The Nearness of God

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus is given two names before his birth:

As he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel” (Matthew 1:20-23).

eustache_le_sueurA few years I remember reading this passage and being struck by the logic behind the name Jesus: “you shall call his name Jesus [‘Yahweh saves’], for he shall save his people from their sins.” Call him Yahweh Saves, because he, the child, will save his people. Jesus, the angel affirms, is Yahweh.

As staggering as that name and the revelation behind it are, the next name reveals even more. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.'” This name Matthew translates: God with us.

I don’t think the proximity of the two names can be overlooked. Jesus is not just the saving God, but the immanent God. He doesn’t swoop down from heaven on some fiery steed to crush the serpent and ride back through the skies; he comes to be with his people. How does he save? In his death. Where is he with his people? I think Matthew indicates that the most powerful expression of Jesus being with his suffering people is on the cross.

God, the infinitely full and happy God, created people so that he could overflow in love and fellowship with them. After the Fall, he set out to sovereignly restore that broken fellowship. He set out to save so as to be with his people. The grand vision from beginning to end is that God would dwell with his people, in their midst. That vision is fully realized in the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:3), but it is fully accomplished at Calvary. The cross shows us with infinite power and tenderness that in all our pain, our suffering and alienation, in all the thousand cruel ways the curse is visited on us, that our God is still with us. More than that, Jesus’ death and resurrection tell us that in spite of the curse and death we now sit under, we will someday be with him.

Before the first Adam ate, the second died,
Ere worlds were made, Christ crucified
So that the first might be forgiven–
Adam calling Adam up into heaven.

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