STUDY THIRTY: CHRIST’S PRESENCE AND EMPOWERMENT

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

Before he returned to his Father, Jesus promised to be always present with his disciples:

Matthew 28: 20: ‘and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

John 14:18: ‘I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.’

We have looked in these studies at his very demanding calls, challenges and commands. They are, in fact, impossible. They are beyond us. Left to ourselves we could never line up with all that Christ has put before us. If we think that we could, we either do not understand ourselves, or we do not understand these words of Christ.

But Christ has not left us alone to do it alone. He is here on our journey of discipleship with us. He does not promise to do it for us, he does not promise to do it instead of us. We are not, as some writers teach, just a glove in which his hand is doing everything. His transforming work in us is never substitutionary. Only his perfect obedience to the Father and his sin-bearing work are done for us as our representative and substitute. But he has promised his presence and his empowerment. He does today not obey on our behalf – but he teaches us to obey, he motivates us to obey, he makes us want to obey, he enables us to obey, as we walk the road with him.

A. CHRIST, THE EVER PRESENT SOURCE AND SUSTAINER OF THE DISCIPLE’S PHYSICAL LIFE

Society tells us that there is no Creator. If there is no Creator there is also no Sustainer and no Provider. We stand all alone with our physical fate and future solely in our human hands. There is no one to turn to who is any bigger or any more powerful than us. There is no one to pray to. No one to intervene and interfere in natural catastrophes.

But the Word of God tells us that God is there, and that he is so authoritative and so powerful that ‘the nations are like a drop in a bucket.’

Reflection and response: Read Isaiah 40:12-31. List the phrases describing [1] the awesome power and authority of God and [2] his interference and intervention in human lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This glorious and all-powerful Lord here described is no other than the Lord Jesus Christ.

He is the One whose way was prepared by John the Baptist: Isaiah 40:3-4.

He is the One in whom God’s glory is revealed: Isaiah 40:5.

He is the One in whom the good tidings came to Zion: Isaiah 40:9s.

He is the One in whom we see God: Isaiah 40:9b.

He is the Good Shepherd who cares for his sheep: Isaiah 40:11.

It is this same Jesus who is the Lord whom Isaiah presents to us in verses 12 to 31. He, Jesus, is this Old Testament Lord. [See also: John 12:41, Isaiah 6:1-9.]

When Jesus made the promise to be always present with his disciples, it was the promise of this Almighty God of Isaiah 40.

Jesus Christ, who is always present with us, is our Creator, Sustainer and Provider, well able to look after our physical needs. Indeed, as we have already seen, he commands us to both pray for, and trust him for, what we need for our physical existence. [Matthew 6]

Reflection and response: What do these verses teach us about Jesus as Creator and Sustainer?

  • Is there any detail of our physical lives that is outside of his area of control?
  • Is there any detail of our physical lives for which we are not dependent on him?
  • What are the implications of this for our lives?
  • What are the implications for our trust?

John 1:1-4

 

Acts 17:26-28

 

1Corinthians 8:6

 

Colossians 1:15-17

 

Hebrews 1:3

 

This is the Jesus who promised his permanent presence. We and all that exists, exist at this moment only because of his sustaining hand.

 

 

B. CHRIST, THE EVER PRESENT SOURCE AND SUSTAINER OF THE DISCIPLE’S SPIRITUAL LIFE

Not only is Jesus, who is always present with us, the source and sustainer of our physical lives, he is also the source and sustainer of our spiritual lives. Only in union with him do we have spiritual, or eternal, life. Apart from him such life does not exist.

Reflection and response: What connection between ‘life’ and Jesus Christ is made in these verses?

How does a person get this ‘life’?

How is this ‘life’ described?

John 5:24

John 6:25

John 11:25

John 14:6

John 20:31

1 John 5:12

1 John 5:20

The disciple of Christ is united by faith to Christ, the source of life. He is our spiritual life [John 11:25,26; 14:6]. And he is with us forever. The union cannot be broken. He, who is the Bread of Life, will constantly supply and sustain our spiritual life. As the Scripture says:

‘Whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life’ [John 5:24]

‘He who has the Son has life’ [1 John 5:12]

Notice the promise of Christ:

‘Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ [John 4:14]

 ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty’ [John 6:35]

‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.’

‘I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full’ [John 10:10].

Christ makes immense demands of his followers. But he also teaches us that he is the ever present source and sustainer of our relationship with him. This relationship, this spiritual life, is dependent not on us but on him, and because of that it is assured and it is permanent, for he does not change. It is out of this life-in-union-with-him that the ability to live as his disciples is generated and empowered.

 

 

C. THE INDWELLING PRESENCE OF CHRIST IN THE GENUINE DISCIPLE/BELIEVER, THROUGH HIS SPIRIT

But how is Christ present with his disciples? How real is this promise to be with us? He is no longer here walking our dusty streets – able to be seen and heard and touched; he is seated at the right hand of God the Father. He will return visibly in great power and glory. But he is not here in visible form now.

