Never Alone

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : John 8:28-30

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”

John 8:28-30 rsv

LONELINESS

When I used to teach preaching at a seminary here in Michigan, I often read books of famous sermons. One of the classics in such volumes is a sermon by F. W. Robertson on “The Loneliness of Christ.” Robertson notes that there are two kinds of solitude, “the first consisting of insulation in space, the other of isolation in spirit.” The first is separation by distance. When no one sees, hears, touches us, we are said to be alone. All agree, however, that this is not really aloneness, for “sympathy can people solitude with a crowd.”

The other kind of solitude, Robertson says, is “loneliness of soul.” There are times, he writes, “when hands touch ours that only send an icy chill of unsympathetic indifference to the heart, when eyes gaze into ours, but with a glazed look which cannot read into the bottom of our souls.” People know this kind of solitude, says the preacher, “when they are called upon to perform a duty on which the world looks coldly, or to embrace a truth which has not found lodgement yet in the breasts of others.” Robertson senses that this kind of loneliness was often the lot of our Lord.

Without doubt, there were times when even Jesus’ closest disciples could not understand His words or enter into His feelings. When He needed them most to watch with Him in prayer, they fell asleep. But as we read of Jesus in the gospels, do we ever get the sense that He was lonely?

A Harvard professor notes that the formerly married are especially prone to loneliness, a feeling he describes as “more terrible than anxiety.” Many feel uncomfortable without somebody they’re attached to, someone accessible to them. Some become so distressed they can’t function.

The lonely often heighten their discomfort, this professor observes, by blaming themselves for their anxiety and for inability to change their feelings by sheer willpower. But none of us, he notes, can banish loneliness by immersing ourselves in work or by devoting ourselves to our children. Nor will time erase loneliness. Nothing seems to make up for the loss of an intimate, the absence of what is called the “accessible person.”

Who was that person, we wonder, to Jesus? He had His inner circle of three, Peter and James and John. Of these, John, the beloved disciple who leaned upon His breast, was perhaps His closest confidant. He’s the only disciple whom Jesus addressed personally from the cross. Was he the one who helped the incarnate Lord to fight the chill of loneliness?

Jesus never married. He seems to have had contact only infrequently with His mother and siblings during His public ministry. Sometimes He was striding out in front of His disciples, apart from them. Often He spent a good deal of time alone in the wilderness. Was Jesus a lonely man?

Lonely people are said to be acutely uncomfortable, and Jesus never seemed so. Sometimes they can’t even function, whereas His life was amazingly fruitful. Loneliness can push a person to search feverishly for friends. Jesus never did that. The lonely often act untypically, foolishly, even desperately. We sense nothing of the kind in Jesus. For the truly lonely, life can even lose its meaning. Dazed and bewildered, they may be troubled by thoughts of self-extinction. But was anyone ever more sure of the meaning of His life, and more determined to accomplish His purpose than Jesus? In spite of all the factors that might point toward His being a lonely person, He never showed signs of that. Never preoccupied with Himself, He seemed always free to live, free to love, sustained by an inner gladness.

What was His secret? Here’s a passage of scripture that comes as close to unveiling that as anything I know. Listen. I’m reading from the Gospel according to John, chapter 8, beginning at verse 28:

So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me. And he who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”

Did you notice these words, “he who sent me is with me; [the Father] has not left me alone.” Jesus was never alone, never bereft of companionship, never out of touch with the “accessible Person” in His life. The Father was with Him.

As I reflect on that, I wonder if there is some learning here for us. There are dimensions to the Lord’s experience that can never be ours, but is there a sense in which we can know God’s presence with us as He did? Can we be kept, in our deepest solitudes, from loneliness? I think so.

BEING SENT

The fellowship arose from the fact that Jesus had been sent by the Father. “He who sent me is with me.” Jesus had come into the world on the Father’s errand. All His life long, He was gripped by a sense of destiny. He had a work to do, a calling to fulfill, a mission to accomplish. And the fact that He pursued the Father’s goal for His life brought with it the Father’s unfailing presence.

Can something like that be true for us as Jesus’ disciples? Emphatically, yes. Remember when the risen Jesus met His gathered followers in Galilee and commissioned them to go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that He had commanded them? That was to be their mission. Jesus was saying, in effect, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” (John 20:21). And here was the promise that went with that assignment: “Lo, I am with you all the days, to the close of the age” (Matt. 28:20). The disciples could say it too, “He that sent me is with me.” And the more single mindedly they pursued His mission, the more marvelous would be the sense of His presence with them.

