as our rescuer from the garbage heap of life. When He spoke words of mercy to outcast rebels, we hear what it sounds like to receive grace when we wander. When He embraced “untouchables,” we feel a heart so moved by our brokenness that absolutely nothing can stop Him from holding us close. And when He walked to the cross, we see the stunning, matchless expression of God’s sacrificial love.
This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
—1 Jn. 4:9-10, emphasis mine
We had heard from a distance that God was forgiving and gracious, but it was when Jesus was lifted high on a cross that this love was perfectly manifested for all to see.
Experiencing God’s Presence
The final line of this story of love, however, was not written on the cross. The Son of God is demonstrating that same reaching love today. The writer of Hebrews tells us that, having finished that ultimate sacrifice upon the cross, Jesus took His seat at the right hand of the Father in heaven (1:3). Seated in that place of glory, His ministry is to receive those who draw near. Right now He is pleading mercy and grace for those who have trusted in Him (7:25).
So often I struggle coming into the intimate presence of God. In moments of worship I will hear a nagging voice in my head telling me that I’m a hypocrite: How can you sing that in light of what you know you’ve done? Sometimes when I’m trying to call out to God in prayer, I hear condemning reminders of how regularly I fail. I can’t help but wonder: If God is as holy as He says He is, and knows as much about me as He says He does, how could He possibly tolerate me in His presence?
It is in these vulnerable moments that the reaching love of Jesus becomes so significant. I am reminded again that it is only because of this Son who shared my journey, sympathizes with my weakness, died for my sin, and lives to bring me near . . . it is only because of Him that I am welcome in the presence of God.
Since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. . . . Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
I don’t have to grovel when Jesus calls me friend. I don’t have to beg desperately when the Son has already made my case for me. I don’t have to earn my way in when the Word has already opened the door. The presence of God is a place that I enter with confidence not because I deserve it, but because I am wanted there. I know that God wants me because He demonstrates this through His Son.
The Son of God is more than a historical fact that provides the basis for my standing with God. He is the present reality that enables me to experience a living relationship with God.
Back at the hall-of-fame banquet, my friend smiled with satisfaction at having brought me together with Jim. But he wasn’t finished.
“Jim,” he said, “I see that you don’t have anyone sitting next to you. I’m going to have Mike join you for dinner. I know that you’ll enjoy the time together.” “I couldn’t!” I protested. “Besides—I left my coat at the other table.” My friend insisted. “I’ll get your coat for you. You two just sit down and get started. I have a feeling you’ll have a lot to talk about.”
So it was that I sat by my hero’s side at the table of honor, talking and laughing with him as if we were old friends. I felt accepted and honored. It wasn’t because I deserved to be there, but because someone who had the right to do so made the introduction.
I had seen the glory from a distance, but I understood the person and experienced his presence when my friend graciously brought me close.
That’s what Jesus does for us. At every moment since the beginning of time the Son has—in love—drawn us toward God. In the Son, we realize that the heart of God is breaking, and the love of God is reaching, and the purpose of God—our redemption, our admittance into intimate relationship with Him—is unfolding and being perfected.
In Jesus, we see a God who is so moved by compassion that He reaches out to touch us. In Jesus, we encounter a God who is so inviting that we can reach out and touch Him.
–by Mike Fleischmann
Used by permission of Discipleship Journal. Copyright © March/April 2005, Issue 146, The Navigators. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. www.navpress.com