It’s hard to believe it, but the aisles are stocked with Christmas, holiday concerts are already being advertised and “Black Friday” seemingly has become “Black November.” It puts me in the mood for hot chocolate and snow days! Especially around the Christmas season you will hear Jesus referred to by the name Emmanuel, but have you ever wondered why? Emmanuel means “God with Us.” Since coming to Jesus fifteen years ago, I have loved that name and its meaning. I love to think of Jesus by my side in all things, “takin’ the wheel,” so to speak. But a while back God showed me more about this name Emmanuel. It’s not just a nice name with a cool meaning, but a glimpse of God’s love for you and me, as well as His plan to pursue our hearts.
At the time, I’d been reading the stories from the Old Testament with my children, and in the evenings my older son and I were also reading much of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. At the same time, I was studying the book of Revelation through Bible Study Fellowship. This is where being in the Word gets so cool. Reading history and prophecy at the same time will blow your mind! By having one foot in the history of our faith and the other in our certain future, I was able to catch a tiny glimpse of God’s awesome love story.
Here’s the headline: Since the beginning and until the end, God’s desire is to be with us. His word reveals time and again that he longs to dwell among us. In the very beginning he walked with us, and we with him, enjoying an unashamed intimacy and personal relationship. When we (making poor use of our God-gifted free will) decided to reject God and usurp His role, we introduced all kinds of barriers into this relationship. It has suffered ever since.
But God’s story didn’t end there. He still relentlessly pursued us. God appeared as a pillar of cloud and fire which lead the Israelites through the desert. He later dwelt among them via the physical temple, but unlike in Eden, His physical presence among the Israelites was limited. The temple was built in such a way as to ensure God’s innermost chamber (the Holy of Holies) would be inaccessible to all people except to the High Priest (and even then only once a year). This movable temple traveled with the Israelites everywhere they went, ultimately being replaced by the permanent temple at Jerusalem, built by Kings David and Solomon. There, again, a curtain blocked God’s holy dwelling-place from public view.
But God’s story didn’t end there, either. At the right moment in human history Jesus–Emmanuel–was born, fulfilling countless Old Testament prophecies as well as God’s divine plan. God again physically walked among us, no longer restricted to that innermost chamber behind the curtain. Emmanuel–God with us–had come to once again dwell with His people. Many people in those times recognized Jesus for who he was, and followed him—can you imagine what that was like? And since His death, Jesus offers all people everywhere the blessing of God’s Holy Spirit, which is God dwelling in us. Have you heard that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit? This means it is the physical dwelling-place of God’s spirit the same way that Moses’s temple was a physical dwelling-place for God.
And lest we forget, at Jesus’s death the curtain (or veil, as you may have heard it called) in the temple was torn. The physical symbol for separation from God was supernaturally destroyed at the moment when God-with-Us fulfilled his purpose of removing all those barriers to relationship with Him. This is the meat of why Jesus died. It was to overcome our rejection of God, cleanse us of all those barriers we put up between Him and us, and again dwell with us. Through Jesus’s sacrifice and this gift of the Holy Spirit, we have the opportunity to walk with God in this life.
Unbelievably, that’s still not even the end of the story. If you respond to God’s pursuit by turning toward Him, if you believe that Jesus’s death does in fact reconcile you to God and allow Him to dwell with you, there is even more. God’s response to your commitment of faith is to honor it: to dwell with you in eternity. This is what we call Heaven. Revelation teaches us that the final chapter in this love story is a beautiful afterlife characterized by togetherness with our Maker. Our intimacy with Him will be restored and the beauty of Eden far surpassed.
God’s story, from beginning to end, is the story of His desire to be with us.
When you see the fullness of His pursuit for intimacy with you, across thousands of years and in the face of repeated rejection, does it change the way you respond to Him? It fills me with overwhelming gratitude. The God of the Universe didn’t just give up on me. He hasn’t given up on any of us. From creation…Old Testament History…Jesus’s life and death…to prophecies yet to be fulfilled…they all speak to this singular truth: God’s deepest longing is for relationship with you, me and all of us. The name Emmanuel, God with Us, it means something. I pray that today you will allow it mean something for you.