There’s an antidote to loneliness, to have a mission in life, given us by God, to pursue that with everything that’s in us and to celebrate this reality: He, the One who commissioned us, never leaves us.

ALWAYS OBEDIENT

In Jesus’ life, along with the fulfillment of a life mission, there was a moment by moment obedience, “He who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.”

Here’s a telling glimpse of what we mean when we talk of the “sinlessness” of Jesus. It’s not a threadbare, negative thing, not simply that He carefully avoided every cause of offense, steered around every pitfall. It was a gloriously positive life that He lived, doing always the things that please the Father; listening for His voice, following His lead, not simply in the great crises of life but also in the humdrum and mundane. Whether it was crafting a table in a carpenter shop or raising a dead little girl to life again, His meat, He said, was to do the will of the One who had sent Him and to finish His work. That’s why, Jesus said, the Father never left Him alone.

Are there some parallels here for us? Indeed. Listen to these words of Jesus, “He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me; and he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him” (John 14:21). Again, “If a man loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23). For a Christian to walk obediently is to receive ever-fresh manifestations of the Lord and to experience His companionship (and the companionship of the Father) in a continuing way.

There are several vital means of grace in the Christian life. They bring God’s life to us. They make His presence real. For one, there’s the ministry of the Word. As we hear it preached or read, as we ponder it, internalize it, the Lord comes near. There’s prayer, in which we open up our whole selves to God in praise and thanksgiving, in confession, in commitment, in our asking for God’s blessing, interceding for others and praying for His coming kingdom. There’s fellowship with God’s people, in which we experience mutual upbuilding. But none of those will keep us in close touch with the Lord without obedience. None of those can substitute for a careful, disciplined effort to please the Lord in our whole lives. Where there is the heart, the desire, the effort to obey, God is wonderfully present with His people.

TOTALLY DEPENDENT

There’s one more dimension of our Lord’s life which fits in here. It’s closely related to the other two, but it’s not exactly like fulfilling a mission or obeying a command. Jesus says, “When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own authority but speak thus as the Father taught me.” I “do nothing on my own authority,” Jesus urges, “I speak as the Father taught me.” What we sense here is total dependence upon the Father. Jesus expressly denies that He ever acts by His own authority. The words that He speaks are not His but the Father’s words. The works that He does are the works He sees the Father doing. He does nothing, in other words, from Himself as the source, but always as one identified with His Father, giving what He first receives.

Jesus never presented Himself as a religious genius, an original thinker, a star performer to be admired. He drew everything from the fountain of fellowship with His Father, and thus He lived in the world as a God-inspired, God-oriented person. His sense of openness toward God, of trust, of dependence never wavered.

In my devotions recently, I’ve been reflecting on the New English Bible translation of Proverbs 3:5 and 6. It goes like this, “Put all your trust in the Lord and do not rely on your own understanding. At every step you take, keep him in mind and he will direct your path.” Isn’t that a picture of what Jesus did? How all His trust was in His Father? He didn’t rely on His own understanding. All His thoughts and words were from above. And, at every step He took, He kept the Father in mind. The result was that God was always there in His life to direct His paths. And the promise of Scripture is that it can be so also for you and me.

For Jesus it was more than fulfilling a mission and obeying God each step of the way. It was a life of unclouded fellowship with His Father. He trusted God. He depended upon God. He walked with God.

Remember how something like that was said of the patriarch Enoch, “He walked with God”? As the writer to the Hebrews reflects on that, he says that Enoch had this testimony, that he “pleased” God (see Heb. 11:3). Further, “Without faith it is impossible to please him” (v. 6). So trusting God, pleasing Him, living in fellowship with Him, are all part of the same picture. Those who so set themselves to walk with God are never really alone.

There was only one point in His life when Jesus seemed to be really alone. Think of His cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” It was only then, as He bore our sins and carried our sorrows, that the Father’s face was hidden from Jesus. But because He was forsaken in our place, because He died for us and rose again, we need never be abandoned. As we receive this Jesus, embracing His mission for our lives, setting ourselves to do His will in things great and small, trusting Him for all, we, like the Lord before us, will be never, never alone.

Prayer: Father, help us so to trust in Christ and so to obey Your will that we may sense Your presence with us all the days. Amen.