The other day I was talking to a friend about the Bible and we were sharing some ideas about how different people live their lives and the challenges we often face. This fellow is a very sincere Christian and has often said to me that, in light of all the problems in the world and the struggles he is dealing with personally, he really looks forward to dying sooner than later, going to heaven, and seeing Jesus face to face. “Won’t that be wonderful!” he says with a longing sigh. And this is not the first time he has made this remark. It’s basically at the top of his wish list.
He is not alone in his desire to look Jesus in the face.
The summer after my sophomore year in college, I sold Bibles door to door in South Carolina and Tennessee. Every Sunday, our little band of foot-knocking book sellers got together for an informal worship service. One of the songs they loved to sing had this same idea:
Heaven is a wonderful place,
Filled with glory and grace.
I want to see my Savior’s face.
Heaven is a wonderful place.
We sang it through as a round about five or six times, with three or four part harmony. It was quite moving. The sincerity and earnestness of this deep, heartfelt desire was tangible every time we sang it.
Why do we think we have to die before we can see Jesus?
Now, many years later, I have a little different take on this idea of seeing Jesus face to face. And it has come from talking to my friend who just wants to die: “I can’t wait to see Jesus,” he says so frequently. This feeling became even stronger when his mother passed on a little more than a year ago. He prayed to die and be with her in heaven. They were very close. He had never married. He missed her terribly. And, of course, he would get to see Jesus too.
We talk about once a week and over many months I have encouraged him to live one day at a time, to pray for God’s will to be done instead of his own, and see what purpose God has for him here on earth. I am happy to say he has realized there is still a lot of good he can do here, even though his mother is gone. He now calls himself a Prayer Warrior and has quite a list of people he prays for. It has given new meaning to his life.
So I’ve been thinking about this idea of dying to get to see Jesus in heaven. It’s what a lot of people live for.
There’s a much better way to see Jesus
Jesus came so we might have life and that we “have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10 KJV) He never said we had to die before we would see him.
In fact, I am more and more convinced that you don’t get to heaven by dying. You can only get there by living! Living the love of Christ in your daily walk and talk, the way you think, the way you treat others, obeying Jesus’ commandments. Jesus never said we have to die to get to heaven. He said repeatedly that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and within us. (See Matthew 4:17, Luke 17:21)
Where does this desire to see Jesus come from?
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer. But I think it has partly to do with being recognized as having been faithful to him. We want to hear that assurance from Christ, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter into the joy of thy Lord.” (Matthew 25:21 KJV)
But just seeing Jesus isn’t the full answer to our heart’s desire. There were people living in Jesus’ time who saw him personally, but didn’t really see who he was. Many of the scribes and Pharisees fall into this camp. And even the disciples, who saw him on a daily basis, were still afraid at times. When they were caught in a storm, even though they could see him asleep at the rear of the boat, they were still frightened. They saw Jesus, but it didn’t solve their problem.
It’s not just about seeing Jesus but seeing who he is. It’s not about being with Jesus physically, but following in his footsteps here and now.
You’ve probably heard Jesus’ prophecy of the sheep and the goats a thousand times, but I’m going to refer to it anyway. (You can read it in Matthew 25:31-46) Jesus honors the “sheep,” those who have ministered to him, but they say they never saw him and weren’t aware they had helped him. Jesus opens their eyes to realize every time they did something to help their brethren, they were actually doing it to him. What a surprise!
But not as much of a surprise as it was to the “goats,” those who had not ministered to their fellow man by visiting them in prison, feeding or clothing them. These “goats” protested that they had never seen Jesus to minister to him. Jesus said pointedly, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.” (Matthew 25:45 KJV)
How many times have you walked right past Jesus and not helped him?
I am guilty of it many times over. But I have gotten better through the years. I reach out more freely to the homeless. I have a weekly prison ministry. I have a genuine love for all mankind and try to take that with me when I leave the comfort of my home. Sometimes after an encounter with someone on the street or at prison, I realize I just had a “Jesus moment.” I feel like I have ministered to him in some small way. But I still have a long way to go.
So if you hear yourself thinking, I just want to see Jesus, then go ahead. There’s nothing to stop you. The best way to see Jesus is to see him in everyone you meet. Treat everyone the way you would treat Jesus. Easier said than done, I know. But you can do it.
The next time someone you don’t know asks for help, just imagine that you are actually face to face with Jesus. He just has on a homeless person costume, or a sick person costume. If you knew it was really Jesus, how would respond to him?
And you can try this with your family, especially the ones that seem needy or harder to love.
It seems what Jesus is really asking us to do is to love our fellow man as much as we love him. Whoa! Who knew being a follower of Jesus would be such work and require such unselfishness? Do you think being a Christian just means getting your own life put together? Or is it possible to help others even when we have problems of our own?
It’s all about love. That’s really no surprise.
If you love Jesus, you will love your fellow man. The more you love your fellow man – and minister to his needs – the more you will love Jesus and the more you will actually see him. Right now. Today.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Please share your comments below.