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I Can Only Imagine
November 15, 2011
Yesterday I mentioned that I had gone looking for the source of the joy that seemed to mark the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Here is a man who suffered greatly in all the years he ministered for the Lord and yet a man who was full of joy, or at least a man who didn’t sink into the depths of despair. As I went looking for the source of his joy I found that it was grounded in hope—the hope of the ressurection. That was a great discovery to me and one that has genuinely changed the way I look at life and death and all the pain and difficulty and weariness that life brings.
But I found that there was more to his hope than only the promise of resurrection. Paul trusted in the sure promise of God’s presence. He knew that we who believe will be resurrected so we can come into the presence of God. And this, God’s presence, will be the greatest joy of heaven. He says in 2 Corinthians verse 13, “We speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.” We will be raised and resurrected so we can be brought into the presence of God. The resurrection is not an end in itself, but the means to a greater end.
That is a great promise—the greatest promise of all—that we will experience the presence of God. What greater joy could we know? Some day, when we are given our resurrection bodies, when earth itself has been resurrected and renewed, we will experience the direct presence of the Lord.
There at last we will know the Father, we will experience the direct enjoyment of God. This is so great, it is so wonderful, that we cannot imagine all that it will mean. We will see face-to-face the Father, who has no body, who has no face. We will enjoy his presence in an unmediated way. We will experience the fullness of his presence. We will need no temple there to worship him, we will need no mediator to approach him, we will need no light to see him. We will see him face-to-face, there in his presence, experiencing all that he is in the deepest way. There are no words to adequately describe this reality, so we can only long for it as an experience we hope for and long for and dream of. It will be the fulfillment of every longing for every enjoyment.
And just as we see the Father, we will see Jesus, we will see our Savior, face-to-face at last. We will look upon his nail-pierced hands. We will see his side, still scarred where the soldier plunged his spear. We will look upon the One who created us, the One who redeemed us, the One who gave his life so he could save us from the wrath we deserve. We will look upon him and worship him, at last seeing him as he is. This is what every Christian longs for. This is what every Christian desires. As much as we long to see the people who have gone before us, as much as we long to see grandparents we adored, children we held (or never got to hold), friends we loved—the greatest longing of all is to finally see the Savior, to behold him face-to-face, to worship him, to thank him, to praise him, to honor him, to glorify him, to adore him. Doesn’t your heart leap, doesn’t it soar, to think of meeting your Savior? All the joys of earth and heaven pale in comparison to this.
Have you dreamed of what you might say to him when you come before him? A few years ago the band MercyMe released the song “I Can Only Imagine” and in that song they spoke of the great longing to see Jesus. What was amazing to me was that this song caught on not just with Christians but all over the place. I heard it in the mall and at a football game and on the radio and all over. Somehow it spoke to a great longing in so many people. They wrote:
Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel?
Will I dance for you Jesus, or in awe of you be still?
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall?
Will I sing hallelujah? Will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.
Have you imagined that day? Do you long for that day? As much as we long to experience a rest from the weariness of this life, as much as we long to be reunited with the people we loved, as much as we long to meet the people we have read about in the Bible or the pages of history, there is no longing like this—to be united with the Savior. There is no better, purer desire.
Paul could say, “We are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). Is that your desire? Do you regard even the best that this world has to offer as so much less than what the Lord promises in the world to come? Are your eyes fixed on this world or is your gaze beyond this world, beyond the horizon, to the future that is to come?
Paul longed for the resurrection so he could experience the fullness of God’s presence. This sustained him as he spent another night in a cold and damp prison, as he endured another beating, as he went another day without a meal. He longed to be with God, to see him face to face. And Christian, this can sustain you as well. It can give you hope in any kind of pain or trial. It’s meant to give you that kind of hope. And what awesome hope it is!