Robert C. Harbach is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
In the sixteenth chapter of John’s Gospel we have two sections: (1) warning (John 16:1-6), and (2) encouragement John 16:7-33). In the latter section we have these words, “Do ye now believe? Behold, the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave Me alone; and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” (John 16:31-32). Jesus’ “disciples (had) said unto Him . . . ‘Now we are sure that Thou knowest all things, and needest not that any man should ask Thee; by this we believe that Thou comest forth from God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do ye now believe?'” (John 16:29-31). Do we, you and I, hear the word of God purely preached every Sabbath day? Do you realize that in the preaching of the word Christ speaks to you? Do you appreciate the fact that after every sermon and worship service the Lord looks for faith as a result of His speaking in the preached word? Since faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, do you hear Him say at the end of every service, “Do ye now believe?” For without faith it is impossible to please Him.
The disciples had spoken somewhat over-confidently when they said, “Now we are sure that thou knowest all things . . . .” Many today, if you ask them, “Do ye now believe?” are likely to answer, “Sure, I’m ‘a believer; I have a strong faith—you could never guess how strong!” But just a moment: “God hath dealt to every (Christian) man a measure of faith’ (Rom. 12:3). Do you know the measure of your own faith? Are you sure you are not believing in your faith, and taking that for faith in Christ? Beware of trusting in your faith, for it is only faith in Christ which is saving. Further, does the company you are in determine your faith, so that in good company you boast of your faith, while in bad company you have no faith of which to boast?
Do you now believe? Peter would be inclined to answer, “O, of course, Lord, both right now and for a long time already I’ve believed.” “Though all men shall be offended because of Thee, yet will I never be offended . . . . Though I should die with Thee, yet will I not deny Thee . . . . Likewise also said all the disciples.” That was self-flattery springing out of pride. None of them had the caution to say, “Lord, I believe; help Thou mine. unbelief” (Mark 9:24). All the apostles thought they could stand firm under fire. But “they all forsook Him and fled” (Matt. 26:56). When pressured by the enemy, they were scattered, and He was left alone. Later, disillusioned, they said, “but we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel” (Luke 24:21). Sometimes even the standard bearer faints (Isaiah 10:18), and then the armed men are demoralized and waver. When we feel strong and confident to stand, we must pray that we be given grace to take heed, lest we fall (I Cor. 10:12).
“Ye shall be scattered, every man to his own.” So Jesus warned, “to humble them, to destroy their self-confidence” (Pink). It was; their confidence was shattered, themselves scattered, every man to his own, his own “safe-house,” or hiding place. Each would seek his own secret place of survival. From the fury of the enemy there would be cover for all but Christ. All would escape the lash, the cross, the scar; but not Christ! “The hour. . . is now come that ye . . . shall leave Me alone.” This was Christ’s hour, the hour of the power of darkness. When Truth was in royal robes, enthroned on the mount, He had many a friend. But now that Truth must fall in the valley of the shadow, not a friend stands with Him. Not even a minority voice was heard at the last moment against the thunderous vocal majority. Like the early bloom of Spring, they were all blown away. Not even the beloved disciple John remained. They left Him alone, “every man for himself.” Their ruthless enemies took Him off to prison and death, where Peter, speaking for them all, had said he would go, and gladly (Luke 22:33). But He went there bound, beaten, and alone.
His comfort assured in this moment was this, though “ye shall leave Me alone, yet I am not alone, because the Father is with Me.” They had fled. They were all gone. But Christ was not gone. They had left Him standing alone; but there He stood. No one could budge Him from eternal purpose. He came to save, and He shall save His people. He came to redeem, and now Christ hath redeemed us from the curse. He came to overcome the world, and His victory shout is, “Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world!” They fled, to leave their work hardly begun. But He stood fast, and was so sure of Himself, with such confidence in His God, that He could say in His prayer just before the cross, “I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (John 17:4).
