Words to live by | Online journal of Marc Heriot

Archive for the ‘Gospels’ Category

John 6:39-40 The reality of living forever

This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day. ‭‭John‬ ‭6:39-40‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

I love what Jesus does here — he declares his victory over a foe and doesn’t even give him the courtesy of a name. He simply steps around him without any acknowledgement and declares life. Identity is in a name. It is in being recognized that we are who we are. Even so Jesus focuses on two powerful messages in this conversation: he gives us life that never ends, and he will raise us up on the last day. What audacious claims! How do I reconcile his promise of living forever with our experiences today? We all die. We often fight a brutal fight with sickness, accident, old age and still lose to death. Jesus is addressing death in two moments: both in the present in our current conflict, and in the future, proclaiming a life in a new reality, a new “normal” without death. But these words don’t fully impact me until I purposefully connect the dots with our reality today. To me Death has a name, a forceful name that I cannot ignore.

Death has deeply impacted my psyche and written his affect on my and other’s lives in so many ways. As a child it is emotionally impacting to see my first pet die. Even a goldfish. Or the bird I see lying on the ground. When I was little and my Grandpa Joe died, it was hard to process what it meant. Another time when I was five years old I went to visit my good neighbor Etta who was always willing to talk with me, yet this time she asked me to leave because the ambulance driver was taking away her husband, for good, I later discovered. I won’t see these loved ones again? It just feels wrong! My most primitive instinct is to live. Growing up, it is difficult to extract or identify the “fear of death” in everything I learned because it was the foundation, the unspoken premise of much of what I was taught. From where I played (in the street), to how I played (so I would not be injured), and how I treated others (if I hit my sister, don’t I know that dad would kill me?!) the recognition of death is woven through everything. Choices I make daily, unconsciously, give a nod to Death and my instinctual desire to avoid my inevitable encounter with him. Jesus’ idea of life without death is truly mind-altering. In a similar way if I were asked to consider life without time, or without the obligation to be in a physical body, or without the law of gravity, or without the autonomic nervous system (and I had to deliberately choose to exercise my heart to keep it beating) — the very core of my thinking or the paradigm from which I live would be affected.

Life is accessed through the door of faith

Even today, Jesus’ words seem like a stretch. To understand them I must mix what I read with faith. Like lifting weights at the gymn gives my body more capacity, so also exercising my faith makes me more able to receive the weighty words Jesus spoke. Without connecting Jesus’ promise with faith, it makes my eyes turn glassy, my gaze distant, and my heart and mind are unaffected. “On the last day…” is a promise deferred. It’s delayed to a time that my mind cannot wrap its arms around. How does that help me now, let alone feed me? In effect Jesus is saying, “It’s coming. Today, death is a reality, but don’t be stumbled, tomorrow it won’t be.” One thing for certain, the promises that require believing rarely raise goosebumps of excitement on the natural man. I must always deliberately mix Jesus’ words with faith. A “today faith” — an abiding in a place of unshakable, unstumbled belief that opens the eyes of my heart to see his kingdom in this moment. All roads to the kingdom are paved in believing and trusting. And they lead through the toll booth of Christ. The kingdom is now… not some undefined future. It almost feels like he’s pleading, “listen to me, I will raise you up!” And through repetition, will stick?

Jesus is the new normal

Death is a reality. That sounds like a pretty stupid thing to say. It is all we have known while living on planet earth. Life as man knows it ends. The mortality rate of humans is nearly 99.999% with only two biblical exceptions. Even then, Enoch and Elijah did not remain on terra fima for us to gawk at. The entire cycle of life as we know it and see it is: life, growth, seed, death, then new life again. Rinse. Repeat. Yet the interruption to that cycle, the victory over Death, the new standard, is speaking to them now in person! It’s one thing for a Father to tell the kids, “someday we will go to Disneyland,” and it’s quite another to say it with tickets in the pocket and car waiting in the front driveway. You can almost feel the emotion, the excitement in Christ’s voice. For four thousand years men have been subject to death, but Christ is the ticket! It’s in our hand.

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22

The transition to this new kingdom reality will not feel clean. Even if I have super-faith, it’s hard to wrap my mind around what a life without death looks like. It is fundamentally a shift in operations — just like when you move to a new home and must meet the neighbors, find new grocery stores, familiarize yourself with the house’s personality and creaking at night. Or like changing schools, getting a new teacher, new classmates, new subjects to study. Or when you marry and the next morning you wake up next to your life-long companion and wonder what you have just done! The reality of deathlessness is mind-altering. Since Jesus spoke those words, there have been 2,000 years of not very clean transition. Yet, the change appeared with Jesus. A specific point in history. Christ raised Tabitha (Mk 5:39-42) and Lazarus (John 11:41-44) and he himself was raised (Mtt 28:1-6) – the first fruits of all his family of which I am a member (1 Corinthians 15:20). If that was not enough, he gave his disciples authority to raise the dead as well (Matthew 10:8). But his words here remain “I myself will raise him up…” There is a day coming when it will be complete. So, if he’s demonstrated his authority over death, why do we need to wait? Why is life (or deathlessness) deferred?

Death is an enemy

Paul calls him the “last enemy” to be destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26). He was the first enemy to be given authority over man (Genesis 2:17). Death is real. He has a name. And when his horrible reign has ended he is disposed of in the fire with his teammate, Hell (Rev 20:14). They are the third and fourth that are tossed into the lake of fire as soon as it is open for business — following only the Beast and False Prophet (in Revelation). In the garden he took ownership of the keys to the car of life which were violently snatched out of Adam’s hands.

