CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

God With Us in Dark Times

Oct 16, 2016

We live in very dark times. While war, chaos and misery abound throughout the world, I refer especially to the West. Any observer with open eyes can see just how bad things are getting – both in the church and in the surrounding culture. The utter debacle of the US elections is just one such clear example.

And as believers, we know there have often been dark times in church history. There have been times when it seemed that the church would be no more. There have been times of great persecution. There have been times of great unbelief and apostasy. There have been times of rank heresy and unbelief.

Yet the church of Jesus Christ has always survived. It has always continued. No matter how dark the hour and how trying the times, God’s people – at least a remnant – have always stood strong. And this is not because Christians have been so terrific, faithful and steadfast.

While many believers certainly have been all this, the real reason why the church has continued for 2000 years is because Christ has been with us. This has been driven home to me once again today as I am now back in the gospels. Having just finished Matthew, the very last verse is simply amazing, but can so easily be glossed over.

Verses 16-20 of course contain the Great Commission:

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

god-with-us-4Those very last words undergird not only the entire commission, but the entire gospel. They provide the wherewithal for weak and fallible disciples to do the work entrusted to them. And they give us hope that Christ is with us until he comes again, no matter how dark the times.

The idea that God is with his people is of course stated hundreds of times throughout Scripture. And in Matthew’s gospel we are introduced to this core truth at the very beginning. In Matthew 1:22-23 we read this: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’).”

So from the very beginning of the gospel accounts to the very end, the very real presence of God with his people is emphasised. That is why the church has continued now for two millennia. That is why despite everything arrayed against us – Satan, sin, self, etc. – the church continues to this day.

It is not because of our great faithfulness and commitment and perseverance but because of this simple yet profound reality: God is with us. So much can be said about this, one of the grandest promises of all. Let me simply draw upon two commentators here to help elaborate on this glorious truth.

The first comes from D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God, volume one, January 28:

The closing sentence of Matthew 28 is striking: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (28:20). Of course, this is a grand promise from the resurrected Christ to his people, on the verge of his ascension. But the context discloses that it is not some generalized assurance and nothing more. It is contextually linked to the Great Commission. What is the nature of this link? Or, to tease the question out, why is Jesus’ promise to be with his disciples to the very end of the age tacked on to his assertion of his own authority, and of his command to make disciples of all people everywhere?
We should recognize that these words are not cast as a raw condition, bordering on a threat. Jesus does not say, in effect, “If you disciple all nations, I shall be with you always, to the very end of the age”; still less, “If you do not disciple all nations, I shall not be with you always, to the very end of the age.” Yet some kind of link is presupposed. What is it?
The link is so general that I suspect we are meant to think that the presence of Jesus with us is the matrix in which we obey the Great Commission – that is, simultaneously the experience of those who obey the commission, and the framework out of which we obey it. We know and experience the presence of Jesus, in accordance with his promise, and we bear witness to this, even as we proclaim who he is and what he has done and what he commands. As objective as is the truth of the Gospel that we proclaim, we proclaim it not only because it is truth, but because we ourselves have experienced its saving and transforming power. We therefore not only herald its truth, we also bear personal witness to it, to Jesus himself. We are not merely dispassionate heralds to certain objective events, we are disciples committed to making other disciples.
It is not surprising that as we discharge this commission, the promised presence of Jesus is cherished all the more. Because we know him and his transforming presence in our own lives, we evangelize, baptize, instruct, disciple – and know him all the better, and experience all the more his transforming presence in our own lives. His promise to be with us to the end of the age is thus the matrix out of which we obey the Great Commission, simultaneously the ground and the goal, the basis and the reward. How could it be otherwise? We serve him because we love him and long to hear his blessed “Well done!” at the end of our course.

