Last week we read part of the Christmas story from Luke and we pretty much stayed there the entire message. This week I want you to turn to Matthew 1 and be prepared to take a journey through the Bible with me.
Matthew 1:18–25 CSB
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 25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.
Luke records a LOT more of the narrative of the birth of Jesus. Matthew seems to get right to the point! If you remember our introduction to Matthew, we noted that he was a tax collector and one who paid attention to details. He is very specific with the details he chose to share, which brings up the question, why 2 different names for the child?
There are 2 names given to the child in this passage.
The angel told Joseph that he was to name the child, Jesus. This is the Greek name that corresponds to the Hebrew name Joshua. It means, “Yahweh saves”. This tells about the role that Jesus will play.
Then, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 and says that the child will be called “Immanuel”. There is no direct Greek word for this, so Matthew brings over the Hebrew word and then he tells his readers what it means in Hebrew, “God is with us”.
Why is that so significant? Why is that part of the message of Christmas?
One of the things I continue to be amazed at as I study the Bible, is the way that certain themes are consistently woven throughout its pages, over the course of hundreds of years and many authors. One of those threads is being pointed out to us by Matthew as he recalls the birth of Jesus.
While I tend to think of the name Jesus as focusing on the condition of mankind and their need for divine intervention (surely we cannot doubt that face that we are all in need of that!), I believe the name “Immanuel” shows more of the nature and heart of God.
Let’s follow this thread and see if it leads us to the heart of God. To do that, lets go back to the beginning of the thread - the book of Genesis.
Genesis 1:26–27 CSB
26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness. They will rule the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, the livestock, the whole earth, and the creatures that crawl on the earth.”
27 So God created man in his own image; he created him in the image of God; he created them male and female.
God made mankind, humans (the word for man), in his image. In verse 28 he blessed them. In verse 31 he sees his creation, including mankind, as very good indeed.
In chapter 2 we get a different perspective on the creation of mankind:
Genesis 2:7 CSB
7 Then the Lord God formed the man out of the dust from the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils, and the man became a living being.
Of all his creation, he chose humans to breath his breath, or spirit, into. He then placed man in the garden and talked to him about his function of ruling creation and naming the animals. God also blessed him with someone who was made to be compatible with him, to complete him.
Genesis 2:24 CSB
24 This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with his wife, and they become one flesh.
If man was made in the image of God and the union of a man and woman was sanctioned by God as becoming one and something he blesses, then it shows how God is also interested in being one with humans and experiencing intimacy with his creation.
NOTE: The idea of a deity walking among humans having conversation with them and in relationship with then is a concept that is not shared in the creation accounts of other regions and religions.
We do not know how long Adam and Eve lived in the garden, walking and talking with God, but there was a time when man lived with God on earth and it was good.
THEN, there is the serpent incident in Genesis 3, and after Adam and Eve eat from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and bad, they hid from God.
Genesis 3:8–9 CSB
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 So the Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”
We have this picture of God walking through the garden as if this was something he always did. It was evening, so you walk and enjoy the breeze. It is hard for us to wrap our minds around the eternal God “walking” around on the earth, and yet that is what is described here. Walking. God was walking among humans.
Disobedience to God changed that relationship with God. Humans hid from God, whether out of shame or fear or both - they no longer had that open, intimate relationship. And God now had to punish them for what they did.
As part of the punishment for their disobedience, they were banished from the garden; removed from the place where God walked.
Genesis 3:23–24 CSB
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.
God removed them from his presence. No one was allowed back to his place - the garden. From that point on, God would meet with humans in their space, but there was now some distance between God and man.
The man and woman have two sons, Cain and Abel. Cain wanted to kill his brother and God meet with him and tried to instruct him, but Cain choose to define good and bad on his own and took his brother’s life. The punishment: the ground he worked will not be fruitful, he will be a nomad, a wanderer.
