Behind me, a religious TV channel is playing, and I’m hearing the following:
“Today is the day for a miracle. Today is the day to receive. Today is the day for a breakthrough. Today is the day God’s power will meet your deepest need. Today is the day you will leave this place transformed. I don’t know about you, but I feel the Holy Spirit is here in power. Just repeat after me….”Today is the day……”
This is the religion that surrounds me here in the mountains of eastern Kentucky. Where is God? God is here right now to change things if we can get in touch with him. If you can get his attention with your giving, worship, faith and intensity, he will change our circumstances.
“Today…Today…Today….God will…God will….” This is the essence of this version of Christianity: God is here and will change your circumstances and solve your problems. The singers, preachers and prophets of these churches promise that God is here, and will do what you want and what you need, as long as you fulfill his conditions.
Like the invitationalism of my own tradition, this is just one way that evangelicals stake their claim that they have Jesus on tap.
The longer I am a Christian, the more I believe this question- Where is Jesus?- is the controlling question in Christian belief. I say “controlling” because what is understood about this question has more influence over Christian practice and experience than almost any other question. “What is God like?” and “How do we know the truth?” probably rank as more influential, but the question of “Where is God/Jesus? seems to be far more common.
We hear: Jesus is at the “altar,” i.e. the altar call. Jesus is in the room as we pray or sing. Jesus is here as the preacher lays his hands on you in prayer. Jesus is in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. Jesus is speaking in the sermon. Jesus is here because of the music. Jesus is in the prayer that calls on him to do something.
No self-respecting evangelical would ever step very far away from some version of these affirmations. But many of us wonder if this is the message of the New Testament, and if genuine Christianity is dominated by the rhetoric and atmosphere that is on the television behind me; an atmosphere that promises immediate results from a Christ whose agenda is to solve our immediate problems and meet our felt needs.
How does Paul’s letter to the Ephesians answer this question? There is no shortage of content in the letter to tell us “Where is Jesus?”
1) Jesus is exalted and enthroned in heaven where he has power, dominion and authority over the universe. Here, by the design of the Father and in the power of the Spirit, Jesus is bringing all things into conformity with his purpose and image, beginning with the church.
2) This exaltation of Jesus does not make Jesus unavailable to the individual. Jesus is present in the “hearts” or “inner man” of those who are “in Christ.” Christ is a a reality as the Spirit works in this inner dimension transforming believers by the love and power of Jesus.
3) Jesus is present, through the power of the Spirit, as the head of the church, the foundation of the church and the mystical body of Christ as the church. Even as he is exalted in heaven, he is doing exactly what he said he would do: build his own church- his people- himself.
4) We are not only in Christ, but we are seated and risen/exalted with Christ, in heaven. As Christ is with his people, they are also with him. As he has descended to them in incarnation and by the power of the Spirit, so the church has been raised and sits with Christ, even as it travels through history as a pilgrim people.
5) Believers are being built into a new covenant temple by the gifts Jesus has given his church through the Holy Spirit. Christ is active in his church equipping every member to be a minister and bringing every person into conformity with the mature person of Jesus himself.
Where is Jesus? He is with us, he is in us, he is working in us, he is bringing us into possession of the realities of his own Lordship, perfection, exaltation and dominion.
In Ephesians 1:15-23 and Ephesians 3:14-21, Paul prays for his readers to come to know, in as many ways as possible, these realities. He prays that they may know all that is theirs in Christ, that they may know the love of Christ and that they may live out of a vision of the Lordship and exalted reign of Christ.
This is remarkably similar to Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God, and his constant teaching with the goal of opening the eyes and hearts of his disciples to the reality of the Kingdom of God in heaven, around them, in them, and coming in complete redemption.
My fellow evangelicals giving the altar call and promising the miraculous intervention of God on the television are affirming the truths of Ephesians, but it appears to me that the issue of “Where is Jesus?” has gotten seriously out of balance.
The message of the Bible is clear. When we live, worship and work as Kingdom people, Christ is with us, and we are with him. We can experience his presence in the greatest, most exalted terms, or we can think of him as the one who is working in and through the people of God on earth, or we can know Jesus is present in the power of the Spirit in the gifts he has given to the church, or we can feel and experience the presence of Jesus in our inner being.
But what we cannot do, at least in my view, is claim to be dispensing Jesus ourselves, or to be directing God’s promises as if Jesus were a substance. We can’t point at the front of the church and tell people to come to a place, or do a ritual or express worship in a certain way and speak as if the presence of Jesus appears as a result.
In other words, the presence of Jesus is a manifestation of the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus Christ and the dynamic power of the Spirit. This is our confidence and assurance in all the promises of the Gospel.
Knowing that Jesus is in heaven, working in his church and spreading his love in our hearts by the Spirit, we should not need to “chase” the presence of Jesus as if God were elusive and playing games with us. We should live our lives with confidence that Christ is Lord, Jesus Christ is with us, and he is present in his church, working to bring all things into conformity to the Son.