The gain of Jesus going away.
Alexander Maclaren on the expediency of living with Christ’s Spirit.
There is a tendency many of us have when we read the Scriptures that goes something like this: “Can you believe how dense those apostles were? There they were, trouncing around Galilee with Jesus for three whole years, witnessing all those exorcisms and healings and miracles, listening to all those sermons, and they still didn’t get it! They still didn’t fully believe or understand what Jesus was doing or talking about! Man, if only I was there when Jesus was around!” So goes a “certain point of view” which pits 1st century followers of Jesus over against 21st century evangelicals, as if those early-adopters of Jesus’s message had it better. Perhaps you’ve heard similar sounding rhetoric. While not always explicit, we sometimes have an implicit craving to return to “those days,” operating with an underlying insistence that the Christian experience was better “back then.”
Leave it to Jesus, though, to burst that bubble in decisive fashion. “Nevertheless,” he says to his apostles, “I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you” (John 16:7; cf. 14:26; 15:26–27). Unthinkably, Jesus says that it is “expedient,” it is to the benefit and advantage of all who follow him that he goes away. “My departure is pure gain to you,” he says, in effect. We, along with the Twelve in that moment, scratch our heads and wonder how that could possibly be true. But just as Jesus assured them, so does he assure us, that at his going away the Comforter and Advocate of heaven will come, indwelling all who believe. And even though he’d be gone (bodily), he’d be closer to them than he’d ever been before. Rev. Alexander Maclaren, likewise, draws attention to this in the following passage:
We are accustomed to look back to our Lord’s earthly ministry, and to fancy that those who gathered round Him, and heard Him speak, and saw His deeds, were in a better position for loving Him and trusting Him than you and I are. It is all a mistake. We have lost nothing that they had which was worth the keeping; and we have gained a great deal which they had not. We have not to compare our relation to Christ with theirs, as we might do our relation to some great thinker or poet, with that of his contemporaries, but we have Christ in a better form, if I may so speak; and we, on whom the ends of the world are come, may have a deeper and a fuller and a closer intimacy with Him than was possible for men whose perceptions were disturbed by sense, and who had to pierce through “the veil, that is to say, His flesh,” before they reached the Holy of Holies of His spirit.1
You and I are still in that expedient era. We are in an age of great gain because we have the Spirit of truth and grace ever-present with us. God the Son is no longer localized to a specific plot of Galilean soil. But his Spirit permeates our entire realm, patiently and persistently revealing the infinite accomplishments of Christ’s cross. May we, then, have the grace and ability to entrust our lives to the One who’s always with us.
Grace and peace to you, friends.
Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vols. 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1944), 11:92–93.