Emmanuel, God With Us
The Christmas season is again upon us. As I drive through my neighborhood, I am impressed at the kaleidoscopic array of Christmas lights, the elaborate decorations, and the immense amount of work invested in preparation for the holiday. I have seen many nativity scenes on display and they all consist of the usual setup: Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a few farm animals with hay strewn about and of course the 3 wise men. Carolers sing songs of Silent Nights and First Noels, and we nurture in our minds the image of an innocent, sweet, gentle baby Jesus. In a world where everyone is offended by everything they see, right down to the lack of decorative design on a silly coffee cup, it would seem that no one is ever really offended by babies. But make no mistake, this particular baby, miraculously born of a virgin, came as Emanuel or “God with us” as declared by the angel (Matt. 1:23). Now, you may find this next statement offensive, but if we are to accept the Biblical Jesus as He is declared to be, then we must accept that He truly was “GOD with us.” And if He was GOD with us, then He was more than just a good teacher to learn from, a prophet to admire, or an example to follow. Isaiah would write of Him, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isa. 9:6). His PERSON and PURPOSE are clearly stated early in the book of Matthew where it is written, “…you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21). Now, I would like to turn the clock back one and a half millennia and go with you on a short journey through the Old Testament. We will take the scenic route and visit several passages of Scripture that will hopefully shed some light on this God Who would now choose to dwell among men in human form. We will soon see that the voice of Emmanuel that cooed in the manger first thundered from Mount Sinai. Before a bright star drew men from afar to His side, a thick cloud shrouded His presence forbidding approach by man or beast. It is my hope that by the end of this article, together we might gain a deeper appreciation for the profound thought of “God with us” as we reflect upon this God of old.
To HEAR was to die:
In Exodus 19-20, Moses and all the people of Israel gather at a place called Sinai to hear words from God. Take a moment to recreate the following scene in your mind:
You are standing before a great mountain shoulder to shoulder with a host of men, women, and children. The peak of the mountain hides within a nebulous cloud of smoke and fire—smoke not only rising but violently ascending from the mount as from a furnace. So much fire, yet it is strangely and terrifyingly dark. The ground beneath you shakes as if the very earth is trembling in fear at the sight. There is no place where you may hide; it is your place only to stand and listen to the thundering voice of God.
In this moment, God speaks. He begins to list a number of commands that would later be known as the ten commandments: You shall have no other God’s before Me. You shall not make any graven images. You shall not take the Lord’s name in vain, and so forth. I cannot imagine the crippling, paralyzing fear that must have arrested every heart that day. Overwhelmed with fear, the people moved back from the mountain and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). As Moses recounts the event later in the book of Deuteronomy he recalls:
“And you said, ‘Behold, the LORD our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived?” (Deut. 4:25-26)
So strong was the fear that gripped the nation that they said if they heard the voice of God any more, they would certainly die. To hear was to die. Keep this point in mind as we move forward.
To TOUCH was to die:
“And you shall set limits for the people all around, saying, “Take care not to go up into the mountain or touch the edge of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall be put to death.” (Exodus 20:19)
We have already described the scene before Mount Sinai. Return in your mind to that picture we imagined earlier as we color in a little more detail from the provided verse. The mountain was not to be approached by any man, woman, child, or beast under penalty of death. Moses alone had access to ascend the mountain. Boundaries were even made in order to keep the people back lest they touch so much as the border of the mountain and be killed for their error. The picture painted before us is one of inaccessibility. This is not the only time that a single touch would warrant a death penalty. The tribe of Levi, specifically the family of Kohath, was responsible for transporting the furniture of the tabernacle (God’s Old Testament dwelling amidst His people) only after it had been sufficiently covered by the priests, the sons of Aaron. Observe the following text:
“And when Aaron and his sons have finished covering the sanctuary and all the furnishings of the sanctuary, as the camp sets out, after that the sons of Kohath shall come to carry these, but they must not touch the holy things, lest they die.” (Numbers 4:15)
We can see the consequence for touching these items directly was death. Again we read in 2 Samuel 6 the unfortunate event some 450 years later when a man named Uzzah sealed his fate of death with a single touch to the ark of the covenant. Observe the passage:
“And when they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah put out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen stumbled. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah, and God struck him down there because of his error, and he died there beside the ark of God.” (2 Samuel 6:6-7)
Once again, it was a very serious matter with God to even so much as touch certain items that were directly associated with His presence and holiness. To touch was to die, to hear was to die. Keep these both in mind as we continue our journey.
