John 20:19-21 (to “to you”)
Psalm 22:21 (from “Yea”)-23
I want to say a brief and simple word, dear brethren, about the presence of the Lord. But, as in our reading, I am thinking more of the presence of the Lord with us when we are together: the presence of the Lord among His own, in His Church.
Of course, the individual should know something of the presence of the Lord. If I am a Christian, a believer in the Lord Jesus at all, I should have some knowledge – maybe fleetingly – of the presence of the Lord Jesus. I could have read Scriptures about that. Think of Paul in his testing. He said, “But the Lord stood with me” (2 Tim 4:17; see also Acts 23:11). And in another setting, I am thinking of Mary (Luke 10:39-42). She was in the presence of the Lord, sitting at His feet. Martha was rather busy; Mary chose the good part, which was not to be taken from her. That is a good thing. I would desire, as I am sure all here would, to know something more of the presence of the Lord individually, to know His personal presence with me. Many in the Scriptures experienced it. John did on the island of Patmos, and many believers down the ages have experienced it as well.
But I am thinking this evening, as we did in the reading, about just what the presence of the Lord can mean to us collectively, or as part of the Church of Jesus Christ. I read four Scriptures which just bear on that. And as in our reading, while I do not want to get too theoretical about it, these Scriptures are in a sort of order.
I started with Exodus because this is something for the way, for the journey. We start at the lowest level, if you can put it that way. But Exodus 33 always fascinates me as being a very interesting chapter. It is pivotal in the history of Israel, because it was a point where things really could not get any worse. Moses had been up in the mountain, and the people had come up with a substitute for Jehovah, the golden calf. What failure there was on the part of God’s people! In fact, what failure there was on Aaron the priest’s part as well! It is a sad picture all round.
And Moses is coming to a crunch point, if you like, here, in the history of the children of Israel and their journeys. He is saying, effectively, ‘Lord, are You going to be with us or not?’ It is a good question to ask. He says, effectively, ‘Lord, if You are not going to be with us, there is no point in us going on.’ I am wondering if we as a company, as part of the Church of the Lord Jesus, have ever had to ask that question.
Many Christians, rightly or wrongly, might claim to know something of the presence of the Lord, and the Lord being with them. I think we have to be very careful about what we say, but I think every believer, and every company, every circle of Christians, should seek the Lord’s presence and desire to have Him with them.
The Church is on a journey. The individual Christian is on a journey. Bunyan’s pilgrim was on a journey from the City of Destruction to the Celestial City. But the Church is on a journey, too. If you read some of the old hymns of the 18th and 19th centuries, you will find expressions relating to the ‘Church militant.’ But the point was that it was a picture of the Church on the move, and the Church is on the move. Our destination, dear brethren, is glory. But whilst we are on the way there are wilderness conditions to go through, and we need guidance. And what we need more than anything else is the presence of the Lord.
It is just a question here: he says, “If Thy presence do not go, bring us not up hence.” It comes down to this: what is the point of us carrying on, dear brethren, if we do not have the presence of the Lord? There is no point in carrying on together if we do not have the presence of the Lord.
Moses appeals to God’s faithfulness, and to His grace which Moses has received, and he says, “I and Thy people.” It is wonderful to remind God, if I can put it that way – He knows, of course, anyway – that we are His people, and for that reason He will vouchsafe His presence to us if we seek His face. We belong to Him. We are “the sheep of His pasture” (Psalm 100:3).
So he says, in verse 16, “Is it not by Thy going with us? so shall we be distinguished.” One thing that marks out the Lord’s people from any other people is the presence of the Lord with them. It makes them distinctive. Otherwise, if you take the Lord out of the equation, we are just like any other group of men. But what distinguishes God’s people – what distinguishes the flock, the bride, or whatever other analogy you like to use – is that they belong to the Lord and He is with His people. That is what Moses is saying here. And he says, “So shall we be distinguished, I and Thy people, from every people that is on the face of the earth.”
There is an exclusivity about this: the Lord has a right to claim us for Himself. And if we are faithful, He will come to us and we shall know His presence – know His presence in guidance. You see, here they were on their journey. They had not got to the land. They had not got to Canaan. There is much ahead, as we know. The tabernacle had to be set up. They needed much guidance.
