I Will Dwell Among Themby Ed do la Cour on March 3, 2020
I WILL DWELL AMONG THEM
By Ed de la Cour
The more I have considered how the God of Heaven fleshed Himself out in the person of Jesus, the more I am impressed by how absolutely different biblical Christianity is from every other faith in the world. The difference comes down to the incarnation. What other god comes to earth to love his people and to redeem them from the penalties of their sin? What other god moves from heaven to live in this corrupted and filthy world?
Many years ago, way back in my undergraduate days, I took a course in the anthropology of religion. I learned what we already know: humanity has developed a whole multitude of very different religions. Each one of those religions support great pantheons of gods. There are gods for every need and gods for every occasion. While the names of the gods are different in each culture, their characteristics tend to be pretty similar. For example, in that course we studied the gods of three tribes of east Africa. The names of their gods were different, but they were essentially the same gods. Each had about the same roles and responsibilities that gods had in the other cultures. In Greek mythology, for example, Zeus is just the Greek version of Jupiter and Odin is the northern European counterpart of Zeus and Jupiter. In the Bible, several of the gods of Israel’s neighbors are mentioned such as Baal, Asherah, Ashtoreth, Marduk, and Molech. All these religions had their main gods. Those gods apparently had wives and children, just like people. The foibles and capricious behaviors of the gods mirror the behaviors of the human people who created them. While there might be some differences, the nature of the gods of this world shows them to be fickle, jealous, petty, and powerless to effect positive change in the world.
How different is the God of the Bible! How different is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob! Our God stands alone in the midst of all the religions of the world. For one thing, the God of the Bible claims exclusivity. Other religions are happy to place Jesus alongside their own gods as one god among many. However, our God says He and He alone is God. Our God declares that all the gods of this world are false gods, not simply other alternatives. In Isaiah 43: 11, God says, “I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no Savior.” And in Isaiah 44:8, God says, “There is no other Rock, I know not one.” This is not just a schoolyard argument that my God is bigger than your god. Our God is worlds apart from all other gods. Other gods require sacrifices, sometimes even human sacrifice in what are vain attempts to secure their support. Other gods require their worshipers to measure up to their demands. In other faiths, you’ll find no concept of grace and no idea of self-giving love. Instead of forgiveness, you find revenge. Instead of the redemptive purposes of God, you find fatalism, like que sera, sera; what will be will be.
We are even more surprised when we learn God’s desire is to dwell among us. That is truly surprising because, unlike us, our God is holy. Our God is set apart from the fickle and the finite, set apart from all the petty jealousies of people. In Exodus 25:8 God says, “Then have them make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them.” Why would God want to do that? Why would He desire to live among us? An even more basic question is, why would God want to know us at all? Finally, why would He love us? Given what a mess we have made of His creation, given our penchant for cruelty and selfishness, why would God bother with us at all? To experience our wickedness just once or twice ought to be enough for God to learn we are clearly not worthy of being loved. We’re not worthy of being known. We are especially not worthy of being visited by the righteous and holy God of Heaven.
If you think otherwise, if you subscribe to the happy optimism that says, “Every day and in every way we are getting better and better,” just consider the ovens of Dachau. Think about the gas chambers of Auschwitz, the gulags of Russia, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Trail of Tears that runs through Georgia and Florida all the way to Oklahoma, the massacre at Wounded Knee in South Dakota, the ethnic genocides in Armenia or Rwanda. May I say that is a very incomplete list of man’s inhumanity toward his brothers and sisters. That sad and sorry list brings that question to mind again: What would possess the God of Heaven to leave the holiness and glory of His throne and come to earth? All of humanity speaks with one united voice: we are a faulty and filthy species and we are fully capable of horrible acts and unspeakable behavior.
Nevertheless, I am captivated by the thought that God did come to earth, the idea of God’s incarnation in human flesh in the person of Jesus. I am amazed by the majesty of our God, by His willingness to shed the trappings of glory, to leave the presence of the Father in order to move in with us. And then I am amazed that Jesus would want to be around people like us, that Jesus would desire to join with us, that Jesus would want to share with us in the misery that is life on this planet. I agree with Peter the fisherman who said to Jesus, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)
We come to worship God because we have identified that our God is actually at work in us. For His own reasons, God has drawn us to Himself with cords of His lovingkindness. Certainly, He didn’t have to love us, but He wanted to love us. We also come to worship God because we have discovered we actually want Him to dwell in our midst. He has planted His love in our hearts and now we want Him to love us. We are actually hungry for His love! Our heart’s desire is to know Him and we want Him to reveal Himself to us. What a wonderful realization that is!
In the spirit of Philippians 4:8, where Paul asks his listeners to fix their minds on whatever is pure and true and lovely, whatever is excellent and praiseworthy, let’s spend our time together today thinking about God’s revelation of Himself in Jesus, the incarnate Son of God and Son of Man.
We first begin to realize something very different has happened when we read John 1. In the lofty language of the Prologue, John described the second person of the Trinity as being God Himself. He is God without beginning. He is God who created and now He is God who sustains the whole universe by the sheer power of His Word. And then, in verse 14, John writes, “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Given our sinful nature, given our propensity for cruelty, given the perverse joy we get from rebelling and living life our own way, isn’t it shocking to learn that you and I are loved by God? We are not just liked by God, the way we like someone on Facebook, but we are loved. We are desperately loved. We are radically loved. We are even violently loved. I say the love of Jesus is violent because Jesus suffered violence as wicked men manhandled Him and tortured Him while He persisted in loving us. He submitted to their torture willingly while He loved us. He endured the violence of cross for the joy set before Him. That alone is enough to make me stop and bow before Jesus. God loves us with such power that Jesus was willing to divest Himself of the glorious trappings of the Godhead and be born as a defenseless and vulnerable baby.
