Jesus had just spoke these memorable words, “Behold, I am with you all the days until the completion of the age. Amen.” (Matthew 28:20); and then He very visibly ascended through the clouds and left. The first disciples must have been very confused and a little scared. For three and a half years they had barely had a day without Jesus around. Though it didn’t look that way, Jesus was still going to be there.
We have had a different experience. We might say that we believe Jesus’ story. We trust Jesus’ promise. We even speak to Jesus in prayer and worship. But has Jesus ever been with us? You might not feel so. But you would be wrong.
Jesus, the resurrected, incarnate, Son of God, is not some limited being who has one form of being present. So, when He says, “Behold”, He is encouraging His disciples of every era to use all their powers of observation to identify Jesus’ presence and to take strength from that fact.
Before I point out what Jesus does mean by “with you”, let me address a few ways that we try to dumb-down this statement. The first is that we reduce Jesus to His teachings. If we have His teachings in our minds, that might constitute “with you”. Nothing wrong with knowing your stuff, but Jesus isn’t going to let the vital task of connecting people with the saving promise of salvation completely in the hands of people, even well-trained people. We are still too negligent. We are too vulnerable to false teaching and intimidation. This is not what Jesus meant.
Even less, does He mean the warm fuzzies. The phrase, “I have Jesus in my heart”, is a common and wildly abused phrase that often means, “I think about Jesus, and I love him.” It is akin to saying that you have your dead grandma in your heart. It is more appropriate for grandma. Jesus’ presence is not emotional nor is it imagined or memory.
Jesus was being much more literal. His presence is comparable to how God is present in multiple ways and forms. For example, it isn’t wrong to say that God is in Heaven. His visible center of power is there. He could also simultaneously have a presence in the Holy of Holies of the Temple that was so potent that no person, beside the High Priest once a year, could enter and live. God is also within the whole of creation, perhaps at the atomic level, “filling all things”. His power extends to all places. His attention extends to all places. His attention coupled with His favor can be given to a certain set of people or withdrawn from others. He can withdraw all of the above from someone He forsakes.
Where is Jesus and how might you observe Him? The first way you may interact is through prayer. It is not as simple as talking to another person. The curse has put some space between us and Jesus. Still, we speak to Jesus (it doesn’t have to be out loud) and if there is a sought response you will observe it. What you observe depends on what you are asking. Some responses will naturally take a long time. Others you might find as you read the Bible. Others you will hear internally. The internal ones need to be tested in some way. The quiet answer of God does sound like our own self-talk. I expect that is because it is using the same parts of our brain. Sorting God answers from our answers or even from Satan’s answers needs to be vetted against the words of Bible where possible. For other things you may have to ask for some other type of external sign. Remember that you are testing a message and not testing God.
Within the process of reading the Bible or hearing a message about the Bible, you may find that Jesus gives breakthrough insight or piercing personal application. It is being taught by Jesus, who is still here. Obviously, this requires our availing ourselves of such things.
In carrying out some aspect of Jesus’ ongoing mission (sharing the Gospel message, showing love in the name of Christ, teaching others to be disciples, even doing your job well because of Jesus) you may notice that things go way better than you can account for based on your skill set. Doing the work of God’s Kingdom is collaborative. Jesus is “in you” in a very literal way and He works through your work.
These are all ways that you may “Behold” the presence of Jesus. We can also draw some parallels to the paragraph above about the presence of God. Most importantly, we need to understand a little about our being part of the “body of Christ”. The Bible uses this phrase both metaphorically and literally. In one spot (1Corinthians 12:12f) it is more of a metaphor to express why different types of people with different spiritual gifts are necessary to carry out God’s mission. All other times the phrase is used literally. The fact is very deep. You could use the word “mystic”. But it is literal. There is some kind of connection beyond the bounds of normal human experience that binds us to Jesus. Jesus even compares it to the connection within the Trinity:
“I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.John 17:20-21 (ESV)
Jesus is present in us, because we are part of the body of Christ. This presence is intensified as Christians gather together in a group.
20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.Matthew 18:20 (ESV)
In Revelations 2 and 3, Jesus speaks of walking among the congregations in Asia that were receiving special messages through John. Jesus’ presence can be encouraging, informative but also rebuking. Jesus’ presence does not guarantee that we or our congregations will always do what is right. But the presence of Jesus is real whether or not it is observed. It is to our advantage if we heed Jesus’ words and “behold” it.
Another mode of Jesus’ presence can be found in the Lord’s Supper. It is easy to dismiss this as symbolic, but symbolic presence makes no sense, https://wordpress.com/post/givingchrist.com/2138 . Jesus is capable of being present in bread and wine for the purpose of strengthening and preserving our bond with Him.
There are many ways that Jesus is with His disciples all the way to Judgment Day. If we neglect prayer, worship, studying Scripture, service, and Lord’s Supper, we are still with Jesus but probably won’t “behold” Him. This is a big deal. Our connection to Christ is not indestructible. We can easily abandon it. Being aware keeps us encouraged, productive and in Christ.