February 28, 2023 • Life for Leaders
Scripture — Matthew 28:18-20
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Before he ascended to Heaven, Jesus promised that he would always be with his disciples. This promise is given to us as well. Jesus is with us always, now through the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. This means that no matter how it feels to us, we are never alone. God is with us always, no matter what.
Today’s devotion is part of the Life for Leaders series: Can’t Do It Alone.
The death of Jesus on the cross was not the end of the story. In fact, it was a kind of new beginning. When Jesus rose from the dead, he broke the power of sin and vanquished the reign of death. Moreover, he told his disciples that he would be with them always, “to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
We don’t know what his disciples thought of this or how they understood the way in which Jesus would be with them. Soon after promising to be with them always, Jesus ascended into Heaven. He was no longer physically present with his disciples. So how would he be with them? We might answer this question by pointing to the relationship one can have with Jesus by faith. That’s a fine and true answer. But that’s not the whole story. In Acts 1, Jesus spoke of “the promise of the Father” (1:4). He explained that his followers would be “baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now” (Acts 1:5). In the mystery of the Trinity, Jesus would be with his followers through the presence of the Spirit.
The promise of the Spirit wasn’t just for the first disciples of Jesus, however. It was given to them, yes, but for the sake of all future disciples, including you and me. When we say “yes” to the good news of God’s grace in Christ, Jesus comes to live in us. As the Apostle Paul writes in Galatians 2:20, because he has been crucified with Christ, “it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
Yet, of course, Jesus Christ the man does not live in us. Rather, he is present in us through the Holy Spirit. This brings us back to the mystery of the Trinity. It’s something we can proclaim but never fully comprehend, at least on this side of the age to come. Nevertheless, we believe that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. The one who was once with humanity in human form is now with us through the presence of the Spirit.
I freely admit that I am talking way over my head here. I affirm the doctrine of the Trinity but confess that I don’t fully get it. If I told you otherwise, I’d either be intentionally lying or unintentionally deceived. When it comes to the deep mysteries of God, we will always be seeing in a mirror dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12). Nevertheless, we can affirm in faith that which we incompletely understand. We can believe that the triune God is always with us through the Holy Spirit.
This means that, in a sense, a Christian truly “can’t do it alone.” Even if we think we’re alone, even if we feel as if we’re alone, even if we cannot sense the presence of God in our lives, the fact remains that God is with us. Of course, we can choose to live as if we were alone. We can ignore the presence of God. And sometimes we do this very thing. But the reality remains that God is with us always, now through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. And, in this way, Jesus is present with us until the end of the age.
When I reflect on my many years as a Christian, I remember times when the presence of Jesus through the Spirit was very strong. I also remember times when it seemed as if Jesus was a million miles away, or even not there for me at all. During a difficult time when I was in college, there was an evening during which I felt both farther away from God than I have in my whole life and closer to God than I have in my whole life. I wish I could somehow have preserved that experience of God’s closeness, but that hasn’t happened. I still struggle sometimes to sense God’s presence with me. Yet I have learned to hang onto the promise of Jesus to be with me always.
I expect your experience may be similar to mine. Most Christians have times of intimacy with God and times of distance. When we go through seasons in which God seems very far away, we can hold on tight to the promise of Jesus to be with us always, even when we doubt it, even when we can’t feel it. You see, the presence of God in our lives doesn’t depend upon us, but rather upon the utterly gracious, utterly trustworthy Triune God. This means you’re never alone, and that is quite good news!
When has God’s presence in your life been especially strong and obvious? What was that like for you?
Have you gone through seasons in which it was hard for you to sense God’s presence? What was that like for you?
What helps you to be aware of God’s presence with you?
Take some time to reflect on what helps you to recognize God’s presence in your daily life.
Gracious God, thank you for being with us in many ways. Thank you for once being with us on earth in the person of Jesus, Immanuel. Thank you for being with us always through the Spirit.
God, because you have chosen to be with me, I can’t ever really do life alone. Yet there are times when I try to do this. And there are other times when I yearn to know that you are with me but can’t perceive your presence. Help me, I pray, to trust you no matter what. Help me to learn how to be more attentive to you. Help me to have confidence that you are with me always. Amen.
Banner image by Brett Jordan on Unsplash.
Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the Theology of Work Project’s online commentary. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Go and Make Disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).
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Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.
I like this and a whole bunch of thoughts come starting with the old chorus “Trust and Obey” But what you said “Yet I have learned to hang onto the promise of Jesus to be with me always.” is a quote I will use for my adult class Sunday this week. We’re going from the High Point of Roman’s chap. 8:31-39 to the difficult text of chap. 9. Whenever life’s circumstances bring cause for doubts, Those wrap up verses to Ro. 8 are a place to go to and meditate on. The tensions and unanswered questions of Scripture will always remain and the Bible doesn’t appologize for them. That’s when we need to hold on tight in Faith and Trust.