Friday, November 16, 2018

The Story of God | Immanuel, God with Us, Has Always Been His Plan for Us

It Was Always God's Intent to Be With His Creation in the Fullness of His Presence. + David E. Fitch, Faithful Presence

What do you think it is like to be in the presence of God? Empty? Full? Awe-inducing? Sorrowful? Peaceful? Dangerous? Gracious? Stunning? Beautiful? Intense? Visceral? Powerful? Loving? Overwhelming?  

What were the times like when you thought God was close? Absent? How long did they last? Do you think He left, or was it you who was looking for something from Him rather than just to be with Him? 

Or do you think you've never been in the presence of God, but you're slightly curious as to what it might be like?

And if there is a God, how often do you think He would want us to be in His presence?

For this blog post, I wanted to provide you with an overview of how often God's presence with us is mentioned in the Bible through the lens of David Fitch's book, Faithful Presence, shaped by the Story of God: Creation, Crisis, Covenant Community, Christ, Church, and (New) Creation

"Immanuel Has Always Been His Plan for Us" excerpt from David Fitch's Faithful Presence

Scriptures: Psalm 16:11

The Story of God in Relation to God's Presence with Us

Creation: At the very beginning God created the heavens and the earth as the place of his presence. "Heaven is my throne," says the Lord, "and the earth is my footstool" (Isaiah 66:1). "The garden of Eden ... is a place where God dwells and man should worship him," says Old Testament scholar John Walton. Humanity was created to be in God's presence, and Eden was God's sanctuary.

Crisis: But Adam and Eve usurped God's authority and broke fellowship with him, and when they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden the next day, they "hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God" (Genesis 3:8). God's presence with humanity had been disrupted. And violence broke out (Genesis 6:5)

Covenant Community: After the Noahic flood, God set out to restore his presence with his creation. God called Abraham and birthed a people to bless the nations. God would be present in this nation. Through a series of events, this nation ended up in Egypt, where they were enslaved. After many years of suffering in Egypt, God manifested his presence to Moses at the burning bush and sent Moses to deliver his people. In that sending, God promises to be "with" Moses (Exodus 3:10-12). The pattern of God's presence being with those he sends runs constant throughout the entire story of God in the Bible. Moses, as we know, then leads God's people out of Egypt. They come to the same mountain to be "with" him. While Moses is with God, the people of Israel fashion a golden calf and worship it. So God, in great anger, sends Moses onward and withdraws his presence from Israel "because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way" (Exodus 33:3-4). But Moses intercedes, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. ... Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all other people who are upon the face of the earth?" (Exodus 33:15-16). God's people are not his people apart from his presence. God relents and consents to go with his people. Shortly thereafter a traveling tabernacle is built to house God's presence among the people. The next several accounts of Moses encountering God's presence around the tabernacle tell of the care needed for anyone in physical proximity to God's presence. God's presence is so viscerally real they they all must know how to approach God. His presence is at the core of his work among his people. Time and again the Psalms repeat the theme of God's presence with his people. My favorite is Psalm 46.

God is our refuge and strength, 
A very present help in trouble. 
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, 
The holy dwelling places of the Most High. 
God is in the midst of her, she will not be moved; 
God will help her when morning dawns. 
The nations made an uproar, the kingdoms tottered; 
He raised His voice, the earth melted. 
The Lord of hosts is with us ...
He makes wars to cease to the end of the earth; 
He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; 
He burns the chariots with fire. 
10 “Cease striving and know that I am God; 
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; 
The God of Jacob is our stronghold.
+ Psalm 46:1, 4-7, 9-11 

Notice the words with, in the midst, present, and dwelling in this text. Throughout the Bible they are some of the important words for God's real presence. As Psalm 46 makes clear, his presence dispels violence; it brings peace and stops all striving. He rules as Lord. He rules in and through his presence, which brings the richness of love, reconciliation, and justice. Israel disregards his presence often, and God challenges them to be still and be present with him (Psalm 46:10). Years later, in the Promised Land, the temple stood in the middle of Jerusalem as the nation's meeting place with God's presence. This is where the people came to be reconciled with God, be present with God, and pray in the presence of God. When God's people rebelled and disregarded God for false idols, God left the temple (Ezekiel 10). The temple was eventually destroyed, and the people were dispersed in exile. Nonetheless, God promises to renew his presence among his people (Ezekiel 37:27). God would come again to renew the broken relationship, forgive the people of their sins, break the hold of violence, and be among them. God will heal Israel and the world through his faithful presence.

