“God with us” (Part 2)

“So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying “Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call His name “Immanuel”, which is translated, “God with us”.

(Matthew 1:22-24)

We have seen the enormity of the name “Immanuel”. We have been reminded of God’s glorious grace which sent His own son to a sinful people. But what are the implications of this for us today and for the Church in general?

Since Adam and Eve’s fall in Genesis God has been seeking to restore His dwelling place with man. Originally Adam and Eve existed in a world without the effects of sin. They had fellowship with God and dwelt with Him. Genesis 3:8 tells us, “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day…” One day we too will hear the sound of the Lord God walking in our midst in the new garden. Sin then fractured this relationship. Man turned his back on God and declared his rebellion. Although God threw Adam and Eve out of the garden in a sense they had already chosen this path for themselves. They, just as we did, chose to go their own way rather than God’s. We see God’s judgement on Sin but we also quickly see God’s mercy. Genesis 3:21 tells us that, “Also for Adam and his wife, the Lord God made tunics of skin and clothed them.” Here we see God covering Adam and Eve’s sin and nakedness. They have still sinned and God doesn’t just forgive and forget. But in His judgement He remembers mercy. An animal was killed to provide coverings for Adam and Eve. Here we see in Genesis a small shadow of the coming reality of Jesus Christ. It is just the start of God reaching out to sinners and showing them that for their sin to be pardoned a sacrifice must be made. We follow this path through Genesis and the Old Testament. God slowly reveals more about the place of sacrifice. Israel would be in no doubt that they could not just come to God as they were. They could only approach God through the blood of a sacrificed animal. They could only approach God through the priests and the High Priest. And as we move further into the Old Testament we see that they could only approach God at the Temple. God was establishing His dwelling place with man. He was not dismissing their sin as trivial. The rituals and sacrifices required would be a constant reminder to the people that they had a serious problem which needed dealing with. They could approach God only through a complicated system of sacrifices and rituals and even then only a certain few people could draw near to the Holy Place where God dwelt. And then even only the High Priest could enter the most Holy place once a year to make atonement for the people’s sins. So we see this progression from Genesis to Malachi. God dwelt with His people. Accepting a sacrifice on behalf of the people’s sins and making Himself known through the priests, prophets and Kings. In Samuel we start to see God revealing His plans to David. God had dwelt amongst His people in the tent and in the tabernacle but now God desired to dwell amongst His people in a house. So David and then Solomon began to establish God’s house – His temple. 1 Kings 6:12-15 tells is that, “Concerning this temple which you are building, if you walk in My statutes,execute My judgements, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake my people Israel.’ So Solomon built the temple and finished it.” Solomon builds the temple and God promises to dwell amongst His people. We then read through the Old Testament and Psalms about God’s dwelling place. “One thing I have desired of the Lord, That will I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.” (Psalm 27:4) “How lovely is your tabernacle O Lord of hosts.” (Psalm 84:1) God had established His dwelling place with man. The people of God would go to the temple to perform their worship to God. David expressed his heart to dwell in the house of the Lord. He proclaims that God’s tabernacle is lovely. You see this wonder and awe about God’s tabernacle and the praise that God’s people offer to Him for it. A Holy God is living amongst a sinful people. However unlike God’s faithful people in the Old Testament we have the revelation of Jesus Christ to shed light on the Old Testament. What a privilege it is for us who have the full canon of scripture. The writer of Hebrews explains this privilege, “And all these having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise. God having provided something better for us.” (Hebrews 11:39+40) Throughout Hebrews we read that Jesus has provided a better covenant for us. But Jesus Himself says that His coming does not do away with the Old Testament revelation it actually fulfils it all. Hebrews 10:1 says, “For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect.”

The Old Testament is the shadow of Christ. It is all their to highlight the coming of the real substance. The temple was not the end goal it merely pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ. Animal sacrifices could never satisfy God’s judgement on sin but they merely pointed towards the perfect sacrifice that one day would. The sacrifice that Jesus Christ offered once for all.

Jesus Himself tells two believers on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, He expounded to them in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself.” (Luke 24:25-28) Everything in the Old Testament and everything God said to people in the Old Testament finds fulfilment in the coming and work of Jesus Christ. John writes in his gospel, “And the word became flesh and dwelt among us..” (John 1:14) A correct translation of this verse would read that the word became flesh and “tabernacled” among us.

Here we see the importance of the coming of Jesus Christ. God was revealing that He never intended to dwell in a tent or in a building. These things were only pointers to the true dwelling place. God’s dwelling with man was now walking around on earth!

“Immanuel” was here! Hebrews 9:8 tells us, “the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.” There was something far more amazing than the first temple. Something far more beautiful than a building. Verse 11 of chapter 9 goes onto say, “But Christ came as the High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.” The old tabernacle is now obsolete and useless. A greater tabernacle has come. God’s true dwelling place has come to earth. The Kingdom of God has come on earth as it is heaven. We await the total consummation of this Kingdom which will come when Christ returns in power but the work has been done. In Jesus Christ, God’s dwelling place came to earth. Now through faith in Him we also become God’s dwelling place on earth. One day we will fully dwell with our Father. God has always desired to meet with His people in spirit and in truth. Not at a temple in a certain place. He is concerned with our hearts and not the state of a building! Paul writes in Ephesians 2:22, “in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the spirit.”

The church is not a building it is a people. Is there any Biblical justification for spending so much of our time, money and effort on a building? Should our time not be given to building God’s true dwelling place in people’s hearts? Many of us are still living in Old Testament times where we think God lives in a building or a meeting. We think that we need to perform rituals or go through processes to enter His presence. And we think that God’s beauty is seen through the appearance of our Church buildings. All these things were a shadow of the reality found in Jesus Christ.

God now dwells in the hearts of His people and is calling them upward to His dwelling place in heaven. God has brought us continually into His presence through the offering of His son Jesus Christ. And our time is now spent building God’s dwelling place in the hearts of people and not building places of worship. Will it take persecution in the UK for us to realise that the Christian life is not about “going to church” or to meetings? Will the government have to make it illegal before we realise that a church building really is not important? Many around the world are seeing God inhabit His dwelling place and revealing His splendour. But they cannot meet in buildings or have big meetings. They are seeing the Holy Spirit indwelling them and revealing the beauty of Jesus Christ in their hearts and lives. Oh that we might allow the Lord to build us into a dwelling place for Him in the Spirit.

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