“I can only imagine what it will be like
When I walk, by your side
I can only imagine what my eyes will see
When your face is before me.”
Those are the first few lines of MercyMe’s 1999 hit song. They invite the listener to exercise their imaginations forward to a face-to-face encounter in eternity with Jesus. This is what ancient Christians called “the beatific vision.”
Four years later, Fitz, Tony and Big Gay Steven, then-hosts of Wild 101 FM’s “The Fitz Show,” decided to play the song as nothing more than a joke. And when they did, something unexpected happened: The phone lines lit up with requests for “I Can Only Imagine” to be played again. People were loving it!
Shortly thereafter, the challenge to play the song on popular radio spread across the country. In current terminology, I Can Only Imagine had gone viral! Steve Matthews, director of programming at WZNY in Augusta, Georgia, told the press, “I played the song one time and my phones were solid for the next 20 minutes. The calls were not asking me who the artist was, but to thank me for playing the song.”
I hope you see the irony: Who could have imagined? What began with the intention to be a cynical and insulting joke turned out to be a minor miracle of American radio. What a reversal!
When the disciples cheered on Jesus as he paraded into the capital city of Jerusalem, their hopes were for a conquering King who would put things to right, bringing justice and freedom to God’s people. When just a few days later he was crucified, they themselves experienced a painful reversal. It must have been bewildering, and felt like a cruel, insulting, cynical joke.
But just a few days later, there was a reversal of EPIC proportions. When Easter Sunday dawned, the tomb was empty. Jesus was alive, raised from the dead! And this was far more than a revival. To the Jews, who expected the resurrection to come at the end of time, this was something cosmic. It was the beginning of the end! Jesus Christ was not only to be king of Israel, but the King of all the world! Who could have imagined?
By his life, death, and resurrection Jesus had conquered his enemies not by force, but through love, forgiveness, and faith by the power of God. In his own words, Jesus came not to be served, but to serve. And he calls every of us to follow him and join with him in his mission.
This is why followers of Jesus are raised from spiritual death to life: to be a witness to the world of the power of faith in Christ that works itself out through love every day, in every way. We do this not by our own strength or might, but by the power of the Resurrected Christ. That’s what compelled the first disciples, and it’s what compels us yet today.
Dare to imagine!
Your Partner in the Gospel,
Seeking Jesus, Serving Others!