Before death, God intended man to live without regard for time in his body. I’m not entirely sure what that would have looked like, but it was a possibility. There simply wouldn’t be an end point. Even after the sentence of death in Genesis 3, the life span of man after the fall was nearly 1,000 years. This changed dramatically after the flood — which makes me think something was tweaked in the physical environment on the earth that narrowed our natural life. Originally, our cells would simply regenerate and self-heal. The coding in our DNA compelled us toward life. And it still does, but not entirely now. Age produces decay. Something changed. Our earthly bodies and our environment now reflect the heavenly reality of a newly realized death sentence. We have all sorts of bastardized DNA in our bodies, each declaring all manner of sickness and disease with one goal: to rob life from me. Uncle Charlie, Aunt Freda, Grandpa Griswald, and mom and dad all contributed their particular strain of evil to this grand DNA re-coding project.

Until Christ.

Now there is a refreshed DNA recoding project in my body. And Christ made the outcome clear: Life! My new birth isn’t just a clever mental game to re-align me with a new spiritual objective in my life. It is a real, earth-shaking, foundation-altering, physical reality. The fallen coding in my DNA that my parents, grandparents, and ancestors passed on to me — ends here. Death is defeated. Jesus gave this promise to the children of God. He demonstrated what it looked like. He made the payment. He himself was raised and sits as a testimony to my future. And he tells us of the time it will be the new “normal.” Until that day, the kingdom suffers violence, and the violent among us take it by force. By choice. By faith.

Giving death a moment to speak

Until now, I have spent very little time thinking about death. Life is about what is, not what is not. Life is being present, alive, fully engaged, bursting with goodness and creativity, friendship and love. When I have lost a friend or loved one, I think about my loss, our loss, and move on. I personally haven’t considered my encounter with Death. And like anything I haven’t contemplated, my faith about ceasing-to-be-on-earth are not well-formed. Death is frightening. His boastful prospects are not my future, so why would I want to listen? Yet recently I have many loved ones going through that frightful stare-down with this adversary. When death takes someone, it’s not just the one that he takes, but he takes a piece of something bigger. We are interconnected in a marvelous and frightening way. Just like when I play the wooden block game Jengo. It starts with the blocks stacked and interconnected in a tower and each player in turn takes out a piece with the goal of keeping the tower from falling. Finally, one piece is removed that brings the remaining blocks crashing down. This is what death is doing to the structure of our lives. Which piece or person does he finally remove from my life before the tower comes crumbling down? Although fear makes me want close my eyes and bury my head in my pillow, pull over the covers and wait for it to pass, there is something deeply emboldening about Jesus’ words. Embracing his victory allows me to put on new confidence, even a sense of invincibility. So now, instead of turning away from my foe, I look at him, acknowledge his boastful claims, and reconcile them with Jesus’ words:

Death says to me, “You have failed. Made the wrong choices. You’re guilty of sin. The penalty for sin in death is just. It was sanctioned by heaven’s courts. God himself. And by the way, I really do have authority over your body. Your future is the grave. Dust. An untimely death. Embarrassment. Exposure. Isolation. Loneliness. I have killed good DNA and replaced it with the bad. Now you are afflicted with ugliness instead of beauty. Limping and limitation instead of fierceness and boundarylessness. Although there are dreams and gifts planted within you —breadcrumbs of the divine — they are aborted. You may see them, but you will never realize them. Dashed hope. Failed efforts. In fact, the shorter your life the better. God allowed it, don’t you see that? It’s because he wanted the world to be rid of you. It couldn’t bear you very long — even now, 70-90 years are way too many. It gives you the false sense that you actually have time to accomplish something. That you actually have meaning, blah! Thankfully, I have friends: Toil, Hardship, War, Murder, Barrenness, Difficulty, Unloved, they all keep you distracted enough. You don’t have much time to consider your dreams. And even if you do, I’ll bring other friends to disrupt your sleep. No need to dream all those illusions.”

My reply? “Christ.”

But now, Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits [the forerunner, the example, the first of the many that will follow] of those who are asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:20

The timing of God

One thing that distinguishes God from his creation is time. On earth one thing follows another. In heaven, things aren’t quite so linear. In fact here in John 6, Jesus has not even died yet, but he’s already leveraging the purchase price he will pay for my life and telling his followers about it — before he actually tendered his physical life as the payment. He’s operating outside the linear. That is where faith must operate. His intent, promise, and devotion, combined with a word from God are just as powerful for Adam and David as they are for Christ, and me today. Stepping into Christ is stepping into timelessness.

My natural body = time. My rebirthed body = timeless.

I see Jesus operating in this new zone of forgiveness, redemption, and the payment for sin. Sin and evil has qualified me for death; the goodness, love, and sacrifice of Christ now qualifies me for life. The payment has been made and the benefit may be withdrawn — sometimes even today, as we see Christ did in so many instances. I wonder, why some may be raised now, and others not? Since Christ clearly demonstrated a victory over death, why can’t I count on it today? I may never understand. But the word of God is clear: there is a time — in the future — when the transaction is fully complete.

