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Chris Appleby Ministries

Chris Appleby Ministries

 

Jesus is God With Us  audio

Is 7:1-14

Joseph and Mary with Jesus in a rustic cattle shelter; an angel appearing to Joseph in a dream and later to Mary in the flesh; a sky full of angels appearing to shepherds; it all seems very remote at times doesn’t it? We have a sentimental response to the Christmas carols we’ll sing over the next few weeks. We sort of imagine what the stable must have been like, though we probably don’t imagine it as bad as it was. Unless we’ve visited the slums of India or Pakistan or Kenya, we’re probably more likely to think of it like the stable outside with nice clean hay and solid timber walls. And even if we get those bits right we still struggle with the idea of angels speaking to people. That’s well outside our sphere of experience. Though I have heard accounts every now and then of people who are quite sure they’ve been helped by angels.

And if the events of that first Christmas are remote from us, it’s nothing compared to the idea of being in God’s presence. It’s interesting to hear stories of non-Christians who are happy to come to something like a playgroup in the hall, but wouldn’t dare to come into the church. I’m not sure if that happens here but it’s certainly happened in other places. So why are they so reluctant? I think it’s because they see God as someone to be feared; someone who’s unapproachable; someone who stands in judgement of their life perhaps; someone who’s so perfect in righteousness that it’s dangerous to come near to him.

Is that the way you feel when you think about God? It’s a good question isn’t it? Is God someone to be feared or is he our friend? We’ll come back to that question at the end.

Our first gospel reading today gives us a wonderful insight into the mystery of the gospel. John begins his gospel with a clear reference to Genesis 1, to the creation narrative, but it’s not God the Father who creates here, it’s the Word: the Word who was with God, and the Word who was God. Then he goes on to say that this Word has become flesh and lived among us.

Far from being remote God has now come to dwell as one of us. Far from being immortal, invisible, he’s taken on flesh and we’ve seen his glory.

Do you remember when Moses was on Mt Sinai and he asked to see God’s face? God told him that no-one could see his face and live, but he would allow him to look at his back as he passed by.

But here we’re told that the first disciples were able to see his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. How amazing. God is no longer a remote figure that no-one can look on for fear of death. He’s appeared as a human being just like us.
But it’s even more than that. When the angel appears to Joseph we’re told by Matthew: “22All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: 23"Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel," which means, "God is with us."

In Is 7 the city of Jerusalem is surrounded by an army made up of the army of Aram  - Syria and Israel – the northern kingdom, that is. God sends Isaiah to encourage the king of Judah, Ahaz, to stand firm, not to lose faith in God. God will save them if only they’ll trust him. Clearly Ahaz isn’t convinced, so God offers to send him a sign – any sign. Well, Ahaz just doesn’t want to know. It’s all too hard. Who wants to be king anyway! It just gives you a headache!

But God is going to save them whether Ahaz believes it or not, so he says I’ll give you a sign anyway:  “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

There’s no indication there who this young woman is, or who the child is; and in a sense it didn’t matter. What mattered was the name the child was given: He’s to be called Immanuel, God with us. Isaiah then proceeds to tell him what’ll happen because God is with them. Aram and Israel will be destroyed by the Assyrian Army, saving Jerusalem from their attack, though God will also punish Ahaz for not trusting him to save them. But that’s a story for another day.

Today we’re thinking about how this prophecy relates to the coming of Jesus and to us.

So what has this sign of a child born of a virgin got to do with us? What does it mean that with Jesus’ birth God is with us? Is this just to do with the incarnation: God has come in human form to live among us: Is it just an amazing historical fact? Here’s a child who’s both human and divine at the same time? Well that’s certainly true. This is a unique event in human history. The word of God has become flesh and dwelt among us. But it’s clearly more than that. Matthew certainly thinks so. He tells us that this child is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. Now, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since Isaiah’s day. Jerusalem is no longer under attack from Syria; now it’s in the hands of the Romans. So things are even worse than they were then. If ever the people needed to know that God was with them, it was now. And they needed to know not just that he was with them but that he’d protect them, save them.

But here’s the interesting thing. In Isaiah’s day the prophecy meant that God would save Jerusalem from its enemies who were camped outside the gates. But this saviour who appears in Bethlehem isn’t coming to save the nation or the city from its enemies. In fact in a mere 70 years’ time Jerusalem would be destroyed and the Jews driven out of it almost for good. So what’s he coming to save them from? What does the angel say? He’s coming to save his people from their sins. That’s why the angel gives him the name Jesus, because it means saviour.

Can you see what the name Immanuel has to do with that?

This child, as God with us, is a sign that the separation we experience from God is coming to an end. What is it that separates us from God? It’s our sin isn’t it? Why are we afraid to appear in his presence? Because we’re not fit to be there. But Jesus has come to deal with our sin; to save us from it and to enable us to be restored to full communion with God. God is with us, not to make us feel safer, but because he’s about to save us from the reality of the judgement we deserve. God is with us in a new way, a way that allows us to be with God.

It’s a complex idea isn’t it? Jesus is both a sign of God’s protection and the means of that protection. Jesus both assures us that God is fulfilling his promise to restore the creation and is the means by which God brings about that restoration.

