December 15, 2013

He is near . . .

A lofty view of God might picture the incarnation as Christ as the Son of God coming from afar, “through the ranks of angels, down from the battlements of heaven” from beyond the sun and stars, leaving His eternal glory and humbling Himself to save this lowly world. Then He departs back by the way He came going beyond the sun, “through the shining hosts” and taking His everlasting seat at the right hand of God.

These images are true and glorious, but they are not a total picture of the “Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us.” He came also to eat and drink, to go fishing with His disciples, to attend weddings and totally ruin funerals. He touched little children and untouchable lepers. He befriended hurting women and gave them new life. He healed the broken as well as the sick, and dismissed demons with a word. He was not God aloof, but God near, and God revealing how near He always has been . . . 

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? (Deuteronomy 4:7)
The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. (Psalm 145:18)
“Am I a God at hand,” declares the Lord, “and not a God far away?” (Jeremiah 23:23)

The Old Testament saints knew that their God was close to them, at least while they walked with Him, keeping His covenant in obedience, but when times were tough or they were in rebellion, they cried out in anguish. They thought He had hidden His face, even as He reassured them He was still there, inviting them to call on Him.

Those who worshiped idols had no firm ideas of this personal God. Paul met the Greek philosophers in the marketplace where they gathered to discuss the latest ideas. He told them . . .

And God made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being” as even some of your own poets have said . . . (Acts 17:26–28)

This ever-present God comes even nearer when invited into personal life. By grace, Jesus lives in the hearts of those who confess their sin and put their faith in Him. While this is unimaginable to most, or something like a controllable “invisible friend” to others, the new life of Christ in people is not something strange and foreign. Nor is He an element brought in from far away, an aloof God who is merely doing His job.

Jesus is the deepest and closest personal friend, revealed and made actual. He is not an adornment lent to me so that my humanity might be clothed with divinity. Instead, He brings grace to bring out the fullness of my human life, to make me the reflection of His image that He intended in the creation of humankind.

Further, His presence is all that I need. No more searching for any other life or satisfaction, any other to trust or imitate, to worship or obey. Faith is not about a far-off search for a distant God or may or may not be there. Instead, it is trusting the One who has been always present, believing what He says about Himself. He is the Lord who promised that by grace through faith I am saved (Ephesians 2:8-9) and in that salvation He affirms that no matter what, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

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