Genesis 4:16 CSB
16 Then Cain went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, east of Eden.
Notice, he went further away from the garden and from God. He went OUT from Yahweh’s presence. THAT is a very significant phrase in this thread. Though once man walked in the presence of Yahweh, sin separated us from him and things kept getting worse and mankind kept getting father from God.
A LOT happens in the balance of Genesis. Because of mankind's wickedness God performs a global reset with the flood. Then with God meets with people and introduces himself to them. He appeared to Abraham, he introduced himself to Isaac and Jacob. He had to introduce himself because they were not in a close relationship any longer.
Then we meet Moses. Moses is taking care of sheep (sound familiar? another Christmas thread) and sees a bush that is on fire and not being consumed, so you HAVE to check that out. Then, God talked to Moses and introduced himself:
Exodus 3:4–8 CSB
4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
“Here I am,” he answered.
5 “Do not come closer,” he said. “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he continued, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors. I know about their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the territory of the Canaanites, Hethites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
I want you to notice some of the markers here. A report had come to God, and their cries had come to God. It is terminology that presents the idea of God not being among them, but distanced from them and getting a report as if from a messenger in a distant land. In vs 8 he says “I have come down to rescue them”, which also implies that God had been distant, in the heavens or on a high place, but not among the people.
As I look over this thread, mankind started in the very presence of Yahweh, in the garden. Each generation took humans further from the garden and that relationship with God.
But, SOMETHING is changing here! With Moses, God invited him into his space - it was holy ground, because it was the place where God was present. Moses was certainly not in that spot because he was a perfect or blameless man (he killed an Egyptian) but because of the favor and grace of God.
Moses will be one of the humans that had the most recorded interactions with Yahweh. He spends so much time with God and in the presence of God that it changes his very appearance!
Perhaps you are familiar with the story of the Exodus and the 10 plagues? There are so may references to the Exodus in the Bible! It is certainly worth studying in depth. I want to zip past that to stay with our thread...
AFTER the exodus from Egypt, after the crossing of the Red Sea, after the people had been miraculously delivered from their enemies, God wants to meet with them!
God not only wants to meet with them, he is going to enter into a covenant with them - like a marriage. It involves vows and gifts and a meal:
Exodus 24:9–11 CSB
9 Then Moses went up with Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of Israel’s elders, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. Beneath his feet was something like a pavement made of lapis lazuli, as clear as the sky itself. 11 God did not harm the Israelite nobles; they saw him, and they ate and drank.
At least 74 people were on that mountain - WITH God, in his presence. they saw his feet - the same ones he would have been walking through the garden with ;) And they ate and drank a meal in his presence.
THIS is as close to the garden as we have been since Genesis 3! God temporarily came among men and had a celebration with them.
First God met with one man and entered into a relationship with him. Then, God made a covenant with the Israelites and met with 74 of them on the mountain where they met him in person.
This seems to be the beginning of the reversal of the separation from God. Notice it was initiated BY GOD! It was God’s design to enter into the covenant.
It was God’s desire to meet with the people. So much so, that God gave Moses commands to build a tabernacle.
The tabernacle was a place where God would dwell on earth! It was placed smack dab in the center of the Israelite camp. This temporary, mobile dwelling place of God, along with the system of laws and sacrifices, would allow God to remain among the men and women of Israel.
When the construction of the tabernacle was complete, God’s glory filled it!
Exodus 40:34–35 CSB
34 The cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 Moses was unable to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud rested on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.
God took up residence in the tabernacle, among the nation Israel.
The next book, Leviticus, is a book that explains what must take place if God’s presence was to remain among them. There is a very subtle thing that takes place as you take a step back and look at the bigger picture:
In Leviticus 1, Moses is summoned by God to the tent of meeting, though it appears as though he does not enter.
Leviticus 1:1 CSB
1 Then the Lord summoned Moses and spoke to him from the tent of meeting:
In Numbers 1, we read that Moses was IN THE TENT:
Numbers 1:1 CSB
1 The Lord spoke to Moses in the tent of meeting in the Wilderness of Sinai, on the first day of the second month of the second year after Israel’s departure from the land of Egypt:
God spoke with Moses, in the tent. They are in the same place, not separated. God is among humans having a conversation with one of them in a tent.