The second comes from Michael Wilkins’ commentary on Matthew:

Jesus concludes the commission with the crucial element of discipleship: the presence of the Master. Both those obeying the command and those responding are comforted by the awareness that the risen Jesus will continue to fashion all his disciples.
-Jesus is present as his disciples go throughout the nations with the gospel of the kingdom of God, inviting all to become his disciples.
-Jesus is present as new disciples are baptized and are taught to obey all that he has commanded.
-Jesus is present as maturing disciples go through all the stages of their lives.
-Jesus is present as the church sojourns through this age awaiting his return.
-Jesus is always present for his disciples to follow as their Master.
We worship and follow a risen Master, who is with us constantly. All he commanded in word and deed as necessary for our growth as his disciples is included in the Scriptures, but his real presence comforts our individual needs and sustains us through all of our days, whether in our weakness, sorrow, joy, power, or pain. To the “very end of the age” or until the completion of God’s plans for this age, Jesus promises to be the sustaining presence that assures us that history is not out of control, that the kingdom of God has indeed been inaugurated, that he is a very present help in times of trouble, and that the work he accomplished on the cross is continually available through his risen and ascended ministry.
This wonderful promise of Jesus’ continual presence invites us as readers into the story. This should not evoke fear or a guilty conscience; rather, it should spur all his disciples on to proclaim the good news of the presence of the kingdom of God in our lives. We are the ongoing chapter of this story, walking receptacles of the presence of the risen Jesus and living demonstrations of the power of the kingdom of God. May we be faithful and obedient disciples of Jesus as we walk in the closest intimacy with him and proclaim this good news that he is with us to the very end of the age.

Yes we are part of the story. It is our story because we are part of His story. And because he is with us, we can and will persevere. In these very dark days we find ourselves in, never forget the last words of Jesus to his disciples at the end of Matthew.

“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

[1458 words]

13 Responses to God With Us in Dark Times

  • Hi Bill, FANTASTIC, yesterday, I “pleaded” with you to serve us some more “real food and drink” , and you have delivered by the “plateful”. D.A. Carson is one of my favourite commentators, his treatise on John’s Gospel, has been a regular resource of mine since Bible College days all those years ago. Two major points stand out for me in your essay. (1) All authority in Heaven & Earth, have been granted to Jesus, (2) He has promised to be with us until the end of the Age. Well done Bill, more please when you have the opportunity. Blessings, Kelvin.

  • Thank you so much Bill. Praise God! May He reveal Himself to you more clearly and intimately every single day. May I humbly add the assurance Our Lord gave us, in John 14:16-21, that we now too have the powerful assistance of the Lord and Giver of Life, The Paraclete, our Advocate, our Helper…. The Holy Spirit, together with Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. What more could we possibly ever want or need?!
    May you dear Bill, and all His faithful receive a fresh and even greater outpouring of His Gifts, especially of Faith, Hope and Love. (1 Cor 13:13) to use for His Glory, now and always. Amen.

  • Many thanks Kelvin and Mandy. Articles like these rarely attract many readers, likes, shares or comments. So your kind words more than make up for that. Bless you guys.

  • Feel I better comment too then. Great article again Bill. Yes I love the comfort in reading and knowing Jesus is with us. I love that He knows what living on earth is like. I love that He is almighty, omnipresent and wants to hear from us and for us to listen. Jesus` commandments, I do wonder how why I love them, I also disregard them, I struggle to listen, and I sometimes find temporary comfort in whinging for the world to wake up rather than encouraging the world. In short I am pressed to show a guilty conscience. Hmm, this comment shows why I don`t have a blog, but a little ramble from me should show you how much we need and appreciate your articulation, spelling, encouragement, grammar and wisdom.

  • Dear Bill, something I was going to include in my previous comment but decided against at the last minute, I now feel more strongly prompted to share it with you as a loving gift of encouragement…
    Your recent pain, grief and despair that was so tangible in your blog on Oct 13, touched me deeply. Into my heart came that shortest verse in the Bible, which I shared with you at the time: “Jesus wept.” Now I feel urged to humbly offer you these words….
    Many saints when under pain and suffering have found solace in adjoining their pain to the complete and utter suffering of our beloved Saviour. One quote: that it is in pain that we grow the most also resonates. It is indeed in the furnace of much affliction we behold much. I truly believe that God is now blessing you greatly, following your perseverance in your time of such anguish, with this renewed hope from Him together with a greater outpouring of His gifts of even deeper understanding and strength and yes, joy, as His sacred words permeate more deeply into your soul. The light of Christ has once again overpowered the darkness. Praise God! Amen.

  • Thanks Bill,
    We need to never forget the big picture; that is that Jesus gets all the glory in the end.
    “For from Him and to Him and through Him are all things” etc. time and time again.
    Then there is the wonderful truth that we are invited to the war and the party.

