Our most dire need in moments of fear and tragedy is the presence of someone who is willing to enter into our suffering with us while we struggle through our mess. A phone call or text may bring solace to some degree, but there is nothing that communicates love like the ministry of presence.
We find out just who loves us the most as we lay subject to a hospital bed, and out of everyone who is in our lives, it’s those who show up who prove that they are willing to give us their time and energy in order to bear our burdens with us, to draw near in time of need.
A child that plays sports will always remember the family members who showed up to watch him play, and that means more to him (in the long run) than winning the game.
There is power in someone’s presence, and love finds its purest form in those who enter into our sufferings with us.
This is the fundamental message of Christmas: God gives us the ministry of his presence.
THE MESSAGE OF GOD’S PRESENCE
Although the ministry of God’s presence is woven throughout the entire storyline of the Bible, it finds its culminating reality in the incarnate birth of Jesus. This is the moment when God shows up to draw near in our time of need. He enters into the human narrative, writing himself into our story, laying aside his eternal power and glory while trading them for rags and poverty.
This is the moment when all of God’s promises are experienced in real time and space, in the purest and most beautiful way possible. And this is the moment when Hope is born as a child, and he is called “Immanuel,” meaning, “God with us.”
Jesus came to address the human condition and to bring both the response and resolution to our most painful questions:
Who is God and where is God in our time of terror and tragedy?
Jesus reveals the heart of God, which is to enter into our human sorrows because he loves us, and he is committed to those whom he has set his love upon, to his good creation, and to his own glory. He becomes the Man of Sorrows as well as a curse so that his eternal joy may replace our own devastations.
But because of the ubiquitous nature of hurt and darkness that our world gives evidence of, some conclude that surely God must be asleep at the wheel. Or rather if he is good then he is not in control, or otherwise if he is in control then he must not be good.
The story of the birth of Jesus, however, invites us to consider a different conclusion. That God is with us and he is working out his plan of redemption precisely by identifying with us in our suffering while suffering for us on our behalf.
Jesus comes to effectively communicate by example that he is “with us” in our suffering in the most profound and most loving way possible.
THE MEANING OF GOD’S PRESENCE
For God to be with us means that God is not content to be an abstract thought or idea, just something to “believe” in. He wants a relationship closer than a marriage, to draw near, to bring us back to His presence, which we are so prone to withdraw from.
For God to be with us means that he is not content with leaving humanity as a failed operation. It means that he is not content with leaving us rotting in the consequences of our own failures. For God to be with us means that he has bound himself to a sinful, desperate, and broken humanity, bringing hope and deliverance to lives that seem hopeless.
This is what it means for God to be with us, and this is the God that Jesus reveals to us. He loves us, cares deeply for us, and he is utterly committed to be with us – in the person of Jesus.
How do we see and know God’s love for us? We look at the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
1. The book of Matthew opens and closes with the idea that God is present in Jesus with his people.
Opening: Matthew 1:23 – The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel- which means, “God with us.”
Closing: Matthew 28:19,20 – Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
God’s presence with his people is the framework that the book of Matthew is encased within.
2. John 15:13 – Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends
We feel powerless as we sit next to someone who is suffering. We want to trade places with those who have died in order to give them life. Although we love them so much that we would trade places, we don’t have the power to do this. Jesus does, and he trades places with us, dying our death to give us life.
As much as we want to, we can’t change anyone’s fate, but Jesus can and does for those who trust him and give their lives to him.
3. Genesis 2:18 – The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.”
God not only instituted marriage for our well being, but he also refuses to leave us alone (humanity as a whole) in our failures. He maintained his presence and commitment to Israel throughout history, and in Jesus he brought heaven to earth so that we can now have direct access to his presence- a privilege unprecedented until Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection.
4. Galatians 6:2 – Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
God bears our burdens by first showing up in Jesus, and then by suffering on our behalf so as to identify with us perfectly in our weakness and desperation. God not only knows our burdens through His omniscience, but by experiential knowledge as well. He “became a curse” in order to release us from ours (Gal 3:13).
Copyright © 2019 by Jason Pierce @ https://jasonpierce.org . Used with permission.
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