THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PRESENCE OF GOD
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Scripture Revelation 22:16 -21
16 "I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star." The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.
18 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes words away from this book of prophecy, God will take away from him his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.
20 He who testifies to these things says, "Yes, I am coming soon." Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen.
1 Corinthians 16:21-24
21 I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand. If anyone does not love the Lord--a curse be on him. Come, O Lord !
23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.
24 My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.
People of God:
God be with you! (And with you!)
That is the old English greeting that has been shrunk into our word Good bye - God be with ye. Written right into our English language is the wish to one another that our lives be accompanied by the presence of God.
This greeting actually has a long history in the church. We have in a very early document, called the Didache or "the teaching," which contains this basic greeting along with the scriptural invocation, a cry that Jesus come to be with his church. In the two passages we read, both of them make this same invocation, that Christ be present with his people. The early Christian cry "Maranatha" was as far as we know a cry that Christ come and be present with his people. They would often make this cry out to the Lord in their most intense times of worship, when the celebrated the sacrament of communion together because for them it pointed to that time when they would all join with the Lord at the Wedding feast of the lamb, in the very eternal presence of God.
What is the significance of the presence of Christ with us?
Let me first answer that question by analogy and then we will see how this analogy comes out clearly in the scripture.
If you are in a certain brick building on Arthur Street, standing in front of a man wearing a long black robe and looking over his glasses at you, who might he be? (A judge) And what is the significance of standing in front of him? (He embodies power and authority to judge to make decisions and legally binding pronouncements on your behalf.) For example: a judge has the authority under the law, given just cause and a guilty sentence, to throw you in jail. Or, if you go there with a marriage license, he has the power to pronounce you man and wife. His presence signifies power and authority over you life.
As we found last Sunday, the presence of Jesus with his church is the future of the church because his grace opens a new future for us. It is also the future of the church because the presence of Christ among his people includes power and authority.
With that picture of a present judge with power and authority to judge in your mind, notice that this is the picture of both of the passage that we read.
In Revelation 22, John has just pronounced a curse on those who add or take away from the book of life, the Word of God. And then he says "Come, Lord Jesus."
In our reading from I Corinthians 16, Paul has just pronounced a curse on those who do not love the Lord. And then he says "Come O Lord!" Both of these then are followed immediately by the benediction, the words of blessing that the Grace of God be with his people.
Behind both these pictures is the picture of the presence of God with power and authority to judge - judge between those who do wrong and those who do right, judge between those who live in hatred toward God and those who love the Lord, judge between those who distort the word of truth and those who proclaim and live by the word of truth. In both of them, Paul, and John, are requesting that God apply their pronouncements with divine power and authority so that those who are evil will be judged and those who walk faithfully will be blessed with the grace of God - God having the power and the authority to accomplish both.
We see this power and authority the most clearly in the life of Jesus. When he was present in his ministry - people were awestruck that he had such power and authority - the authority to teach, the authority to forgive sins, to heal diseases, the expel demons, to clean out the temple, to pronounce eternal destinations ! People were awed by the fact that in Jesus, a human being had such power and authority. Jesus was, as Isaiah prophesied repeatedly, the Wonderful Counselor and the Prince of Peace who would uphold justice and righteousness in all of his judgements. (Isaiah 9:6,7)
One more passage which brings out this theme so clearly is in Matthew 18:17-20. That passage is often appropriately quoted in prayer. "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." But the context of the passage is clear. God comes in the midst of two or three with power and authority to judge. The context is that of church discipline, where the church separates from itself a incorrigible and persistent sinner, and that separation is also a separation from the kingdom of God. The context is that of bind and loosing, something done in the presence of God, which has power, not only on earth but also in heaven because it is done in the presence of the Judge who is over all.
In 1 Kings 6, King Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple he had built for the Lord. And even though he knew the this temple was woefully inadequate for the Lord, he prayed for the presence of the Lord. In verse 32, notice what he prayed:
1 Kings 6:32 "Then hear from heaven and act. Judge between your servants, condemning the guilty and bringing down on his own head what he has done. Declare the innocent not guilty, and so establish his innocence."
I trust you recognize that the significance of the presence of the Lord is the significance of the power and the authority of God, the God of the kingdom right in our midst.
Why is that so important?
Without the presence of God, praise languishes on our lips, confessions are speaking to brass heavens, assurances are nothing more than platitudes, prayers are powerless wishes, the mighty word spoken is yet another opinion, every act of worship is a ritual. Publicans leave unforgiven and pharisees leave un- judged. Broken hearts are not healed. Sinners leave unchanged. Captives remain imprisoned. The world laughs at our powerless form of religion. The devil does not shudder.
With the presence of God, there is power and authority. Praise is something we lose ourselves in, confession is shown in tears of repentance heard all the way to God's mercy seat, assurance is not just words, it is a washing whiter than snow, prayers are spirit led and spirit groaned intercessory utterances, the mighty word spoken changes opens the eyes of the blind and makes the deaf hear, with authority it cuts to the quick and with the spirit gives the signs and wonders that accompany new life. Publicans leave understanding grace for the first time. Pharisees leave with hearts hardened more. What is broken mends. Prisoners are released. The world takes notice. The devil shrieks in fear for the presence of the Lord is here.
And I don't need to remind you. God is present where two or three come together in his name. That means not only at worship services, it means at small groups where we come together and seek the presence of the Lord, God is there, the judge of heaven and earth, to judge, to restore, to make us new creatures forever more. Church is not the only place where God works. And if we deprive ourselves from small group ministries, we deprive ourselves of one of the most profound ways that God demonstrates his authority and power in our lives.
Why is the presence of God a blessing to us?
After all, to stand in the presence of a judge may be a threatening experience to some people. Isn't it true that Adam and Eve hid themselves from God in the garden? Was not the fall into sin a fall away from the presence of God? Why is it a blessing to us to have Jesus, present among us?
The answer to our question is the heart of the gospel, the message of the cross; for on the cross, our Lord gave his life as a substitution for ours, he was nailed to that cross with our sins, our actual guilt so that we are justified by faith in Christ. We come before the judge innocent, washed clean, without condemnation. And Jesus, the Judge with all authority and power discerns our innocence and establishes it with his blessings. When we come into the presence of the judge, in faith, he comes to us and says "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
Are you a person who runs and hides from God's presence or are you a person, who like a deer, comes panting for more of the presence of God?
Come Lord Jesus - come quickly
God be with you.
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.