Our God Who Came – Matthew 1:22-23

“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’
(which means, God with us).”

Matthew 1:22-23

Thankfulness is filling my heart this morning that Jesus is Immanuel. Thankfulness that God the Father desired and purposed to send His beloved Son to earth, to this broken world as a vulnerable baby who would grow to experience great difficulty and pain so that we could know Him. To restore the relationship first broken in the garden and continually broken by our rebellion ever since. So He could be, again, God with us.

There is such comfort in circumstances where we know and feel we are not alone. When someone is walking through it with us, seeing us, hearing us, holding us up. Helping us get through it without pushing us through. What comfort, what safety is felt in this.

When we abide in Christ, rest in Him, trust Him, and allow Him in, we experience “God with us” to that extent. We find that He is Immanuel, and that it is real and felt and beautiful and life- and strength-giving.

This is what He came to give us.

Himself.

At great cost, we are offered Immanuel.

Offered so very much through the sacrifice of the Son of God, the One who created all things and holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17). He came, and died, so we could experience through this relationship His holding us together.

We receive Him and are given Immanuel, God with us, through His Spirit poured directly into our hearts (Romans 5:5). God with us, not externally where there would be a measure of distance, but internally where the intimacy is experienced for as long as we allow ourselves to rest in Him.

And what wonder it is that it is not just someone with us – it is God Himself. He who understands all with perfect clarity beyond our comprehension, all that is around us and all within us. He who has all power and sovereignty. And He who loves us and works that power in all things for our good, with compassion and grace and wisdom and the kindness of a Father who delights to give good gifts to His children. A Father whose kindness does not shift and whose character does not change. Our God who desires our greatest joy. Our God who is glorified through His kindness, mercy, faithfulness, justice, and power to restore and perfect those who are beloved, those who are His.

This is God with us. Immanuel. Jesus. Our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Our Shepherd (Micah 5:4; John 10:14-15). Our hope (Romans 15:12). Our Savior and light in our darkness (Matthew 1:21; Isaiah 9:2). Sent by the Father in love, our only hope of rescue (Ephesians 1:3-10).

He is here. With you, with me, with each one who has received Him in faith. Each one who realized they could do nothing to deserve Him, but has been welcomed into His presence through the cross, simply by receiving Him (John 1:12-13).

May we rest in Him and rejoice in Him today, that we may experience the abounding love, peace, comfort, and joy of His abiding Spirit within us – our God who came. Our God who never leaves. Our God who never fails.

Flourishing Wilderness – Isaiah 51:3

“For the LORD comforts Zion;
He comforts all her waste places
and makes her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the LORD;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.”

Isaiah 51:3

If I will allow the Lord to comfort me, this is what He will do. The wilderness, the struggle, the pain will be transformed.

Not wasted. Not endless. Not a despondent circumstance.

Flourishing.

Beautiful.

Good.

Inspiring joy and gladness, thanksgiving and song.

And like my pastor shared a couple of weeks ago, our thanksgiving results in joy. We are not to wait until we feel joy to give thanks; we give thanks always and our gracious God brings joy out of that act of faith and obedience.

Perhaps that’s part of the mystery in how we allow the Lord to comfort us. Choosing to focus on those things to be thankful for. Looking for them, looking for Him, looking to promises to which we can cling. Building our faith out of that.

Writing this, my eyes were drawn to a verse further up on the page: “Let him who walks in darkness and has no light trust in the name of the LORD and rely on his God” (Isaiah 50:10b).

For me to allow the Lord’s comfort, I have to trust Him. I have to trust Him in the darkness. When I can’t see any light at the end of this particular tunnel. When I don’t understand.

The truth is, in this moment, I don’t want comfort in the dark. I want relief. I want light. I want the darkness gone.

Goodness, that frustration rises fast.

When I give voice to what I’ve been feeling and why I’ve been fighting the Lord’s comfort here.

I don’t want comfort; I want the waiting to end.

…And with that statement comes a new perspective on this verse I haven’t seen before. Because you don’t need comfort when things are good. When the waiting is over. When light breaks through. When you understand.

The flourishing, the Eden, the joy, the gladness, the thanksgiving, the song – perhaps they don’t only come after the waiting.

Perhaps they are experienced within the waiting. While you’re still in the wilderness. Still in need of comfort because things still aren’t clear.

Without the waiting, we miss out.

I feel compelled to say that again, to try and let it sink in more deeply: Without the waiting, we miss out. Without this waiting, I will miss out. In the context of my situation, honestly that statement feels ridiculous.

But that feeling reveals that I’m not trusting here. I’m resisting. All I see is desert. Because in my resistance, I’m not accepting comfort from the Lord. So I can’t see what He sees. And I can’t experience the beauty He wants to create.

