God With Us

Posted: June 5, 2014 in Bible Study, Biblical Theology, Christology

Popular notions of God and creation tend to see God as nothing more than one who performs a function – He is the one who made us and this world. This view can mean that as soon as an alternative theory (eg. evolutionism) is proposed, people think that the need for God is done away with; almost as if the only reason why God would exist is to give us a rationale for why we exist.

The Bible doesn’t talk about God in that way. The closest we might get is when in Romans 1:20 Paul says that Creation points to the truth that, ‘…God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.’ Yet even here he is not discussing the existence of God, but His nature – what kind of God He is, as opposed to the idolatrous ideas of those who ‘exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.’ (Romans 1:23 NIV)

So Genesis 1-2 is less about explaining the origins of creation, as it is about describing the relationship of God to His creation, and especially to human beings. ‘In the Beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth’ is more a statement about authority than origins. Everyone believed in creation by a god or gods; the question was, ‘Whose God did it? Whose God is the supreme over all the other so-called “gods”?’ The first five books of the Bible affirms for the Israelites (and us) that not only is God – Yahweh – supreme, He is in fact the only true and living God.

The creation account also affirms the unique relationship God has with the human race, and what that is supposed to look like:

  • Humans are made, ‘in our image, in our likeness’ (1:26). Not photocopies or clones; the term ‘image’ (which comes from a root word meaning ‘shadow’) can imply a proximity to God that is required if we are to truly bear His image – in a similar way in which a mirror can only bear our image properly if we are in front of it.
  • God gives life to the first human by ‘breathing into his nostrils’ – a very intimate picture of God making direct contact with the man and giving of Himself in order to make the man a living creature (2:7)

God right here

  • God speaks to humanity and gives a vocation and mandate – to fill the earth and rule over it (1:28), all the while caring and tending it (2:15). He communicates directly and personally with the man and the woman, teaching them about Himself and themselves.

The picture of God that we get is not ‘The God who is out there, who is the explanation for why we exist,’ but ‘The God who is right here, who fills my existence with meaning and purpose and value.’

It seems that the man and woman were familiar with God making His presence known to them: ‘…they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool [literally ‘breeze’  – Ruah] of the day.’ (Genesis 3:8 ESV) yet sadly on this occasion God’s presence was not seen as a good thing – they had disobeyed His command and eaten the ‘forbidden fruit’ and so they knew they deserved judgement; they experienced fear and attempted to hide themselves from Him. Because of sin God’s presence was no longer a good thing.

No longer safeWhen God rescued the Israelites from slavery into Egypt, He brought them to Mt Sinai, where He gave them His Law – which was a description of what life as a nation in right relationship with Him will look like. Part of this law included instructions on worship and the construction of a tabernacle – ‘tent’ – which would be the symbol of God’s presence among His people:

38“Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs a year old day by day regularly. 39One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight. 40And with the first lamb a tenth measure of fine flour mingled with a fourth of a hin of beaten oil, and a fourth of a hin of wine for a drink offering. 41The other lamb you shall offer at twilight, and shall offer with it a grain offering and its drink offering, as in the morning, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord. 42It shall be a regular burnt offering throughout your generations at the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord, where I will meet with you, to speak to you there. 43There I will meet with the people of Israel, and it shall be sanctified by my glory. 44I will consecrate the tent of meeting and the altar. Aaron also and his sons I will consecrate to serve me as priests. 45I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. 46And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them. I am the Lord their God.” (Exodus 29:38-46 ESV)

This Tabernacle communicated two important things for the Israelites:

  1. God had truly made His dwelling place among them. The Tabernacle was like the ‘overlapping point’ between heaven and earth. In the middle of the Tabernacle was a room called the ‘Holy of Holies’, in which was place the ‘Ark of the Covenant’, a box containing the Law, which was described as God’s throne. (See Hebrews 9:1-7). The Tabernacle was called the ‘Tent of Meeting’ because it was the place where Moses, their leader, would meet with God ‘face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11) to receive God’s word for the people.
  2. Yet there was still a distance between the people and God. Only one person – the High Priest – was allowed to enter the ‘Holy of Holies’, and only once a year, after he had made a sacrifice for himself, and then for all the people, and he would take the blood from the sacrificed animal in and sprinkle it in the top of the Ark, called the ‘mercy seat’. Essentially the presence of God was ‘contained’ in the Tabernacle, and the people understood that to enter HIs presence was actually a dangerous thing unless a sacrifice had been made to atone for sin.