Death is an ugly enemy, and it feels wrong to say this, but I must become comfortable with the fact that today my path to life is through through him. One day this will change. But not today. It is so humbling to go through the process of death. So inglorious. Rarely pretty. Whether a fateful splat in an accident, or a long battle with disease — it’s just bad. Shutting down the life in my body and yielding to death, seems so wrong. Yet, however it comes, it is the threshhold to the next. Despite death, my heart cannot be separated from my Father’s, just like the fusion of metals in the heat. I am bound to life! Nothing can separate me from the love of God — even if for a moment I must concede to what happens in my body. The sooner I accept this, the sooner I will be at peace with whatever guillotine the adversary uses. Not a hair from my head is uncounted, nor a bird falls without him knowing it. If I cling to life in this body like it’s my last stop in life, I’m abandoning the peace he offers for a battle he has already won. I was thinking this morning of a story by Madeleine L’engle about her husband Hugh who was diagnosed with cancer and starting to see the symptoms which affected his normally joyful, playful countenance. The family thrust him into aggressive cancer treatment. It caused nausea, weakness, dependency, disconnect, struggle, hair loss, and so many other horrible side effects. Ultimately the disease took him. Although there was a chance the treatment would work and family based their hope on this treatment, it simply extended the battle into months of pain. So I wonder, which is worse, the sickness or the cure? Would they have been remiss to avoid the fight? And if one makes it through such harshness, what type of life is left to live? Would it be wrong to fold the sword on top of my own chest, bow my head and acknowledge the inevitable… on my terms? Courage and life may manifest in many different ways — and it’s a deeply personal choice with today’s hope-filled medicine.

The sting of death

When I consider the real struggle with death, the thing that worries me the most is the accusation of me being inconsequential and not living my dreams. Purpose, gifts, vision, a goal are all seeds for a life that was never intended to end. Yet what makes me put all my eggs in one basket — the basket of this body? If it falls off the table, what do I have? What about those with childhood diseases? Or those who died in service to their community or country? Or those taken from freak accidents or premeditated murders? There is a real future and a real hope in the kingdom of heaven. And just because I cannot see beyond the veil of this current life, the darkness of my understanding does not mean there is no life after death. Unfortunately, it’s not provable. I have never been there. But there is someone who has and He’s returned and says it’s true. And my Father says it’s true —in no uncertain terms.

The kingdom deposits God has made in my life are without regret. He planted them knowing full well the continuity of my life beyond my earthly body. My life being cut short is not a limiter. Those dreams and ambitions may be fulfilled in this body and in my new body which is coming, whether or not I am able to get over the hump which I cannot see beyond. What Jesus is saying here is profound and the although the water of understanding must sit on the callous ground of my flesh until it is slowly absorbed and nourishes, once the realization of his declaration goes in deeply, it is life changing. He’s telling me something very real. I have been looking at death through the eyes of fallen man. A grief-riddled response actually seems selfish and misinformed. “But I can’t talk to my dad any longer!” Who told me that? I must allow my core beliefs to be changed by Jesus’ words.

Our life after death

I’m aware that my time in my body offers me a unique ability to transact in my world. Now. And I fully desire to engage every day with all of my heart. Yet, one thing that frightens me about death is that I will be disengaged with life. I will miss opportunity. Since my only frame of reference is life in this body, I jump to all sorts of conclusions about what happens when my body returns to dust. The reality is, my role simply changes. There is an accounting all men must make for their deeds and words while in the body, and I fully understand how that may strike fear in the heart of man — especially when he has not lived in the context of being accountable for his thoughts and deeds — but the accounting for the children of God is pretty straightforward: I have failed and Jesus has paid for my failure. I am immersed in the grace of God. If I want credit for my good, then I must equally take credit for my bad. So the accounting is simple, it relies on grace which I am still trying to comprehend. But just like Jesus went away and is alive, I will be as well. To be in the body is to be constrained by earth’s laws of physics. When I’m released, there is no such constraint. When my body stops living, I am not dead, rather, my container is simply not here (or asleep, as Jesus said). I’m convinced that the life Jesus has for me and all of his brothers and sisters will not be missed because of death. He came to give us not just life, but abundant life! In fact, when he first appears, Paul makes it clear that those who have fallen asleep in him are raised first, then those who are alive and remain (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17). Why? So we may be encouraged. Recognize that departing and all of its worldly grief is temporary. We are NOT without hope. None of his kids will be excluded from the front row seat of the incredible life about to engulf our planet. Because I have a passion for how things wrap up on this earth in the coming days, I’m aware there are many significant events that will occur. Whether I’m on earth in my body, or not, I will be fully engaged with Christ in all that is about to take place.

The last day is closer than I may think

One of the most compelling things Jesus said over and over was that in him there was life — particularly here in John 6. If we believe in him we would never die. But here in John he makes the point of saying: “I will raise him up on the last day.” This is not a consolation promise. “Oh sorry, you missed 2000 years of life because of these weak and wobbly bodies.” He promises that although the timing is yet to come, the death of my body is NOT the end of the story. There will be a second act (and probably a third and a fourth). And I am convinced from a timing perspective, it is nearly upon us. Eschatology (or the study of the last days) can be a controversial topic. Every few years someone claims a date of Christ’s return and the day comes and goes with only a laugh from those looking on. The world and even the church roll their eyes wanting to avoid all discussion about his return, particularly the timing. I get it, yet he will return. He promised it. The day will come. So how can I say it’s closer than I may think? For one, it’s been nearly 2,000 years since he said he would return — so logically, we are closer to that date. Much closer than when the disciples first heard the promise. When I look at all the prophetic indicators, there is a season in which the church may discern it is near. One of the duties of the Holy Spirit is that he would disclose to us things to come. When Jesus first walked in Galilee, it had been nearly 4,000 years since Adam heard the promise of his coming. The Pharisees were just as dismissive of the actual coming of the Christ then, as we are about his second coming today. Yet Jesus expected them to see the signs of the season.

