READ : John 14:18-19
“I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also.”
John 14:18,19 rsv
ORPHANS FOR A TIME
Many in the world today have known what it is to be orphaned. Early in life they were left without father or mother. Perhaps it was through war or accident, famine, illness or – most painful of all – desertion. Maybe you are one of them.
Others, like me, have known the blessing of parents through childhood and youth but have lost them somewhat later in life. All of us, unless we precede our parents in death, are orphaned sometime. We have to say goodbye to those who brought us into the world, who were our chief protectors and care givers. We lose the ones who were given to be closest to us, on whose love and nurture we depended. At any age there’s something of desolation in that loss. Maybe you have felt it keenly or are feeling it now. You wish you had your mom and dad with you. Oh, how much that would mean to you!
Sometimes, whether we’re young or old, whether our parents are living or dead, near or far, it seems to us that we are bereft, abandoned, orphaned. We can sing in the words of that haunting spiritual, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child, a long way from home.” And often the reason is that someone whose love and support was unusually important to us has left. We’ve lost them. They’re gone. Something deep inside us hurts and yearns like a little orphan boy or girl.
The disciples of Jesus were feeling that on the last night He was with them. They were grown men, of course, practical, rugged, anything but sentimental. But they were facing a loss that had swept the joy right out of their lives. Jesus had told them that He was about to go away. To these men that meant losing the best friend they had ever known. But even more, He was their teacher, their leader, their Master. He had made God real to them, had given them hope, had won their hearts. They could hardly bear to think of what life would be like without Him. But He was going. There were ominous hints that He was headed for trouble: rejection, shame, torture, death. They were stunned, sick in soul. The light of their lives was about to be snatched away, snuffed out. Then He said, as though reading their minds, empathizing with their distress, “I will not leave you desolate.” The original word here was even more explicit and poignant, “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.” Isn’t it remarkable that Jesus, on the last night of His earthly life, knowing the horror and agony that lay before Him, was yet so sensitive to the feelings of His followers? Isn’t it a miracle of friendship that He could care for them and support them so – when He Himself was about to suffer terribly? For that was His way. That was the kind of friend He was.
ORPHANS NO LONGER
They would be like orphans – for a time. His death would leave them heartbroken and alone. They would know the anguish of a crushing loss. They would watch Him die, see Him buried, taste the emptiness of life without Him. But that wouldn’t last. He would come to them.
For them, these bewildered, bereft disciples, that happened on a day we call Easter. He did what He had promised to do. When they were huddled in a locked room, fearful and mourning, He came to them, spoke His word of peace, showed them His hands and side so they would know it was truly He. He sent them on a great mission and breathed into them the life and power of His own Spirit. He didn’t leave them orphaned. He came.
We can only read about that experience of theirs and rejoice in it second-hand. We have not seen the risen One with our eyes, heard His voice, felt His touch. We believe in Christ on the basis of these disciples’ eyewitness accounts, in the light of their changed lives and the world-transforming gospel they preached. But in another sense the promise of Jesus is marvelously fulfilled for us, too.
We sometimes feel alone in the world and abandoned, don’t we? We’re struggling, desperate, and God may seem light years away. “Where are You, Lord,” we groan, “when we need You so much?” We’ve had financial reverses and we’re facing hard times. Illness has invaded our homes. Maybe someone’s out of a job or is reeling from the shock of a divorce. We feel all alone against a big, cold, uncaring world. And then we hear His word, “I will not leave you orphans. I will come to you.”
For us it’s not exactly as it was for the disciples on that Easter evening. The risen Jesus has left this world’s scene now. He has ascended to the throne of the universe. He is reigning as Lord over all, and one day will return to earth in power and unimaginable glory. But for now He has found a way to be present with His people, all of them, in everything they pass through. Remember how He had said to them moments before, “I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth”? Jesus will pray to the Father and the Father will send to all His followers the gift of the Holy Spirit. And, by the presence of the Spirit within their lives, they will know that they are not alone, that the Lord is indeed with them every day.
Jesus even said that it would be best for them if He went away – for precisely this reason. Now by the Spirit He could be present with them not bodily but inwardly, not in one place only, but everywhere, not for a time but always. In the power of the Spirit, He would take up His abode within their hearts.
On a recent trip to Bulgaria, a number of us from Words of Hope met an 80-year-old, white-haired, joy-filled believer named Annig. She overflowed with warmth and welcome. When we parted from her, she sang on the sidewalk outside her house, “God be with you til we meet again.”