C.1 The Spirit of Christ within us

In John 14, having told the disciples of this immanent departure back to the Father, Jesus promised them his indwelling Spirit. From what he told them we learn:

  • The Holy Spirit is a gift from the Father at the request of the Son [14:16]
  • The Holy Spirit is a ‘Counsellor’ – an encourager, someone who comes alongside to support [14:16]
  • The Holy Spirit is a Counsellor just like Jesus. This is the meaning of the word used here for ‘other’ – it means another of the same kind. [14:16]
  • The Holy Spirit’s presence is forever [14:16]
  • The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth [14:17; 15:26] – another indication of his being just like Jesus.
  • The Holy Spirit lives only in people who are Christ’s disciples/believers [14:17]
  • The coming of the Holy Spirit to the believer is the coming of Christ [14:18,19]
  • The coming of the Holy Spirit to the believer is the coming of the Father and the Son [14:23]
  • The Holy Spirit is sent to the believer by the Father in the name of Christ [14:26]
  • The Holy Spirit teaches the believer [14:26]
  • The Holy Spirit is sent to the believer by Jesus from the Father [15:26]
  • The Holy Spirit teaches about Jesus [15:28]
  • The presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit replaces the presence of Jesus [16:7]
  • The indwelling Holy Spirit guides the believer into the truth [16:13]
  • The indwelling Holy Spirit, like Jesus, does not act independently; he acts in union with and agreement with, Jesus Christ [16:13-15]
  • The indwelling Holy Spirit will bring glory to Jesus Christ [16:14]

In the presence of his Spirit the presence of Jesus Christ is guaranteed to every believer. Unlike his physical human presence which was limited by our time-space existence, his Spirit indwells all believers in all places at all times. This is one of the reasons why Jesus said that it was better for his disciples if he returned to the Father [16:7].

The key concepts from all of the above are:

[1] The coming of the Holy Spirit to indwell the believer is the coming of the Father and the Son.

[2] The Holy Spirit is a ‘counsellor’ just like Jesus.

[3] He is with us forever.

[4] He is the Spirit of truth who unlocks and makes known the truth about Jesus

[Note: We must also recognise that Christ is present with all people whether they are believers or not. His physical body was but a time-space interlude in his eternal and omnipresent existence. As Psalm 139 so powerfully tells us: there is nowhere in the universe that God is not present with us. Nothing is hidden from him. Nothing is unnoticed by him. But this is different from the indwelling presence of Christ in the believer by his Spirit.]

C.2 There is a ‘mutual’ aspect to this indwelling – John 15:1-8

In these verses Jesus describes a form of mutual indwelling: Christ in the disciple: the disciple in Christ. This mutual indwelling is also mentioned in John 17:21,23. We have already looked briefly at the concept of Christ as the life-giving vine and us as the branches drawing life from him. It is clear picture of a mutual indwelling.

But it is not an equal indwelling. On our part it is an indwelling of dependence. The vine produces the branch. The branch does not produce the vine. The branch exists and lives only because the vine exists and lives. Having generated the branch the vine is the source of the branch’s life: the branch lives in the vine. Having generated the branch, the life of the vine pulsates through the branch: the life of the vine is in the branch.

As Jesus points out: without him [the vine] we [the branches] can do nothing [verse 5]: we live only because he lives.  The spiritual life we have is in him; without him we can do nothing. We cannot be the people he created and saved us to be; we cannot answer the radical calls he gave us in the Sermon on the Mount; we cannot respond to the challenges he gave us in the parables; we cannot obey his radical commands; we cannot fulfil the purpose he promised us – we cannot glorify God, we cannot serve him, we cannot fight the battle, we have no spiritual identity. We can do nothing.

Only because he is the vine and we are the branches – totally dependent on him for all spiritual life and existence – can we do what he asks: only in this union, this mutual indwelling, can we bear the ‘fruit’ he expects, commands and promises [verse 5b,8]. Only in this life-giving union can our prayers be answered - our prayers that we will ‘bear fruit’ that glorifies the Father, our prayers that we will demonstrate that we are his disciples. Apart from this union – which is the union with Christ in which every believer exists – it simply cannot happen.

This indwelling presence of Christ by his Spirit is thus the enabling and the empowerment by which we embark on our life as his disciples. As he said: he does not leave us orphans [John 14:18] to fend for ourselves. He comes to us. He connects us to himself. He enlivens us to be what he saved us to be. He empowers us to do what he saved us to do.

C.3 The indwelling Spirit of Christ: our confidence and our strength

Paul takes up this thought of the indwelling Spirit of Christ.

Reflection and response: What do these verses teach us about the impact of the indwelling Spirit of Christ?

Romans 8:9-11

[Note: Every believer has the Spirit – ‘if anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.]

Romans 8:14-17

Romans 8:23

Research meaning of ‘firstfruits of the Spirit’

2Corinthians 1:22

Galatians 4:6,7

Ephesians 3:16,20

Paul teaches that the Spirit of God within the believer is:

  • God’s guarantee that the believer is his child
  • God’s guarantee that the believer is spiritually alive now, and will live beyond death
  • God’s ‘down payment’ or ‘deposit’ that guarantees not only present salvation, but also that this present salvation will stand
  • The believer’s source of  immeasurable spiritual strength

With this empowering confidence we can live as his children and as his disciples.

 

 

D. THE FINAL PROMISE - Matthew 28:18-20

This promise of Christ’s presence and empowerment is encapsulated in this final promise in Matthew 28:19-20. This promise is based on the divine authority of Jesus.

He has all authority in heaven and on earth.

Reflection and response: Discuss what these verses teach about the total authority of Jesus Christ. How do they give strength to his promise to be with us always? What are the implications of this authority as we go about our lives as his disciples?

Mark 1:27; 2:10

 

Mark 4:41; 13:26-27

 

Luke 22:69; John 5:21-26

 

Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:15-16

 

Colossians 2:10b; 2:15

 

Revelation 1:18b; 19:11-16

 

It is this Jesus who said: I am with you always, to the very end of the age. This Jesus, whose power transcends all other powers, whose presence transcends the boundaries and limits of time and space.

This is the One who promises his presence and his empowerment for the life of discipleship. He doesn’t say: I’ll do it for you. He entrusts it to us and promises his presence and his enabling as we do it for him.

In this confidence we live.

In this confidence we can embrace the freedom he has restored to us, which we had forfeited at the fall: the freedom to say ‘yes’ to his call, his challenge, his command and his promise.

For his glory.  For his honour.  For his kingdom.