    Just today I was reading from John 18 with Jesus before Pilate. v37 “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me”. Pilate quickly shuts down the discussion not willing to further it. The issue of “what is truth” in our age is enormous not only in the details of life, but right through to the biggest questions in the universe. Once again we can be comforted that Jesus who is the truth, and who testifies to the truth, is with us until He is “all in all”; i.e. the end.

    I’m glad that the commentators were aware of the shorthand view on Matt 28; 19-20 (the threatening and manipulating “No go, no lo”), and brought a much more biblical view.

    BTW I have been looking at another popular phrase, the theological term “free will”. This phrase is used in the bible, but never as a major theological term. I can’t help thinking that the term has been the cause of much unwarranted angst. Interestingly (and worryingly) in my quick looking, I could not easily find “choice” or “choose” as a theme or theological topic. Yet man’s relationship with God is always linked with a choice. Adam, Eve, & Cain chose wrongly. Abel chose correctly. God challenged Cain about his future choices (Gen 4;7) “sin is crouching at your door….you must master it”. Romans 1 has the terrible scenario of bad choices beginning with the suppression of truth, v18. I am in the process of using a concordance to build a list of scriptures that deal with this subject. I am thinking that God’s grace not only leads us to repentance but also enables us to choose repentance. Mind you, there may be for some, many small steps of graceful revelation all of which need a positive response, before the repentance that leads to rebirth is encountered. “By grace through faith” then is always God’s work accompanied by a choice to believe, “believe the gospel”, which is also God enabled.
    “Free will” doesn’t and shouldn’t even feature for discussion. Bill, do you know of any study that has been done that would be helpful here?

    Thanks again for your work and your care on so many levels.
    Bruce Knowling
    Blaxland NSW

  • @ Mandy

    “Jesus wept” John 11:35 is widely quoted as the shortest verse, but 1 Thess. 5:16 is equally short: “Rejoice always”, so it balances out.

    As the world gets darker, one’s own little light will shine all the brighter.

  • So good to see all these comments and to know that there are others all over the world who are clinging to Jesus with all their hearts as we move through these dark times. I read today in Nahum: “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble, and He knows those that trust in Him.” And Jesus’ precious words, “I know My own and My own know Me. . . . no one can snatch them out of My hands.”

  • A helpful mere 92 pages that is so compatible with your encouraging article: The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God. by Tim Chester & Jonny Woodrow pub. WestPorterbrook, Christian Focus.
    I read it again yesterday morning and His gentle Presence was my worship-creating portion. Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God, He whose Word can not be broken formed thee for His own abode. He being with us in all ages. What hath God wrought! Emmanuel.

  • We are indeed living in the darkest age of history since Nero.

    There has never been an age when political leaders are so clueless and living lives less than exemplary, giving no leadership and of so much discrimination and persecution against Christians. Besides of the many thousands of Christians slaughtered by ISIS, Christians have been slaughtered by the millions by God-less regimes like Stalin, Hitler, Caesescu, etc etc. But, by definition, we are living in the End Times.

    And there are more subtle but extremely powerful, insidious attacks upon Christianity, upon Marriage, upon the family and indeed upon Civilisation itself. There appears more evidence of very very big money being poured into activism
    – against the Family and against children, via massive funding for LGBT activism for SSM (even though – by their own admission – fewer than a fraction of one percent of them are even remotely interested in marriage when their lifestyles automatically expect “sexual variety” … and especially when so many hetero-sexual partnerships have not bothered with marriage anyway);
    – for support for (supposedly)- “Safe”-Schools programmes (introduced by Marxist Roz Ward) – to “sneak in via the back-door” with their evil agendas against the family and children.

    It is time for all parents to wake up to the dangers that lie in wait for their own children … and that this is happening under their very noses.

    Peter Hitchens (convert to Christianity and brother of the late atheist Christopher Hitchens, said on ABC panel QandI that Civilisation is floundering in a serious moral vacuum and in such danger that he is “speaking out now WHILE I STILL CAN!” Was he expecting the world is at the beginning of the “great tribulation”? He did not elaborate…
    … yet one cannot help but reflect on this when one reads “Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times” lonang.com/prophecy/

  • Just out of interest I tried to download the book mentioned by the last poster, Mark Stewart…there’s nothing available. Great shame, I did manage to read a couple of pages this morning, but when I went back later it had all gone.

  • Bill, thanks for the wonderful and encouraging article.

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