“But if God has no beginning and no end, and has always existed, what was He doing before He created us? How did He spend His time?” Some precocious Sunday school student always asks this question when we talk about God’s eternal nature. I used to respond that this was a bit of a mystery. But recently I learned that the Bible gives us an answer to this question.
When Jesus prays to His Father in John 17, He says “Father, . . . you loved me before the creation of the world” (v. 24). This is God as revealed to us by Jesus: before He ever created the earth or ruled over it, God was a Father loving His Son through the Spirit. When Jesus was baptized, God sent His Spirit in the form of a dove and said, “This is my Son, whom I love” (Matthew 3:17). The most foundational aspect of God’s identity is this outgoing, life-giving love.
What a lovely and encouraging truth this is about our God! The mutual, outgoing love expressed by each member of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is key to understanding the nature of God. What was God the Father doing before the beginning of time? Loving His Son through the Spirit. God is love (1 John 4:8), and this picture helps us begin to understand what that means.
Put on the R70i Age Suit and you immediately feel forty years older as you experience impaired vision, hearing loss and reduced mobility. The Age Suit was designed to help caregivers better understand their patients. Wall Street Journal correspondent Geoffrey Fowler wore one and wrote, “The unforgettable, and at times distressing, experience shed light not just on aging, but also how virtual reality equipment can teach empathy and shape our perceptions of the world around us.”
Empathy is the power to understand and share the feelings of another. During a time of severe persecution against the followers of Jesus, the writer of Hebrews urged fellow believers to “continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering” (13:3).
This is exactly what our Savior has done for us. Jesus was made like us, “fully human in every way . . . that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Heb. 2:17). “Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (v. 18).
Christ the Lord, who became like us, calls us to stand with others “as if we were together with them” during their time of need.
“Remove everything from your desks, take out a piece of paper and pencil.” When I was a student these dreaded words announced that “test time” had come.
In Mark 4, we read that Jesus’s day, which started with teaching by the seaside (Mark 4:1), ended with a time of testing on the sea (v. 35). The boat that had been used as a teaching platform was used to transport Jesus and a handful of His followers to the other side of the sea. During the journey (while an exhausted Jesus slept in the back of the boat), they encountered a swirling storm (v. 37). Drenched disciples woke Jesus with the words, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” (v. 38). Then it happened. The One who had exhorted the crowds to, “Listen!” earlier in the day (v. 3), uttered a simple, powerful command to the winds of nature—“Quiet! Be still!”
The wind obeyed and the wonder of fear-filled disciples was displayed with the words, “Who is this?” (v. 41). The question was a good one but it would take them a while to honestly and correctly conclude that Jesus was God’s Son. Sincere, honest, openhearted inquiry and experience lead people to the same conclusion today. He is more than a teacher to listen to, He is God to be worshiped. Arthur Jackson
John Babler is the chaplain for the police and fire departments in his Texas community. During a 22-week sabbatical from his job, he attended police academy training so that he could better understand the situations law enforcement officers face. Through spending time with the other cadets and learning about the intense challenges of the profession, Babler gained a new sense of humility and empathy. In the future, he hopes to be more effective as he counsels police officers who struggle with emotional stress, fatigue, and loss.
We know that God understands the situations we face because He made us and sees everything that happens to us. We also know He understands because He has been to earth and experienced life as a human being. “He became flesh and dwelt among us” as the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14).
Jesus’s earthly life included a wide range of difficulty. He felt the searing heat of the sun, the pain of an empty stomach, and the uncertainty of homelessness. Emotionally, He endured the tension of disagreements, the burn of betrayal, and the ongoing threat of violence.
Jesus experienced the joys of friendship and family love, as well as the worst problems that we face here on earth. He provides hope. He is the Wonderful Counselor who patiently listens to our concerns with insight and care (Isaiah 9:6). He is the One who can say, “I’ve been through that. I understand.”
Author and pastor Erwin Lutzer recounts a story about television show host Art Linkletter and a little boy who was drawing a picture of God. Amused, Linkletter said, “You can’t do that because nobody knows what God looks like.”
“They will when I get through!” the boy declared.
We may wonder, “What is God like?” “Is He good?” “Is He kind?” “Does He care?” The simple answer to those questions is Jesus’ response to Philip’s request: “Lord, show us the Father.” Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:8-9).
