I heard of a Christmas Eve service which featured a short play. It wasn’t an elaborate play, in fact it was a monologue by Joseph – supposedly set moments after the birth of Jesus. The actor playing Joseph held a little one in his arms and spoke to him. He looked into the face of the baby and, with all the happy wonderings of a new father, he playfully talked about the child’s resemblance to his mother. But then he paused and in all seriousness whispered, “I wonder what your father looks like.”
Interestingly enough, those who actually saw that child full-grown asked him: “Show us the Father.” To capture Jesus’ response, we should take the whole opening section of John’s Gospel, chapter 14 where Jesus is speaking to his disciples at a point in time which was only hours away from his crucifixion, a fact of course that Jesus is well aware of. He says to them: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:1-2).
Perhaps we can pause there for a moment. Some older language versions of the English Bible translate this in perhaps the more familiar terms: “In My Father’s house” – that is, in heaven – “there are many mansions”. The contrast between the mansions awaiting Christ’s disciples in heaven and the ‘stable bare’, ‘mean and lowly’, which awaited Christ’s arrival on earth is quite striking. He came to such a simple dwelling on earth that we might go to a mansion in heaven. This earth was at no pains to prepare a welcome or a place for God’s son. There was no room for him ‘in the inn’. But Jesus continues to talk about the place he is even now preparing for his followers:
“If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. And you know the way where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”
Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves” (John 14:3-11).
It’s good to want to know more about Jesus. Indeed, one of the first questions the disciples ever asked of Jesus was, “Where do you live?” John records it like this, in the first chapter of his Gospel: “Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.” (John 1:35-39)
But compare this with the end of chapter one where his true residence in heaven is revealed. This was the time when … “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:47-51)
You see, Jesus had a place to stay on earth – at least at that time – but that was only a temporary address. Jesus was a man whose real home was in heaven, who’d come from heaven, and would return to heaven when his mission was complete. He’s the heavenly man.
And, in the Father’s grace and wisdom, God has blessed us with intellects and senses that long to see, to hear, and to know him. But, while allowing our imaginations liberty, God has also imposed some limitations too. For example, God cautioned us never to make a graven image to represent him. It bears reminding that though we exalt a person by carving him or her in stone or by painting a likeness of them on canvas, attempting the same for God, we are warned in the Bible, only reduces God, and is therefore wrong. So, coming back to our main point, the Scriptures tell us very little about the physical appearance of Jesus. So, we’ll all just have to wait for the day when “every eye will see Him” (Rev. 1:7). But while physical features have been guardedly presented – and with good reason – the Bible is full of descriptions of God’s person and character.
Around the end of each year, we hear people talking about ‘the spirit of Christmas.’ There’s an end-of-term sort of feeling, a building sense of anticipation. But I want to share with you as we conclude this chapter, what the real spirit of Christmas is. There’s a place in our Bibles, in the New Testament, where we’re invited to focus on the attitude that lies behind the ‘Christmas story.’ Christians everywhere are called upon always to strive to emulate this attitude. Here is, if you will, the real, the true spirit of Christmas:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)
In mining the wealth of that content found in Philippians chapter 2, verses 5 through 11, we come to understand how profoundly God has responded to the cry of the human heart – “Who are you, God?” and “What are you really like?” Getting to know God ought to be the major interest of every man, woman, and child on this planet, because from that knowledge flows every other answer to the cries of the heart and mind. In writing to his friends at Philippi, Paul was urging them to realize that the best possible thing we can do in life is to get to know Jesus better and better and become more like him, and in doing so we’ll become more like our heavenly father.
I sincerely wish that, when the Christmas season next comes, it will be one in which we get to know God better.