But there’s even more to it than that. How is it that Jesus is able to save us from our sins; to reconnect us to God? If Jesus was just a human being, if he was actually Joseph’s, or some other man’s, son, how could he save the rest of us from sin? He’d have had just as big a problem as we have. He himself would have been in need of redemption. He would have been part of the problem, not the solution.

No, if Jesus was to save us he had to be different from us in some essential way. He needed to have the sinless nature of God. He needed to be truly born in the image of God.

But at the same time he still needed to be truly human. If he was to correct the mistake made by Adam and Eve, he had to be one of us. If he was to bear the punishment that we deserve he had to be one of us. If he was to restore the image of God to humanity, he had to be bearing that image as one who was truly human.

1 Tim 2:5 tells us: “There is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human.” We have Jesus Christ born of a woman but conceived by the Holy Spirit. At the same time both human and divine; able to represent both humanity and God. As a human he’s able to take our humanity and raise it once more to where God intended us to be, to bring us back into a personal relationship with God. As God, he’s able to deal with sin and its effects once and for all. His perfect life means that when he dies he’s able to take our sin upon himself, to die in our place rather than in his own.

Yes, the events of Christmas can seem remote, but as the recipients of God’s grace they’re always relevant to us today. This baby Jesus continues to be a sign for us, doesn’t he? He continues to act as a reminder, as a token, of God’s ongoing love and protection. When we look back to the birth of Jesus, and to his death and resurrection we’re reminded again and again and again, that God is mighty to save.

We read about Ahaz hearing about the alliance of Syria and Israel and being afraid that they might come and defeat him and it all seems such a long time ago. But really, his situation isn’t that much different from what many of us experience from time to time.

There are times when it seems like everything is stacked against us; when it feels like the weight of the world is on us. As Christians we often feel like we’re on our own; pitted against forces beyond our ability to resist, let alone overcome. Christians in Australia are more and more sidelined, treated as a peculiar oddity, or worse, a group who are conspiring to spoil everyone else’s fun. And we the reality is we’re just a small part of an increasingly secular world.

But here’s the good news of Christmas. Jesus’ coming in human flesh assures us that we’re not alone. Jesus has taken on human flesh so we could be fully restored to the image of God. We’re not facing insurmountable opposition. God is with us just as he was with the people of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s day. He came in the form of the baby Jesus. He lived as one of us. He died and rose again.”
And not only was he there in person with the disciples. Do you remember what he said to his disciples in the last few hours before his death? He said: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor, to be with you forever. 17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. 18‘I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’”

That word Counsellor reminds me of two things. The first is “The Good Wife”. Reputedly the best show on Television. For those who don’t know it, it’s the story of a politician’s wife who works as an attorney. She’s a powerful defender of her clients. She gives good advice to her clients and she rarely loses a case. That’s what a counsellor does.

But the other thing it reminds me of is “The Godfather”. Not the mafia connection but the character called the  “Consigliere”. That is, counsellor. He’s the one who stands next to the big boss to give him advice. But he’s also the one who executes the directions of the boss. He’s the power in front of the throne if you like.

You see, Jesus sends us his Holy Spirit to both direct us and to empower us. The Holy Spirit walks with us in our daily lives, directing us and giving us the gifts we need to serve God. He goes before us preparing the way, providing opportunities for us to tell people about Jesus, preparing their hearts to listen and take it in.

Steve’s been talking about this course, One-to-One for the last month or so. It seems to be an excellent way to talk about your faith with someone in a non-threatening way. But it isn’t just a technique. It doesn’t just depend on how good a talker you happen to be. The reality is that God is with you when you’re doing that. The Holy Spirit is present with you and he can use a course like that to open someone’s heart to hear the gospel.

Before he ascended to the Father Jesus gave this promise: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I wonder do we really believe that. Do we walk in the reality of that presence every day?

Jesus, Immanuel, is still with us. His Holy Spirit dwells within each and every Christian. He is with us so we need never be afraid.
Finally, Jesus continues to be with us in the form of his church. The church is called the body of Christ for good reason. God put us in a church so we’d experience his presence through those around us. This is why it’s so important that we meet regularly with one another. By regularly I actually mean weekly. We need that for ourselves so we can be encouraged and we need it for others so we can encourage them; so that they and we will experience the presence of God in our lives.

So let me encourage you today to remember that God is with you in every circumstance you find yourself, through the presence of his Spirit within you and through the presence of his people around you.

God’s Holy Spirit is there protecting you and empowering you. So have confidence when you find yourself in the presence of unbelievers, of atheists or simply unaware Aussies, that God can overcome any obstacle that you find on your path.

And remember what John says about this Word who came to live among us, full of grace and truth: “16From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” This Jesus, God with us, is the bringer of grace upon grace. That is, untold blessing; blessing that we could never earn, could never deserve.

Yes, God is to be feared because he’s the righteous and holy one; but he’s also God with us in the person of his only Son, Jesus Christ and in the person of his Holy Spirit.

God sent his only Son as both a sign of his great love for us and as the means by which that love could bring about its purpose for his people. So have confidence in the God who continues to be with us through all the trials of life; confidence to enjoy his presence with you and confidence to share that presence, that grace, with others.



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