By the time of Jesus the Tabernacle had been replaced by the Temple in Jerusalem – built according to the same plan, and the Holy of Holies was still separated from the rest of the Temple by a heavy curtain.

When Jesus appeared on the scene he began to declare ‘The Kingdom of God is among you’ (Luke 17:21), referring to himself. He taught his disciples things like, ‘Abide in be, and I in you’ (John 15:4); ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.’ (John 14:2-3 ESV); “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’ (John 14:23 ESV). He spoke in ways that showed that through Him people will be able to know the presence of God without any barriers, in a real, personal and relational way. His followers understood from his teaching that He was, literally, ‘God with us’ (Immanuel), as the Son of God Himself clothed in human flesh and blood; Jesus said, ‘If you have seen me, you have seen the Father.’ (John 14:9)

This was a claim that angered the religious authorities, and led them to arrest, torture and crucify him:

33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God”. (Mark 15:33-39 ESV)

Jesus is God with usAt this point Jesus entered into the full experience of a human race that is estranged from the life-giving, loving presence of God; who deserve to know only banishment, judgement and death. The One who embodied God’s presence hung there as a representative of every human being, and he came under the punishment that every human being deserves who dares to stand before God on their own merits. In doing this, he also hung there as our substitute – facing what we deserve, so that we don’t need to.

At the point of his death, a remarkable thing happened. The temple curtain, separating people from God was torn in two from top to bottom (ie. it was not done by a person). This symbolises two things. The way of access into God’s presence was now open to all – not just the high priest, and no longer on the basis of a sacrifice being offered. But more significantly, the Presence of God was ‘coming out’ of the Holy Place – God was coming to us. It was as if God was pulling back the curtain and saying, ‘My dwelling place and my throne will no longer be on this box in this room, separated and secluded from people; instead my dwelling and my throne is out there – on the cross, in the man Jesus. If you want to be in my presence, you must look to him – even more, since he is now the location of my presence, you must be in him!’

God raised Jesus from the dead, and in doing so, communicated to us that he is, without doubt, the one who brings us into God’s presence. Our relationship to Him determines whether coming into God’s presence is for us a good thing or a bad thing. When Peter (one of Jesus’ followers) stood up publicly in Jerusalem and declared that Jesus was risen from the dead and was, as he had promised, bringing the Kingdom of God to bear on this world, the people at first responded in fear and dread. They realised that they were complicit in the assassination of God’s chosen King, and their thoughts were no doubt along the lines of, ‘We are in big trouble! What will he do to us when he comes to us, when we are brought face-to-face with the one against whom we have rebelled?’ They knew that, at that moment, Jesus being ‘God with us’ was the worst news they could ever hear! But Peter’s response was not one of condemnation. He told them something almost unbelievable: God was offering forgiveness. All they needed to ‘do’ (although it was not really doing anything) was to repent – recognise their problem, admit their rebellion, and acknowledge that Jesus is the true King. Jesus’ resurrection did not mean vengeance; rather it demonstrated that what he had done in his death was sufficient to pay for the sin of any rebellious heart: ‘Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.’ (1 Peter 3:18 ESV)

God with us in ChristJesus’ final words to his disciples before he returned to Heaven were, ‘I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ A christian is someone who has the assurance of the presence of God  in Jesus, through the Holy Spirit; they know the freedom of being able to approach God at any time in any place with the confidence that He will never reject them – not because of what they have done, but because of Jesus.

 

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