So the question comes: will I accept His comfort? Will I accept it, here and now and continuing? Will I accept it, laying down my resistance and hurt and lack of understanding in order to clear the path for Him to enter into my experience and transform it – from barren pain and frustration into a beautiful, life-giving season that increases my joy because it is grounded in a closer relationship with this God who is mine?

Phrased like that, why in the world would I choose the pain and frustration? Not that all the pain will leave, because certain things still hurt…but I get beauty. And I get life and freedom and joy. I get Christ when I allow Him in.

Laying down resistance means accepting what is happening. Trusting God enough to accept this path that He has allowed. To accept His comfort requires me to accept this circumstance, as it is, as He has allowed. Because if I don’t accept it, that means I either don’t believe He is good or I don’t believe He is in control. And neither of those perspectives is true.

The truth is that what the enemy intends to use for evil, my God has already purposed for good and for salvation (Genesis 50:20). For flourishing and abundance. Those purposes extend far beyond me. They will reach further than I can imagine, because that’s how He does things. That’s how amazing our God is and how thorough He is at ensuring our good and His glory in everything.

I am His and He has good for me, even in this. I can trust Him, walking in the darkness. In truth, He is my light in the darkness, if I will allow Him to be. Because this is not purposeless, nor is it outside of the control of my God who is good, who is light and in whom is no darkness (1 John 1:5).

And no matter how long the wilderness lasts, even 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10), this promise still holds because our God never changes: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

“And the ransomed of the LORD shall return
and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
they shall obtain gladness and joy,
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away…
‘I am the LORD your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the LORD of hosts is His name.
And I have put My words in your mouth
and covered you in the shadow of My hand,
establishing the heavens
and laying the foundations of the earth,
and saying to Zion, “You are my people.”’”
Isaiah 51:11, 15-16

A Greater Sacrifice – 1 Peter 1:17-19

“And if you call on Him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds,
conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile,
knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers,
not with perishable things such as silver or gold,
but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”

1 Peter 1:17-19

After Adam and Eve chose to rebel against God, bringing sin into a perfect world, the Lord sacrificed animals to make clothing for them (Genesis 3:21). Innocent life, taken because of sin. But that sacrifice was with “perishable things.” A much greater sacrifice was to come: God sacrificing His own Son for our sin, One not just innocent but holy, that we may be clothed in white, our dirty rags exchanged for righteousness through His death.

Dwelling on this brings an important element to the vision detailed in Zechariah 3. Jesus tells the high priest, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:4). The way Jesus accomplished this was not a mere declaration or an easy act – He gave Himself as a sacrifice. The Lamb of God, sent to Earth for slaughter, to ransom with His own blood all who would believe in Him and to demonstrate victory by rising again from the dead.

Jesus took our iniquity away and put it directly on Himself, taking also the full wrath of the righteous, holy, just God. Having done this, having willingly chosen this sacrifice for those actively in rebellion against Him, Jesus takes the position of their (our) Savior and Advocate, which we see powerfully displayed in this picture:

“Then [the angel] showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the LORD said to Satan, ‘The LORD rebuke you, O Satan! The LORD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?’ Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments…And to him He said, ‘Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments” (Zechariah 3:1-4).

This is the sacrifice. This is what it took to save us. This is what the Father gave and what Jesus chose in order to say to us He has taken our iniquity away and will clothe us in pure righteousness. This is the love, the glory, the hope, the power displayed in the cross. And this is the gospel, the calling, of which we are to walk worthy. We have been ransomed with the precious blood of the Son, the holy Lamb of God, to the praise and glory of His name.

“But He was wounded for our transgressions;
He was crushed for our iniquities;
upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with His stripes we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on Him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and He was afflicted,
yet He opened not His mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so He opened not His mouth…
Out of the anguish of His soul He shall see and be satisfied;
by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, my Servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and He shall bear their iniquities.”
Isaiah 53:5-7, 11

“Then I saw in the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy…And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that He can open the scroll and its seven seals.’
And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain…And He went and took the scroll from the right hand of Him who was seated on the throne. And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
‘Worthy are You to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for You were slain, and by Your blood You ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.’
Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, ‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!’ And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’”
Revelation 5:1-13

Because You Matter – Psalm 104:24, 27-28

“O LORD, how manifold are your works!
In wisdom have you made them all;
the earth is full of your creatures…
These all look to you,
to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up;
when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.”

