There must have been something extraordinary in His Presence. This is the thought I return to again and again when I consider Jesus Christ. And it is both a haunting and thrilling reflection. When I consider the life of Christ, it is impossible for me to stay within the limits of what the Gospels tell us. We are, after all, talking about a limitless God walking the earth. So what was it like to be in the Presence of God while He ate, slept, worked and taught for thirty-three years? Truly, what would it have been like to simply be near Him? What impact would it have had to hear His voice, see His gestures, and follow Him around merely to witness the stories and miracles the Gospels didn’t record? How would He laugh? How would He cry? Would He answer a question quickly or ponder it before imparting His divine genius? What would His righteous indignation sound like and how would it feel to be personally granted His sweet and undivided mercy? There are so many questions. But as Paul said in 1 Corinthians, “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.” Alas, to answer these questions, I shall simply have to wait.
But there is something more penetrating to be found in the Gospels. While my questions are raised about mannerisms, physical features and personal nuance, the Gospels unfold the awe that was felt in the Presence of Christ.
The young, innocent Mary sits in the presence of a divine messenger from God. And Gabriel lovingly conveys to her,
“The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
Extraordinary. You, Mary, have been specially chosen to bear God’s Son on earth. And “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” There is no further discussion between Mary and Gabriel (at least that we are privy to), and yet God stirred within her womb and the process of being “overshadowed” was underway. Through the eyes of “empirical facts” we can’t completely grasp what this means. But through the eyes of faith, there must have been a mystical barrage that “overshadowed” Mary. I envision a confidence that all would be well even in the midst of relentless mockery over her unwed motherhood. I imagine a humility receptive to the Will of God bringing her closer to Joseph and steadfast on her journeys to Bethlehem, to Egypt and ultimately, to Calvary. I picture an unwavering love for Jesus and His divine purpose that allowed her the wisdom to raise Him and the strength to let Him go. And as the Sweet Child grew in her womb, Mary knew…there was something extraordinary in His Presence.
The rough and guileless Simon was casting his fishing nets with brother Andrew on the Sea of Galilee. A Voice called to him from the shores and invited him,
“Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
And he immediately abandoned his nets. The Gospel of John describes Simon’s brother, Andrew, following Jesus and reporting back to Simon that they found the Messiah. The Gospel of Luke describes the overabundant catch that began tearing Simon’s nets causing him to fall to his knees and beg Christ’s departure since “I am a sinful man”. Again, in each scenario (not necessarily mutually exclusive), Simon leaves his nets and is renamed “Peter, or the Rock”, by Jesus. There is little more in the Gospels about this transition of Peter the fisherman to Peter the disciple (and ultimately the Rock), but it seems that Something happened to Peter. I imagine an honest, hard-working man with faith in God and yet a healthy skepticism of man thunderstruck by a Voice. I conceive of a Holy Spirit stirring in Peter that utterly pronounced that “This is what you were born for. This is what you were called to do.”. I picture a man moved by an irrepressible truth to confess Jesus as the Christ, to speechlessly witness the Transfiguration and fervently swear allegiance to his Savior while simultaneously enduring Christ’s reprimand, fulfilling Christ’s prophecy of betrayal and dying “unlike Christ” in on an inverted cross. And as the life slipped from the aged Apostle’s eyes, Peter knew…there was something extraordinary in His Presence.
Levi sat, resented and reviled by his fellow Jewish citizenry, at the customs post. A tax collector is a traitor to his people – especially when the taxes go to a foreign heathen occupier like Rome or its stooges. Shamed and bitter, he little expected the two words from the man in the door,
And he left everything and followed Him. Not only did he follow Him, but Levi (also called Matthew) held a lavish banquet in honor of Him and invited fellow tax collectors. Why would he do this? I imagine a man so deep in shame, despair and alienation that a shining Voice of peace, of clarity and of dignity pierced the darkness that consumed him. I envision a soul deemed worthy of disdain and a few extra coins by his overlords newly valued as priceless by his Lord and Savior. I picture a man so in love with his Redeemer so as to purportedly pen one of the four greatest testimonies to His life. And as Christ gave Matthew back his dignity and invited him to a greater place in Heaven, Matthew knew…there was something extraordinary in His Presence.
Mary, Peter, Matthew. The Mother of the Church, The Rock of the Church, and the Bad-Guy-Turned-Good. None of these people were automatons – hypnotized by a mesmerizing magician. Nor were they simply reasoning and rational human beings dispassionately weighing the pros and cons of following this itinerant teacher. Rather, they were people dignified by God to have Free Will, yet utterly impacted and transformed by the Presence of God. Free will was at work, but so was the Holy Spirit. Could these three individuals have said “No”? Of course. But did they? No. And why not? Because the Call they heard, while risky, while perilous, while eternally consequential…was pure Truth, Goodness and Beauty. In the end, they said yes because there was something extraordinary in His Presence.
In the countless ways we are daily and hourly faced, in ways subtle and overt, with the extraordinary Presence of Christ, will we say Yes? Let us hope so. Yes, let us hope so.