(In 2017, I wrote this series for the 40 days prior to Easter to prepare our hearts and minds for the significance of Jesus’ resurrection. I’m reposting the series now for the 40 days after Easter to encourage us to follow through, living in the risen Savior and King.)
Have you ever been at a gathering where an entire group was expected to attend? But then a member came in late, and someone else responded “Well, thank you for gracing us with your presence!”
The offended person had the impression (true or not) that the late-comer didn’t see the group as important enough to come on time – or maybe at all. So when they did come, it was like extending an undeserved privilege to the rest of the group.
That’s pretty sad, but the scenario gives us a place to start in understanding God’s “gracious presence.” It’s a frequent concept in Scripture, but it may also be one that many don’t fully understand.
Before we go any further, however, I recommend that you first watch the 5 1/2 minute video, The Presence of Christ. It may help visualize the hope and help of Jesus’ gracious presence.
God often graces His people with His presence, but He never comes reluctantly or condescendingly. He comes in love that costs Him. He did so when He was born to live in rejection and die on a cross; He graces us with His presence when His Spirit comes into our rebellious hearts to convict us of sin, change our hearts and live within us forever; He graces us with His presence when He is in the midst of our confusion and stumbling – guiding, protecting and providing for us; He graces us with His presence when we come to His Word and prayer with doubts, personal agendas and more. In each of these times, He is extending an undeserved privilege to saved but still sinful people.
But it’s also important to understand how the Holy and Righteous Judge can come to undeserving people in love. Otherwise, we might wonder if He’s just in a good mood today. Then we’ll worry that He might not feel so good later. But that’s how we respond to undeserving people. That’s not the Lord of His people. In fact, that’s the very point of Isaiah 55:8-9, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord . “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” When we read the whole chapter, we see that the Lord is saying that He forgives when we would reject. He loves when we would judge.
How can that be?
The answer is found in the cross. There Jesus paid the price that was due to us for our rebellions against God. His substitutionary sacrifice is “bail” so perfect that it frees us eternally.
God pictured the certain love of His gracious presence in the Old Testament ritual of the covenant. In Genesis 15:8-20 when Abram wanted to know how he could be certain of God’s presence, the Lord told him to gather animals of all sizes to die him and us that His gracious presence is available to the rich, the poor and everyone in between. Then he was to cut them in half and lay them in two lines. As you can imagine, it was a bloody mess.
Ordinarily when two people made a serious agreement, they would cut a covenant and both walk between the pieces, symbolizing that “If either of us break our word, that person will become as these animals.” (see Jeremiah 34:18) But notice that God put Abram into a deep sleep and passed between the pieces alone. Thus, God promised, “If either one of us breaks this covenant, I will die.”
That is what we see on the cross: our guilt lovingly paid by Jesus and His righteousness freely bestowed to all who follow Him by faith in His gracious sacrifice.
God’s gracious presence grace changes everything. First, it frees us from guilt. Now, those who rest in His perfect sacrifice can come before Him knowing that He will hear them because of Jesus’ rightousness purchased for them. We can finally stop presenting our best efforts to try to win the Father’s love. Jesus won it for us. We can finally stop presenting our masks to each other that “Everything is great!” We can freely confess our ongoing struggles of living in this world because all believers have struggles. It doesn’t mean that He stops loving us.
Second, it frees us to live. We can also know that in the future, God will still be there to grow us, guide us, strengthen us, protect us, and provide for us. The value of Jesus’ sacrifice doesn’t run out like a parking meter. He died as a perfect man and as God, so the value of His sacrifice runs throughout eternity. That is why nothing can separate us from His love. (Romans 8:31-39)