When the Lord Jesus passed through this world as Man for the accomplishment of the will of God, His Father was ever the object before Him, and He constantly counted on His support, even as He said in spirit in Psalm 16, "I have set Jehovah always before me; because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved" (v. 8). How comforting and sustaining for the Lord to have ever the sense of the Father’s nearness in His path of obedience and submission to His will. It was the knowledge of the Father’s presence with Him that sustained Him as He contemplated that even His disciples would forsake Him, even as He said, "Behold the hour cometh, yea is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me (John 16:32).
"I will manifest myself to him."
This is a precious promise from the Lord to His own: even if isolated, or left alone, they can have the comfort and joy of His own company. Those who delight in the will of the Lord, and in simple obedience seek to do it, will have the sense of His presence with them, even as we read, "He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him" (John 14:21).
Earlier, the Lord had promised His presence to His own collectively, saying, "I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you" (John 14:18); now the promise is to the individual saint. So often down the centuries, as in these last days, devoted saints of God have been isolated and left alone because of their fidelity to Christ; if deserted by others, or unable to meet with the faithful, they can still have the companionship of Christ. What they lose of Christ’s company in the midst of His own because of faithfulness to Him, or because of circumstances ordered by Him, can be compensated by the sense of the manifestation of Himself as promised.
After the Lord rose from the dead, He thrice manifested Himself to His disciples collectively (John 21:14); but before doing so He manifested Himself to Mary Magdalene. When promising to manifest Himself to the individual, the Lord plainly stated that it would be to the individual that loved Him; how blessedly this was fulfilled in the manifestation of Himself to Mary. It was love to Jesus that took her to the tomb; her words to Him, while thinking Him to be the gardener, disclosed that it was Himself that absorbed her heart and mind. As she wept, she said, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him"; and again, "If thou have borne Him hence, tell me where thou hast laid Him, and I will take Him away." How deep was her affection for Christ! It was indeed her love for Him that gave her this precious manifestation of Himself.
Special seasons of trial will prove our affection for Christ, and will manifest our obedience to what He has asked us to do. These testing will bring the special sense of His presence, even as the more constant walk in obedience to Christ’s commandments will bring the more constant sense of His presence with us.
To Mary, the Lord’s manifestation of Himself was a special one, even as was that to the disciple whom Jesus loved who, at Patmos was a prisoner for "the word of God, and for the testimony of Jesus Christ." To John, that peculiar manifestation brought rich unfoldings of the truth, not only for himself, but also for the whole church of God.
It was a special manifestation of the Lord to him of which Paul speaks in Acts 22:17-21; in which he was warned of the Lord that the Jews would not receive his testimony. Later, when Paul returned to Jerusalem, and proved the truth of the Lord’s warning, "The Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome" (Acts 23:11).
From these and other Scriptures we learn that in manifesting Himself to His own, the Lord not only brings comfort and cheer, but makes known His mind for us in relation to the details of our path, warning and instructing, so that we might not be turned aside from the path of obedience. What joys too are to be found in such manifestations of Himself! Joy in communion regarding Himself and His interests, which sustains for whatever trials we may be called upon to face.
"The Lord is near."
Having learned for himself the reality of Christ’s presence in His life of service, the apostle Paul was able to encourage the saints at Philippi with the exhortation, "Let your gentleness be known of all men. The Lord is near" (Philippians 4:5). The Christian has not been called of God to assert himself before men, either in endeavouring to put this world right, or to claim rights for himself in a world where his Master is rejected.
We are to be like Christ; manifesting His gentleness, meekness, and lowliness; for He has given us an example that we should follow in His steps. Walking in Christ’s steps, we need not to trouble about the opposition of men, for "The Lord is near." He will sustain us with His heavenly grace, and give the sense of His own nearness.
Right to the end of his course the apostle proved the reality of Christ’s presence with him. His fidelity to Christ, and devotion to His interests, had caused "all they which are in Asia" to turn away from him; and concerning his appearance before Nero he wrote to Timothy, "At my first answer no man stood with me"; but he could add, "Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me" (2 Timothy 1:15; 4:16-17). How near the Lord was to His faithful servant; standing just beside him when he felt the need most.
"Lo, I am with you alway."
These words, spoken to His disciples by Jesus shortly before His ascension to heaven, have been of the greatest comfort to His servants since that time. Who but the Son of God could have spoken such words? The promise of His presence with His servants has been realised as the source of their strength at all times. What deeds have been wrought in the conflicts of the Gospel because of the assurance that Christ was with His servants!
The same faith that laid hold of Christ’s presence in the midst of two or three gathered to His name, and that has apprehended His presence in times of isolation and loneliness, has known His presence in times of service and conflict for His testimony. Faith apprehends Christ’s presence, but it is consciously enjoyed in the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we have seen, the lonely prisoner of Patmos was sustained in the sense that Christ was with him; as was also the great apostle to the Gentiles in his conflict for the Gospel. Simon Peter had once walked on the water when conscious of the presence of the Lord; and because of the Lord’s presence with him in his testimony, he could stand and preach before the multitudes of Israel, and witness with boldness to Jesus before the rulers and elders of Israel. Israel’s rulers "took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus"; but did not know the further secret of the boldness of the disciples was that Jesus was with them.
Apostolic days have gone, but the Lord still vouchsafes His presence to His servants, for His words were, "Lo, I am with you alway, unto the end of the age." The promise remains for us today, and it remains for the faithful servants of the Lord who will be raised up after the church has gone to heaven. When the church is raptured home to heaven, the Gospel of the kingdom will go forth by chosen servants of the Lord, and He will be with them, to sustain them in their trials, and to provide for them in their needs (Matthew 25:44-45).