Imagine being one of the Disciples, wandering around ancient Israel with Jesus. One morning you woke up, put on your work shoes, and headed in for what you thought would be just another normal day of work. Then, as you were about to clock out for the day Jesus shows up and asks you to follow Him, and there’s either something in His voice or His eyes or possibly a miraculous sign that He had just performed that makes you think, “Yeah, I should do that.” You then devote the next three years of your life to following this man who each and every single day seems to be more and more like the promised savior that not only you had been waiting for your entire life, but your grandfather, and his grandfather, and his grandfather had been waiting for. And you don’t want to say it at first because it seems too good to be true, but over the course of time you have begun to actually believe it, He really is going to be the savior of Israel!
Then the week of Passover happens. It starts with Him riding into Jerusalem like a King with people literally chanting his name in glory and reverence. Then He starts aggressively creating resistance and tention with the established religious order in Israel. Not only does it seem like He’s going to liberate the nation from the Romans, but from the hypocritical religious order as well. Things are about to happen. You can feel it in the air. Everyone can feel it. Things are about to change forever and you’re on the inside, baby!
Then, at the Passover celebration meal, Jesus says some weird things about bread and wine and His body and blood being broken and someone betraying Him and then Judas leaves and nothing about the evening is making sense anymore. Then, He says something that is completely unimaginable. He says He about to leave. In fact, this is exactly what He says,
“The time has come for the Son of Man to enter into his glory, and God will be glorified because of him. And since God receives glory because of the Son, he will give his own glory to the Son, and he will do so at once. Dear children, I will be with you only a little longer. And as I told the Jewish leaders, you will search for me, but you can’t come where I am going. So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:31-35)
What in the world is He talking about, right? Well, of course we know looking at it from this side of the resurrection, but they didn’t. In fact, Jesus is trying to make a huge point about what the Kingdom of God is all about, that the new commandment God wants them to follow is to love one another!
Of course, the disciples miss the point entirely. We would’ve too, because in that moment, the “love” part of what Jesus just said just sounds like another one of His sermons. The more pressing part to us would be, “Where are you going?” How is Jesus going to liberate Israel if He leaves? He can’t leave. Things were supposed to change. Things were supposed to get better. And so, just as we would have, that’s exactly what the disciples ask.
Now, let’s take a moment to ponder another question. What do we do when we feel like we’re in the exact same place the disciples are now? We’ve all been there before, haven’t we? When we feel like we’re walking hand in hand with God and everything is perfect. We are in perfect sync. Bible verses are literally just jumping off the page (ok, probably figuratively, but whatever) and everything seems to apply specifically to your life and your situation. Things are going great. Things are going to get better!
But then, out of nowhere, it stops. You read your Bible and it might as well be in Latin. Nothing seems to be working and everything is falling apart. You pray and feel nothing. It’s almost like Jesus walked up to you and said, “Hey, just so you know, I’m about to go now. Good luck with all that stuff there,” and then poofs into nothingness. You feel like you’re chasing around clues in the real-life version of the 90’s computer game “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?”
That’s probably how the disciples felt. So, what did they do to find Jesus? How did they fix things? Well, here’s where our problem gets even worse. Jesus goes on to tell them that He’s about to physically leave their presence, but only so He could send and empower them with the Holy Spirit so they would never have to be separated from Him again. That’s a problem for us because we’re living on the other side of that event. If we’re a Christian, we already have the Holy Spirit. So, that’s unhelpful. “Where in the world is Jesus?” we shout angrily as we shake our fists at the heavens.
However, I think Jesus answers our question as well. After Jesus finishes telling the disciples all that is going to happen and about the Holy Spirit, He prays for them. But He doesn’t just pray for them, He prays for us too. First off, how cool is that? We have physical proof of Jesus praying for YOU. Anyway, this is what he says in John 17:20-21, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message. I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one—as you are in me, Father, and I am in you. And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”
Did you catch that? Jesus prays that we would be one, not just with one another but also with God, just as He and God were one. When we feel like Jesus has left the building and didn’t bother to inform us of that first, I believe it has more to do with us than with Him. I think we’re the one who has vanished because we have stopped being one with God.
But what does that mean? It’s about where we place our identity. Do we place our identity, our worth, our significance, our value in who God is and who God says we are or do we place our identity in what is going on in our world around us? We so often get caught up in what our circumstances are and what they say about us; whether our friends like us, or whether our significant other or our children love us. We worry about whether we are a good enough son or daughter of boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife or parent or friend, and when we do that, we are placing our identity in what other people say about us and not what God says about us. We place our worth in this world and not things above.
So, remember, the next time you ask yourself, “Where in the world is Jesus Christ?”, take a look in the mirror and ask, “Where am I? Where am I placing my value right now?” And always remember this promise that Jesus gave His disciples that same evening as they were wondering that exact same question,
“I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)