And He was also saying to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it turns out. And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘It will be a hot day,’ and it turns out that way. You hypocrites! You know how to analyze the appearance of the earth and the sky, but why do you not analyze this present time? Luke‬ ‭12:54-56‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬

So, just like we see the summer heat end and the cool fall breeze approach, we know a change is at hand. When all the dogs and birds in the neighborhood are quiet, there is something different going on. This is a deep topic and I don’t want to oversimplify it. Yet… when he comes, it will be significant just like the crescendo at the end of a symphony, a movie plot that has unfolded, the burst of blooms in your garden, the sunset before the night. There are things which point to the timing of the sons of God. The purpose of God in this creation may be seen in the church — the people of God. We are the object of his affection. And the sons and daughters of God are nearly ready. Ready for a wedding. Ready for a position and place in the heavens with Christ. Ready to believe and live our true identity. This makes me so incredibly excited. I think of those who die in Christ now… whatever state you are in will not last long. And what about those that are alive and remain until he comes? Neither of us will miss a thing! I’m convinced of it by the Spirit. Oh to shed this narrow, dark thinking about death. He is life and we have his life and promise of immortality within us!

“The last day” sounds very final and concluding. Yet it is still a day to be lived in! The days of creation ended on the sixth. The last day was a day of rest. The seventh and last was an opportunity to joy in the work of the previous six. When we reach that day, whether we are alive and remain, or are raised as he promised, it will be a period of rest, refreshing, and joy. It will be a good day. And it will be an opportunity to continue to live and pursue the dreams, ambitions, and promises he’s planted within.

One thing certain about Death. He will die. One thing certain about those in Christ, we will live. Forever. Let’s start today.

John 6:70-71 Betrayal

Jesus answered them, “Did I Myself not choose you, the twelve, and yet one of you is a devil?” Now He meant Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray Him. ‭‭John‬ ‭6:70-71‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

There are so many lessons and themes in John 6, they are miraculous, dramatic, confrontational, separating, about becoming, and then the chapter concludes with the real life, present day lesson being lived out directly in front of them: Judas.

I personally have not spent much time on Judas Iscariot. His life did not end well. To be the face and name of the most notable betrayal in history is truly a place of infamy no one should aspire to. Yet, the lessons he offers are significant.

One of the most important is about becoming: every day our heart leans in or leans away from our passionate God. We are getting warmer or cooler. There is no middle ground. The mystery of godliness is incredible — but just as impacting is the mystery of iniquity. We are becoming like him or like our adversary. We become what we behold. That’s the incredible thing about Judas. He had the model of human perfection living out his life in front of him. It would be a feast to the normal man. And to the disciples, it was. Their hearts burned yet were enlivened with his words, even these difficult words. Yet somehow, Judas’ attention was focused on something else. He was with Jesus and the other eleven, but not really. He started with the same promises and opportunity that all the disciples had, yet there is a differentiator: where he chose to look. Not with his eyes, but with his attention, heart, and focus. It makes me ask myself, where will I look today? Which well will I drink from?

Another lesson may be found in the separation taking place in John 6. Differentiation is an important process in biology, chemistry, farming and in relationships. Is it a heart cell or a liver cell? Is it an oxygen molecule or CO2? Is it wheat or a weed? Jesus was deliberately creating separation at this point — distinguishing the good from the bad, faith from unbelief, human motivation from heaven motivation, the love of God from the love of self. The crowd that was about to crown him king left him. The hungry zealots who chased him across the lake decided to follow no further. And even many of Jesus’ disciples (beyond the 12) couldn’t reconcile his words any longer and departed. Yet, even at the conclusion there is still one who has not left, and he should have. One tenacious cancer cell that the radiation missed. One tare that was not pulled. One fly in the soup. The process of choosing to part ways is very personal. The refiner’s fire. The gardener pruning the plant or pulling the weed. The surgeon’s knife will cut off our very flesh and blood to save us from betrayal. It is difficult but necessary. I pray I have the courage to make these tough choices.

And what about the lesson that success may not be possible even if I do everything right? One of Christ’s missions was to keep all 12 disciples and engender faith within them. Sustaining, life-giving faith that would keep them in the most challenging times… even in untimely death. And yet he lost one. Jesus lost one! If the perfect Son, the perfectly-connected-to-the-Father Son of God failed at winning a heart, what about me? What he asks me to do, I will do with all my heart, but I must let go of my success and failure, leaving it in my Father’s hands. The result I get from my effort, may not have been the goal anyway. I assume much. And even if a failure is because of me, he will work for good in it — just like he does everything.

Jesus said earlier:

For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father. John‬ ‭6:65‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

This sounds like those who follow are mysteriously predetermined. Mysterious, yes. Predetermined, no. The granting is to the qualified. The lesson in front of us is that Judas was selected and qualified at one point. The Father and the Son selected him. Jesus spent all night praying about his choice of disciples — talking to his dad about it. He was one of the twelve, the “in crowd.” Yet when all was said and done, he disqualified himself. The Father “granted” that Judas come to Jesus. But something changed and the “granting” was revoked. The granting was faith. And action. I believe and I follow. And Judas started well, but chose not to finish. He chose, so the Father also chose… to separate him. He got a heavenly pink slip.

