For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. —John 6:40
This week I did a Google search on “death.” The second link was to deathclock.com. So I went there and punched in my data and found out that I’m going to die on Sunday, June 19, 2022. Only ten years away. I don’t know how they can be so sure. But just as every one of us has a birthday on the calendar, every one of us also has a deathday somewhere on the calendar. Death is the ultimate statistic. One out of every one dies.
What will you have going for you, that won’t let you down, when everything is on the line? God wants for you to live with fearless confidence, because you know he is for you. We don’t have to risk our eternal destinies on wishful thinking. The gospel is far more definite and satisfying. The gospel points to Jesus, who defeated death for us. Jesus tells us about three things here: the will of the Father, the look of the believer, the promise of the Son.
The will of the Father
“For this is the will of my Father.” God is not against you. He is for you. And God is for you at that point of your greatest desire – the yearning to live. Jesus came down to show us the heart of God. He is saying to us here, “The door of God’s mercy could not stand open any wider.” The only thing to keep you out is not God’s unwillingness but yours. “For this is the will of my Father” – that we would live forever.
You might be wondering, “Wait a minute, Ray. The Bible has something to say about predestination too. What about that?” The Bible does teach predestination. It teaches that, before time began, God chose certain people for eternal life. But the Bible never makes you responsible for what God chose in eternity past. The Bible makes you responsible for what you choose right now. I don’t understand how God’s choices and our choices fit together, but they do – and without God being diminished or us becoming robotic. Jesus said to his disciples, “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16). He also said, “Whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (John 6:37). Both are true, because reality is complex. I don’t understand it. But even John Calvin said, “I am not ashamed to confess ignorance. Far be it from any of the faithful to be ashamed of ignorance of what the Lord withdraws into the glory of his inaccessible light.”
Here’s my point. If you’re unsure where you fit within God’s eternal plan, don’t let that paralyze you. Jesus could not be more sincere when he says, “This is the will of my Father,” and then he opens the door to eternal life for everyone. Whether or not you feel specially favored, Jesus wants you to know you have the will of God going for you.
I don’t think we feel anxious about death because of predestination. I think we feel anxious because, as the Bible says, “It is appointed for man once to die, and after that comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We have all done wrong. We’ve insulted God. We’ve ignored him when it was convenient. We’ve joined with others in mocking his holy name. We’ve treated others like props on our stage. Our problem is not the eternal plan of God. Our problem is ourselves. But we can face ourselves with honesty. Here’s why. It is the will of the Father to lift up the undeserving. I like the way a blogger at the Huffington Post describes how he finally faced himself:
It wasn’t like I didn’t believe in anything. I did. I believed in me. I hadn’t a doubt in the world about the fact that I was somebody truly worthy of my utmost devotion. I was strong, capable, friendly, competent – I was just a general, all-around good guy. I was thirty-eight years old. I’d been happily married for sixteen years. I had a good job. I had friends. People liked me. I liked me.
Then one day I was sitting at my desk at work during a typical weekday, feeling regretful about a particularly immature, semi-destructive thing I’d recently done, when this feeling started coming over me that in about four seconds had my undivided attention. I was desperate to be alone. “I’ll be right back,” I said to a co-worker, and then cut out for an auxiliary supply closet that no one ever used. I flipped on its light, closed its door behind me, and waited. And what happened was that I saw what a complete jerk I was. Isn’t that awful? All at once, the truth was before me that instead of being a good guy who’s basically always trying to do the right thing, I was a selfish, emotional weakling who was always doing and saying whatever best served my own needs at the time. I’d been fooling myself for so long I’d forgotten the act. I wasn’t the great, honorable person I started out to be, that I’d meant to become, that I actually thought I was. I was just another guy so busy thinking he’s constructing the perfect home that he doesn’t realize how long ago he stopped using a level. Man, I hate it when that happens.
Actually, though, that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part was that, accompanying that less-than-peachy view of myself, was the very real knowledge that I was never, ever, ever going to change. Ever. I was born as I was. I had spent my life as I was. And I would die as I’d always been: small, selfish, and mean. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
And then here’s what happened: I saw my death. I mean, I didn’t see myself writhing around after I’d been hit by a truck on the freeway or anything. I didn’t see how I would die. But I did see the disturbingly short distance between where I was, and where I was most certainly going. I saw the simple fact that I would die, and that at the moment of my death I wouldn’t be any different from how I’d been at any other moment of my life. I wasn’t going to get better. I wasn’t going to become stronger, or wiser, or smarter, or more honorable. It just wasn’t going to happen. I was thirty-eight. I was who I’d die being.
That was a bad moment for me. Looking at my miserable, weak future, straight to my miserable, means-nothing death. It was just me and the cold, hard, gray fact of… me. Which was never going to change. I just did not have the will or means or character to change who I was, which was exactly who I’d always been. I saw that my life, in any way that could possibly matter, was over. Then I did something I never, ever do. I started to cry. Because isn’t the whole point of being alive to be someone you’d really want to be? So I’m kneeling there, blinded by my sad, stupid little fate, when, from up and off to my left, I hear a voice say something. And what that voice said was, “Isn’t this what Jesus is for?” And just like that, I stopped crying. And do you know what I knew at that moment – what instantly imprinted itself upon me? That the story of Jesus is historically true. That it happened. That God, desiring above all else to show the people he’d created that he loved them, became a human, and came to earth, and sacrificed himself, and in every way did every thing he possibly could to show people exactly how deeply and terribly he loves them.
Whatever you’ve done and become, whatever you are and will die being, you can face your need today, because the will of the Father is to bless the unworthy.
That takes us to the second thing Jesus says. Once we know God is for us, though we couldn’t blame him for being against us, we’re ready to look at Jesus with new eyes.