Christ: The promise was fulfilled in the form of Jesus Christ, the incarnate God, "God with us" in flesh. In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus is born of Mary in fulfillment of the prophecy, "The Virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel," which means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). God has come in flesh to be the very presence of God among us. The Gospel of John describes this same dynamic, invoking the language of the tabernacle in the wilderness. He declares that "the Word was made flesh, and dwelt (tabernacled) among us" (John 1:14). The amazing reality of the living God having come to dwell with us cannot be missed in the presence and mission of Jesus. 

And yet, there is the reality that even with Jesus as our Immanuel, the embodied presence of God with us, we still tear down this only begotten Son, this tabernacle and temple of God, by crucifying Him. But praise God, death could not hold Him down nor keep His presence from us. As Jesus said, "Destroy this temple and I will raise it up in three days" (John 2:19-21). Our disregard, apathy, anger, and rebellion against His love did attempt to destroy Him, and yet, just as Jesus promised, resurrection did happen. Jesus rose again for us, atoning for our sin, shame, and guilt that separates us from God's presence on the cross, and bringing reconciliation with God, each other, and His creation through His resurrection. He did all this for us so we can be in God's promised presence, experiencing complete restoration, healing, and wholeness when He reconciles heaven and earth forever (Revelation 21:3).

In the farewell discourses of John's Gospel, Jesus tells the disciples that though he goes (after his life, death, resurrection, and ascension), he will not "leave (them) as orphans" (John 14:18), but instead the Holy Spirit will come. The Father and the Son by the Spirit will make their "abode" with them (John 14:23). "Abide in Me, and I in you" (John 15:4). God's presence has been renewed to us in Christ by the Spirit as Jesus goes and the Spirit comes in his place (John 16:5-7). In Jesus' parting words in Matthew's Gospel he promises, "I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matthew 28:20).

Church: God fulfills this promise through the outpouring of the Spirit's presence on men and women, sons and daughters, prophets and prophetesses (as proclaimed in Peter's sermon on Pentecost, reflecting the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32) at Pentecost (Acts 2). God has come again to be among his people. Through Christ, God has restored his presence among us, which began with his people at Pentecost. According to the apostle Paul, we the church, God's own people, are his "temple" in the midst of the world (2 Corinthians 6:16). We are no longer strangers to God but fellow citizens of "the household of God," being knit together into "a holy temple in the Lord; ... for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:19, 21-22). God's presence in Jesus does not end with Jesus' death, resurrection, and ascension. In Jesus, God extends his own presence by giving of the Holy Spirit to his people, and subsequently sends them into the world (John 20:21-22).

(New) Creation: In the final chapter of the book of Revelation we are told where this is all going: the coming of the new heaven and the new earth. Revelation depicts the image of the new city of Jerusalem as the place of God's indwelling, where no temple is needed. Indeed, the new heaven and earth are described in terms of the dimensions of the temple, the dwelling place of God among Israel. And so the voice in Revelation 21:3 says, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them." This is the goal of God's redemptive work: that we will be restored, along with all of creation, to be with God and he with us. His presence will flood the new heaven and earth, and everything will be made new. The Scriptures, from beginning to end, tell the marvelous story of God returning his presence to all creation. It always was God's intent to be with his creation in the fullness of his presence.

You make known to me the path of life; in Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. + Psalm 16:11

Recent posts on overviews of the Story of God found in the Bible:

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