So what is the lesson for me today?

What is the point at which I will stumble and fall backward? What is the circumstance, the words, the life event that will cause me to question the intent and love of my God? On earth, what possibility, what lottery of events or what one in five million chance will happen to me that will make me stub my foot? It’s no accident that people follow Christ. It’s a choice. One that I must make every day. I’m either hot or cold. Anything in between makes me a target for my adversary. He will leverage every misstep I make, and accuse God before me, just as rigorously as he accuses me before God. This walk with Christ is no summer stroll, it’s a life and death battle. Daily.

I love what one of the patriots at the time of the American Revolution penned:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Thomas Paine, Common Sense, December 1776

To end on a lighter note, when thinking about Judas, I love how the de-motivational poster produced by Despair.com puts it:

It could be that the purpose of your life is only to serve as a warning to others

John 6:61-62 Seeing the Son ascend

But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?” John‬ ‭6:61-62‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

In other words, if you are stumbled over my words, my parents, this teaching, the contradictions you see, then you will be flippin’ out if you see man’s real, fully lived-out identity.

In the context Jesus had related himself to the manna which came down from heaven, which God provided miraculously for Israel in the wilderness. In the same way he too “came down from heaven” — the Father provided him as food for the life of world, mysteriously, out of obscurity, his origin was mostly unknown. Just like the bread which fed the 5000 was multiplied out of sight, so the bread in the wilderness which seemed to come from the sky every morning, was a provision provided from the bakery of heaven — we don’t see where it came from. The whole concept of “descending” or “ascending” to and from heaven is lumping it into the category of being “out of sight,” just as the baby that is formed in the womb, or the seed is transformed into a living plant. There are some things that are not observable. Yet the possibilities Jesus opens up when he says this are incredible.

Digging deeper, after Jesus rose from the dead, the disciples saw him literally ascend:

He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Acts 1:9 NAS

It was amazing to watch, I’m sure, like when Elijah whisked off in a whirlwind, or Enoch or was taken. Any time the physical laws of earth are suspended, it pushes the boundaries of the imagination. But was Christ’s ascension stumbling? Was it faith-shaking, possibility-opening, and mind-altering any more than the miracle of the bread, or the walking on the water? It sounds odd to be categorizing something that I can barely wrap my mind around, yet in the context of what he was saying in John 6, he inferred that “ascending to where he was before” would be more stumbling than the words that already caused many of his disciples to leave him. To me, this is no more stumbling than any other sign the disciples saw.

I don’t believe Jesus was referring to his coming and going on earth, but something that is more relevant to each person alive: “What if you see a mortal, a person in flesh and blood, the son of man, return, go up again, to the place he was before, previously, at the first?” In other words, if you were to see a man, return to the original context, splendor, glory, power and authority that God created him to inhabit. A place that all men were intended to occupy before the tempter sabotaged God’s original intent so that he could claim that place for himself? It would not only seem unreal, but it causes me to pause, and potentially stumble me even more than being told I need to eat his flesh. Understanding what God intended for Adam, all men and women, and me, is something I feel is just beginning to re-emerge for his kids to feast upon.

Jesus had spoken about this same topic of his — and our— identity earlier with Nicodemus in John 3 under similar circumstances — Nicodemus was stumbled at the concept of being “born anew.” It was another impossible physical requirement of something that Jesus intended to be spirit, and life. And Jesus responded in a similar way:

If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. ‭‭John‬ ‭3:12-13‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Identity. Who I am matters. There was something intrinsically stumbling about Christ and who he was. It looks like he was born from Mary and Joseph, a poor family in one of the most despised cities in Galilee. He was! Yet he was also born as the perfect son of God. Just like Adam. He had an unobstructed, unclouded view of the perks and privilege of being a son of the most high God. Our Father initiated this story of man in the Garden and it went horribly wrong. In Galilee, at great risk, is starting it again in Jesus. Jesus embodied great majesty in great humility. Why would this be so stumbling and what was at stake? It was the kingdom itself and who maintains rights and access. It was something so incredible that brightest one in heaven (Lucifer) coveted it for himself at the beginning and wanted to snatch it from man, and then spit on him.

Who Jesus is in the flesh could be described in the most muted terms at the transfiguration. Pure light. Effulgence. Access to heaven’s courts. A man, again walking in the halls of the kingdom with access to the king, the throne, the heavenly angels, the administration of heaven, the myriad of possibility that exists in heaven and earth, the secrets of the universe, knowledge, wisdom, power, might. While in this body, Jesus occupied this place of wonder, possibility, and most importantly, relationship with the one who started it all. Instead of starting the school of Astrophysicists in the Time Warp Temple of Possibility, he focused only on one thing. He muted that majesty and appealing to broken and fallen man in order to win his heart back to the Father. Restoring God’s love on earth. Of course, all the fun creation stuff, and playgrounds of possibility would follow, but first thing first. Restore man. Jesus is who every man should, and could, be. And that mission is accomplished through one means: faith.

Believing these things about Jesus, about myself, about the kingdom seem like too much. It’s unreal. And just like “eating his flesh” requires trust and faith, so does understanding what man is when he ascends to the place we first occupied. Add to the mix an enemy fiercely determined to hide this from me, and I understand the question better.

