From Garden to City reading: Matthew 1-4
So it's almost 9:00 in the morning, and once again I'm really slow to get moving. After skimming through the online newspapers I follow, I thought about turning on the T.V., but ultimately made the very wise decision to open my Bible and read Matthew 1-4, which I did not choose to read yesterday. (Honestly, I think this decision should be pretty easy, but it took a lot of willpower today.) As I read, I asked God to teach me through his Word, but I was also thinking about what to write about.
Even before I opened the Bible, I thought about focusing on the genealogy in chapter 1. It's pretty stunning how Matthew included women and foreigners in this genealogy, showing that God's plans include the marginalized and despised people of that culture. Incidentally, that's all of us, unless you are a male Jew.
As I read, one thing stood out to me. The angel appears to Joseph and tells him that his soon-to-be-wife Mary is going to have a baby, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and his name will be Immanuel, which means "God with us" (Matthew 1:23).
I continued reading, and other blog concepts emerged. I could write about the temptation of Christ in the desert. I could write about how Jesus' ministry could only begin after God had prepared him through intense suffering. I could tie this into passages from Hebrews which described the way Jesus understood us. But I kept coming back to this very simple and profound idea--Jesus is Immanuel. He is "God with us."
I got distracted again. Caitlin and I talked about paint colors and Christmas gifts and her music class. I checked Facebook and deleted some emails. And I thought about what to write about, thinking that I should write about Jesus' suffering, leading to ministry. I like to write about suffering. Next, I checked my email.
This time I had a note from Becky Lang, my dear friend who loves 70s Jesus music as much as I do and remembers all the old songs. She sent me a link to a song written by one of the members of Daniel Amos, who recorded one of my favorite records, Shotgun Angel.
Becky thought perhaps I could start out my holiday listening season with a song called "Holy Immanuel." Now, it could be a coincidence that Becky's song and the phrase that stood out to me from Matthew 4 were so connected. But Becky's never sent me a link to a song before, and the email came just as I opened my blog to start writing, and I do want to think about this.
God calls Abraham and promises to give him a land filled with milk and honey. God blesses him, but over time his family begins to rebel. And so begins a cycle of blessing, rebellion, repentance, deliverance, and blessing. The people experience rebellion, slavery, oppression. Disappointment.
Always God is at work, and always God offers this promise of forgiveness and restoration, but always the people rebel. God's holiness separates him from the people. The invisible sovereign God who rules the universe seems faraway, untouchable. He seems unconcerned. They feel forgotten. Abandoned. Hopeless.
They respond with rebellion. Rejection of God's laws.
Or legalism. They will follow those laws to the letter. And a few more. That should make God quite happy.
Enter Jesus. The promise of life.
Enter Jesus, the man.
Enter Jesus, the "image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15).
He is the invisible God made visible. The faraway made near.
He is God with us, so we can see him, so we can touch him.
He is hope.
When we see Jesus, we see holiness mixed with compassion. We see his longing for the Kingdom of God, filled with people from every nation.
He welcomes children. He speaks to women. And foreigners. He forgives adulterers, thieves, and those who collaborate with Romans. He heals the sick. He feeds the hungry.
Without compromising righteousness, he rejects legalism.
It's no wonder the disciples despaired every time he mentions leaving. I could hardly stand it if Jesus stood next to me, in bodily form, and then he said he was going to leave. And yet, Jesus tells his disciples that he must go so that the Holy Spirit can come. Now that same invisible God of the Old Testament, the same God who entered the world at a certain time, in a certain place, is available for all of us. All the time.
But back to Jesus. The first glimpse of the fullness of God. God's voice, in human sounds.
Look at Jesus. Watch what he does in the Gospels. Listen to his stories. Hear his compassion. Picture him walking with the people. Picture him walking with you.
Spend time in the Gospels, asking God to fill you with his Holy Spirit.
In the past, God spoke through prophets. Today God speaks through his Son, Jesus. As the author of Hebrews says so plainly, "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away."