“Jesus loves me, this I know / For the Bible tells me so.” Christians are well acquainted with this sentiment from the popular hymn. Yet how should Christians relate to the Lord Jesus Christ?
Those who have come to put their faith in Jesus as Lord have learned about Him through the proclamation of the Gospel regarding His life, death, resurrection, lordship, and eventual return, as preserved in the pages of Scripture (Romans 1:16, 10:17). His earliest followers testified how they experienced Jesus as the Word of life: they saw Him, touched Him, heard Him, and were commissioned by Him to go out to tell everyone what they had seen and heard (Luke 24:44-49, Acts 4:20, 1 John 1:1-3).
We are familiar with the story they told: Jesus was born of a peasant Galilean girl who had never known a man and conceived by the Holy Spirit. He was fully human yet fully God: the Word made flesh. He grew up in Nazareth, a place of no consequence. For approximately three years He ministered in Galilee and Judea, proclaiming the imminent Kingdom of God, healing the sick and the disabled, casting out demons, challenging the religious authorities and their biases, associating with the unclean, the marginalized, and the sinful, and preparing His twelve closest followers to follow in His ways. Jesus was betrayed by one of His disciples, condemned as a blasphemer by the religious authorities, abandoned by His disciples, given over to the will of the Jewish people by Pontius Pilate, and eagerly crucified by all. On the third day, Jesus arose from the dead; death had no power over Him, and the death He died was to atone for the sin of the world. Forty days later, having appeared to His disciples many times, Jesus ascended to heaven, and was enthroned at the right hand of the Father as Lord of lord and King of kings, ruling over a Kingdom which would have no end (Matthew 1:1-Acts 1:12).
From all of this Christians recognize Jesus’ great love, care, and compassion for humanity and God’s creation. He proved willing to humble Himself so as to take on flesh and dwell among us (Philippians 2:5-11); He served others faithfully, not thinking of Himself or His own interests, and even died for us (Romans 5:6-11). Christians therefore feel strong gratitude and appreciation for Jesus and all He did to secure our redemption.
And yet, for many Christians, Jesus seems remote. He has ascended to heaven; we no longer see Him in person. Yes, Jesus pronounced blessings on those who have not seen and yet believe (John 20:29); yes, we ought to affirm, with Peter, that even though we have not seen Jesus, we love Him and believe Him and what His followers said about Him and therefore are filled with great joy on account of Him (1 Peter 1:8). Nevertheless, it can be easy for Christians to believe they serve an absentee landlord. Where is Jesus in the midst of our trials and difficulties? Where is Jesus in the midst of all the religious confusion and turmoil?
Christians ought not be deceived: Jesus may have ascended to heaven, but He has not “checked out” from the creation for which He died. He continues to serve as Lord; God’s plan in Him remains as valid, powerful, effective, and necessary as it did 1,900 years ago (Ephesians 3:11, Hebrews 13:8). We should note how Luke begins Acts by speaking of the Gospel which he wrote as “all Jesus began to do and teach,” which implies Jesus would continue to do things and teach afterward, and so we can see throughout the book of Acts: yes, the Acts of the Apostles is about how the Apostles proclaimed the Gospel throughout the world, but throughout it was directed by Jesus and accomplished His purposes (Acts 1:1). In Revelation 2:1-3:21 the Lord Jesus communicated specific messages in the Spirit to the seven churches of Asia Minor, providing specific commendations of faithful behavior and condemnation of unruly behavior. Jesus knew quite well what was going on in all of the churches: the Christians may not have seen Him in their midst, but He was there.
We may not see the Lord Jesus, but the Lord Jesus sees us. We love Him because He first loved us; He gave His life not only so we might have forgiveness of sins, but as a way forward for us, that we would learn by suffering how to overcome evil, sin, and ultimately death (Romans 8:17-23, 1 John 4:7-21).
Yet our connection with Jesus should not seem distant or oblique; He stands as the Mediator between God and man since He remains fully God and fully human to this very day, and intercedes for us before His Father (Romans 8:30-34, 1 Timothy 2:5). Jesus is the image of God and the embodiment of God’s character: we can draw closer to God because we perceive Him and relate to Him in Jesus (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3). Jesus sympathizes with our plight: He was tempted in all points, yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). We can pray to God in Jesus’ name; the Apostles also felt comfortable directly speaking to Jesus in prayer, and no suggestion is given that we cannot do the same (John 15:16, 16:23, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, Colossians 3:17). We should honor Him and Lord and seek His purposes while recognizing His purpose is to save mankind, not condemn it. If He wished for our condemnation, He would not have died for our sins!
For good reason Jesus used the illustration of the vine and branches in John 15:1-8: Jesus is the vine, and we are to be the branches. Our connection to God is through Jesus; the more connected we are to Jesus, the more life sustaining and nourishing strength we draw from Him. This is true individually and collectively, since Jesus is to be both Lord of our lives and remains Head of the church. This connection is no mere metaphor; we may not see Jesus, but if we do not relate to Him as Lord, Savior, Friend, and Guide, we have no hope of salvation!
The Apostles’ testimony is sure: one day the Lord Jesus will return, and we will see Him face to face, and we will always be together with the Lord (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Early Christians drew strength and comfort from this hope, and we should as well. Relational unity with Jesus is of greater value than anything else in all creation; may we trust in Him as Lord, follow Him, and in Him obtain the resurrection of life, and abide with Him forever!
Ethan R. Longhenry