My challenge today is to accept the identity he is unfolding about the sons of God. Not only believe it, but to live it. The same flesh that Jesus walked in, I am called to walk in to. What Christ is, I am to become. The food he ate then became, I am to eat then become. There is an invading force of God’s kids ready to be assembled and reoccupy our homeland after being so abruptly exiled.

And there was war in heaven … and the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. Then I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation, and the power, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ have come, for the accuser of our brethren has been thrown down, he who accuses them before our God day and night. And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. Revelation‬ ‭12:7-12‬ ‭NASB‬‬

John 6:53-56 Eating, then becoming the meal

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” John‬ ‭6:53-56‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Eternal life! That’s the offer on the table. And it’s an incredible one. I receive life that will never end in exchange for my choice of food. It’s that simple. If I can only make my way past the gate. That narrow, limiting gate. The gate that acts like a kitchen strainer: filtering out big chunks of unbelief, while letting pass those believing hearts that are hungry and desperate for something they refuse to let their natural mind and sensibilities limit.

Eating his flesh and drinking his blood, taken literally, seems absolutely offensive. So for Jesus to say this, it catches our attention. It was spoken to Jews who were fastidiously observant of the law. The Levitical code precisely defined which foods Israel may eat. Even if they could get past the morbid suggestion of cannibalism and do what Jesus asked, it was forbidden. It’s a difficult statement on so many levels. In the church we eat bread and drink wine as a symbol of consuming his body and blood. As much as I value the sacrament of communion, interpreting these words in this natural way is similar to how zealous Jews interpreted Moses words when he told them to bind God’s words on their hands and their forehead in Deuteronomy 6:8 — they created phylacteries, little boxes literally tied to the hand and forehead. To them it not only fulfilled the requirement, it also served as a symbol of their outward devotion.

But Jesus’ words are Spirit and life. They apply to the heart and core of our inward man (John 6:63). My natural mind will always have difficulty grasping them. And Jesus said frankly, “no one can come to Me unless it is granted him [unless he is enabled to do so] by the Father.” John‬ ‭6:65‬ ‭It’s the Spirit which breathes life into them.‬‬‬‬

I can’t move far from what is at stake — life, in exchange for our choice of food.

While Jesus walked the earth, kicked up the dust in Palestine, and shared time with those whose lives he intersected, he was that flesh and blood that they ate. It is significant that the conversation in John 6 is about a contrast between the physical and spiritual. During the time of the Exodus, God fed his people with physical bread from heaven every morning. Manna (literally, “what is it?”) Yet, as Jesus and Paul reference these events, we understand that they are shadows of the real. The law is a schoolteacher that brings us to Christ. That bread which fell in the wilderness was a symbol of the real bread — Christ. Physical bread keeps the body alive. Spirit bread keeps the soul and spirit alive.

While on earth, Jesus lived out his intersection with heaven. He was the very image of the invisible God. His behavior, his character, that which he laughed and cried over, the correction, the friendship, the conversations, care, nurturing of the disciples, compassion for the sick — all of it expressed in human flesh the exact heart of God. When you looked at Jesus, you were looking at the Father. (John 14:9). When others found and followed him, listened and watched, he became that meal. When the disciples fellowshipped with him, they drank deeply of his spirit, fed at his table of teaching and understanding, they were encouraged, built up, emboldened. The sheep follow the shepherd. Men become what they observe. We are what we eat.

Fast forward to today. As a member of his body I become that same meal. We feast on Jesus in each other. It’s both a requirement to eat, and an offering to be available as the meal for others.

The amazing thing about grace, is that in it, God extends to me something I am completely unworthy of. He says I’m forgiven. No longer is my sin counted against me. Period. It’s absolute. If that were not enough he then calls me a son of God, an heir, and co-heirs with Christ. Christ was the firstborn of many sons. The body of Christ has many members, and I am one of them. Christ is the head. All that Christ is, I am called to become. The very Spirit of God that was in Christ, now abides in me. The body, every member, is in Christ. Is Christ. And is that meal. Now I am the one walking the earth. I am the one with real flesh and blood to offer. Although the Holy Spirit is invisible, people may see me. I am the “flesh” that the Spirit inhabits. But not me alone, that flesh is also my sister and brother in Christ. Those that share the same journey as I do. And when we are together we offer each other our “flesh and blood” or the life that we live out daily and our own personal intersection with heaven.

When was the last time you sat down with another over a coffee or a meal and shared heart and soul? You were vulnerable and expressed your journey and your experiences with heaven. While you were interacting you felt a dynamic interface with the other that was not only nurturing but it felt like a real meal for the soul. Relationship. Friendship. Trust. Giving. Receiving. Together we are called to be a temple for his presence. It’s hard to deny that when believers assemble with one heart and purpose that his tangible presence is obvious in that place. The body and blood of Christ is that meal. We need each other.

Daily when I venture out into my world, I have begun to recognize that I may choose to offer myself as a meal to others. It’s a place of vulnerability and authenticity to live my kingdom identity transparently. There is great, great power and authority given to the sons of God, yet who may see it as it really is? Who may stare at the sun and see anything? So, we clothe ourselves in humility and venture out, serving, preferring, and loving others just as Jesus would.

What is the price of eternal life? Our choice of food.

My personal challenge

This morning I hear the Spirit say, I cannot be drinking from two fountains. If I drink from the same source as the world, I get the same nourishment and frankly, the same side effects from the poison offered. — Yet even when I do, he said, “If you eat any deadly thing, it shall not harm you.” Another declaration of grace for death-riddled man. — If I drink from the fountain of heaven, I feed on Christ. I eat his body, drink his blood. It is life to me. And what Christ is, I become. You are what you eat.. except when grace must supersede some stupid choices.

