I think it was the first Bible verse I memorized as a child. My mother suggested it would be a good verse to “learn by heart”. Perhaps you know the verse; it is John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” I thought the verse had something to do with dying and going to heaven, which didn’t appeal to me at the time. And for many years afterwards I thought eternal life was something collected in heaven, but of little relevance to me in my daily life.
Then I made a life-changing discovery! I began to see that Jesus came not only to give us life that lasts forever, but to give us a new quality of life now. It is this wondrous life Jesus gives that is the theme of this year’s Lent devotional. We will explore the very life of God within us. It is what Jesus calls eternal life. It is living the life!
Eternal life is the translation of the Greek words zoe aionios that literally means, “life of the age to come”. The Judaism of Jesus’ day talked about two ages: the present age, and the age to come. The life of the age to come, zoe aionios, is the quality of life belonging to the coming age of Messiah. For “in Jewish thought, life in the age to come is characterized by a restored relationship with God, and that is precisely what Jesus speaks of here. The life of the age to come is already present in Jesus and made available to his disciples, and at the heart of it is an intimate relation with God.” (Rodney Whitacre, John: IVP New Testament Commentary) Eternal life, the life of the age to come, is brought to us in Messiah Jesus today!
As Jesus talked with His Father, He spoke of eternal life as a relationship with the Father and with Him: “And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). Many people can speak of the transforming power of a relationship with a good and gracious person. “She changed my life!” a man recently gushed to me about his wife. Yes! But how much more will knowing Father and Jesus transform us now. It is living the life!
Jesus promised that those who put trust in Him would possess this quality of life in the here and now: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36a). This means no more life as usual. No more status quo. Because eternal life, zoe aionios, is the foretaste of what awaits us. Jesus came offering eternal life, inviting people to enter into the very life of God. The apostle Paul rejoiced in this radically new quality of living: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). This is about more than being a church member, serving on a committee, and going to Bible study! It is about knowing God and living the life, His life, now!
ABOUT THIS LENT DEVOTIONAL
The focus of this Lent devotional is what is commonly called “The Upper Room Discourse” found in John 13-16. Here are Jesus’ parting words to His disciples in an upper-story room, just hours before His death. Here is the quintessence of everything Jesus wants us to know about life. Jesus speaks from the eye of the storm, knowing Judas will betray Him, Peter will deny Him, and others flee Him. He knows He is about to be humiliated, tortured, and crucified, yet surprisingly talks about experiencing peace and joy:
- “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27).
- “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:11).
This peace and joy are part and parcel of the life of the age to come. This is the life that can be ours in Christ Jesus!
ABOUT THE UPPER ROOM
Through the centuries it has been called The Upper Room. Without exaggeration this room is the most important room in history. The Gospels call it “a large room upstairs” (Luke 22:12). Jesus called it “my guest room” (Mark 14:14). The Upper Room is that hallowed space where Jesus washed dirty feet, ate His last Passover, instituted the Lord’s Supper, and gave parting instruction. Some scholars suggest it is the room in which the resurrected Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit on His disciples (John 20:19-23), showed doubting Thomas His fresh wounds (John 20:26-27), early Christians devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:13-14), the Holy Spirit descended on Pentecost (Acts 2:1-2), and the infant church assembled (Acts 12:12-17).
This large upstairs room likely belonged to Mary of Jerusalem, mother of John Mark the Gospel writer (Acts 12:12). It was likely the guest room of Barnabas, John Mark’s cousin, when he visited Jerusalem (Colossians 4:10). This room apparently escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70 and became the destination of later pilgrims to the Holy Land. It is on the itinerary of many visitors today to Jerusalem. Numerous ministries incorporate The Upper Room in their names.
Centuries later we cherish The Upper Room as the place where Jesus lavished love on His disciples and taught them before He went to the cross. We give significance to a person’s last words, and special significance to Jesus’ last words. These four chapters, John 13-16, are so treasured they are often called the Bible’s “Holy of Holies”. While we esteem all Scripture as holy, there is something about these words of Jesus that strikes the reverent reader as very holy. The old Scotch preacher Alexander Maclaren said it well: “Nowhere else do the blended lights of our Lord’s superhuman dignity and human tenderness shine with such lambent brightness. Nowhere else is His speech at once so simple and so deep. Nowhere else have we the heart of God so unveiled to us.” (Expositions of Holy Scripture: John) Here we will feel we are standing on holy ground. Here is Christianity 2.0! Here is life to the max! The life of God lived out on earth.
Two thousand years have come and gone since Jesus spoke these words, but the same divine power continues to flow through them to us. The same tender eyes look on us that looked on those disciples. Jesus longs today to tell us about the life He came to give us. He has so much He wants to tell us in The Upper Room. Here are words not just to read, but words to read and to ponder. Words to lovingly pray over. Words to live. Let us linger with Jesus in The Upper Room! Here is life!
For the days of Lent, consider setting aside a special place and time that will be your “Upper Room”. Here you will meet with Jesus. Here you will listen to Him and talk to Him.
Before we conclude this introduction, take a moment to pray the prayers with which we will begin and end each day’s reading and reflection:
- Loving Father, may I have the power to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19).
- O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly, day by day (Richard of Chichester, 1197-1253)