Psalm 104:24, 27-28

This psalm is filled with recounts of God’s ruling over His creation and His actions to provide for that which He has made: “You make springs gush forth in the valleys; they flow between the hills; they give drink to every beast of the field; the wild donkeys quench their thirst. Beside them the birds of the heavens dwell; they sing among the branches…The high mountains are for the wild goats; the rocks are a refuge for the rock badgers” (Psalm 104:10-12, 18).

In these, I then heard Jesus’ words. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” (Matthew 6:26); “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31).

God carefully tends to His creation. Setting boundaries on mountains, valleys, oceans. Causing springs and rivers to flow. Bringing forth trees and plants for cultivation and provision. Firmly setting, and keeping, the earth on its axis to ensure all continues with the intricate and necessary precision He established.

It’s possible that recognizing this action in all of creation could cause us to feel very small and insignificant. After all, if God is busy with all of this, why would He bother with little things like what happens in my daily life? Who am I in comparison?

Yet Jesus uses that intentionality in the details of creation to emphasize the very personal care of God to us as individuals. As His beloved, highly valued child. If God sees and responds to the needs of one sparrow, if He is aware of that sparrow’s movements, how much more will that apply to a child whom He has brought to Himself? A child into whose heart He has poured His love through the giving of His very Spirit? “But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.”

This is the peace we can know as those who are His, those who have received Christ and, through Him, have been reconciled to God not just as subjects to a King but as children to a good and loving Father (John 1:12-13).

Whatever your day holds, whether there are cares and concerns weighing on your heart or you are overflowing with gladness, know this: you are seen; you are valued; you are greatly loved by the God of the universe who sent His Son to die on your behalf and who has committed Himself very personally to your care and your keeping “from this time forth and forevermore” (Psalm 121:8).

He will not lose sight of you. He will not forget (Isaiah 49:15-16). You will not be lost in the crowd; you cannot be. Our God is big enough and amazing enough and personal enough to see to every detail of your life, and He wants to. That’s how all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). He makes them work together for good. Because it matters. Because you matter to Him.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.”

Psalm 121:1-8

Making the Dead Alive – Galatians 4:22-23, 28

“For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.
But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise…
Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.”

Galatians 4:22-23,28

If those of us who are in Christ are children of promise, born again into eternal life out of the promise of God and through His decided, gracious, miraculous work, is there anything He will not do for us, for our good, for our building up and strengthening, for our being made in Christ’s likeness? If we are children of promise, born of His will and purpose and delight, is there any faithfulness or provision He would withhold or miss?

This is significant. Because it highlights that God is not passive in making us His own. He is not passive in making us alive in Him. We have been born again. Born into a new existence, a new creation, life breathed into our spiritual nature that was dead. Not sick or struggling or confused. Dead.

We don’t just see things differently. We don’t just try to live a different way because it’s healthier or nicer to others or makes sense. This isn’t some realization we finally came to or were convinced of.

This is an act of God.

Only an act of God can do this.

How often do I miss that truth?

If we see beauty in the glory of God and desire it over ourselves, it is because God acted to cause that in us. If we see wisdom and power and grace and mercy and wonder and true reality in the cross of Jesus Christ and His amazing resurrection from the dead, if we see our own sin and depravity and know He is our only hope and how astounding it is that God would send His Son to save us, if we see this and surrender in humble praise because Jesus willingly gave Himself up for our sake, choosing to save us and not Himself because there was no other way for us – if we see this, it is because God Himself spoke powerful light into our hearts and made our dead soul alive to see Him.

This is why things that seem so clear to those who have been made alive are so baffling and ridiculous to those who are still dead (1 Corinthians 1:18). The dead cannot see it. It is true that God can work through conversations and reasoned arguments, and we are commanded to be ready at all times to give reason for the hope that we have with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15). But let us never forget that the Lord must act for anyone to see Him as He is, to see salvation and the cross and even their own captivity in darkness.

This is why prayer is essential, always. That God will provide opportunities to share our hope, that He will act in power and great mercy to open their eyes, that they will not harden their hearts and neglect such a great salvation at a devastating cost.

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:1-6

“And you were once dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10

“For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’…So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:13-17

“Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart…And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord…For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Corinthians 4:1-6

We are ambassadors of Christ, given the ministry to implore those around us to be reconciled to God and to know the hope that we have in this mighty God who is faithful and true and who saves us and seals us forever (2 Corinthians 5:20; Ephesians 1:13-14). Living this out in weakness as jars of clay to show the surpassing power and glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:7), let us always point to our Savior and Lord, rejoicing humbly at what He has done in us and believing firmly in what He is able to do in others.

Our God is mighty to save. He makes the dead come alive, exchanging a heart of stone and giving one of flesh and life in its place – He has already done this in us, and His power reaches to those who do not know Him yet. Our God does this, and may all blessing and honor and glory and power and praise be His for His mighty works done to ransom us and show us the wonder of His glory.

