BY ZACK JAMES COLE with JONATHAN MAXIM
“A real American hero, G.I. Joe will dare. It’s G.I. Joe against Cobra the enemy, fighting to save the day. He never gives up, he’s always there, fighting for freedom over land and air.”
I cannot recall how many times I sang along to this theme song, punching and kicking as a kid in the 80s. But much of my desire to join the Marine Corps had its genesis in the 80s cartoon “G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero.”
Every show ended with a quick safety brief between a group of kids and a G.I. Joe character that usually wrapped up with dialogue like this:
KIDS: “Thanks, Leatherneck! Now we know!”
JOE: “And knowing is half the battle.”
In the Marine Corps, knowing something trumps feeling something. It is usually a matter of life or death when confusing the two. Similarly, we would benefit by pursuing intel from Scripture to KNOW something, rather than look inward to try and FEEL something.
An observable anxiety among Christians today is whether or not the presence of Jesus can be felt. Even with all of my matter-of-fact, to-the-point, military training, I used to find myself wishing I could just feel his presence. I would stand with my eyes closed, singing a hymn in church, hoping to spark the change in my life that I was told I needed. But often, I felt nothing.
Where in the world is Jesus?
Would it be good news to know where Jesus promises to be present—regardless of how we are singing or feeling, regardless of whether or not we “invited” or “escorted” him into the room, regardless of how much faith we have?
Is it possible that we have been longing for something—for Someone—who has been with us all along?
I have some good news! We have been given something far greater than liver shivers or signs and wonders. We have been given promises.
Jesus promises to be with us.
We mistakenly think that God is far away, up in heaven, away from us. The Apostle Matthew (quoting the prophet Isaiah) says differently; “All this happened to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son. And they will name him Immanuel,’ which means, ‘God with us.’” (Matthew 1:23).
Have you ever been to a church service or a Christian small group gathering or prayed with someone in the name of Jesus? Then he was there.
He promised: “Amen I tell you again: If two of you on earth agree to ask for anything, it will be done for them by my Father who is in heaven. In fact where two or three have gathered together in my name, there I am among them.” (Matthew 18:19-20).
Notice Jesus doesn’t give any prerequisites. He doesn’t require an adequate amount of praise, and he doesn’t ask people to dress in their Sunday best. Jesus has promised that he will always be with us.
He promised: “And surely I am with you always until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20).
He promised: “I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5).
Jesus promises to be in his word.
He promised: “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful…” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Just like cold days when you can see your breath, your Creator’s actual breath is visible in Scripture. And when his written word is read out loud, the Holy Spirit is present. “Inviting” him to hopefully show up is simply misguided. Just open the Bible and begin to read and he is in your midst.
Do you want God to speak to you?
He promised: “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers by the prophets at many times and in many ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son.” (Hebrews 1:1-2).
He promised: “So then, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message comes through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17).
He promised: “John spoke as a witness to the word of God and to the testimony about Jesus Christ…Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy and blessed are those who hear it and hold on to the things written in it…” (Revelation 1:2-3).
Jesus promises to be in the water.
He promised: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far away, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39).
Whose name are you baptized into? His Triune Name. He meets you in the waters with these words: “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). When water and word are present, so is God.
He promised: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, by cleansing her with the washing of water in connection with the Word.” (Ephesians 5:25-26).
He promised: “you were buried with Christ in baptism. And in baptism you were also raised with him through the faith worked by the God who raised Christ from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12).
He promised: “baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the body but the guarantee of a good conscience before God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21).
Baptism is not your gift of obedience to God; it is God’s gift of assurance for you as “the guarantee of a good conscience.” Jesus personally delivers this gift in the waters of baptism.
Jesus promises to be in the bread and cup.
Not only can we know the nearness of his promises AND hear the word of his promises AND feel the water of his promises—but we can also eat his promises!
Are you burdened by your guilt and wondering if you are truly saved? Then run to the Lord’s Table, because Communion is what salvation tastes like.
He promised: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a communion of the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a communion of the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16).
He promised: “The Lord Jesus…took bread…he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way…he also took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new testament in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
He promised: “Take, eat, this is my body…Drink from it all of you, for this is my blood of the new testament, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-29).
He promised: “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life in yourselves. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the Last Day. For my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink. The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56).
Right here, right now—for you!
If you don’t feel God’s presence, rest assured, it is NOT because you don’t have enough faith. And it is NOT because you failed to make the conditions right for him to show up. Jesus is right here, right now, right where he promises—in word and water, in bread and cup—for the forgiveness of your sins.
This is a far greater gift than a feeling. It is the gift of knowing.
Just like G.I. Joe used to promise…
“Knowing is half the battle.”
A rare Native Atlantien that still lives in the Atlanta area, Zachary James Cole grew up in the Bible Belt of the American South. He became a United States Marine in January of 2004 and served on Active Duty until January of 2009. He was deployed to Iraq twice during Operation: Iraqi Freedom. While in the desert conducting convoy security and nighttime security patrols, Zack was overwhelmed with the nearness and love of Christ. He has a love of history, the outdoors as well as an unwavering love of his favorite local sports teams. He earned his M.Div in Theological Studies from Liberty Theological Seminary. Zack is a co-host of the podcast: The Liberty Tree. After coming home from the Marine Corps he found a Church home at Suwannee Station Family Life Church in Suwannee, GA where he now serves as an Associate Pastor. Zack lives in Sugar Hill, GA with his wife Bonnie and their two sons, Cade and Knox.