Monday, March 18, 2019

Words from the Cross: Be With Me

When we introduce ourselves, we tell someone our name. But, what do they know about us? Almost nothing except what to call us. For them to know us, they need more information. That information is the backstory of our lives. It’s who we are, where we’re from, what we have done and can do. It tells the things that are important to us. The backstory defines us. Without that information, we remain unknown except by name.

That’s why, when the world looks at Jesus, they don’t see what we see. All they see is a name. Why doesn’t He mean the same to them He does to us? We know the backstory. We see God’s plan and how Jesus fulfilled that plan. Without understanding the backstory, we cannot appreciate who Jesus is and what He did.

God didn’t want people to somehow figure Jesus out, to come up with their own idea of who He was. He wanted to explain Him Himself, so they would understand the total picture. To do that, He would provide the backstory. How? By hiding snips of information scattered throughout Biblical history. No one got the whole message until Jesus revealed Himself by crucifixion and resurrection.

Like a divine puzzle, there was a picture waiting to be revealed and each piece of the puzzle told a part of the story. No one had the box to look at, so everyone had to trust that God was accomplishing something with each piece being put in place. For those who lived the OT stories, they saw only limited details. When we look back at those stories, we see them in the context of a completed picture.

Rom 16:25-26 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith; to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, be the glory forever. Amen. 

We understand what to them was only a mystery.

In one of the first stories after creation, Adam and Eve violated God’s command and got caught: Gen 3:8-9 They heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" 

Why would the Lord ask, “Where are you?” Where were they? In the Garden. Where were they supposed to be? In the garden enjoying His presence. So, something must have happened in that garden that separated them from that privilege.

Here’s a clue: There must be a connection between being able to enjoy God’s presence and doing what God says, since it was by them not doing what God said, or doing what God said not to do, that they now felt estranged from His presence.

We look at that puzzle piece and realize a tremendous truth: man was created to enjoy God’s presence. But we also see sin takes that privilege away.

Later, Isaiah would add another puzzle piece that explained what had happened. He said: Isa 59:2 But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. 

Fit that into the Genesis story: Gen 3:22-24 Then the LORD God said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us, knowing good and evil; and now, he might stretch out his hand, and take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever"— therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken. So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life. They lost paradise because of sin.

The prophet Micah handed us another puzzle piece to explain why God did this: Micah 3:4 Then they will cry out to the LORD, but He will not answer them. Instead, He will hide His face from them at that time because they have practiced evil deeds. 

But why did God have to kick Adam and Eve out of the garden? The Tree of Life was in there. Remember the other tree?

Gen 2:9 Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 

Gen 2:16-17 The LORD God commanded the man, saying, "From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die." 

The Tree of Life was what sustained life in the garden. Because of that tree they could have stayed there forever. But now that Adam violated that privilege and caused the separation, the Tree of Life was a hazard. He’s estranged from God. Because of His mercy, God would no allow him to remain forever in that condition. The wages of sin has entered the picture.

To prevent Adam from living forever, separated from God, God had to kick him out. The consequences of their actions demanded it.

Why couldn’t God just forgive them? In a way He did. Remember the covering God made for them?  
Running throughout both Testaments: without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness – forgiveness in the ultimate sense of removing sin as far as the east is from the west. We’re not that far into the story. So, God had to make a temporary arrangement to cover their sin until it was time for Jesus to come.

Gen 3:10-11 Adam said, "I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself." And He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" 21 The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. 

Covering their nakedness would become known as atonement – God’s method of dealing with sin by covering it until Jesus could pay the debt. Atone means to cover. Like someone taking you out to dinner and says: my treat. They haven’t paid yet, but the promise is they will when the time is right.
What does that piece of the puzzle show us? God doesn’t want anyone to live forever separated from Him: He’s not willing that any should perish but all come to repentance. And He has a plan to ultimately deal with sin.

The picture thus far shows the condition of separation from God with hope of God having a plan to deal with it.

Sin separated us from Him. Sin is the attitude of our life being contrary to the holiness of God. Sins are the actions produced by that attitude. It is Sin that must be cleansed. So, God is laying the groundwork for what it will take for man to be able to enjoy God’s presence again.

Sometime later, when Moses was being introduced to God, Moses showed his ignorance that God was a personal reality. He knew of God as the historical God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but knew nothing of God’s presence in his life.

Ex 3:13-14 Then Moses said to God, "Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you.' Now they may say to me, 'What is His name?' What shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM"; and He said, "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" 

I am is the name that incorporates all that God was in the past and will be in the future into the present. It doesn’t need anything to explain it. I am what? I am who I am. In that name, Moses saw that God intended to be with him. So much so, that later he would say: Ex 33:15-16 Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" 

Moses recognized that by God’s presence, we are more than just people. We are the People whose God is with them.

In the NT, Peter clarified that even more: 1Pe 2:9-10 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God's OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.

If God intended for us to enjoy His presence, and we were separated from Him because of sin, there must be an answer coming that would remedy that situation. In other words, what Adam messed up, God must restore. But how was He going to do that?

Good ole Isaiah again: Isa 53:6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. 

There’s the plan. What God has done thus far is introduce the problem and the temporary solution to managing that problem by covering sin. The ultimate answer is on the way.

In final preparation for that answer, Jesus prayed: John 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world. 

Be with Me takes us back to the theme of the puzzle. God’s intentions that are hidden within promises, prophecies, clues and glimpses tell us He plans to give His presence back to His people.
By sin, mankind lost the be with Me privilege that Adam and Eve had with God before the fall. By Jesus’ death, that loss could now be restored.

Prior to the crucifixion, Jesus said: John 14:1 Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. 

Being with Him. That’s salvation, that’s eternal life, that’s the privilege of being a Child of God. Living forever in the presence of God.

So, it would be no accident that while on the cross, Jesus had a moment to clarify that even further, even to demonstrate God’s ultimate intention: Luke 23:39-43 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!" But the other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And he said, "Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" And Jesus said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." 

Jesus is holding up a major piece of the puzzle. “Here’s why I am doing this. This is why I came. So that whoever cries out to me, even one as estranged as this thief, I will receive as My own and give him the privilege of enjoying God’s presence.

So there it is: pieces of the puzzle suddenly make sense in Jesus.

Col 1:26-27 the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Glory means that which identifies God’s presence. The hope of God’s presence being restored in our lives is now possible. That was the promise in Jesus’ death. He died so we might have the life God intended. Him in us and we in Him.

Because of Jesus’ death on the cross, the sin that separates us from God can be removed through forgiveness provided by that death. Once that barrier is gone the presence of God moves into our lives and God is with us forever. Because He is with us, we are with Him and connected to all the promises, power and privileges given to God’s children.

  1. Out of a mystery, God has revealed His plan for us to enjoy His presence forever.
  2. His intention is for us to be with Him and He be with us.
  3. Because of the consequences of sin, there is a separation that keeps us from that privilege.
  4. But because Jesus died, that separation can be removed when we call out to Him for the life He promises.
  5. When we do, we can then enjoy the life that lasts forever.

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