“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place; you know that he is near, at the very gates.” (Mark 13:28)
The times in our lives that are the darkest or most difficult are precisely those times when we most need to know and feel the presence of the Lord; and yet it is often in those times that this most difficult to feel. The darkness that surrounds us seems to drown out our sense of God’s presence, deepening our sense of isolation from his Love and Grace.
I couldn’t help but think of this as I read through the warnings Jesus gives to his disciples in this chapter about coming times. From extreme natural disasters to family betrayal and severe persecution, Jesus reveals to them a future conditioned by mounting hardship and destruction, all of which is a necessary part of the establishment and spread of the Kingdom of God (v 7).
His intention is to comfort and give them hope so that they will not be caught off guard and caused to doubt the Lord or his sovereignty, but hope gets easily lost in the seemingly endless list of mounting disasters. I imagine this would be even more true in the context of the actual vents they describe.
However, just when things seem as if they can’t get any worse—the darkness seems as if it has engulfed every source of light from the stars to the sun and moon—hope comes bursting through in the simple but powerful declaration we see in the passage above: Jesus is near. He is at the very gates.
It is not as we would have expected. We would have expected that the moment in which the darkness seems the greatest would be the moment in which God’s absence would be most profoundly felt and proven true, but Jesus insists it is not. It is precisely in this moment that He is nearer than ever. He is at the gates; salvation is nigh. It is to this hope that the disciples are to hold as they experience mounting hardships: that He is near, no matter how great the darkness seems to be.
However, His nearness is not limited to a single appearance at the end of all things, as if he will only sweep in at the last minute, just before things get too out of hand. To the contrary, it has been subtly promised and experienced all the way through: in the Spirit that emboldens them to speak on His behalf (vv.10-11), in the answered prayers for mercy (v. 18), and in the knowledge that not a single thing can or will ever happen outside of His sovereign control.
There is also another sense in which He is with them (and us) in midst of the darkness. It is not mentioned here, but is hinted at elsewhere in the New Testament. When Jesus appears to Saul on the Damascus road he asks him mysteriously, “Why do you persecute me?” in reference to Saul’s persecution of the Church. Similarly, Jesus promises that those who do or do not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, etc do so unto him. The implication is that, no matter how we feel, in a very mysterious way Christ is always present in our sufferings. He does not watch them from afar; he suffers with us.
He is near. Do you struggle to sense his nearness? Are there things in your life which challenge your ability to trust not only his presence, but also his love?
No matter where you find yourself, trust that He is near. He is the Great Immanuel, God with us, the preeminent sign that no matter how dark or difficult our lives have become God is not absent. He is with us and in us; and through him our salvation is nigh.
Photo sources: Feet in Arms High, The Underground Railroad Blog