As I read through the book of John, I found myself being pulled in line by line as I became even more enamored with the Jesus that I thought I had figured out. I found the way He related to people enchanting and His compassion inspiring. Constantly, He is being accused, pressured, questioned, conspired against, and called names.
People loved Him for what He could do for them but forsook Him when they thought He was powerless. The men who should have been on His side, the ones that were supposed to be close to God, instead spread rumors about Him. Even His own family, his hometown, and at times His best friends, were ashamed of Him. He was different and people are afraid of different.
See, Jesus didn’t fit the mold. He didn’t look the way that God was “supposed to” look. He didn’t act the way that God was “supposed to” act. Religion painted God as demanding and ruthless with a swift hand of judgment. Jesus came and said things like, “the Father does not judge anyone, but has assigned all judgment to the Son” and “If anyone hears my words and does not obey them, I do not judge him. For I have not come to judge the world, but to save the world.”
The religious leaders said, “No, He can’t be God, that’s not what God looks like!”
So often I hear the same words coming from different mouths, shouted from behind pulpits instead of through temples. They waft through the air polluting our churches and poisoning our people as they all begin to believe in a god that Jesus looks nothing like. The same words slither their way towards me every time I:
Wish my gay friends congratulations on their wedding.
Go to a strip club to lead worship for a small church meeting in it.
Support a pregnant teen, still living unwed with her boyfriend.
Dare to tell youth students they don’t have to read their Bible to be pleasing to God.
Declare my finding of worship in a classic rock song.
All are answered with, “No, that’s not what God looks like.”
Really? Because I’m pretty sure that’s what Jesus looked like. Then again, religion said the same thing about Him. The age old tradition continues, that those who think they are in the light live bound in their shadowed corners lashing out at those who expose their depravity for what it is.
Jesus knew this would happen, that those who bore His name, who spoke His message, would face hatred and pain and rejection. In His last moments of freedom, shortly before He would be handed over to His death, He prayed this prayer over His disciples, His best friends.
John 17:6-19 (NET)
“I have revealed your name to the men you gave me out of the world. They belonged to you, and you gave them to me, and they have obeyed your word. Now they understand that everything you have given me comes from you, because I have given them the words you have given me. They accepted them and really understand that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I am praying on behalf of them. I am not praying on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those you have given me, because they belong to you. Everything I have belongs to you, and everything you have belongs to me, and I have been glorified by them. I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them safe in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are one. When I was with them I kept them safe and watched over them in your name that you have given me. Not one of them was lost except the one destined for destruction, so that the scripture could be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I am saying these things in the world, so they may experience my joy completed in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth. Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart.”
I have read the above verse at least 10 times this week. As I read it again I can’t help but be brought to tears as the sincerity of Jesus words clench tight around my heart. I can’t help but read this as His prayer over me, His desperate desire for my life, for all of our lives. His unquenchable desire remains for us to experience joy, to know truth, to know that we are set apart, to know we are one with Him, and to know that we are held, safe, in arms that loved us before we even knew they were there.
THAT is what God looks like.
Be encouraged this week. Know that even if you look different, are trampled on, are broken, or are living in sin right this second; Jesus is praying that very same prayer over you. You are loved when you are full of hate. You are embraced when you push away. You are accepted when others reject you. You are healed in the midst of abuse. You are treasured when you feel worthless. You are pure though others call you a whore. You are enough even when you have nothing to give. You are a leader even if others call you a rebel. You are a hero even if some think you an outlaw. You are passionate though others call it imbalance. You are a light even when darkness tries to snub it out. You are His and you are a beautiful victim of a grace that you could never earn and will never lose.
That… is what God looks like. That’s what Jesus looks like. That’s what you look like.