As I think about this, it feels frightening to live solely from the food served at his table. Why? Because it will make me different. I won’t appear to be the well-rounded, integrated Christian that many in the church value. I could become a little more black and white. This is good, this is not. A little more convinced. God heals — as opposed to “let’s see what happens” or “who knows God’s will?”

He’s called me to life. Abundant life. Eternal life. Eating at his table. And becoming that table for others to feast upon.

John 6:66 Separating the good from the bad

As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. John‬ ‭6:66‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus is many things and one role I don’t often put him in is the winnower or the refiner — separating out the bad from the good. Yet, this is something essential in his kingdom and more personally, in my walk with him. Out with the old, in with the new. It’s one thing to dismiss entire populations of unbelievers — those atheists, Muslims, cultists, or self-gratified — but entirely another when two followers are walking shoulder to shoulder and the Holy Spirit knife comes between them. One trusts and believes, the other doesn’t and stubs their foot, stumbles, and departs to nurse his wound.

Jesus spoke unambiguously about the priority of the value of loving God first: it is more important than even the most sacred of earth’s relationships — our families:

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. Matthew‬ ‭10:34‬ ‭NASB‬‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬

In another place, Jesus spoke about the children of the kingdom being mixed with those who were not:

The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went away… Allow both to grow together until the harvest; and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather up the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them up; but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew‬ ‭13:24-25, 30‬ ‭NASB ‬‬‬‬‬‬

He spoke passionately about wanting to make this separation:

I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! Luke‬ ‭12:49‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

He is a refiners fire:

But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap. He will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, so that they may present to the LORD offerings in righteousness. Malachi‬ ‭3:2-3‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

When he sits in final judgement at the end of the age:

And He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Matthew‬ ‭25:33‬ ‭NASB‬‬ ‬‬‬‬‬‬

There are distinctions in the kingdom. But what is being distinguished? Those who believe and trust with those that do not. And what a subtle and often hidden line this is between us all.

In John 6, Jesus spoke some difficult words. Even today they cause many to scratch their heads. But there were those who were following for reasons other than real faith. They forcefully pushed their agenda. And in the timeline of Jesus life, he was about to be marched to the cross — where all the sheep would be stumbled and scattered. Timing is everything in the kingdom. And this was not the time for these self-designated unbelieving disciples to accomplish their agenda.

Everyone has a mixture of heaven and earth in their heart. Our Father and Refiner is extraordinarily measured and patient with the process. Sometimes the fire is gentle heat — a wise word that helps me see an area in my heart not yet yielded to him. Other times the fire is more intense — it’s a circumstance that I cannot understand and causes emotional pain and makes me question the love and faithfulness of my very good shepherd. Any time there is a distinction made, it’s a risk that my heart will lean away rather than lean toward Jesus. To stumble. To fall. Personally, I believe that our Father takes these moments very seriously and is fully intentional in the process.

On a personal note, this past week I was convinced of a direction I should be taking, believing that I had heard from the Holy Spirit specific encouragement. I was confident and assured that I heard from God. Sure enough, circumstances bore this out. Things were going exactly as I was expecting. Until suddenly — they weren’t. Abruptly I pulled to a stop. What had I heard? What did I have confidence in? If I hadn’t heard from God, how did I mix this up? If I cannot trust my ability to hear and act, what may I trust? I have been a believer for 40 years, so being able to hear my Father’s voice is pretty important at this stage in my life. Yet here I am, stumbled.

One thing is absolutely certain to me, God loves me and wants me to be a child of his kingdom. He wants to speak to me and he wants me to hear his voice. And He is absolutely trustworthy and good to me. Yet being a believer or unbeliever is not something determined magically — it’s a condition, a choice I make in my heart. Becoming a lover of God or an enemy of God is something that is nurtured. It begins as a seed in the heart an is watered and grows. I realize that I have allowed two ways of thinking in my own heart, and they grow side by side. So even though I may be stumbled at times as I endure this process, I forcefully take what I know and cling to the kingdom. I will not let go. Just like the three Hebrew children responded to the king who was about to kill them in a fiery furnace:

Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up. Daniel‬ ‭3:17-18‬ ‭NASB‬‬

Fire separates. Purges. Refines.

If I want to be a son of the kingdom, I want the fire. No one wants a polluted mix of gold; a diamond that is blemished with coal; wine with the aftertaste of vinegar; or a warm garment with a gaping hole. If I’m afraid of the fire it’s most likely because I love something attached to my flesh. I owe my Father, my God, my Savior, a whole person and unmixed love. He will never change, he’s the refiner. But just like his disciples do here in John 6, I land on the rock of Jesus, “Where do we go, you have the words of eternal life.”

John 6:61 Stumbling

But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? John‬ ‭6:61 ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

There are significant obstacles to believing, to Christianity, and to faith. The biggest? Jesus himself.

Paul wrote:

But Israel, pursuing a law of righteousness, did not arrive at that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as though it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, just as it is written, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, and he who believes in him will not be disappointed.” Romans‬ ‭9:30-33‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus knows that the one thing that qualifies me for kingdom life is belief in him — that he is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, the one sent to redeem me from my sin and set things right again. Not works. Not position. Not history. Not lineage. Nothing else.

Yet, he broke every mold and expectation that the Jews had for their deliverer. His response to John’s disciples when asked if he was the one, shows he was aware.