And Moses said, ‘Well, we need the presence of the Lord, and if He graciously vouchsafes His presence to us, then we shall be able to go on, and we shall be known as the Lord’s people. It will be evidenced.’ Throughout the ages, one thing that is evidenced, regarding believers, as part of the Church of the Lord Jesus – one thing that is unmistakable (if it is the case) – is that the Lord is with them. They will be distinguished, not because of their background or what doctrine they hold, exactly, but because the Lord is with them. It is a distinguishing feature, and we cannot claim it exactly, but we would seek it.
Moses sought it here and – although this is an individual thing – actually he got more than he asked for, because he got a sight of the glory of the Lord. We have, as Christians, a greater privilege and greater blessings, because it says in Corinthians that “we all, looking on the glory of the Lord,” are changed (2 Cor 3:18). We are able to look on the glory of the Lord, to come right into His presence (Hebrews 10:19). I would just leave that with you. This event in Exodus is in a scene of contrariety. There has been failure on every hand, terrible failure. There are enemies out to attack them. There is this people that are wandering, and yet they are still God’s people. Does that not evoke a picture to you of what the Church is today? Wandering, maybe; it looks like it from the outside; having lost its way, sinned grievously, been unfaithful.
Moses says, ‘We need Your presence, Lord,’ and He graciously grants it. He says, ‘You will be distinguished from every other people on the earth.’ There is something about the Christian company, the Christian circle, which is different from any other company. We can try men’s circles, but there is nothing like the Christian company, dear brethren: there is nothing like it because it is God’s own, it belongs to Him. “The assembly of God” – I think someone mentioned it this afternoon, “The assembly of God, which He has purchased with the blood of His own” (Acts 20:28). Of no other company can that be said, that it has been purchased that way. The assembly of God is precious to God, and it is precious to the Lord.
I just wonder if we know something of the Lord’s guiding. This happens as we come together, we seek guidance. I nearly read another scripture, which I forgot. I was going to read about the two or three gathered together because, interestingly, it is only “two or three” there. It says, where two or three are gathered together to His name, “there am I in the midst of them” (Matt 18:20). Wonderful privilege we have as believers gathering together! It may be just a small prayer meeting. That is what it was there, just a small prayer meeting. But wherever two are gathered together in the Lord’s name, “there am I in the midst.” That is a wonderful promise – a promise that we have in a scene of what is contrary.
They were on the wilderness journey. Here Moses was saying, ‘Lord, You need to be with us, we need You, we need Your guidance, we need Your shepherd care, we need to follow You.’ The Lord says in the Gospels, “Where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst.” He would come in. We seek direction from the Lord. Maybe you have some issue, you get into the presence of the Lord with other brothers, and you seek the Lord’s face. The guarantee is – the Lord says, “There am I in the midst of them.” What a wonderful promise that is, of the Lord’s! May we know something of the Lord’s presence as we go through a difficult scene!
The wilderness was a barren place. God wonderfully provided for His people, and that is what the Shepherd does for the flock. He cares for His sheep. The wilderness is a place where you can easily get lost. The Shepherd would guide you. The presence of the Lord would be there. We follow Him. We hear His voice. He says, “My sheep hear My voice … and they follow Me” (John 10:27). He knows their names; we know His voice, and we follow Him. May we think about that, and, as a part of the Christian Church, part of the body of Christ, may we know something more of the Lord’s presence in a scene of difficulty, and get in His presence.
Let us move on to Revelation – I do not want to spend too long on this Scripture. Again, He is in the midst. This is, as we know, full of teaching. He is in the midst of the churches, and He is taking account of what is going on. I do not really want to say much about this, except that this wondrous Person is taking account of everything that is going on with us, dear brethren. His eye is upon us as individuals; it is also upon us as companies, as meetings: His eye is upon us, and He takes perfect account.
You might say, ‘He is in the midst of the seven here; that would include Laodicea. They seem to be on the edge.’ He has a right to be wherever He wants. The Lord is the Head of the Church, as we were saying this afternoon. He has a right to be there, and He takes perfect stock.
This was a great lesson for John. He had leaned in the Lord’s bosom (John 13:23; 21:20) – how close John was to the Lord Jesus! And yet here he fell down as dead in His presence. He had an impression as never before of just Who the Lord was. Sometimes I think we need to be pulled up short, to have a sense of Who the Lord is. And as we do so, it is needful that we listen to His voice.
