Jesus: "I have made You known to them and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them."

- John 17:26

Friday, 26 September 2014

God always with us

God is the creator of all things seen and unseen, known and unknown. He is the most holy and perfect, being the one with no beginning or ending.

And this perfect God wants something He has gone to great pains to make known to us…He wants to be with us. He wants to be with us.

Us? We are the bad and broken ones, the ones who have quite horrifically mucked everything up. The sin ridden ones, repulsive to God. We rejected God; we chose the warped path of doing things our own way. We have become crooked, nauseating beings. We are so self-orientated that everything has to be sacrificed for our own needs. Hence: war, rape, slavery, corruption, poverty, oppression, hunger, and abuse… Even our smallest, briefest inclination revolves around how we can satisfy ourselves more. It doesn’t take a genius to see that something is very badly wrong with the world and with us.

But the fact still remains: God wants to be with us.

Think about it a bit more: this ridiculously perfect and fulfilled being, utter goodness actually desires to have a relationship with us! Now that’s crazy in itself, but what’s even crazier is the steps that He took to bring this about and reconcile us to Himself.

He could so easily have looked at us, at the mess we made and said: “Forget it. I give up on them; they’ve gone too far. I’ll just get rid of them and start again with a new creation. Easy.”

We could have been obliterated in the snap of a cosmic finger. But that would contradict Gods loving and compassionate and forgiving nature. He never intended to screw us up and start again.

Because of our sin we are objects of Gods wrath (Ephesians 2:3). His holy, blazing anger is turned on us, and rightly so. We deserve to be forgotten by God because we forgot Him. We deserve to squeal in front of the fullness of his Holy flame.

However, here is the crux of my message: He banished us from his presence, but never abandoned us completely. The God of the bible is portrayed as a God desperate for closeness with His people. We were under Gods wrath but He also looked upon us with compassion and the tenderness of a Father.

It’s right there in Genesis, as Adam and Eve were being cursed, being struck from Gods heavenly garden. Even as God was hurling them from His presence, He was simultaneously blessing them:

“And I will put enmity

 between you and the woman,

 and between your seed and hers;

he will crush your head,

 and you will strike his heel.”

(Genesis 3:15)

Who is this ‘seed’ that God speaks of? Will he really ‘crush’ the head of the devil? Adam and Eve leave the garden in pain and turmoil, but they have one thing, a gift from God to cling to and treasure: the hope of a promised seed, someone who will defeat their sin.

And God goes further, in verse 21 He demonstrates to them the depth of his love for them, a taste of the salvation to come:

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”

God sacrificed an animal in order to clothe them and cover their nakedness, their shame. This is incredibly poignant. There had not been a single death up until this moment. So why did he kill the animal? To care for and to clothe the people who rejected Him. Gods love is not limited by the mutual affection of the chosen object. He is showing that regardless of the direction of their love, He is willing to sacrifice for them, to love them even though it is costly.

This is clearly a foretaste of how his Son, the seed, Jesus, will spill His blood in order to dress us in His righteousness and cover our shame so that we can be with Him.

Gods desire to be with his people radiates from every page of the Old Testament. Even when Israel, His chosen nation, disobeyed and turned from Him, He never abandoned them and constantly promised them his presence: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 Despite their idol worship, He positioned himself among them – his holy dwelling place the Tabernacle was located in the middle of their camp. He gave them the sacrificial system so they could be right before him, He guided them through the desert in a pillar of smoke, He helped them win battles, He gave them laws to help them be righteous, He chose leaders to guide them and protect them, He punished their sin justly, and He forgave them again and again and again…This God never abandoned His people.

And then what happened?

Jesus, Emmanuel, ‘God with us’ happened.

God took one more gigantic step to being close to us. He came down to actually, physically be with us on this earth! He left heaven and became God incarnate – fully God and fully man. Why would he do that!? So He could have intimacy with us and to create a way for us to be with Him, without the barrier of our sin. So He could justly deal with the punishment our sin deserves without obliterating us completely.

Now here’s one more thing that makes this even more mind-blowing: what does God value? Clearly, it is intimacy and closeness of relationship - hence why He’s going to such lengths to keep us close to Him. Well, He had that perfectly with Jesus. They existed in mutual delight before the world began. What he wants with us, he already had with Jesus. Yet what did he do? He gave up that closeness with Jesus for the sake of us!

When Jesus took all our sins upon himself on the cross and split his blood for us, the Father turned his face away from his Son. He forsook Jesus to look at us. "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" The curtain was torn in two, God and mankind were able to be together at the cost of His only Son.

And then He rose again!  Once our sin had been dealt with and the devil toppled he rose from death! And his beloved Father, God seated him on the highest throne (Philippians 2).

So there’s two parts to this: Part one: Jesus averted Gods holy wrath from us. We are forgiven, made clean! Part two: He made it possible for God to be intimate with us. Now that’s a whole new something else! God hasn’t just made us holy and then left us on the outside. No, he’s made us holy in order to bring us in! In to a relationship with Him! There’s a purpose for our holiness.

And the depth of this relationship is astounding: it is Gods nature to give. He gives outwards, constantly, always overflowing. And so, naturally, being close to a God like that can only mean a total outpouring of blessings (Malachi 3:10): being co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8/4:13), being grafted onto Him (John 15), and therefore receiving the honour that He gets (Isaiah 53:12), being made Gods child (1 John 3:1) and receiving the inheritance that children receive (Romans 8), being treasured by God, considered valuable and worthy (Zephaniah 3:19/Matthew 10:29), being seated with Jesus on the throne (Revelation 3:21), being given new and glorious bodies (Philippians 3/Matthew 13:34), being able to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). And most importantly, God gives us the gift of being able to give like He does; the gift of being able to love God properly. He shows us how to love. And one day we will be truly able to love the Father back as he wants to be loved – with an undivided heart and perfect obedience. That day will mean glory for Him and joy for us.

However, the story continues. True to form, God hasn’t abandoned us until that day. That would contradict his very nature, as we’ve seen. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, this intimacy with God can start now, on this earth! He gave us Jesus, but when Jesus rose up to heaven, He also gave us the Holy Spirit to keep us company (John 14), to dwell within us and intercede for us. There wasn't a moment when He wasn't with us in some form. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes each morning to the grace bestowed upon us by Jesus’ atoning blood. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we humans are able to shelter under His blood and truly live.

Our Father longs for closeness. This could not be more obvious. Knowing this, what then should we do? Should we not seek to come before Him every day on our knees and hand over to Him our heart, mind and soul in humble gratitude?

Our prayer should be: “Take me! Keep me close to you, Father. Take my life as an offering of thanks!”

He went to the greatest possible lengths to be with us. The greatest possible lengths. How can we do anything other than run to Him covered in the blood of the One who gave us the ability to run!? How can we not fall before the Father with a soul full of joy and praise? How can we not promise him a life of obedience? How can our hearts not sing with love?

The cross happened so that we can know God and be known by God, it happened for the sake of our intimacy with our Father. And HE IS WITH US. There is no need to fear. His wrath has been averted. We can laugh at the days to come (Proverbs 31).

What should our attitude be? Shame and guilt at our sins, humility, wonder and gratitude at the cross, and then unadulterated joy at the life we have been given! The cross is central, without Jesus’ atoning blood we would be stuck on the outside and faced with the full wrath of God! But He has intervened. 

We have nothing to fear, only promises to look forward to in eager anticipation, a life to live in wholehearted sacrifice and an unconditional relationship to enjoy. This is what it means to be a believer.

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