To SEE was to die:
In one of the most spectacularly indescribable events of the Bible, Moses is allowed the rarest of privileges described in the following verses:
“Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23)
I do wish to clutter this account with too much commentary but rather record the event as it was written. I will leave it to your imagination to create a most glorious scene—a scene of unimaginable beauty as the goodness of God passed by Moses flooding the evening sky with light and color of indescribable glory. This is how I imagine it anyway. The key point to take away from these verses is that no man could see the face of God and live. Later in the book of Judges, a man named Manoah received a visit from an Angel (who was actually Christ appearing in what is known as a Theophany) where he says to his wife, “We shall surely die, for we have seen God” (Judges 13:22). They did not die, and I would submit this is because they did not see God the father but the preincarnate person of Christ. Remember John 1:18,“No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared Him. When God chooses to make Himself known to men visibly, He does so by way of the second person in the Trinity, the Lord Jesus Christ. What we might take away from the account with Manoah is the association between seeing God the Father and certain death.
We have thus far seen from various Scriptures that to see was to die, to hear was to die, and to touch was to die. If this was the only impression of God you had, you would think Him the unviewable, untouchable, inaccessible God, and in a sense you would be right at this point in history. We must understand, however, that God is “of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Hab. 1:13) and that “your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isa. 59:2). Sin separates us from the sinless and holy God. Throughout the history of man, God has always desired to dwell among men. When we see Him in Genesis, He is walking in the cool of the day in search of Adam, or He is wrestling with Jacob, or conversing with Abraham in the door of His tent. In Exodus we may view Him as a pillar of fire and a cloud leading His people out of Egypt and through the wilderness. Then we see Him dwelling amidst His people in the holiest of holies within the tabernacle. But as we have seen, our sin separates us from God. In the Old Testament, animal sacrifice was the only means by which a man’s sins could be covered and a person could be right in their relation to God. We see this pattern first in the garden with Adam, again in the tabernacle sacrifices, and all throughout Scripture. But there was one sacrifice which would be the perfection of which all of the others were only a temporary picture. We read in the first chapter of John, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). God would once again dwell among men! He would come in the form of the second person in the trinity, the Son, Who would be made flesh and dwell among us (literally tabernacle among us), and He would have the sin of mankind not only covered but completely taken away. Profound thought! But this was not the God Who could not be heard, could not be touched, and could not been seen under penalty of death. Certainly not. God chose to reveal through Christ the affection He has always had for mankind, the intimacy He has always desired to have with mankind, and to reveal what has been in His heart from eternity past. With all you now know, give serious consideration to the following verse and its tremendous implications:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life.” (I John 1:1)
The God Whose voice thundered from Mount Sinai, even the very border of which could not be touched, would many years later lovingly allow the border of His garment to be touched by an unclean woman so that she might be healed from her sickness. The God who could not be seen under penalty of death would one day heal a blind man so that he may look upon the Son of God. Finally, the God Whose holiness forbade the touch of even that which was associated with His presence and holiness on Mount Sinai would allow Himself to fall into the hands of sinful men to be not only touched, but beaten, whipped, and nailed to a cross, for that indeed is why He came. Remember? “He shall save His people from their sins,” “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” This is Emmanuel; this is “GOD WITH US.”
I do hope this article has been a blessing to you and I thank you for taking the time to read it. As we approach this holiday season, it is my desire that these brief thoughts might help you think well of the God Who thinks so well of you and me. May our hearts swell with worship and thanksgiving as we see all of Scripture come together in a beautiful harmony of truth declaring to us the love of God and the love of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.