“I am not alone.” The present tense stands out with its stress on certainty. Jesus used it often. “I am the Son of God” (John 10:36). “I am the living bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). “I am not of this world; I am from above” (John 8:23). I “came down from heaven”; I am “the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13). “I amthe Good Shepherd. I know Mine and Mine know Me (John 10:14, Greek). “I am not alone, for the Father is with Me.”
Yet it did not appear to be so. But things are not what they seem. It may be that everybody does actually leave you. Father and mother may forsake. God may seem to leave you. But He never does! He never forsakes His own. Concerning Abraham going with Isaac his son to offer him as a sacrifice on Mt. Moriah, the record is that “they went both of them together” (Gen. 22). So the Father, when He was about to offer up His only begotten Son to death, was with Him; they went both of them together; and although Jesus on the cross had cried, “My God! My God! why hast Thou forsaken Me?”, we must notice that He did not cry,Father, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The Father, with His permanent, powerful, and supportive presence, never forsook, but was always with, His only begotten Son. But it was God, who, from the cross, temporarily withdrew His gracious and comforting presence, because Christ was then substituting Himself in the place of elect sinners, bearing away their sins.
The decrees of God were all back of Christ; and only He can open the Book of the Decrees. But it is the God of the divine decrees who is with Him. Not only twelve legions, but all the angels of God are behind the cross; and the God of the angels is with Him there. Not only the Providence of God, but the God of Providence is with Him. Every creature, the whole universe, may sing, “the Father is with me.” The sparrow, when it falls in death, in effect, says, “the Father is with me” (Matt. 10:29). The stars of light, singing praise to the Lord, can say, each of them, “the Father is with me” (Psalm 148:3). The creature, Space, can say, The Father is with me and in me. Time can say, The Father is with me and moves me. To think of a world with no Creator-God over all is a failure to face reality. There is no world existing and moving by itself with no all-controlling God above. Such a world is a horrible nightmare! But all too often we live on this earth as though that were the only kind of a world there is: one with no Sovereign Director above. We put God out of His own universe, so that we may then live and sin as we please without ever having to worry about being called to account in judgment. But no; the whole world with its myriad creatures is like a vast universal choir singing with one voice, “Blessing and honor and glory and power be unto Him that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Rev. 5:13). So that the picture of reality is not, “there is the world, and that’s it—period,” but “there is the world, inseparably connected with and subservient to its Creator and Upholder!”
How does this word of Jesus apply to you? God’s promise to His people is, “I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them, to do them good, but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me” (Jer. 32:40). Is that God’s promise to you? Do you stick with Him through thick and thin, come what may? True, the current today runs the other way; but let that current go; it is petering out anyway. Someone may say, O, but the scientists tell us that gospel is something for little children and little old ladies, but it is not scientific. Let them say. But the scientific is what man is able to learn from things here below; our Gospel is from above. It is divine revelation. “Flesh and blood (or science) hath not revealed it unto thee, but My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). The philosophers will say of our Gospel, The whole world denies it! Then the ” world without the Gospel’s saving power is as bad off as can be. There is always a Tom Fool who will say, The Bible is not true! But the Bible is true, and you may answer the fool with, “Let God be true and every man a liar” (Rom. 3:4). Others will say that we ought to have an updated “social gospel,” a new theology, the effect of which is to liberate men from poverty and hunger. However that may be, our stand must be, “though we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8). The world may reply, “If that’s your stand, you stand alone against the whole world.” Then so be it. For every preacher of the Gospel and every Christian can say, Ye may and shall leave me alone, and yet I am not alone, for the Father and His Christ are with me.
We rejoice in learning of any small handful of believers on this or that island, or in this or that heathen nation, who stand as we do in the truth of the Gospel. We rejoice where two or three are gathered together in Christ’s name. There you are, perhaps on some small island of the sea. Suppose the whole world population turn against you! What of it? If God be for us, who can be against us? If God places us on His side, we need not worry who or how many are on the other side. God is enough.