ASK: DO YOU SEE how close to the Eden condition this is? God, who first distanced mankind from his home, and then seemed to distance himself from mankind, has now drawn close enough to mankind to have a tabernacle (tent) among them and meet with them and talk with them.
David, the man after God’s own heart and most famous king of Israel, relocated the ark of the Lord (which belonged in the tabernacle) to Jerusalem.
But David was not allowed to build a permanent home or God on earth. Solomon will be the one who does that. Solomon DOES build the temple, a more permanent structure, along the pattern of the tabernacle, and when it is complete he blesses the people, he prays to Yahweh and he offers sacrifices to God (enters a covenant). [Read 1 Kings 8 ].
Then God showed up again:
1 Kings 9:1–5 CSB
1 When Solomon finished building the temple of the Lord, the royal palace, and all that Solomon desired to do, 2 the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time just as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3 The Lord said to him: I have heard your prayer and petition you have made before me. I have consecrated this temple you have built, to put my name there forever; my eyes and my heart will be there at all times. 4 As for you, if you walk before me as your father David walked, with a heart of integrity and in what is right, doing everything I have commanded you, and if you keep my statutes and ordinances, 5 I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised your father David: You will never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.
THAT was the message that Gabriel passed along to Mary, wasn’t it?
Luke 1:30–33 CSB
30 Then the angel told her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Now listen: You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will have no end.”
See how these threads work? The angel reminds Mary of a promise God made to Solomon. The promise made to Solomon took place at the dedication of God’s new home on earth, among men, in Jerusalem. It was a promise made when the presence of God was among men, and the coming of Jesus was declared as a fulfillment of that promise and as Immanuel - God with us. It was fulfilled with the presence of God among men.
In the 1 Kings 9 passage, God said his name, his eyes and his heart would be “there”.
Was God’s heart with the city? Was God’s name with the city? Was God saying that his heart and his name would be in the temple?
OR, was God revealing that his heart has always been to have a relationship with mankind, to walk among them and be in a covenant relationship with them?
Chronicles is in some ways a parallel book to the kings, sharing many of the same narratives, but often with a different perspective. 1 Kings talks about the promise of a descendant of David on the throne. Chronicles reminds us of something else:
2 Chronicles 7:1–4 CSB
1 When Solomon finished praying, fire descended from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple. 2 The priests were not able to enter the Lord’s temple because the glory of the Lord filled the temple of the Lord. 3 All the Israelites were watching when the fire descended and the glory of the Lord came on the temple. They bowed down on the pavement with their faces to the ground. They worshiped and praised the Lord: For he is good, for his faithful love endures forever. 4 The king and all the people were offering sacrifices in the Lord’s presence.After the temple was dedicated, God took up residence. It says that the people offered sacrifices in Yahweh’s presence. He was among them.
I think you are seeing the thread. At least I hope so. God is not interested in tents and temples. Building are not necessarily his thing. God is interested in people, in relationship. It was his design to be among humans from the beginning and we messed that up, driving a bigger and bigger wedge between us and God.
GOD is the one who pursued mankind, his crowning creation. He still wants a relationship with men and women, but there is still depravity to deal with.
We see this in the rest of the OT. It only takes a few generations for the complete degeneration of the relationship between the people and Yahweh.
The thread is that once, man and woman lived in harmony with each other and with God. There was peace, and there was joy. Mankind lived in God’s space, with God, and walked and talked with Him.
SIN - disobedience to God - the decision to choose good and bad on our own, apart from God, drove mankind further and further from God.
But God, in his compassion and because his heart does not change, continued to pursue a relationship with humans. God invaded human space in the Old Testament and temporarily took up residence in the middle of his people in tents and temples.
