How many times have you heard someone say how good it would have been to be present during Jesus’ earthly ministry? What a thrill to have seen the Lord perform miracles, to hear him teach that sermon sitting up on the mountain? It seems as if such sentiments put us, living in the post-ascension age, at a disadvantage.
Matthew’s gospel opens and closes with a major thought: the presence of God, through Christ, among his people. In 1:23 he is called Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” In 28:18, he promises those who fulfill the Great Commission, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (NET).
Matthew wrote some forty to fifty years, perhaps, after the ascension of Christ. If the emphases of his gospel are any indication, they may have felt as some of us do, a disconnect between that period when Jesus walked the earth and the church age. Perhaps Matthew himself looked back longingly at those short years when he followed the Master.
Although the ministry and sacrifice of Christ are pivotal to Christian history and experience, disciples do not live in the past. They enjoy a vibrant present, full of joy and vigor, as they look forward to the return of the Savior. All this is possible because they are assured that Christ lives in them and with them.
His continuing presence, as noted in the Great Commission, is not for our personal consumption, however. He is with us as we go out (and, might we say?, as long as we go out) into the world to proclaim his message. His concern is not for our comfort, but for his mission. His presence is meant not to calm or assure us, but to empower us to preach the gospel, make disciples, and teach all that he has commanded.
Whatever lies behind the desire to witness the teaching and compassion of Christ — be it a desire to live by sight or to know the Lord better — it should never obscure the truth of his presence with us now.
In the knowledge of Christ, we have all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). And nothing more godly or God-like than the desire to see all people come to repentance. No piety or religious duty greater than that of fulfilling the task of the gospel.
Christ is coming along to make sure it happens. Just as it happened 2,000 years ago.