If you ever get hungry to see God look at Jesus. “The Son is the image of the invisible God,” said Paul (Col. 1:15). Read through the four Gospels in the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Think deeply about what Jesus did and said. “Draw” your own mental picture of God as you read. You’ll know much more of what He’s like when you’re through.
A friend of mine once told me that the only God he could believe in is the one he saw in Jesus. If you look closely, I think you’ll agree. As you read about Him your heart will leap, for though you may not know it, Jesus is the God you’ve been looking for all your life.
At the memorial service for Charles Schulz (1922–2000), creator of the beloved Peanuts comic strip, friend and fellow cartoonist Cathy Guisewite spoke of his humanity and compassion. “He gave everyone in the world characters who knew exactly how all of us felt, who made us feel we were never alone. And then he gave the cartoonist himself, and he made us feel that we were never alone. . . . He encouraged us. He commiserated with us. He made us feel he was exactly like us.”
When we feel that no one understands or can help us, we are reminded that Jesus gave us Himself, and He knows exactly who we are and what we are facing today.
Hebrews 2:9–18 presents the remarkable truth that Jesus fully shared our humanity during His life on earth (v. 14). He “taste[d] death for everyone” (v. 9), broke the power of Satan (v. 14), and freed “those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (v. 15). Jesus was made like us, “fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God” (v. 17).
Jeralean Talley died in June 2015 as the world’s oldest living person—116 years of age. In 1995, the city of Jerusalem celebrated its 3,000th birthday. One hundred sixteen is old for a person, and 3,000 is old for a city, but there are trees that grow even older. A bristlecone pine in California’s White Mountains has been determined to be older than 4,800 years. That precedes the patriarch Abraham by 800 years!
Jesus, when challenged by the Jewish religious leaders about His identity, also claimed to pre-date Abraham. “Very truly I tell you,” He said, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 8:58). His bold assertion shocked those who were confronting Him, and they sought to stone Him. They knew He wasn’t referring to a chronological age but was actually claiming to be eternal by taking the ancient name of God, “I am” (see Ex. 3:14). But as a member of the triune Godhead, He could make that claim legitimately.
In John 17:3, Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” The timeless One entered into time so we could live forever. He accomplished that mission by dying in our place and rising again. Because of His sacrifice, we anticipate a future not bound by time, where we will spend eternity with Him. He is the timeless one.
In a 1929 Saturday Evening Post interview, Albert Einstein said, “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life.”
The New Testament Scriptures give us other examples of Jesus’s countrymen who sensed there was something special about Him. When Jesus asked His followers, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” they replied that some said He was John the Baptist, others said He was Elijah, and others thought He was Jeremiah or one of the prophets (Matt. 16:14). To be named with the great prophets of Israel was certainly a compliment, but Jesus wasn’t seeking compliments. He was searching their understanding and looking for faith. So He asked a second question: “But what about you? . . . Who do you say I am?” (16:15).
Peter’s declaration fully expressed the truth of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (v. 16).
Jesus longs for us to know Him and His rescuing love. This is why each of us must eventually answer the question, “Who do you say Jesus is?”
Raleigh looks like a powerful dog—he is large and muscular and has a thick coat of fur. And he weighs over 100 pounds! Despite his appearance, Raleigh connects well with people. His owner takes him to nursing homes and hospitals to bring people a smile.
Once, a four-year-old girl spotted Raleigh across a room. She wanted to pet him, but was afraid to get close. Eventually, her curiosity overcame her sense of caution and she spent several minutes talking to him and petting him. She discovered that he is a gentle creature, even though he is powerful.
The combination of these qualities reminds me of what we read about Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus was approachable—He welcomed little children (Matt. 19:13-15). He was kind to an adulterous woman in a desperate situation (John 8:1-11). Compassion motivated Him to teach crowds (Mark 6:34). At the same time, Jesus’ power was astounding. Heads turned and jaws dropped as He subdued demons, calmed violent storms, and resurrected dead people! (Mark 1:21-34; Mark 4:35-41; John 11).
The way we see Jesus determines how we relate to Him. If we focus only on His power, we may treat Him with the detached worship we’d give a comic book superhero. Yet, if we overemphasize His kindness, we risk treating Him too casually. The truth is that Jesus is both at once—great enough to deserve our obedience yet humble enough to call us friends.