When you see a newborn child, when you reflect on that baby’s complete and total inability to take care of itself, what kind of logic did God use to open the door of heaven and step into our lives, arriving as an infant? God took on our human flesh and He took on our weakness. Jesus didn’t walk in weakness only until it became inconvenient to do so. He walked in total obedience to the will of His Father His whole life, even to the point of being executed in the most heinous and humiliating way imaginable. I am stunned and I am humbled by the love of Jesus for you and me.
Hebrews 12: 2 says there is great joy filling the heart of Jesus, and that joy is you and me, redeemed to the fullness of God’s intention for humankind. In Jesus, we are fully restored to be the beloved sons and daughters of God Most High. Jesus scorned the shame of that monstrous indignity being visited on Him because, even now and continuing into the future, He is perfecting our faith. Because God is rich in kindness and grace, He takes great pleasure in loving and forgiving us. He is making us complete. He is making us whole. He is working maturity in us. Jesus is bringing to completion the good work He began in us.
The testimony of scripture is constant throughout the Bible concerning this part of God’s purpose for this world. In Exodus 25:8, God declares, “I will dwell among them.” In Leviticus 26: 11, 12, God says, “I will put my dwelling place among you… I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be My people.” Knowing now what He knew about us even then, even at the dawn of history, God was determined to create a place for us in His presence. In Ezekiel 37: 27, God declares again, “My dwelling place will be among them; I will be their God and they will be my people.” There’s no mistaking His intention: God is going to dwell among us and we will dwell with Him.
In the middle of a whole host of wonderful promises, God declared in Zechariah 2: 10-11, “Shout and be glad, O Daughter of Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you. Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become My people. For I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you.” What we learn here is the goodness of God will not be contained by just one nation. No, God expands the vision of His sovereign love to include the whole world so everyone can know Him. People near and far can experience His goodness. They can live with Him and God can live in them. The love of God is not just for you and me but it is for the multitudes of this world, the nations of myriad peoples who are just as lost as we were before God reached out to us. God will not be happy until there’s “a multitude that no one could count, from every tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9)
The revelation of God in the Scripture culminates in one grand and final scene. It is in Revelation 21:3 where we come to the end of the story. Here is a picture of a new heaven and a new earth, fully redeemed and restored. John the Apostle hears a voice from the throne and the voice declares the fulfillment of God’s will, the end result of the purposes of God finally being resolved and brought to completion. “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” In that passage God is not speaking in the future. He is speaking in the present tense. The full redemptive work of God work is finished. God speaks of accomplished facts, of a completed work. God really is with us. He truly is Immanuel. Praise the Savior, ye who know Him!
You know, we live every day in this veil of tears we call life. Parents die, wives and husbands succumb to cancer. Children run amok and go astray. Our homes face foreclosure. Our professional lives bottom out and collapse. There is sickness and addiction and loss abounding all around us. But the Word of God declares this hope for us: God says, “I will dwell among them.” We are not now nor will we ever be alone… forsaken, or rejected, or abandoned. The Bible teaches that while we were far away from God, while we wallowed in our rebellion, He drew near to us. He came close. He reached out and touched us. He drew us to Himself with those cords of lovingkindness, and He died for the ungodly.
How do we respond to truth of that magnitude? When God says He is willing to come and live with us, the question is not, will He do what He says? No, God has already done what He said He would do. The real question is, will I welcome Him? Will I make room for Him? Or, will we do to God what we have been afraid all our lives He would do to us? We’ve been afraid God would leave us all alone and abandoned by the edge of the road of life. He will not do that. God has promised never to leave us or forsake us.
But, will we choose to leave Him when He has come such a great distance to draw near to you and me? Will I allow God to take up residence right here, to come into my life, to live in my heart? Will I allow God to so work in me that the people around me at home, at school, at work, will be able to see that this is not weak and broken me, but the living God who is living His victorious life in me?
To be incarnate, to become human flesh, means that God literally moved into our neighborhood. He knows exactly what human life is like. He is not put off by our behavior, nor is He repulsed by the decaying smell of our failures.
You and I are greatly loved. We are fully and wondrously cared for by this God of ours, this holy God who is the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is our Savior. Jesus is the Lord of Lords of which there are no others.
And then, wonder of wonders, Jesus is willing to pitch His tent in our hearts. When the life of God comes to dwell within you and me, that is the greatest wonder of them all. When we display the life of God by the way we live, by loving just as God loves us, then the incarnation comes fully to bear the healing touch of the living God upon this broken world.
You may be struggling to know whether you can receive that great love of His, whether you can be changed into a person of strong faith and living hope. But God says to you, “I am moving in!”
So, here’s the next step: I want to encourage you today to sit back and relax. How’s that for a next step? I encourage you to stop struggling and stop fighting with God. Instead, open your hands, open your heart, and simply receive the gift of Jesus living in you. God has promised. God promised He will come and live with you. God promised He will come to dwell among you. He will move right into your life. He will come to take up residence right here where you and I live. If you are hungry for that to happen, there is good news for you because God is eager to embrace you with His love.
Edmund C. de la Cour
37 Buzzards Bay Avenue
Buzzards Bay, MA 02532-3132