THEN, Jesus showed up. We now enter the Christmas story.
Read what the NT authors wrote about him:
John 1:14 CSB
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.
The word “dwelt” is the word “tabernacled”. The Word, that is God, became human and tabernacled among us. Lived among us temporarily.
John sees the birth of Jesus as the invasion of Yahweh into the human space. It was not just the eyes and heart of God, nor just the glory of God, nor just the name of God, but GOD HIMSELF living among mankind.
We could not return to God’s space, so he temporarily invaded ours!
John 1:10–13 CSB
10 He was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. 12 But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, 13 who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God.
The one who created the world came to live among his creation! The goal was that those who accept him will enter into a familial relationship with God.
Galatians 4:4–7 CSB
4 When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. 6 And because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba, Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then God has made you an heir.
God came into the world so that he could have a deeper relationship with humans. God did not need this relationship, but WE DO. It is part of what we were created for! It is what brings peace and joy to all nations - as announced by the angelic army to the shepherds.
The Jesus invasion was temporary. BUT Jesus sent the Spirit so that all his followers will experience the presence of God with them all the time.
1 Corinthians 3:16 CSB
16 Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s temple and that the Spirit of God lives in you?
Because of Jesus, we not only had “God with us” but we now experience, “God IN US”! How incredible is that?!? God among us or with us always.
As we follow this thread to it’s ultimate, future end, we come to the book of Revelation:
In revelation we are invited back into the garden space, invited back by God through the work of Jesus. There will be a new heaven, new earth, new Jerusalem - the city where God’s name dwells. There will be a garden and rivers flowing up to the city and everyone who has believed in the son will be invited to be in the very presence of God, in his house.
Revelation 21:1–4 CSB
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.
Did you catch that? There was a loud voice making an announcement: Rev 21:3 “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.”
What was lost in Eden will be restored - God will be among his people. THIS is the heart of God and always has been!
Then, the author goes on to describe some more:
Revelation 21:22–23 CSB
22 I did not see a temple in it, because the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, because the glory of God illuminates it, and its lamp is the Lamb.
There was no need for a temple because God IS THERE.
Revelation 22:1–4 CSB
1 Then he showed me the river of the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the city’s main street. The tree of life was on each side of the river, bearing twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for healing the nations, 3 and there will no longer be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will worship him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
People from all nations will come to God and the curse will be undone. Part of that undoing is described as people, humans, seeing God’s face, and fully bearing the name of God. THE PLACE where is name will dwell will be on his people who will BE his image and in his presence.
What a beautiful picture of the heart of God!
That we would disobey and be driven away from God
That he would pursue us and sacrifice for us
That he would come and live among his broken creation
That he would make a way for us to be in his presence forever, starting with the day we accept Jesus!
During this holiday season we sign songs, put up signs and send out Christmas cards reminding us that Jesus came to bring peace on earth. But a quick look around makes it clear that it has not been realized.
There is a reason that there is not peace on earth, especially during the Christmas season.
This time of year is when mental health needs are greatest, suicides on the rise and depression maxing out. Most often it is not because someone could not or did not get a gift - it is because of broken relationships with others and with God.
The reason the birth of Jesus is good news that brings great joy to all the nations is that the birth of Jesus demonstrates the heart and passion of God to have an intimate relationship with his creation - with you and me! It shows the extent that God was willing to go to in order to make that happen.
Those that accept the gift of forgiveness that Jesus offers will experience peace and joy - because they will have the thing that we were created for and cannot find apart from Jesus - a relationship with our Creator. We can experience God with us TODAY and the rest of eternity through faith in Jesus.
John 3:16 CSB
16 For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
This is not just a “get out of hell” verse, this is a passion verse. God loved you and me so much, that he sent his son to earth, to tabernacle among us and be the perfect human, so that anyone who is willing to follow him can spend an eternity IN THE PRESENCE of God!
Jesus came to be God with us so that we could have God in us so that we could live in the presence of God forever.