“I am the way, the truth and the life” John 14:6
“Don’t be Anxious, I am going away to be with the Father, but I will not leave you alone.” In this passage, Jesus announces that it is now finally time for him to depart, after saying as much four times in John’s gospel.
When trying to understand scripture, especially narratives loaded with emotion, I try to place myself (as much as leaping 2,000 years will allow) in the context. The disciples have experienced life with Jesus which was for them both perplexing (“but they didn’t understand what he was saying”, see Mark 9:32 among others) and exhilarating as they were witness to the Kingdom of God operating in the present! Each day held the potential of events filled with emotion. The blind see, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life – all happen amidst the daily possibility of suffering at the hands of societal and religious leaders.
Try to put yourself in their place, remember a time, perhaps in childhood or later when you were faced with someone in your life leaving you. Even if the event was only for a short time, the absence of the person left a void in your day to day life. Here, the disciples are facing the total loss of Jesus’ presence, so they think.
As Jesus explains that He will be going to the Father and promises to return someday to take them with Him into the Father’s presence they see that as a “future promise.” Jesus is leaving, but they are staying behind without him! Understanding their anxiety he explains further saying in essence, even though I will be leaving you as you have come to know me in the flesh I will not leave you alone, “I will send you another Counselor, the Holy Spirit to be with you forever, the Spirit of truth.”
They would undoubtedly take comfort in the future promise, but that does not dull the pain of going on without his presence.The mystery of the persons of the Godhead should not obscure the fact that true to His promise, Jesus will be with them in the person of the Holy Spirit.
I have had the opportunity to study the Bible as an undergraduate student and then later in seminary but it wasn’t until serving in Czechoslovakia that I began to learn the necessity of living in the same promise given to the first disciples, “I will be with you until the end of the age,” Matthew 28. While I have many stories that illustrate the active counsel of the Holy Spirit I will share one short one here.
While visiting missionary friends in another central European country I accompanied them on a trip to the Russian border where they were coordinating a ministry with a well known Christian singing group from the USA. After a stopover, the singers continued on to their final destination. Unfortunately, one member of the group got lost. The group had no choice but to continue without him.
Somehow the lost member was able to contact his mother in the states and she, in turn, contacted the leader of the singing group.He had purchased a train ticket and would travel to Budapest hoping that someone could meet him there and reunite him with the group!
Since everyone else was busy and had a job to do, I was asked to travel back to Budapest, find him and get him back to the group. A few problems made this difficult: First, there are many trains that come into Budapest day and night, and we had not been given any specific information. Secondly, since I had never seen the missing person and all I had to go on was a description of the clothes he would be wearing and the knowledge that he had been in an auto accident that left him with a facial scar and loss of short-term memory.
When I arrived at the train station, I found it teeming with people, a few animals, vendors everywhere, all in constant motion amidst a cacophony of sounds. Faced with the circumstances, I wanted to return to where we were staying even though that meant admitting defeat. But, I had been entrusted with an important task, and my conscience would not let me give up.
I stopped and prayed, “God you know where this person is and which train he will come in on today please show me.” Hour after hour, train after train came in on the many tracks. I watched every single departing person but no one meeting the description I had been given emerged. As I began to pray again a thought came to mind (it was so against my normal character that it had to be the Holy Spirit), “he will be on the next train that comes in, on the far track.” Hesitant, but without other options I watched as the train pulled in and people stepped off. No one matching the description could be seen. Another thought came, “Just yell out his name and he will separate himself from the crowd, and you will recognize him!” I argued saying I don’t do such things. In fact, that would be way too embarrassing!
Again, no choice so I called out in a low voice but no response, several other tries led to nothing. “Yell, the inner voice said!” So going against my whole being, I yelled his name! I was amazed to see him slowly walking toward me. Getting closer, I saw the scar. After a short chat, I told him I had purchased a ticket for him, but we had only about 10 minutes to get him to the train at the other end of the station. My relief was short lived as he said something I couldn’t make out and pulled away from me and was immediately engulfed in the mob!
By now, even though I am a slow learner, I knew my only option was once again to trust in the presence of the Counselor to guide me in my latest emergency. My prayer wasn’t long or very spiritual, I simply said, “Lord, I only have a few minutes to get this man to his train. You know where he is and you know where I am.” Looking up I could see that four entrances emptied into a single area, so I prayed, (hoping that I was not foolish or offensive) “I will walk through this entryway into the common area, please have him meet me there.” I walked ahead, and the very second I arrived my missing person burst out from the crowd! I grabbed his hand and pulling him behind me got him on his train with only a few minutes to spare.
Our next decade living and ministering in Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic) demanded that I live daily, moment by moment at times, trusting in the presence of Jesus in the knowledge that there was no situation that was impossible. While I look forward to the future promise of being with Jesus in the presence of the Father, until then I rejoice in the awareness that God’s kingdom operates in the here and now.I am fully aware that all ministry is Jesus’ ministry and He chooses to accomplish it through each of us as we entrust ourselves to Him.
Written by Dave Snell