It has been suggested that one of the faults of much evangelical preaching is the too exclusive presentation of a suffering, dying, dead, and buried Christ — rather than of a risen, living, ever-sympathizing, ever-helping Christ. This fault results from the desire to hold forth “Christ crucified” as the one and only ground of salvation. But the consequence too often is, that the only conception of the Savior produced in the minds of the people, is that of One who suffered and died. They are led to trust for salvation to the one past act of redemption — rather than to the power of an ever-present Savior. Their eyes are turned back to the cross — rather than up to the throne.
A little reflection will satisfy anyone that the conception of a living Christ is not a vivid and powerful one in the minds of the mass of Christians. Somehow they read the beautiful and tender gospel story, and look back upon it as something in the far past, which belongs to them only as a bundle of sweet and fragrant memories. They think of Jesus very much as of a dear friend they have lost, or as one who lived centuries ago a noble life of self-sacrifice — but who lives no longer. His history is all they have. They read his tender words of love, follow him in his gentle ministries, and learn to love him.
Then they come to his cross, and that seems to be the end. His voice is heard no more. His hand no longer ministers in homes of need. His feet no longer come on love errands. They gather up the precious memories and cherish them most sacredly. They wish that they had lived when he was on the earth, or that he would come again and repeat that wondrous life that they might enjoy its blessings. But to them he is dead. They have not the consciousness of his living presence with them.
Now the Scriptures are at great pains to present Christ as a living Savior. The infinite importance of his death is everywhere recognized; but mark how all the New Testament writers labor to remove every shadow of doubt from the fact that he rose again, and how his resurrection is held forth as the most important fact in his history, the very foundation of all gospel truth and of all Christian hope.
His frequent appearances after his resurrection were meant to produce and confirm in the minds of his disciples — a most vivid conception of himself as living again. He sought to blot out of their minds the thought of a dead Master, which had so filled their hearts with despair while he lay in the grave, and to impress upon them by never-to-be-forgotten incidents the truth that he was really alive. And the apostles carried that conception, that glorious consciousness, with them into all their work and all their perils. To them Jesus was as truly alive and as really with them while they preached and suffered — as he ever was during the brief years of his human presence.
Then all the presentations of the epistles and especially of the Book of Revelation are most vivid pictures of a living Christ. Very little is said about a dying Christ — but a great deal about him who “ever lives.”
Now, no one believes or preaches that he is now dead. I am only speaking of the way he is held forth as a Savior, saving men by his death on the cross, rather than by the power of his life.
Is Christ presented so as to produce in the minds and hearts of believers a vivid conception of a living person, ever caring for them, ever with them? Do they think of him as a Savior who performed the whole of their salvation-work nineteen centuries ago when he gave his life for them — or as a Savior who is saving them by his strong arm, moment by moment?
A vivid realization of Christ as living — is essential to noble Christian life. How easy it is to go to the throne of grace when we feel that on that throne sits that same Jesus whose tender and beautiful life is delineated on the gospel pages! We remember how compassionate, how pitiful, how kind he was, and how easy it was to go to him, and how lovingly he received all who came unto him, never turning one away unblest. If he is the God who hears our prayers and listens to the recital of our griefs and cares — then how boldly we can come to him! The thought of that “same Jesus” on the heavenly throne, as the God with whom we have to do, is a precious one.
He is there as our advocate to manage all our affairs for us; he is there to prepare a place for us, and to receive us when we go home. It is a comforting thought when things seem to go wrong with you — that it is the Jesus of Bethany and Calvary who presides over the affairs of providence. It was a glorious joy when Stephen was dying to see that “same Jesus” standing with open arms to receive him. And his eyes merely saw what is real with every dying believer. These joys are lost, when there is not a clear consciousness of a living Christ in the heart.
Then there is still a further blessing which springs out of the faith that realizes a living Christ. It is the consciousness of that Savior’s presence with each believer all the time. Many people realize that he lives in Heaven, and manages their affairs for them, and will receive them at last; but they fail to realize the glorious truth of his abiding presence with them. There is no promise of the Scriptures repeated over and over again so often as this: “I will be with you — I am with you always.” Jesus has not left the earth. He never will leave it for a moment until his last redeemed one has reached the heavenly Father’s home. More precious still — he never for a moment leaves the side of any one believer, from the hour of his conversion until he enters Heaven to go no more out forever. That is the way Jesus preserves his people in this life — by his abiding presence with them.
It is the consciousness of his abiding presence that we need. It is true, but how many realize it? And if not realized it avails us nothing in our hours of need. Mary’s heart was breaking in the garden while Jesus stood close beside her, because she did not know that he was with her. What a world of comfort and joy came into her heart, with the consciousness that Jesus stood by her side!
In the same way, in all the Christian’s sorrows and trials — Jesus is with him. What he needs is to believe this, to realize it. Faith makes it a real presence, and what more does any Christian need?
For three years, the veil that hid God from our eyes was lifted to give us a manifestation of his perpetual presence and ministry of love among men. The gospel record is but a few pages torn out of the history of a life that has been going on upon the earth since the creation, and will go on until the end. We have Christ with us — as really as the disciples had.
The sinner who comes fresh from his sins can find, not merely atonement for his sins — but the bosom of divine love! The mourner can find, not words of comfort only — but the sympathy and tender heart of the Comforter. The tempted, fainting believer can find, not promises of strength merely — but the same living, mighty hand that Peter found when he began to sink in the waves. The lost sinner, crying out, finds not merely the assurance of pardon and life — but he finds himself lifted up by the Good Shepherd and borne gently along to the fold.