Last week we talked at length about a few of the prophecies regarding the Messiah – the promised son of man who would reverse the curse that all of creation is under due to the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden.
Let’s read part of the Christmas story from Matthew so we can explore one of those promises a bit more today.
Matthew 1:18–24 || 18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit. 19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly. 20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her [CSB]
Hundreds of years before this meeting with the angel of the Lord and Joseph, the prophet Isaiah said those exact words:
Isaiah 7:14 || 14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. [CSB]
“God with us”. That is an interesting phrase. I mean, isn’t God omni-present? Isn’t he in all places at all times? In Psalm 139, David says it does not matter where we go, we cannot escape the presence of God. With that in mind, why this phrase, “God with us”?
We want a physical God. We want a God that we can see, touch and interact physically with. This is why Israel wanted a physical king, it is why God commanded people not to make idols. We long for the restoration of the Eden condition where God and man were physically together.
In Genesis, God planted a garden and God placed man in that garden to care for it. It was as if man was invited into God’s garden home. God walked in the garden. It was the place he chose to live on this earth at that time.
When man/woman sinned, they were punished, and the ground was cursed. Then, they were kicked out of the garden. Sent away from God’s home.
Genesis 3:22–24 || 22 The Lord God said, “Since the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil, he must not reach out, take from the tree of life, eat, and live forever.” 23 So the Lord God sent him away from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove the man out and stationed the cherubim and the flaming, whirling sword east of the garden of Eden to guard the way to the tree of life. [CSB]
Not only were they removed from the dwelling place of God, a guard was posted to make sure they did not get back in. Consequently, in order to be with God, in the presence of God, either he must “visit” mankind, or man must have an invitation back to his place.
In the Old Testament we see both scenarios. We’ve talked about several of them as we studied the grand narrative of the Bible.
In the Wilderness, Moses and the elders were invited part way up the mountain to eat a meal with God. Then Moses was invited to the top of the mountain (a symbol of Eden). God settled in on the mountain for six days, and on the seventh day he invited Moses to meet with him. The people were NOT allowed up there, only Moses could be in God’s presence (thus Moses is a type of Jesus).
On that mountain, Moses was given instructions on how to build the tabernacle (a symbol of heaven), where God could dwell among his people. Moses built it, to the exact specifications, and God settled in (tabernacled) among the Jews.
Exodus 25:8–9 || 8 “They are to make a sanctuary for me so that I may dwell among them. 9 You must make it according to all that I show you—the pattern of the tabernacle as well as the pattern of all its furnishings. [CSB]
This tabernacle was the place where God dwelled among the Israelites. It was placed in the center of the tribes while they were in the wilderness, showing the significance of having God in the camp, dwelling among them. Still, it was only Moses that had direct access to God.
Exodus 29 we get a reminder from God as to what he desires, what the purpose of the tabernacle is:
Exodus 29:45–46 || 45 I will dwell among the Israelites and be their God. 46 And they will know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt, so that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God. [CSB]
After the Israelites left the wilderness and settled in the promised land, there was a desire to have a more permanent dwelling place for God among the people.
Solomon was commissioned to build the temple, a more permanent structure, for God to dwell in. This gave a hope of a permanent presence of God among his creation. When the temple was dedicated, God took up residence there:
1 Kings 8:10–13 || 10 When the priests came out of the holy place, the cloud filled the Lord’s temple, 11 and because of the cloud, the priests were not able to continue ministering, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 12 Then Solomon said: The Lord said that he would dwell in total darkness. 13 I have indeed built an exalted temple for you, a place for your dwelling forever. [CSB]
In both the tabernacle and the temple, there was a separate room (the holy of holies) for God’s ark to abide. There was a thick curtain/veil that shrouded that room. So, even though God’s presence was among the people, it was certainly not restored to the Eden condition. God was among the people but not walking with them. God was among them, but only the High Priest could be in his presence, and even then only once a year.
However, the message of the prophets was a message that God would come and be among mankind again. Not only be among them but walk among them. So, neither the tabernacle, nor the temple, fulfilled the prophet’s message. God was among the people, but he was not “with” them, walking with them as he once did in the garden.
Jehoshua, the Messiah, was given the Hebrew name/title, “Immanuel” which means, “God with us”.
When Jesus took on human form, something spectacular happened. For the first time since the banishment from the garden, God walked among his people. This time he even took on the appearance of a human, took on flesh/meat, and not only ate with mankind, but walked, fished, laughed, cried and worshipped with mankind.
The announcement of “God with us” was a centuries old promise being fulfilled and the hope that the curse of the original sin finally being lifted!
Check this out: When John describes the birth of Jesus, the vocabulary used to describe God living with us is imagery of the temple and the tabernacle!