Each of the seven churches had something to learn. There was a word of encouragement, and there was a word of rebuke. There was something to do. Is that not like us? The Lord would commend us for certain things. He would rebuke us for certain things. He would encourage us to do certain things, or encourage us not to do certain things. He has got a word for all of His Church, and He is still speaking. He is still in the midst.
As it is presented here, it is not exactly that they have asked Him to come. Moses sought the Lord’s presence; here He simply takes that place. He stands there in the midst. He has a right to do so. It is His Church; He loves it. He loves it so much He shed His own precious blood to secure it – He loves the Church, He loves His bride. As we were saying this afternoon, He went through great suffering to get that bride. Because of that, He is concerned for her welfare.
For there is coming a day when that bride will be presented to Him without “spot, or wrinkle, or any of such things” (Eph 5:27). It will be perfect. There is an interesting Scripture in Revelation later on. It says, the bride “has made herself ready” (Rev 19:7). There are the two sides. We need to take on board the word of the Lord, and we need to allow ourselves to be washed and sanctified. But then the Lord also does His part as well. The bride has made herself ready.
When He comes back, He is going to secure a bride which is perfect in every way, and will be a reflection of Himself. But here, it just struck me, He is there without being invited, but He is there. The presence of the Lord is there. He takes account of what we are doing as a company. Are we pleasing Him? Are we faithful to Him? Have we lost our first love? We can go through every letter to these seven churches and we can identify with everything, really. We cannot opt ourselves out from any of these letters.
It says of the Lord, “His eyelids try the children of men” (Psalm 11:4). But they are on His Church, and if they are on His Church, He speaks to them so straightly because He loves them so much, as He loves us. The love of the Lord Jesus for His people is beyond compare, and that is why He is standing here in the midst, assessing the situation, that the Church might be sanctified, set apart and ready for His coming.
I just read in John 20. If the previous Scripture was rather negative, this is a wonderful positive situation here. We know this passage so well, but it just struck me that here the disciples were downcast, but they still came together. It is a wonderful thing to do, to come together. What does the apostle say? “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Heb 10:25). One of the first things when people get cold as to the Lord, they stop meeting with other Christians. I would encourage you, dear brother, dear sister, to keep in with the people of God: forsake not the assembling of yourselves together.
The disciples here had not got a clue what was going on: their Lord had gone; they had seen Him crucified; they had seen Him buried. But they gathered together nonetheless. There was a spark of faith there. Something drew them, some anticipation. Maybe they had some idea that the Lord would come – they were not too sure.
But it says, on the first day of the week, the doors were shut. They were really looking only for Him, they were looking exclusively for Him: the doors were shut. I am not saying that in a negative sense, but there is the thought that we are looking only for the Lord.
As we read this afternoon, when Rebecca saw Isaac she came down off the camel and she covered herself. I am wondering if, when we come together, we are looking exclusively for the Lord? Are we wanting His presence? I am challenged, especially on a Lord’s Day morning – what are we wanting? Is it just a ritual, dear brethren, to come together? 10 o’clock or whenever it is on a Sunday morning, is it just the thing we need to do? Or are we wanting to see the Lord? Are we seeking His presence?
It says, “The doors shut … Jesus came and stood in the midst.” And what a message He brings! We can get very ruffled in our Christian pathway. But many times we come to the Supper and we feel the presence of the Lord, His calming presence – “Peace be to you.” There is nothing like it in this world of increasing hatred and violence, and everything which is against God. It is wonderful that we know Someone, Who is the Lord, One Who has given His very life for us.
This is after He arose from the dead: we know Someone Who has been into death, but is raised and is ascended, and that One is coming again, but He is coming to us now. That Scripture in John where it says, “I will not leave you orphans, I am coming to you” (John 14:18): I used to think that that meant when the Lord comes back to claim His own. And it may have some reference to that, but I have been helped to understand that it is also the fact that the Lord delights to come to His own now.
There would be no point in coming together to praise the Lord if He were not there! How dead the meetings would be if the Lord were not there! And yet there are countless situations where people carry on in dead orthodoxy, just form. And yet, we can be guilty of exactly the same thing. We need to hear the voice of the Lord. We need to know something of His coming into the midst.