And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me. Matthew‬ ‭11:6‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

It wasn’t Jesus that set their misaligned standard, yet over time many of God’s kids walked so far away from the Father’s heart and then let imagination and and their minds fill in the blanks with ideas that did not originate in the kingdom. I can imagine a dialogue with his disciples where he pleads:

“I know I don’t fit the part! I’m not the man that is head and shoulders above everyone else. I’m not riding into Jerusalem on a white stallion with light pulsating around me or a halo on my head. I’m little. Meek. Lowly. Yet, I know who I am and who is in me and with me. And you too can see it. You see the love, the miracles, the evidence of God and his anointing on me. You know in your hearts that I am the one. And I tell you what I hear and know. He is love, and his intent for you is nothing but good. I am telling you in no uncertain terms that by believing on me you will live forever. I am the resurrection and will raise you up. I am your bread, your food, your drink, in fact everything else you have need of. But one other thing is true, it will be very difficult for you to believe this, particularly in the coming days when I am captured and killed. But let me assure you… believe in me, and you won’t be disappointed.”

So fast forward to today. The names have been changed, the circumstances altered, but the situation is the same — can I believe in him? Is he really my bread? My life? My resurrection? Does he really give me what I ask for? Heal my sickness? Whatever I’ve established as a test of authenticity or whatever is my benchmark for the reality of the Christian faith, consider it violated. Why? Because he still requires belief. As assuring as the things are that I have personally seen, I must still choose belief over everything else.

This is personal.

The kingdom of God at it’s core is about identity, privilege, position, being accepted and loved. And the lofty place from which man fell (and by extension was intended for every person alive) is hardly recognizable today — or in Galilee when Christ walked about. If I were to sit and have someone explain to me the glory and magnificence that my Father intended me to live within and become, I would begin to understand the fierceness of my adversary at wanting to snatch it from me. When people saw Christ, they saw a man. And as you drew nearer to him, you saw a man authentically living out an identity that staggered the imagination — if it was true. Ah, the catch. If. It was either true, or not. He was either the Son of God or he was delusional — and surprise, I’m the judge. The difficulty with accepting comes in many flavors. For me, if what Christ claims is true, it reflects equally on my identity and the possibility for me. Believing in him means that I must accept what he says about me. Ouch! My foot just hit a rock.

During my lifetime there will be one point (or many) when everything sacred in my heart will seem violated, just like the disciples experienced in John 6 and again when Jesus was crucified. But just like Jesus told John’s disciples in Matthew 11:6, “the blind see, the deaf hear” and his own disciples concluded in John 6:68 “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life,” I must base my faith on context, on what I see and know. But at the very same time, not be stumbled by what I see and know… Him.

I hold my faith in a very precarious balance.

John 6:35 I am the bread of life

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” John‬ ‭6:35‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Never. No. Not. Ever.

What is it that is negated, cancelled, denied?

Hunger and thirst.

For whom?

Those that have come to him.

Simple. Profound. Powerful. True.

Jesus demonstrated this integration of the physical and the spiritual when he was traveling with his disciples through Samaria. The disciples went to buy food and when they returned, encouraged him to eat. His reply to them: “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” John‬ ‭4:32, 34‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

Real food. Real drink.

Eating, drinking, breathing, and sleeping are about the most basic physical needs I have. I will not survive in this body if I take a bite once a year, possibly on Easter or Christmas. The rhythms and cycles of my body demand regular care. It’s no small coincidence that I was created to need — demanding daily, moment by moment need — and my Father declares that he is the one that fulfills them all. They reflect a spiritual reality that is just as demanding, needy, and which He sustains just as readily. But it is very difficult for the natural mind to make the journey to the spirit. And it is easily stumbled. At the end of this confrontation with the Jews, Jesus makes a statement to his disciples which contextualizes the entire conversation:

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. John‬ ‭6:63‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬

But make no mistake, his life isn’t reflected in a chasm between the flesh and the spirit. He just gave them physical bread. And now he is giving them spiritual bread. It’s the same transaction. He is the source. Jesus is that bread. The physical and spiritual are intertwined. It’s our adversary who would like to segregate them, then point to the flesh and encourage us to demand food or healing which is isolated and apart from the real feast of Jesus and his forgiveness.

My family had the privilege of being involved in a Christian relief organization called Food for the Hungry and we traveled to Nicaragua for a summer as part of their outreach. The idea was to deliver physical food supplies, while also providing spiritual bread to a hungry people. I love this approach because it’s integrated. It’s real. It satisfies tummies while placing the source of supply in the center of the transaction. As we open our heart to the true bread, the physical bread will follow. It’s impossible for the spirit of life in Christ to visit me without becoming a source of bread, water, and breath that springs up and feeds not only me, but those near me as well.

Jesus made many “I am…” statements. Just like God said to Moses at the burning bush when he said “tell them that I am… has sent you” Jesus is the “I am” in the flesh. What do I need today? He is… what I need him to be.

Cross references:

“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” John‬ ‭6:48-51‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John‬ ‭4:13-14‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'” But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. John‬ ‭7:37-39‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; Revelation‬ ‭7:14, 16‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬

Pray, then, in this way..Give us this day our daily bread. ‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:9, 11‬ ‭NASB‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬‬

On other occasions the Lord said, “I am the Light of the world” (John 8:12), “I am the good Shepherd” (John 10:14), “I am the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), “I am the veritable Vine” (John 15:1).