The God who abides
As he lay dying in Egypt, the great missionary-statesman Joseph, looked down prophetically through the corridor of time and said to his family, “God will surely visit you and bring you out of this land to the land of which he swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob” (Gen. 50:24-25).
Indeed, the picture of God visiting his people at strategic moments and manifesting his glory and power occurs repeatedly throughout the Old Testament. Usually, it is a once-in-a-generation event and is labelled ‘revival’ insofar as it triggers massive spiritual renewal and social reformation.
However, it is clear from a cursory reading of the Scriptures that God’s desire is to not just make an occasional visit, but to abide with His people. For example, in Leviticus 26:11,12 God said, “I will set My tabernacle among you, and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you, and you shall be My people.” And again in Exodus 29:45-46; “I will dwell among the children of Israel and will be their God. And they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who brought them up out of the land of Egypt, that I may dwell among them.”
The closest God went to achieving this goal was in the tabernacle of Moses, and later, the tabernacle of David and the temple of Solomon. The focal point of the tabernacle was the Holy of holies which contained the Ark of the Covenant, a small, box-like structure of acacia wood, covered on the inside and outside with sheet gold. The lid of the ark, known as the Mercy Seat, was covered with solid gold. On each end was a golden cherub whose wings stretched towards the centre of the lid.
The Book of Hebrews indicates that the Holy of Holies and the Ark of the Covenant were a physical representation of God’s throne. However, it is important to understand that the Ark was more than just a symbolic piece of furniture. It was the designated meeting place of God and his people – there his presence actually dwelt, there his glory was actually revealed (Exodus 25:22).
Nevertheless, the Ark had its limitations. Apart from Moses, it could only be approached by one man, the high priest, and even then, on just one day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Even in the time of David’s tabernacle, when the priests and levites had far greater access to the Ark, the manifest presence of God could only be found in one place at one time, and could only be experienced by a limited number of people (1 Chronicles 15 & 16). Hardly a case for spiritual relationship on the scale envisaged by the prophets in which every man and woman would know the Lord, intimately and personally (Jer. 31:34)!
The “with us” God
Some seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophet Isaiah declared:
“Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:13-14).
Isaiah envisaged a time when God would not just visit us, but would permanently dwell with us. He would be Immanuel – the ‘with us’ God. Reflecting on the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, the apostle John wrote: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
For 33 years he was indeed, the ‘with us’ God. Jesus said, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father” (John 14:9). He was the outshining of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of his very being. He was the living Ark of the Covenant, full of grace and truth. Even so, God’s manifest presence could still only be found in one place at one time and could still only be experienced by a limited number of people.
Fast forward to the night of Jesus’ arrest in the garden of Gethsemane: knowing that he was about to be betrayed and handed over to the Jewish authorities for judgement and execution, Jesus spent his final hours introducing the One who was to take his place and perpetuate his ministry – the Holy Spirit.
“I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you. A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.
“At that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him” (John 14:16-23).
Notice the language that Jesus uses in this conversation: abide … dwell … make our home … words that denote permanency of occupation, not occasional visitation. And referring to the Holy Spirit, He declared, “He dwells with you, and will be in you.”
Thus, Immanuel, ‘God with us’ becomes Immanuel, ‘God within us’. The fulfilment of God’s promise in Ezekiel 36:27; “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes...”
When I was a teenager, I went through a very difficult period in my life as I tried to adjust to the pressures of a brave new adolescent world. Whether it was desperation or inspiration (or a mixture of both), my parents gave me a book to read by E. W. Kenyon entitled ‘New Creation Realities’. That book saved my life and transformed me from the inside out.
Now, almost a generation later, I still remember the words that Dr Kenyon wrote concerning who we are in Christ and who Christ is in us … words that set me free and set me on fire! One phase in particular continues to reverberate in my soul. “We need to become God-inside-minded”. In other words, conscious of the indwelling Holy Spirit … aware of God’s abiding presence … mindful of the fact that Christ is in us, the hope of glory!
As Christians, we have been conditioned to look outwards rather than inwards. In actions, if not words, we demonstrate our belief that we are separate from him. In times of crisis we reach up and desperately try and bridge the perceived gap between heaven and earth, God and us. And all the while he is as close as our very breath, as near as our next heartbeat.
Like Jehoshaphat of old, we sometimes find ourselves confronted by circumstances that are simply overwhelming. And to quote the great man, “we have no power against this great multitude that is coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are upon You” (2 Chron. 20:12).
I’ve been thinking about that phrase, “Our eyes are upon you.” Where is God? God is in heaven, to be sure, but he is also in your heart. “In that day,” Jesus said, “you will know that you are in Me, and I am in you.” Maybe it’s time to focus our attention on Immanuel – the God who is within us!