Friday, January 01, 2010

Dwell 1: In the Beginning

Will God dwell with man on the earth? This is a critical question as we anticipate another celebration of Christmas. The coming of Jesus Christ is the Ultimate Answer to the greatest human need – the need to know God and to be with Him.

In the first chapters of the Bible, we read that God walked with Adam and Even in the cool of the evening. In the last chapters of the Bible, we read of an angel who says in a loud voice: Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. (Revelation 21:3).

At the beginning and at the end of God’s revelation to man, we understand that it is God’s design to dwell directly and immediately with the people that He created. What about all the time in between – the time that we live in? Will God dwell with man on the earth now in our sinful and rebellious state?

God is omnipresent. That is, He is everywhere at the same time. Speaking to pagan philosophers in Athens, the Apostle Paul said: 'In him we live and move and have our being'; as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are indeed his offspring' (Acts 17:28). If we are all His offspring and we all live “in” Him, as He is everywhere, then what’s the point of talking about where God dwells?

God created man to worship and enjoy Him. God created man and pronounce this crown of His creation, “very good.” God took particular, personal care in making man and woman. The most important aspect to that care was the fact that God made man – male and female – in His own image.

Most of all, man is created for relationship with God – for worship, for adoration, for thanksgiving to God and enjoyment of God. In the beginning, God did indeed dwell with man in uninterrupted fellowship. That did not last. In Genesis 3, we read about a tragedy that we can’t fully comprehend. We have each been born into a fallen, sinful, broken and twisted world. It seems normal to us, and yet, even the atheist knows that things are not the way they’re supposed to be.

There is much beauty and goodness left in the world, yet everything has the stain of sin, and we know that death is a constant enemy. We know the story of the fall (see Genesis 3:8-11).

Note that even before the curses were pronounced, we read that something terrible had happened to Adam and Eve: Man hid from God – new realities of guilt and fear and self-preservation in the face of God’s holiness and goodness rushed to the surface and man ran from God.

It’s been the same ever since. Even religious man hides from God in his religion, even as he says he is seeking God. The golden calf that Aaron and the people made to worship in the wilderness is a classic example of religion at work. The God who spoke on Mount Sinai terrified them, so they made a calf of gold and then had a party.

Time after time in the history of the Bible, man hides in fear from the revelation of God’s holiness and creates idolatrous religion as a sinful substitute. Most people on earth believe in God. In spite of the press that the New Atheism has received in recent years, people who reject any concept of God are in a small minority. Religion is a quest for man to reach up to God. Religion is formed by man out of the brokenness of sin, it is a twisted form of worship designed by man to make God smaller and man bigger. Man wants to make the One True God into something he can control, but this is only an evidence of mans sin and arrogance.

So will God dwell with man? God has said, man shall not see me and live (Exodus 33:20).

Still, there is a longing for something divine, something eternal, and something significant in the heart of man, but sin stands in the way. Because of our sin – inherited from Adam but compounded by our own sins – we have hidden from God and God has, in His mercy, hidden His face from us.

Because God is holy, he judged sin. There was a sentence in the form of curses, these were the consequences of rebelling against a holy God. But even in that judgment there was mercy. This mercy came in the form of a promise

When was that promise to be fulfilled? It was not fulfilled with Cain. He proved to be the first murderer. Human accomplishment and the development of culture did not reverse the curse, it only amplified sin and underscored the distance between God and man. In Genesis 4-5, we see the sober pattern of the fallen world – the refrain of “and he died...”

In every stage of Old Testament history, we see that the distance remains. Through the prophet Isaiah, the LORD says: Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear (Isaiah 59:1-2).

What was the greatest thing that was lost in the Fall? The immediate presence of God! When God created man, it was for His glory and man’s good. It was for mutual enjoyment. God loves His people and He desires to dwell with us. That’s why we are still here. That’s why we have not been destroyed by His righteous judgment.

What about the curse? I said earlier that God promised that He would send one to end the curse and restore the blessing of the presence of God. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel (Genesis 3:15).

The enmity between the woman and her offspring is plural – this has been the story of human history, hatred, violence, idolatry, disease and disaster of every kind. It seems like the serpent wins.

However, the one who will crush the serpent’s head is an individual, God become flesh. He shall bruise the head of the serpent. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery (Hebrews 2:14-15).

God delights in His Son. It is because Jesus Christ has defeated Satan by taking upon Himself sin and, consequently, death, that He is able to be our Champion to reconcile us to God:
• He is the New Adam – this is the new beginning that we’ve been waiting for
• He Himself is GOD WITH US He is God who dwells with us
• He brings reconciliation, peace, grace and LIFE to the fallen sons of man.

The Christmas Hymn, Joy to the World has a great verse: No more let sins and sorrows grow, Nor thorns infest the ground; He comes to make His blessings flow, Far as the curse is found.

“HERE HE IS” – Finally, the one that has come to rescue us from the curse.
• Incarnation – Immanuel: God with us; Jesus: God saves; Christ: The Anointed One
• Life – Perfect, righteous, the perfect law-keeper, identifies with our suffering
• Death – Takes on the curse, bears our sin, sheds blood to purchase our forgiveness
• Resurrection – defeats death, crushes Satan, guarantees our inheritance with Him!

God will dwell with man. He has come to dwell with us so that we may dwell with Him forever!
One day, we shall see the face of Jesus and be made like Him (1 John 3:2). In the meantime, we have a preliminary restoration through the knowledge of Christ. By His forgiveness and new life, we may dwell with God as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Christ is the light that stepped down from Heaven, God become flesh so that God may truly dwell with us and we may dwell with God forever. This is the true meaning of Christmas!

1 comment:

Jim said...

It is worth noting that when God punished Cain for killing his brother, Cain's immediate regret was that he would be "away" from the presence of God. As believers we should take advantage of the fact that God has opened the door for us to be in His presence daily.