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