One of the things that made this impressive and remarkable for us was that we knew the story of Annig’s life. She had been orphaned as a young girl and brought up in a children’s home. Early in life she had come to know God’s great love in Jesus Christ. She told us that the loss of her earthly parents had made the love of her heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ all the more precious to her. She had been orphaned but not abandoned, left without parents but not forsaken. The Lord, through His people, through His gospel, through His Spirit, had come to her. Even amid the troubles and privations of her life now, He is wonderfully with her. We’ll never forget her smile and her song.
THE DIFFERENCE IT MAKES
Jesus mentioned next, two results that will follow when He comes to us. First, He said to His disciples on that night, “Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me.” After Jesus’ departure, after His death, He said the world would see no more of Him. But His disciples would see Him again. He meant by that, of course, His resurrection appearances, when their eyes would behold something of His risen glory. But He meant more than that. They would keep on seeing Him. The vision, apparently, would remain.
What was Jesus saying to His disciples here and what is He saying to us? He’s saying that seeing Him, beholding Him, is not a matter of the senses, of optics, but of faith. Remember what He said once by the grave of Lazarus once? “Did I not tell you that if you would believe you would see the glory of God?” (John 11:40). The world says, “Seeing is believing.” The Lord turns it around. He says, “Believing is seeing.”
Jesus promises that when He comes to us in the gift of His Spirit, His presence will become so real to us, we will be so aware of Him and His grace, that with eyes of faith we will, as it were, see His face. That’s what the hymn writer celebrates when he sings, “Lord, You have made Yourself to me a living bright reality, more present to faith’s vision keen than any earthly object seen.” The writer to the Hebrews says, “We do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see Jesus….” (Heb. 2:8b,9). Trusting the word of the gospel, believing His promise, we experience a miracle. Our eyes are opened. We behold the glory of the Lord.
Once Elisha the prophet was surrounded by a hostile army. His servant was beside himself with anxiety. As far as the servant looked in any direction, all he could see was the enemy. But Elisha saw something more. He interceded for his young friend, “Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes that he may see.” And we read, “The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw; and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.”
Sometimes we’re like that young servant. All we can see are the enemies of the Lord, the dangers, the difficulties. We’re fearful and anxious. But when our eyes are opened by faith, we know that “greater is he that is in us than he that is in the world.” In the midst of everything else we see, we see also the Lord, high and lifted up. And we can say again, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If the Lord is with us, what have we to fear?
That’s what Jesus does for us when He comes to us in the gift of the Spirit. He gives us eyes of faith. He helps us to see things as they really are. He makes us know with a greater confidence than our physical eyes could ever provide, that He is sufficient for all our needs and that He is there.
Now here’s the rest of the promise. This is all from John, chapter 14, verses 18 and 19: “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me;” then this: “because I live, you will live also.” Here is Jesus just before His death, talking calmly about how He’s going to live. That was the same serene confidence He later showed in the midst of mortal pain. “Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit.” He knew that He had come from God and was going to God. He was laying down His life but He would take it again. Through the doorway of death Jesus was headed for endless life.
And, when risen from the dead, He would come to the lives of His followers by His Spirit. He would impart to them His own life. Because He was alive forever, they too would taste eternal life.
Can we grasp fully what it means that Jesus Christ is alive from the dead? We say it’s a sign of God’s power. Yes. We say it’s a witness that He truly is the Son of God and that His death has been accepted as a sacrifice for our sins. Yes. Thank God for that! We say it’s a sign that there’s a life beyond death. Amen. But it means this too, and this is the central miracle of the Christian faith: the risen Christ imparts His life to His followers. Jesus, when He sends His own Spirit to those who believe in Him, makes them spiritually alive. They are born again, born from above. They receive the gift of eternal life. This is not a gift apart from Him, as though it were a thing or a force. We are joined to the Lord Himself. We become members of His body, the Church, partakers of that endless life into which He entered on Easter morning.
Because of that, Jesus can say to His followers, to those who believe in Him, that they will never die. They will pass through physical death, obviously, but as those united with Him, they have already a life that death can never destroy. Eternal life, friends, is not something that we will inherit when we die. It’s a reality we’re tasting now, living in already, because Christ is alive. He is the life and we belong to Him.
As you can tell, I’ve been almost carried away celebrating this. I’m thinking about you. I wonder if you ever feel deeply alone, “like that motherless child.” Maybe you’ve been orphaned by your parents or abandoned by someone close to you. Maybe you feel forsaken by God. Oh, listen today with all your heart to the word of Jesus Christ. If you will trust Him as your Savior, if you will welcome Him as your Lord, if you will call on Him in faith to enter your life by His Spirit, you can hear Him saying to you today, “I will not leave you desolate. I will come to you. The world will see me no more but you see me . . . because I live, you live too.” May it be so!