The real gospel as I have come to call it is rather different from the news that was handed to me in my youth. Listen to the end of Jesus’s prayer moments before he went to the cross.
“Father, I have made Your name known to them, and I will make it known, in order that the love with which You love Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
In these words from our Lord several simple but monumental realities should stop us in our tracks. First, the joy of Jesus’s heart is that he is making his Father known to us. For Jesus this is the point of creation and of our being alive in the world, and now it is the point of his presence in redemption. “And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Jesus sees life in an odd way to me, which startled me and led me to an about face many years ago. He is not concerned here with where we go when we die. He is concerned with our knowing the Father now. For Jesus knows the Father and he understands what will happen inside of us when we do as well. Something happens inside our souls when we see the Father’s face with Jesus’s eyes—hope, meaning, unearthly assurance, freedom for love. The Holy Spirit as a river of life rises up as a within us and flows to all around us now, and forever after (John 7:38-89).
Second, note that this knowing is as far from an intellectual exercise as a photograph is from a real place, or an ancient text about Jesus is from Jesus himself. In fact, and this too has shocked and thrilled me for years, Jesus intends that we come to experience the very same love with which the Father loves him from all eternity. Let’s stop for a moment and make sure we do not miss this. What does Jesus feel right now sitting face to face with his Father in the Holy Spirit? Have you ever thought about that? Jesus is there now seeing his Father. Is he afraid? Are his knuckles white as he grips the arms of his chair fear-stricken that at any moment his Father will banish him from his presence? Does Jesus’ heart writhe with worry about tomorrow? Is he depressed, forlorn, on the edge of the abyss of sadness? Why have we not be talking about this for the last 2000 years? Is Jesus overwhelmed with anxiety that the Pharisees will finally persuade his Father that they are right with their verdict that he has lost his mind?
I think Jesus hears His Father say, “You are My beloved Son, in whom My soul delights” (Matt 3:17; 17:5). I think he hears and feels this affirmation all the time, everyday. I think Jesus knows His Father inside and out, dwells in his bosom, as John says (John 1:18) and enjoys His everlasting, cascading affection. The heart of the gospel is found right here. The gospel is the astonishing news that this same Jesus has taken up residence inside of you and me (I in them). All that Jesus is with his Father and all that he has in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit has been and is being given to us. It is quite staggering, almost unbelievable, but nothing less than Jesus and his very own relationship with his Father is now ours, indeed as much ours as it is Jesus’ s(Col 1:27; John 14:20).
Third, notice how Jesus takes responsibility for making this knowing and union with us real. We are too precious to him, and his Father’s dream for us is too important to leave to us to accomplish. Say this out loud, “Jesus takes responsibility for finding me in my great darkness. Jesus is delivering me from evil.” As I come awake to my own failures and pretending and self-righteousness and posing, this part of Jesus’s declaration thrills me. He gives me a place to rest when I have failed again, and that place is Him. He is saying to us, ‘There now little one; it was never up to you to shepherd yourself and lead yourself to life. I am the good shepherd, always have been, and you can count on me and my love. I have found you and will never let you go. Rest a while in my love and you will see.’
Most of us, I suspect have tried to be good Christians and worked hard to figure out how to apply biblical truths to our lives. Such externals left me appearing nice, but dead and certainly bored on the inside. The good shepherd, however, the one who knows the Father and life in the Holy Spirit came and found us and now is leading us to know his Father with Him. Jesus’s view of life itself is different than ours and the way of our getting there is different from our way. His vision of life is fundamentally at odds with trying to improve our appearance. I have finally begun to trust Jesus’s heart for me and his presence, not absence in my life. This leads me daily, some times moment by moment to ask Jesus ‘how are you working in me to deliver me from darkness so that I can see what you see?’
Fourth, there is something implicit in Jesus’s prayer that we have touched on, but now needs to be highlighted. It is what he assumes that we already believe. The points above have opposites at work within us. We don’t believe that the Father could possibly love us, or that Jesus is in us, or that he is shepherding us in our sin and brokenness. This is what John means by darkness (1:5). These beliefs—the Father is not good; I am not loved, not good enough, not important, not acceptable; Jesus is not in me, and I am alone—are like logs that form a beaver dam within our souls. And this beaver dam keeps the river of living water from flowing within us out into our relationships and lives. These agreements blind us to what is, “the light of life” (John 8:12). If we want to see what Jesus sees and feel what he feels when he hears his Father, then we ask Jesus to help us change what we believe. The good news here is that he is already inside us. Our joy is to ask him, for he will never violate us or our wills. Here is a conversation I often have with Jesus. ‘Jesus, are you in me?’ I listen for Jesus to say, ‘I AM.’ And if I cannot hear him, I ask why not? ’Lord, deliver me from darkness, especially the lies I believe about your Father and about myself. Thank you blessed Jesus that you have crossed all worlds to find me in my darkness. Give me your eyes.’
“In that day you will know that I Am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20).
—C. Baxter Kruger, Ph.D., international bestselling author of The Shack Revisited, and Patmos