Much of life is mundane, uneventful. We get up in the morning, prepare for the day, perform appointed tasks and pursue chosen goals, eat a couple of meals in the interim, maybe chill out a bit in the evening. Then we head for some sleep so we can do it all over again the next day. Sound familiar?
But there are moments in life, exceptional moments, that stand out. Ones that really make life worth living. We could call those the times when we hear “the words of life.”
For instance, when the doctor or nurse looks up from the ultrasound and with a smile announces, “It’s a boy!” (Or, as happened for us several times, “It’s a girl!”) Or that exhilarating moment when the surgeon appears in the waiting room and informs the anxious family, “We got all of the cancer.”
Perhaps it didn’t involve surgery, but you went to your primary care physician (didn’t PCP used to be some kind of hallucinogenic drug?) for an illness or troublesome pain. You described your symptoms, he or she undertook a thorough examination, and then assured you, “It’s nothing serious.” Or there might have been a time when some calamity occurred and you feared loved ones might have been involved. After hours of waiting and wondering, the phone rang and you heard the good news: “They’re safe!”
Those in truth are words of life. It’s nice when we hear our favorite team won the big game, or receive a much-hoped-for raise or promotion. But when it comes to matters of life and death, health and safety, we’re desperate to hear the words of life.
We see something like that – even more profound – when we read in the gospel of John after many among the adoring throng that had been following Jesus suddenly turning away. Addressing to His closest followers, the ones known as the 12 disciples, Jesus asked, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” In response, Simon Peter quickly said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God” (John 6:67-69).
“Life” is a word Jesus used a lot during His earthly ministry. After stating our spiritual enemy “comes only to steal and kills and destroy,” Jesus declared, “I have come that they might have life – and have it to the full” (John 10:10). I like the translation that says we can have life “abundantly.”
Sometimes Jesus meant physical life: Lazarus being summoned from the dead after several days in a tomb. A little girl restored to life after a distraught centurion in faith asked Jesus to help his ailing daughter. A blind man given sight, a leper made clean, a crippled man raised to his feet, a woman cured of her long-term “issue of blood.”
But more often, Jesus’ words of life concerned not earthly existence, but the life that comes after it. One of the best-known verses in the Bible tells us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Later Jesus described Himself as “the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). Moments later, in case anyone missed His meaning, the Lord declared, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (John 6:51).
The best thing about this offer of eternal life – the ultimate words of life – is that it’s not a matter of hope-so, or maybe. We have this assurance:
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
Numerous other passages could be cited as well, but the Scriptures make it abundantly clear: We live in a world in which our physical lives are threatened at every turn. And we know that for each of us, one day our days on earth will come to an end. But for followers of Christ, that is only the beginning of real life.
At any moment, in the blink of an eye, we will step onto the other side of eternity. We will be greeted by our Lord, and He will welcome us with the words of life – eternal life. So, as we press on in this life, we would be well-advised to heed the admonition of Proverbs 4:11-13, “I guide you in the way of wisdom and lead you along straight paths…. Hold on to instruction, do not let it go; guard it well, for it is your life.”