Supposedly a small child first complained in Sunday School that she wanted a “Jesus with skin on,” but I’ve said it too. When no one else understands, comforts, listens, or can pull me out of the hot water I am in, I’d like a Jesus who is visible, touchable, who can give me a big hug.
Maybe the disciples were not into hugging, but for them, Jesus was a familiar face. They heard His voice, saw His hand gestures, knew His smile. When life became unbearable, they could fly into His presence and know the calm of seeing His calm. Their Jesus ate fish and drank wine with them. He laughed at their folly and rebuked them in the most loving ways.
When He told them He was going away, they were devastated. Jesus knew they would be. In a last prayer, He spoke these words to His Father,
And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. (John 17:11)
Just thinking about leaving this world fills me with images of what it might be like to be where Jesus is instead of being where I am. All concerns, worries, difficulties, sorrow and pain would be over. But Jesus didn’t take the disciples with Him. They joined Him later, as I will. In the meantime, I’m still in this world and must cope with all that means. My only hope is to rely on the provision of being kept in the name of the Lord, as Jesus prayed.
Of all that could mean, in this verse it means being united with other Christians. Is that important? Some Christians don’t think so. They often skip church, spend more time with unsaved people than other Christians, and perhaps never experience genuine fellowship. Perhaps they don’t know what they are missing?
Over the past few weeks, my husband has been working out-of-province several days a week. Because of that, we have to gone to our small group Bible study together. Last week, he was home and we were able to attend. Our fellowship was like a spring of clear, cool water in a desert place to those who had nothing to drink for a long time.
This is not merely about being with other people, even other like-minded people. Fellowship is about sharing the attributes of Jesus Christ with a mutual purpose and love for one another. It is about transparency in the struggles and joys of life. Genuine fellowship is as close to experiencing Jesus with skin on as we can possibly experience this side of glory. Sweet!
The keeping power of God for followers of Jesus Christ includes the provision of this special oneness with each other. We go to church each week to worship God together, but also because we crave the experience of Jesus with skin on. We attend Bible studies and mid-week events with other Christians, not just because human beings are a gregarious lot who need interaction, but because God gifted us with the indwelling of His Son, and we can share Him with one another.
This is not automatic though. Sin still separates, and if I have sin in my life, no one will see Jesus in me, nor I in them. This is also true when I selfishly determine to put myself and my needs before the needs of others. When that happens, the ‘importance of me’ becomes a barrier. Fellowship means that I can share my needs, but not as if I am the only one who has them. Oneness happens when those in the Body of Christ experience my sorrows (and joys) as if they are their own, and I do the same with them.
The gift of God and His answer to this prayer of Jesus about being kept in His name is means experiencing His unity, a unity so close that no one can really define where the Father ends and the Son begins. For us, this is bliss and a blessing. It makes the Son of God visible, touchable. We can hear and enjoy Him in each other – because Jesus prayed and the Father answered.