The look of the believer
“…that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” That helps. Here’s how. Over and over the Bible tells us to believe in Jesus. It’s right here in this verse. But in the back of our minds, we might wonder, “Do I make the cut? I mean, there’s big faith, and there’s little faith. On a scale of one to ten, is my faith enough? Have I really broken the faith barrier? Am I going to find out too late that my belief was sub-standard?” If you’ve ever wondered about that, John 6:40 is the verse for you.
How does Jesus describe real believing? He describes it here as looking: “…everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him.” Looking on the Son and believing in him are the same thing. Faith is looking. Faith in Jesus is looking away from myself, looking away even from my capacity for faith, and looking at Jesus instead. Trying to measure my faith keeps me obsessing on myself, which is unfaith. True faith is looking to Jesus. That’s easier to track with. Either you’re looking at him, or you’re looking at yourself. That’s a lot simpler than wondering how strong my faith is.
I’m also thankful the Lord doesn’t say, “…that everyone who measures up should have eternal life, everyone who earns it and deserves it.” Jesus said nothing like that. All other spiritual paths will lead you in the direction of what you have to do, what you have to prove. Only Jesus can set your feet on the path of the eternal life you don’t deserve but the Father wills to give you. The grace of the Father is why our part in all this is simple. We turn away from ourselves, both our failures and our strengths, and look to Jesus and his mercy for the undeserving.
Your heart has eyes, the way your body has eyes. What Jesus is saying here alerts us to how our hearts connect with him. And it’s the only way. We turn the eyes and the focus and the expectancy of our hearts to Jesus and we regard him as our only hope. You don’t have to have a knack for religion. It’s better if you don’t. You do have to shut the eyes of your heart to everything you’ve ever believed would “make” your life, and all the defunct theories of self-idealization that have broken your heart, and every path you’ve gone down that you never want to see again, and you turn your eyes to Jesus, because it is the will of the Father to love you and forgive you and restore you through Jesus. You might have to repent of your small thoughts of Jesus. But he has very loving thoughts of you.
Think of what Jesus represents to broken people: mercy, cleansing, strength, grace. Everything we desire is exploding out of him. And when you look on Jesus that way, do you see where that re-positions you? In the audience. You stop being the drama, and you become a spectator. You start watching him do for you what only he can do. As you read the Bible, you start noticing things about him you’d never seen before, because you weren’t paying attention. You start seeing how he can love, how he died for your sins, how he was raised again, how he is watching over you. You see him in a new way, you trust him in a new way, and you come alive: “. . . that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life.” That is the will of the Father for you today. And it’s only the beginning. Those who look to Jesus have much to look forward to.
The promise of the Son
“…and I will raise him up on the last day.” There is a day coming in God’s plan for history, at the end of time, when every human life will pass into eternal finality. What we have day to day now changes – the stock market, our health, and so forth. But whatever we have on that final day, we will have forever. Whatever we don’t have on that final day, we will never have. Today is the day to get it. Jesus is speaking now about that day then, so that we can be ready. What if you could enter that day and stand before God with Jesus as your defense? What if the risen Christ could lift you forever away from the open mouth of hell up into resurrection and heaven? Jesus is making a promise to everyone who looks to him now: “I will raise him up on the last day.” And the word “I” is emphatic: “I myself, I personally and directly, I with individual attention to you.” This is his promise, if we will receive it, and it is the word of a gentleman.
“I will raise him up on the last day” is not about your soul. It’s about your body. On that first Easter long ago, the body of Jesus rose again. Even so, on the final day, the body of every believer will be raised immortal. The instant a believer dies, his or her soul goes to be with the Lord. But on that final day, the Lord will reunite body and soul in resurrection immortality. This is the clear teaching of the Bible.
Picture it with me. Jesus, your complete Savior, reunites your body with your soul. Your soul sees your fully recognizable but amazing new body rising to meet you again. Your soul says to your body, “It is so good to see you again. It was hard to say goodbye at death, but we’ll never be separated again. Body, you’ll never suffer again. You’ll never feel pain again. You’ll never be hungry or tired or sick again. The ears with which you heard the gospel on earth will hear the hallelujahs of heaven. The tongue which confessed Jesus before people on earth will now sing his praises to his face above. The eyes which wept in repentance below will shine with joy above. Body, we fought the good fight on earth. Now we’ll enjoy the feast above.” And your body says to your soul, “Soul, I’m sorry I was sluggish on earth. You kept reaching for God, and sometimes I was so backward. But no more of that. Jesus has made me new. I’m able now to keep pace with you as we glorify and enjoy God to the max forever.” And Jesus will smile, because he kept his promise with all his loving heart.
But if you don’t look on Jesus with a trusting heart, and you stay focused on yourself and you regard yourself as the key to your future, he will not raise you up on that last day, except to judge you for rejecting him. And your soul and your body together will receive the sentence of condemnation to hell. Your body on that day may say to your soul, “Cursed be the day we ever met. I wish I’d never been made. Or I wish I’d been the body of a toad, rather than your body. What does it matter now how you coddled me on earth? Why did you ever use me to commit sins? Now there isn’t even a drop of water to cool me in these flames. I will burn forever because of your arrogance.” And your soul may answer back, “Am I stuck with you forever, you miserable carcass? It was because of you that I lost myself. How often I was ensnared by your eyes and ruined by your appetites. It was to spare you that I ignored conscience. It was to pamper you that I neglected God and others. And now I must die in utter darkness.”
Jesus said there is a final day coming. Every one of us will be there, and we will reap then what we sow now. Jesus wants you to know, it is not God’s will that you suffer on that day. Jesus wants you to know this: “It is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” Will you look away from yourself today and look on the risen Jesus as all your hope forever? You have the will of the Father going for you. You have the promise of the Son inviting you. Will you become definite about Jesus today.