John 1:1,14,18 || 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God … 14 The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. … 18 No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him. [CSB]
Jesus, the Son of God, was the Word, and he became flesh (the son of Man) and made his home among us. The word “dwelt” in this passage literally means to live in a tent, or to tabernacle. Jesus came and tabernacle among us.
The shift is that God is now walking among mankind! Jesus made his home among us! God came to visit us, on our place since we could not be in his place!
Jesus lived on this earth for about 30 years, and then made this statement:
John 14:1–6 || 1 “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you. 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also. 4 You know the way to where I am going.” 5 “Lord,” Thomas said, “we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” 6 Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. [CSB]
When Jesus came to earth, he was visiting where we live. BUT, in this statement to his disciples he is making another claim: someday you will be invited back to the dwelling place of God. Someday, the Eden condition will be restored.
Imagine the horror and disbelief of the disciple when Jesus said he would be leaving!! Even more, imagine their grief when they watched Jesus being tried as a criminal, beaten and then hung on a cross to die. Even at the sacrifice on the cross, the temple symbol is referenced again. At the moment that Jesus’ sacrifice was complete, something very significant happened in the temple:
Mark 15:37–38 || 37 Jesus let out a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 Then the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. [CSB]
The curtain is what separated the dwelling place of God (the ark of the covenant in the holy of holies) from the people. When that curtain was town in two, there was no wall between God and the people. Jesus made a way for us to have direct access to God. It also symbolized a change in the way that God would be with his people.
Jesus said that his leaving was necessary, and that the Spirit was given to all who believe. As he was eating the Passover with his disciples and explaining that he must leave, he said this:
John 14:15–17 || 15 “If you love me, you will keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit of truth. The world is unable to receive him because it doesn’t see him or know him. But you do know him, because he remains with you and will be in you. [CSB]
OK, this is a whole new twist on “God with us”! Jesus was stating that after he departed, he would ask the Father to send the Spirit who will be with us forever. And his dwelling place will not be in the physical temple in Jerusalem. He will be with us and in us.
1 Corinthians 3:16–17 || 16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him; for God’s temple is holy, and that is what you are. [CSB]
This is another AMAZING thing! Now, the dwelling place of God is not just among mankind, but INSIDE mankind!
When God spelled out the Law for the nation Israel, he said spoke of a hope, of a day when the effects of the curse will be reversed. He promised that we might be able to catch glimpses of what Eden was like and what the new Eden will be like. You and I get to experience this today!
Leviticus 26:3–13 || 3 “If you follow my statutes and faithfully observe my commands, 4 I will give you rain at the right time, and the land will yield its produce, and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. 5 Your threshing will continue until grape harvest, and the grape harvest will continue until sowing time; you will have plenty of food to eat and live securely in your land. 6 I will give peace to the land, and you will lie down with nothing to frighten you. I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword will pass through your land. 7 You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall before you by the sword. 8 Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand; your enemies will fall before you by the sword. 9 “I will turn to you, make you fruitful and multiply you, and confirm my covenant with you. 10 You will eat the old grain of the previous year and will clear out the old to make room for the new. 11 I will place my residence among you, and I will not reject you. 12 I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people. 13 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, so that you would no longer be their slaves. I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to live in freedom. [CSB]
God’s promise is awesome! God is promising to restore things, at least partially, back to the Eden condition:
God is saying, “If you keep my commandments, I will restore some of the Eden life back to you. I will reverse the effects of the curse on the land, on your calling and on your relationship with me.”
**THE PROBLEM** Going back to Genesis, we still have a broken creation. Though God has come to us to live with us and in us, we still live in cursed bodies in a cursed land.
This is a temporary and incomplete restoration, not because God is unable to completely reverse it, but because the time has not yet come for the complete reversal. That is in the plans but has not happened yet.
Someday, the ultimate fulfillment of God walking among mankind will take place. For the Eden condition to be the norm, the effects of the curse need to be removed. Jesus paid the price for our sins, but the consequences of our sin remain in effect on humans and the rest of creation.
Revelation reveals that to us.
Revelation 21:1–4 || 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 I also saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband. 3 Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away. [CSB]
Paul says that someday God will undo the curse, because of Jesus. Someday there will be a new Eden, a new intersection of heaven and earth where mankind will walk with God and not be naked, where there will be the absence of pain, war, disease and distrust.
Last week I mentioned that when we study prophecy, one of the goals is to show us the heart and character of God. God has always desired to be among his creation. God has always desired to be near you and me. He has pursued us, paid the price for us and desired to take up residence in us – it is his gift, offered freely if we only accept it.
The message of Christmas, that God is with us, is a message of hope. Hope that the effects of the curse will one day be completely reversed and also a hope that we can experience a bit of the Eden condition even today.
Because of Jesus, we are no longer exiled from the presence of God, waiting for him to visit us, if we accept his gift of salvation through faith in Jesus, God chooses to dwell with and IN us! WE get to experience “God with us” in a radical way!