Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Is God with Us?

The final Sunday in Advent 2010 reminds us that Immanuel - God is with us. This is something we find encouraging, but challenging as we struggle to understand what this means. Think of the beginning of the Bible. In Genesis 3:8 God comes to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening. In earlier Genesis passages we overhear regular discussion between God and Adam. Before sin entered the world the relationship between God and man was close and intimate.

Sin brought separation. Sin brought stress in the relationship between God and man. Sin causes man to wonder if God cares. Sin causes man to wonder if God is even there.

In Isaiah 8:8,10 the prophet tells us the Messiah will be called Immanuel and the people of Israel must have wondered what this would mean. They were far from God when this prophecy was delivered. Many of them had rejected God and pursued their own gods. They were all facing a time of suffering as a punishment for their disobedience. As foreign armies invaded their villages and took them captive they must have felt alone and isolated from God. We’ve all been there. We’ve felt depressed and cut off. To hear the prophet declare that God would be with them should have brought them hope. To some it did. To many, though, it did not. They were too far from God to care.

The 400 years from the close of the Old Testament to Jesus was an age where the Heavens were still. It wasn’t that God had nothing new to say. Instead, He was calling His people to remember the covenants, prophecies and writings that had brought them to this point in their relationship with Him. All the while He was preparing to fulfill His promises.

One fall night as shepherds were grazing their sheep on a hillside near Bethlehem angels appeared in overwhelming brilliance. It was time for the promise to be fully revealed. Immanuel was born. He was really here.

It was an unlikely birth. In an unlikely place. To unlikely people. Yet the promise was being fulfilled. Immanuel was a reality.

Throughout the Gospels, God was with us. He ate with us. Talked with us. Walked with us. Healed us. Taught us.

Then, one day He died for us. And three days later He rose for us.

There was another promise, though, that told us we weren’t to a place of permanent Immanuel. We read it in John 14. Though He left physically - for the time being - He promised He would still be with us. It was so important He repeated it moments before He ascended back in Heaven. Jesus says in Matthew 28 He will be with us always.

Immanuel is hard to grasp because Jesus is not taking lunch appointments today. He doesn’t have an office downtown with a lobby where we sit and wait to talk with Him. But still, He is Immanuel.

The Holy Spirit is our Immanuel. Praying with us. Teaching us. Disciplining us. Helping us.

The promise is very much still true. God is with us. Immanuel.

Though it may be hard to understand. It is reality. You can know Immanuel and feel the effects of this relationship. Through His word, His church and His Spirit - God is with us. Seek Him today.


Ben said...

Brandon, great job capturing the palpable angst of the human-divine relationship. Yet, there is great comfort in the fact that God is still with us. Jesus told us, as you said in John 14:16, that the Father would send in Jesus' stead another Helper, the Holy Spirit.

It's important to note in that verse why the Father is going to do this. He's doing this so that the Father will be with us forever. You made that connection well when you said, "The Holy Spirit is our Immanuel. Praying with us. Teaching us. Disciplining us. Helping us." Honestly, I've never really made the connection in my mind that the Holy Spirit is the ongoing ministry and reality of the Immanuel concept. Great insight, Brandon!

But, I would add that although the Holy Spirit is irreplaceable and a wonderful gift of power and comfort, the Holy Spirit is merely a deposit or a down payment on a fuller Immanuel experience. Our humanity longs for physicality. We yearn to experience God with our senses. It's the Holy Spirit that stirs in us the great ache for Jesus to return quickly so that faith will be swallowed up by sight. Then, God will be fully with us physically forevermore. That's an exciting thought!

Yet, that might not happen in my lifetime. I pray that it does, but I must live well in Him in the meantime. Therefore, praise God for the Holy Spirit, our current Immanuel! God has not left us without His presence. As you said, "Through His word, His church and His Spirit - God is with us." Hallelujah!

Thanks for the thoughtful post! MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Brandon Porter said...

Thanks, Ben.

What encouragement to think of the Holy Spirit being a deposit of more of the presence of Christ to come. What joy that will be!