It is not that we would claim that the Lord has got to come to us, or that the Lord can come only to us. That was said once, sorrowfully. But I think, where we desire His presence, He will delight to come. This band of disciples may have been discouraged, dejected; there was one who did not even bother to show up at all. But how gracious the Lord is! That one I just referred to came the next week. Maybe you will come the next week, and you can get the benefit of the presence of the Lord and His message, “Peace be to you.”
What a wonderful message from the Lord Himself! To know something of His presence is something which cannot be experienced by the world. The world knows nothing of this, and it cannot take it away from you, either. It does not need a large company – a few gathered together will experience this. Or there could be hundreds and thousands. But the point is, we experience it if we are exclusively for Him. We may be fearful; there are places, even now, and throughout the ages, and maybe increasingly so, where Christians meet together in fear. Here is the Scripture which tells us that the Lord will promise His presence. And He will still say, “Peace be to you.” May we know more of the presence of the Lord!
I just pass on to the last Scripture, Psalm 22. It appeals to me: “I will declare Thy name unto My brethren, in the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.”
If I have been talking about ascending order, as we had in the reading, this is the top-stone in one sense. This is David speaking, so it is a type of the Lord Jesus Himself. These are the words, in type, of the Lord Himself. He says, “In the midst of the congregation.” “I will declare Thy name unto My brethren;” that is one thing, so that the name of the Father is made known. That is wonderful, is it not? We get to that point in the service of God, as we call it, when we know the Father.
That woman in John 4 that was referred to in the reading – such a woman – and yet she was shown the Father. You think, ‘Such a woman would not be capable of understanding the depths of that,’ but the Lord came to reveal the Father to such as that woman, and, dare I say it, to such as you and me. To “declare Thy name” – the name of the Father. What a wonderful privilege we have!
He came to do that and then, “In the midst of the congregation will I praise Thee.” It is wonderful to know that the Lord Jesus leads the praise! As we praise God on the Lord’s Day morning, do we have the presence of the Lord conducting the praise? Maybe we do not think too much about that, but one of the titles of the Lord is “the Chief Musician.” He would pluck the instruments gathered together, each having a different experience of the Lord, and He would make it all swell into a wonderful note of praise.
Singing is a wonderful thing; only God’s people really do it. Do you know why that is? I think it is God-given. Angels do not sing. Animals certainly do not. But it is those that have been redeemed that sing. The first song in Scripture was the song of the redeemed. And so, what is our hymn? Why do we sing? It is because we have been redeemed, and we pour out our hearts in praise to God.
But there is One Who leads the praise. When they had celebrated the Lord’s Supper with the Lord Jesus, it says, “And having sung a hymn, they went out to the mount of Olives” (Mark 14:26). And that included the Lord, and I believe He led the praise there. He is the Chief Musician, and He knows just what note to strike with you and me. We each have different abilities, spiritual abilities. We have different spiritual appreciations of the Lord. The Chief Musician is able to pull it all together.
I do not know if you have watched an orchestra. There are all the different instruments, the various types, and the conductor manages to control the whole lot. The result is a wonderful, perfect sound, no discord. And that is what is possible as we come under the leadership of the Head, the Chief Musician. It all redounds back to God. He is in the midst of the congregation singing the praise. I challenge my heart how much I know of that. Does He pluck the cord of my heart in praise? Can we join together?
You can praise God alone, you can sing hymns alone, but we can do it as together – that is God’s intention. The morning stars, it says, sang together (Job 38:7). As believers, as part of God’s Church, we have this wonderful privilege – even though outwardly it is a day of darkness and declension. We, with all believers, are the Church of God, and our prime function here is to praise God and to be here for Him.
And, as we gather together to celebrate the Lord’s Supper, and to praise God, we have our wonderful Lord Jesus on high, and He leads the praise. He is the Chief Musician. May we know something more of His leading, His presence!
I just leave that with you that we may, as together, know something of the presence of the Lord, whether it is in adversity, as in Exodus; whether it is in responsibility, as in Revelation; whether it is as we come together to wait for Him as in John 20; or whether it is in praise, as in Psalm 22. May we know together more of the presence of the Lord, for His name’s sake! Amen.
21 March 2015