“For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them”— (Matt. 18:20).
A regular check of the attendance is normal and routine in most Sunday Schools, but perhaps we have not been checking on the presence of the Lord as carefully as we should.
While we know that God is present everywhere at all times, the doctrine of divine omnipresence has two aspects in common with other Christian doctrines; for example, the doctrines of justification and sanctification.
With respect to these latter two, we know that through faith, we are reckoned by God to be righteous and holy and specially set apart for Himself. This is the judicial or positional aspects of these doctrines.
On the other hand, of course, we know from experience that frequently our lives are anything but righteous or holy; and at times like these, there is very little evidence that we really belong to the Lord in any sense whatsoever.
Similarly, although we know that the Lord is present throughout all the universe — simultaneously and continuously — it is possible for us to miss completely the real enjoyment of actually experiencing His presence in our midst.
Probably most non-Christians live out their lives without ever being conscious of the presence of God. But far worse than this, there is ample evidence to indicate that the average Christian today is living day by day, and hour by hour, without any vital realization that the Lord is near.
And how does this apply to the Sunday School? Simply like this. While we know that He is present in every class (because He is omnipresent), there is a good possibility that on many occasions He is actually absent without our realizing it. And if this be the case, we are probably suffering from the delusion that just because we profess to take no denominational name, the Lord is automatically present in our midst in a very unique manner. In such a state of mind, there is little point in even considering the possibility that He might be present only “theoretically” and not practically at all.
Evidence of His Presence
It should be quite easy for us to check on the Lord’s presence in the Sunday School class; or for that matter, in our assembly or in an individual’s life. The Scriptures make the matter clear as crystal, for they give us numerous indications which confirm decisively whether or not He is present.
The realization of the Lord’s presence brought forth praise from the shepherds of Bethlehem (Luke 2:20) and similarly, worship from the wise men (Matt. 2:11). Simeon blessed God and Anna gave thanks unto the Lord when they saw the Saviour-babe (Luke 2:28,38).
Throughout His ministry of preaching and healing, the Saviour’s presence brought light, understanding, recovery, hope, and inspiration. Innumerable instances reveal the unmistakable signs and effects of His presence, but the essential feature of them all is revealed in the words of Martha and Mary, “Lord, if Thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (John 11:21,32). They fully appreciated the fact that wherever He went, His presence brought blessing inevitably.
The early Church proved this in their experience also, even although the Lord Himself had ascended to the Father. “The hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord” (Acts 11:21).
In a very special way, the Apostle Paul proved the reality of the Lord’s presence on a number of occasions; for example, when “the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul” (Acts 23:11).
Thus, the Word of God leaves us in no doubt whatever: the Lord’s presence is accompanied invariably by praise, worship, thanksgiving, blessing, and power. Where these are absent, we can only conclude that the Lord is also absent, except in the doctrinal sense of His omnipresence.
Even in our own day, of course, there are times when we see the evidence of the Lord’s presence amongst His people: the Word of God goes forth in power; men and women are led to repentance, faith, praise, and worship; the Lord’s people strive together in the work of preaching the gospel, loving one another as well as the perishing souls they seek to reach; Christian prayer is a constant joy and exercise of the individual saint and the assembled church; the world as well as the church itself knows of a surety that God is actually in the midst of His own.
But are these signs evident in all of our Sunday Schools today? If not, we cannot help but conclude that the Lord is really not present as He should be!
Conditions for His Presence
A glib quotation of Matthew 18:20 guarantees the presence of the Lord no more than does a heathen chant if we are not actually fulfilling the conditions essential for realizing the enjoyment of His actual presence.
There is one condition: we must meet in His name! And even if Matthew 18:20 is printed on the sign-board outside the building, we can be quite sure of this: if there is no evidence of His presence then we have no evidence that we are really meeting in His Name! Of a certainty, if we were truly meeting in His name, He would indeed be present in our midst, and we would have conclusive evidence to this effect in the form of the signs which always accompany His presence.
Meeting in His Name means this at least, that we are meeting as those who belong to Him in fact, not merely in profession; that we are meeting as those who are yielded and committed to Him as fully as He requires on the grounds of His person and work as revealed in the Scriptures.
And if this one essential condition is not fulfilled, no other consideration even begins to matter. For belonging to Christ or owning His name means inevitably that we must be prepared to go all-out — to go all the way — in yielding ourselves to His claims upon us. It is because the most of us are not prepared to do this that we fail to experience and enjoy His presence — in our individual lives, in our assemblies, and in our Sunday School classes.
Barriers to His Presence
Only sin keeps us from realizing the Lord’s presence. Only sin keeps Him out of our Sunday Schools. And the sooner we realize that our gospel testimony is barren throughout most of the land; the sooner we admit that the Lord is not really present with power and blessing in our midst and the sooner we confess that we have grievously sinned in failing to yield our all to Him; the sooner will we know the joys, the blessings, the incomparable bliss of experiencing His nearness throughout every Sunday School session.