by Bob Wheeler


The Stoning of Stephen

In this this last prayer that Jesus makes on behalf of His disciples, Jesus has reflected on their position in the world and the challenges that they would face in His physical absence.  Jesus has stated that they are not of the world (John 17:16), but that He has sent them into the world (v. 18), and that consequently the world hates them (v. 14.  But this raises a serious question.  If the disciples (and by implication believers in general) are expected to forego the comforts and pleasures of the world, what is the point of following Christ?  What advantage is to be gained?

The question is a pertinent one.  Today we in America live in a prosperous and materialistic society.  We are attuned to the here and now.  Our schools and our media concern themselves with our temporal existence here on earth.  Even many churches today are oriented towards helping people find happiness and fulfillment in this life.

But that is not how Jesus described the Christian life.  It is a life of discipleship, of sacrifice, and of faith.  What, then, is the point?  What could possibly be gained from leading such a life?  Jesus explains near the end of His great prayer: “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (v. 24; NKJV).

Jesus, of course, was conscious of being the eternal Son of God, and of the position that He had held in heaven before His incarnation.  While He was here on earth many did not recognize Him as the Son of God.  And He was about to undergo the most humiliating trial of all.  But all of that stood in sharp contrast with His position in heaven.  There He was in direct contact with the Father.   He enjoyed the Father’s love.  The angels bowed down and worshipped Him.  He was fully recognized for what He actually was – the eternal Son of God through Whom the world was created.

And Jesus was conscious of the fact that He was about to be separated from His disciples and return to His Father in heaven.  But He loved His disciples too; and so He prays that “they . .. may be with Me where I am.”

Where Jesus was going to be, of course, was heaven, and heaven is a very different place from earth.  Here on earth we are exposed to illness and injury, to natural disasters, crime, corruption, poverty and war.  Death is an inescapable part of human existence.

But heaven is far different.  Jesus had once said that in heaven “neither moth nor rust destroys and  . . .thieves do not break in and steal” (Matt. 6:20).  Peter could write about “an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you” (I Pet. 1:4).  And we are told in the Book of Revelation that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.  There shall be nor more pain, for former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).

But in His prayer Jesus specifically prayed that true believers “may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”  We will be in the very presence of God Himself, and will see Christ in all His glory.  The world “glory” sometimes has different significations in the Bible, but when John uses it, especially as applied to Jesus, it usually refers to His honor and reputation.  And it must be kept in mind that one of John’s major concerns in recording all of this is to demonstrate that the Jesus whom he knew personally, was indeed the eternal Son of God.  And so when we are in heaven we will see Jesus as He really is, in all of His divine glory.  Again, the Book of Revelation portrays a scene in which thousands upon thousands in heave say with a loud voice,

“Worthy is the Lamb that was slain

To receive power and honor and glory and blessing!”

(Rev. 5:8-14 – set to Handel’s music

no doubt!)

It is the pure joy of being in the presence of God and beholding His glory.

“In Your presence is fullness of joy;

At Your right hand are pleasures evermore.”

(Psalm 16:11)

If we truly love Christ our greatest desire, then, would be to be in His very presence in heaven.  The apostle Paul could say “For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain,” and that “I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.  Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil 1:21-24).  And again, a little later he says, “Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

Why, then, endure suffering and hardship for Christ?  It amounts to a simple cost / benefit analysis.  In the end the benefit (an eternity in heaven) outweighs the cost (temporary suffering here on earth).

And so the question is, what is our ultimate purpose and goal in life?  Are we living for the here-and-now, devoting our lives to the profits and pleasures of this life?  They are all here today and gone tomorrow.  It makes more sense to devote our lives to Christ, to seek to honor and glorify Him in all that we do, so that we can enjoy an eternity in glory.

“This world is not my home,

I’m just apassing thru,

My treasures are laid up

Somewhere beyond the blue;

The angels beckon me

From heaven’s open door,

And I can’t feel at home

In this world anymore.”