Some of the most beautiful passages in the Bible are found in the most intimate times between Jesus and his disciples. In the upper room, after Jesus has washed his disciples feet and they’ve taken part in the first communion together, Jesus is just hours away from his crucifixion.
He knows what’s going to happen. He knows all twelve of the men, his dearest friends, who have walked beside him for three years, are going to betray and abandon him.
In the confines of that stone upper room twelve men share bread and wine and talk about the journey they’ve shared together. The street below is quiet. They have no idea what will unfold in the next few hours. To the disciples, this is like any other night they broke bread together.
A handful of conversations cross the table mingle with laughter and jest. The odor of a day’s travel clings to their robes, the subtle cleanliness of soap tinges the air, lingering from the basin Jesus used to wash their feet.
Meanwhile, Jesus gazes at his friends, his brothers, with a smile. Judas Iscariot has already left the table and Jesus knows he is on his way to betray him. With the eleven remaining, Jesus begins to speak. There’s so much he wants to say.
Everyone is silent when he tells them he’s leaving, but he’s preparing a place for them. He’s leaving, but he’s sending a Helper to be with them, and this Helper will teach them all things and help them remember everything he ever said to them (John 14:15-16, 26).
I imagine the one message that continues to pierce their hearts is the least encouraging part: He’s leaving them.
These men didn’t just do church with Jesus. These twelve men left homes, families, careers, reputations, and more to follow him. They didn’t go home after the work was done. They lived with Jesus. They walked the same miles as Jesus, slept in the same room as him, under the same stars as him, and shared tears of laughter and sorrow with him. Every meal, every practical joke, blistered heal and bath in the Jordan river was spent with Jesus.
They were ridiculed alongside Jesus, chased out of towns and villages, did miracles beside Jesus and faced near death with him.
These men became a family in a way few of us will ever experience in our lifetime. Not only was Jesus their Lord and leader, he was brother, roommate, Father, friend, counselor and teacher. In the three years they walked with him, the disciples lives revolved entirely around this man Jesus.
Now, after three years of such living, Jesus was telling them he was leaving them and they couldn’t follow. Not only that, but he was doing it willingly.
Many have wondered whether it was better to have lived among the disciples and been able to actually see Jesus. To touch his robes, to hear his voice, to feel the carpenter’s calloused hand on their cheek, to watch Lazarus come to life at Jesus’ words while his drying tears stained his cheeks.
I'm not so sure. My heart breaks at the mere idea of getting to be so intimate with the man Jesus, and then to have to let him go. The temptation to feel abandoned would be overwhelming.
Jesus knows this, which is why he tells his disciples he's not leaving them as orphans (John 14:18). He even goes as far as to say it's a good thing that he leaves them behind. “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do because I am going to the Father” (John 14:12).
If Jesus never went to be with the Father, the Holy Spirit would never come, and we’d never get to experience such an intimate relationship with the Lord by having Him reside within us. This means we have a spirit of power, love and self control taking up space within our being, just waiting for us to receive it with belief and act on it (2 Timothy 1:7).
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes that it may bear more fruit… Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me” (John 15:1-3, 5).
To abide is to stay, wait for and remain. An apple starts to die the second it falls from the branch. As long as it’s attached, and the branch is healthy, the apple will continue to flourish. The same is true for us. Though Christ has risen and no longer walks with us as He did with His disciples, He sent His Holy Spirit. Abiding in Him through His Spirit means remaining attached to the guidance and counsel of the Spirit of Christ. To walk in relationship with Him.
We don’t have to move to the Middle East and give up our careers in order to follow Christ as the disciples did. Jesus sent His Spirit so people all over the world could enjoy fellowship and life with Him exactly where they are. So everyone everywhere could be loved by Him and learn to love like Him. Jesus had to go, so he could help and reach even more people than He could had he stayed.
Abiding in the Lord means staying in step with the Spirit, who draws from His Word to speak truth and life and love. Pressing in when the world tries to pull you away. Clinging when the enemy tries to pry your fingers apart. Drawing from the well of Christ’s love when you’re running on empty. Speak the power of the Word into being and claim the promises as though they are already in place; because they are. Live as though they are true, because they are. Abide. Remain.
Don’t let the absence of a physical body be the reason you pull away from the Father and the Son. Let the Spirit bridge the gap, and hold fast to the truth and the love. Let the tears fall, and rest in the strength and comfort of the Spirit today. Rejoice over what has already been accomplished and let hope stir in your soul for what's to come.