For about a decade now the Spirit has been teaching me that the Gospel is so much more than being saved from sin. It’s more than the promise of “heaven” and it’s more than being recruited for a life of service. The Gospel includes all those things certainly but none of them are the best part. The Spirit has been graciously teaching me a Gospel of Nearness.
We were made to know God. This isn’t news to most of you.
That we were made to know God is a familiar biblical concept to many of us. It’s also a routinely difficult concept to comprehend and embrace. I have spoken to many frustrated Christians who don’t know how to be near to God (myself included). They feel that they have never experienced Emmanuel, the greatest promise of the Gospel. We pray and read the bible but isn’t this supposed to be intimacy? Why don’t we feel Him like a close companion and friend?
If quarantine is confirming anything it’s that our deepest human need is for connection (although quite a few people seem to think it’s toilet paper). Even the most ardent introvert needs other people. No one is exempt. “We are hardwired for connection,” as my girl, Brene Brown, famously says. Intimacy has been written on our hearts.
Fully God, Fully Human
Rejection & loneliness were common griefs Jesus experienced during His life on earth. He was rejected by His own family and often accused by society of being dangerous and a mad-man. Even the disciples, His closest friends, could not understand the gravity of who He was. They were barely able to scratch the surface of understanding and in His hour of deepest need, they fell asleep.
Jesus knew, perhaps more than anyone can, what it is like to be isolated and kept from those we love most. As fully human, not only did He have a true human experience, He had a full one. He felt every betrayal and isolation as deeply as one can.
Perhaps more than anyone, Jesus also knew how completely our need for connection. As fully God and fully human, He knows the full intimacy of the Triune God as well as true intimacy in human form. As fully God, He knew fullness of connection with the Father so when isolation came, He knew the divine intimacy He was missing out on. He felt what we were missing out on and that’s what He came to restore.
Even though connection is our greatest need we’re super bad at it. We chase after it and we end up exhausted. We think we can find it in sex, Netflix, iPhones, and we’re right – but only for a moment. These are only a shadow and only for a breath of what we truly need. So we freak out and buy toilet paper and ramen in bulk and think that we’ve finally solved it.
That’s why Jesus went to the cross. He knew we could never know Him otherwise. Not that He needed us but that the Triune God wanted to invite us to the table of shared communion. He wants us there. The Gospel of Nearness is the story of God making a way for closeness to begin again, the story of presence being lost and then finally restored.
Receiving the Gospel of Nearness
But how do we get there? How does Jesus become our dearest friend and our souls greatest comfort? Will He really be enough for us? Do we dare believe this gospel of nearness?
What if it was more simple than we ever imagined? Child-like, even. What if it was as simple as inviting Him into our very real, ordinary moments today, no matter what they include?
I tend to blame myself when I feel distant from God. I assume that I have to discover the high and lofty place where He waits for me but that’s when I miss it. He came down to us and He is with us now. Our only responsibility is to receive Him.
And so He waits for us. He doesn’t depend on us to come to Him because He’s made the way, He’s lifted the yoke, and torn the veil. He doesn’t demand that we make some extravagant jump to Him, He whispers that He is already here. God is with us. He has made the way. Jesus longs to be with us wherever we are this Holy Week. Lets receive His gospel of nearness in this ordinary space.
All We Have is Christ
On this weird Maundy Thursday as we prepare for Resurrection Sunday, may we take our isolation as an invitation to know that He is near. As we walk through Holy Week without the family gatherings or corporate worship may we realize afresh that all we need is Christ.
Let’s be honest with Him about what we’re facing in these moments. Jesus knew isolation and He expressed that loudly and honestly to His Father. His final words in His ultimate moment of aloneness and darkness before He died were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He knew rejection and He begged for another way. We can be honest with Him. He knew loneliness deeper than we can comprehend and He invites us to intimacy wider than we can ever know; intimacy that we get to spend our lives exploring the fullness of.
May we dwell with Christ in His suffering as He dwells with us in ours. May we walk with Him in His victory because the thing about this virus and every other pain in this world is that we are already conquerors through Him.
All we have is Christ, now more than ever. It’s a Gospel of Nearness.