Great Love – 1 John 3:1

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world…
But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name,
he gave the right to become children of God, who were born,
not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:9,12-13

“And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’”
Galatians 4:6

“See, what kind of love the Father has given to us,
that we should be called children of God; and so we are.”

1 John 3:1a

I am a child of God. Brought into relationship as a daughter, granted this amazing right not because of anything I’ve done, but solely through the sacrifice of Christ. A daughter, chosen and greatly loved. And that great love is surrounding me, always. In every step along the path. Guarding my way as I look to Him, as I wait for Him.

This is the truth I need to focus on this morning. To let seep deeply into my heart, not allowing resistance to rise against the rest found here. Because waiting is hard. Fears and anxieties enter in. But I am a child of the living God Whose power is unmatched. And His great love for each of His children characterizes every element of His timing.

Timing of revelations. Timing of growth. Timing of healing processes. Timing of circumstances and events. So much out of my control. But all of it well within His and carefully guided, guarded, by His hand in great love. Great love not just for me, but also for others effected. Because our stories intertwine and God knows how to fit all things together flawlessly.

My life is held within the sovereign grace of God. There is a balance of our free will and His sovereignty, and the nature of that balance is, I believe, one of the mysteries of God outside of our comprehension – but we can trust Him here, in the mysteries. I can trust Him in the balance. Because He has revealed His character, and that is where my trust and hope can rest on solid, immovable ground. The God who has declared Himself Abba, Father to me has revealed Himself in His Word as One who loves to give good gifts to His children (Matthew 7:11; James 1:17). He has revealed Himself as the God who is good, righteous, holy, just, merciful, powerful, and steadfast.

Acting for those who wait for Him (Isaiah 64:4).

Intently seeking to show strong support to those who trust Him (2 Chronicles 16:9).

Pursuing me with goodness and mercy all the days of my life, each day for those who are His (Psalm 23:6).

Sowing light and joy into my path (Psalm 97:11).

Using even others’ evil intentions or my own missteps or previous bad choices for good, for salvation, for His glory (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28).

With great love, God hears my cries – whatever they entail, however great or ordinary my concerns. Because I am His child. And I matter to Him. And in great love, He is already aware and working. With perfect wisdom and grace, seeing to every detail. Missing nothing and never leaving my side. Guarding each step of my way, our way, along this path He has lovingly orchestrated to draw us closer to Himself, heal and purify our brokenness, and reveal to us in more depth and greater clarity exactly who He is – who He has always shown Himself to be, who He will show Himself to be for us.

“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.”
Psalm 103:2-5

“Of old you laid the foundation of the earth,
and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you will remain;
they will all wear out like a garment.
You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away,
but you are the same, and your years have no end.”
Psalm 102:25-27

I Am With You – Isaiah 41:10

“Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Isaiah 41:10

This morning I want to spend some time dwelling on the promises written here, promises enough to dispel our fears in any situation:

– The presence of the Lord. He is my very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1). I am not alone or forgotten. He is not unaware, because He is here.

– A personal relationship, initiated by the Lord. He is my God. Because He has chosen to be. He has chosen to pull me out of the mire (Psalm 40:1-2), out of darkness into His marvelous light, and make me His (1 Peter 2:9-10). He has chosen this out of great love – love that is steadfast and unchanging, an anchor of hope for my soul in the midst of so much that changes (Ephesians 2:4-7; Hebrews 6:17-20). He never does (Hebrews 13:8).

– Strength from the Lord. Strength poured in directly from the Almighty. Strength for each one of my days (Deuteronomy 33:25). Strength enough to face any difficulty with faith, knowing I am equipped by the Lord who trains me for the battles He knows are ahead (Psalm 18:31-34).

– Help from the Lord. He sees my need. He knows each detail. Nothing escapes the notice of our wonderfully detail-oriented God. And He will meet every one (Philippians 4:19). Each day, from the moment of our conception through the end of our lives here, the Lord who is our God sees our need and provides help in every area, showing Himself faithful.

– Upheld with His righteous right hand. We are not merely helped and strengthened from a distance; we are carried (Isaiah 46:4). By the righteousness of our God, the power of His right hand. Even if we stumble, if we are His, His steadfast love will not allow us to fall completely (Psalm 94:18; Psalm 37:24). He upholds us in might and faithfulness, righteous in His dedication to those who have trusted in Him, believed in the Son of God, for salvation. Each day, in all things and all throughout eternity, we are held securely by the righteous right hand of the holy, almighty God Himself (John 10:27-29). The God who is ours. The God who assures us, “Do not fear, my beloved and chosen child, for you are mine, and I am yours.”