The Privilege Open to All
I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord…They shall return to me with their whole heart.(Jeremiah 24:7)
God is so vastly wonderful, so utterly and completely delightful that He can, without anything other than Himself, meet and overflow the deepest demands of our total nature, mysterious and deep as that nature is.
Hearts that are “fit to break” with love for the Godhead are those who have been in the Presence and have looked with opened eyes upon the majesty of Deity. Men with these breaking hearts had a quality about them not known to or understood by common man. They habitually spoke with spiritual authority. They had been in the Presence of God, and they reported what they saw there. The great of the kingdom have been those who loved God more than others did. We all know who they have been and gladly pay tribute to the depths and sincerity of their devotion.
The type of Christianity now in vogue knows this Presence only in theory. It fails to stress the Christian’s privilege of present realization. According to its teachings we are in the Presence of God positionally, and nothing is said about the need to experience that Presence actually. The fiery urge that drove men like Robert Murray McCheyne is wholly missing. And the present generation of Christians measures itself by that imperfect rule. We are satisfied to rest in our judicial possessions and for the most part we bother ourselves very little about the absence of personal experience.
In the deep spirit of a man the fire must glow or his love is not the true love of God. The Church waits for the tender voice of the saint who has penetrated the veil and has gazed with inward eye upon the Wonder that is God. And yet, thus to penetrate, to push in sensitive living experience into the Holy Presence, is a privilege open to every child of God.
A. W. Tozer
Frequently we hear quoted the statement by Jesus:
20 For where two or three are gathered in My name [meeting together as My followers], I am there among them.”
What does it mean for Him to be “among us”? Is He but a shadow or an observer or an illusion? Do we “by faith” merely assume He is with us without any evidence of that being so? Let us consider some of what the Bible says about God being with His people. We could certainly consider the cloud and pillar of fire that hovered over the Israelites on their wilderness journey. We might add to that the visible glory of God at the dedication of the tabernacle and temple. But let us focus for times sake on the encounters of the New Testament.
We read that it became known to the Magi that a King had been born. They made a journey, seeking and searching until at last they found Him. When they found Him, He was no longer a dream, a vision, or an object to seek. He was tangible, touchable, and visible and they fell on their knees in worship in His Presence.
“After hearing the king, they went their way; and behold, the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them [continually leading the way] until it came and stood over the place where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And after entering the house, they saw the Child with Mary His mother; and they fell down and worshiped Him. Then, after opening their treasure chests, they presented to Him gifts [fit for a king, gifts] of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.”
As Jesus is brought for dedication, Simeon and Anna recognize that in this tiny baby is the fullness of the Godhead. They recognize that all their years of longing and seeking have been brought to completion in the Presence. Holding Him, they proclaim that God has come to earth.
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout [carefully observing the divine Law], and looking for the Consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed). Prompted by the Spirit, he came into the temple [enclosure]; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for Him the custom required by the Law, Simeon took Him into his arms, and blessed and praised and thanked God…..”
“There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old, and had lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, She, too, came up at that very moment and began praising and giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all who were looking for the redemption and deliverance of Jerusalem.”
Again and again we read that God’s Presence of Jesus was experienced. We read of demons recognizing Him and blind men feeling His nearness and hearts set on fire by His Presence.
Moving to after the resurrection, we see that His Presence was not a concept but a reality.
Mary at the tomb encountered Christ.
“But Mary [who had returned] was standing outside the tomb sobbing; and so, as she wept, she stooped down and looked into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. And they said to her, “Woman, why are you crying?” She told them, “Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid Him.” After saying this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” ( which means, Teacher ). Mary Magdalene came, reporting to the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that He had said these things to her.”
The disciples sitting together, in shock and fear experienced His Presence.
“So when it was evening on that same day, the first day of the week, though the disciples were [meeting] behind barred doors for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” After He said this, He showed them His hands and His side. When the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with great joy.”
The two disciples on the road to Emmaus felt His Presence. Listen to their words.
“And then, that very day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, which was about seven miles from Jerusalem. And they were talking with each other about all these things which had taken place. While they were talking and discussing it, Jesus Himself came up and began walking with them. But their eyes were [miraculously] prevented from recognizing Him. Then they approached the village where they were going, and He acted as if He were going farther. But they urged Him [not to go on], saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening, and the day has just about ended.” So He went inside to stay with them. And it happened that as He reclined at the table with them, He took the bread and blessed it, and breaking it, He began giving it to them. Then their eyes were [suddenly] opened [by God] and they [clearly] recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while He was talking with us on the road and opening the Scriptures to us?”
Finally we will see that Paul experienced the Presence of Jesus. Several times throughout his life he records being with Jesus. We will consider the first time, at his conversion.
“As he traveled he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him [displaying the glory and majesty of Christ]; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice [from heaven] saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting and oppressing Me?” And Saul said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He answered, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Without belaboring the point, the biblical view of Christ in our midst is not some vague theory or wish or hope but the potential reality. What I’m about to say will seem radical and even fanatical to many. I believe we must pursue fully with all our hearts the manifested presence of Christ. We must acknowledge, especially in these days of challenge, that mere religious gatherings aren’t sufficient to provide the necessary hope and transformation so desperately needed. These are defining moments and one of the things being defined is our relationship with God. Because we as the church can no longer “do business as usual” understanding and having “Christ in our midst” must become more than a statement. It must become a tangible reality. Our gatherings must go beyond songs, fellowship, preaching, and the like. We must pursue the very essence of the presence of God that is experienced by all and not just a few. Nothing of human effort or ability will provide the power for change or give any sense of hope. Let us remember Mary at the tomb of despair who encounters Jesus and finds her grief turned to joy. Let us remember the disciples sitting in fear and in the Presence find peace. Let us be as the two on the road to Emmaus and find our “ hearts burning within us” because of His presence. Let us be as Saul the persecutor who is transformed into Paul the missionary because he met the Presence and could not stay the same. Let us see that Christ’s desire is to “ be in our midst”, filling our hearts with overflowing joy, our minds with overwhelming peace and our lives with His tangible Presence experienced by all who seek thus. When we meet in our next gathering, let us expect Him to make Himself known to each and all. Let us not settle for anything less than that.
Dr. John Thompson