“I just want to feel God’s presence.”
This statement is often made when big life decisions are in the balance or people are in the dry desert of their spiritual life. The longing for the presence of God is normal as we anticipate the day we will be in His presence forever. The issue often is we miss the reality that we have promises of his presence with us at all times. We have passages of Scripture such as Joshua 1:5, 9, “No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you…for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.” The author of Hebrews applies this to the life of the one who is living for God.
We often treat God’s presence as reliable during the ordinary parts of life and absent in the most daunting or confusing times. However, Matthew bookends his Gospel account of Jesus’ life with the presence of God secured in the redemptive plan for his people. If God has provided himself available when spiritually dead people are brought to new life, then we can trust God’s presence is actively involved in the rest of life.
During Advent, we hear the name “Immanuel” and talk about Christ’s first coming. This is significant, as we have seen throughout history, of the incarnation of Jesus. Without Jesus taking on flesh, we have no way to salvation. We celebrate the event of Jesus’ arrival as a baby. We defend this event with doctrinal clarity. I wonder though if we truly understand the weight of his coming.
For many, many generations the Messiah was promised. Abraham, Moses, and David all heard about and pointed to the coming Messiah. The presence of God was found in the clouds. The temple was constructed to provide access in a limited way. For many years, there was silence.
Then, a baby was born.
The beautiful promise of redemption is that God never left his people. He was providentially in control the entire time. Even when they desired that which was forbidden, even when they did not recognize him as the ultimate authority, and even when they wanted an earthly king, we know that God was still present. The name Immanuel means “God with us” (Matt. 1:23). We know through God’s Word revealed to us, this is not the introduction of God’s presence. Instead, this is the restoration of God’s presence that has been lost since the garden.
The good news of Jesus’ arrival was that the Messiah had arrived. The name Immanuel was not a surprise to God’s people of unexpected presence. The name was mentioned to remind them of the promise. No longer is silence present. No more wandering through the desert with a temporary presence to guide us. We do not have walls and rooms to separate us from the God who is with us.
While we may not feel the impact of silence for generations and to one day hear the news of the Messiah being born, we do have the promise of Jesus’ presence. Depending on our testimony we may have experienced the dry desert of spiritual death for a long time. Maybe we experienced a hardened heart that felt as if God was so silent we believed he didn’t exist. In Matthew 28, the Messiah died and rose again. Through this act our sins are paid for, God’s wrath is absorbed, and dominion is secured. Sin is defeated. Satan has lost. Jesus reigns supreme.
The baby who was called Immanuel is now made Redeemer. Just as Boaz sought to be the redeemer kinsman for Ruth when she sought his presence, Jesus has accomplished everything needed to be the Redeemer for those who seek his presence.
The book of Matthew begins with the arrival of God in flesh with his people. Jesus ends his ministry by giving a command to his disciples to share the good news of redemption. Tell the whole world that the Redeemer has come and he has set you free. We feel inadequate for salvation and we feel even more inadequate to teach others about salvation. Our inadequacies, loneliness, silence, and despair are broken with the words, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).
God has always been with his people. He “will never leave us or forsake us.” The same God who formed us and breathed life into us is the same God who became flesh on our behalf. Just as the cry of a baby brought to remembrance the promise of the Messiah, so the words of Jesus commissioning remind us of God’s presence and our purpose. Matthew bookends his Gospel with Jesus as Immanuel and Redeemer in order that we would never forget the presence of God and so we would tell others of the promise of God made flesh.