READ Philippians 1:21-23; John 14:15-21
Tomorrow is Good Friday. And tomorrow, in our livestreamed service, we will consider the mystery of the forsaken King, the mystery that God appears to be absent. But perhaps you already know the ending. You say: praise God! There is the cross, and there is also the empty tomb! You say: we know God is for us, and with us! And indeed, praise God for that indeed!
But I wonder if you’ve ever considered another mystery: that Christ is presently absent. Huh? What do you mean? You might ask. Well, here is one interesting question to ask: where is Christ right now? Now you might answer: God is everywhere, Christ is God, so Jesus is everywhere! Yet when we look at the Bible, that is not quite how the New Testament puts it. In quite a number of places, such as Hebrews 1:3 and 8:1 for instance, we find that Jesus is at the “right hand of God”. Dig a little deeper, and consider words like Paul’s words in Philippians 1:23, and we find something interesting. As he ponders whether staying alive or dying is better, he states that he desires to die to be with Christ! This implies that Christ is on one level, absent from him. Moreover, in 2 Corinthians 5:6, Paul states that to be at home in the body is to be away from the Lord. And so clearly, in the New Testament, there is a sense in which Christ is absent from us. This make sense, given that we do not see Jesus face to face presently, and indeed, we are awaiting his return.
But wait a minute, you might ask. How does this harmonise with other verses like Matthew 28:20, where Christ says he is with us always? What about the beautiful words of Galatians 2:20 which says: “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me?” And you’re right to draw attention to these verses. They are also wonderfully true! Christ is absent, and yet he’s present! So how do we make sense of all this?
The answer, in sum, seems to be this. Christ is present with us through the Holy Spirit, though he is presently absent in his body. In Romans 8:9-11, the Spirit of God is described as living in every Christian. And Paul has no qualms about calling God’s Spirit the Spirit of Christ. In other words, he seems to be saying, if the Holy Spirit lives in you, Christ lives in you. They are distinct persons, yet inseparable. We enjoy the non-bodily presence of the Holy Spirit, but we are still awaiting the time when we can see Jesus face to face, when he will come from heaven to “transform our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).
So what practical implications flow from this theological knot that we’ve just untangled? I think it means this. It means that we should not be surprised that there are times when we feel the absence of Jesus. We study the Bible, the words of Jesus, but we don’t literally hear the audible voice of Jesus, and so sometimes we feel like something is still missing. It’s like Skype, or Zoom – we can truly communicate and have fellowship with someone over such online platforms, yet we are missing something by not being physically present in the same room. And that sense should make us long for the day when we will see Jesus face to face.
But it also means we should not be surprised that there are times when we feel Jesus is really close to us. For he has not left us as orphans (John 14:15-21). Indeed, while the first disciples had Jesus with them, we have Jesus in us. And that should give us great encouragement, that even in the times when we long for the day of the LORD, where the world will be all fixed, we are not alone and isolated. In these days of spatial distancing, Christ through the Holy Spirit doesn’t have to keep his distance from you. Nor will he. We still long for a better day, but praise him, He is with us today.
- Pray that we will be comforted and encouraged by the fact that Christ has not left us as orphans, but sends the Holy Spirit. Pray that we will know in our hearts God is still present with us in these days, and for anybody especially who is feeling God’s absence at this time. Pray that we will long for the day when Christ comes back.
- Pray for those who do not yet know the Lord in these days to know Jesus in a real and personal way, and know his peace.