Friday, December 25, 2015

God is With Us

by Pastor Paul Wolff

Emmanuel means “God is with us.”

God is with us in Jesus

God has always been with His people since He created Adam and Eve. Even when they rebelled against Him and became His enemy, He never abandoned them, but has kept all of us in His grace and providing for all our needs, especially the need for a savior from our sin. But, ever since God became incarnate in the person of Jesus Christ God has lived with us in a closer, and more wonderful way. In Jesus, God lives with us as a Man – sharing our flesh and blood, sharing our sorrows and joys, and sharing our pain and pleasures (except when we take pleasure in sin).

The one thing that Jesus does not share with us is the ultimate guilt of our sin. Jesus has taken the guilt of the whole world’s sin into Himself and carried it to the cross where He endured the punishment for all sin of all time and He took our guilt to the grave where it belongs. Then when Jesus arose to life from the dead we were freed from the guilt of our sins and heaven was opened to all who trust in Jesus as our Savior and God.

Jesus said, “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17) Jesus is with us to save us, not to condemn us – even though because of our sin we all only deserve condemnation. Even though Jesus ascended into heaven forty days after His resurrection from the dead, He is still with us. Immediately before He ascended into Heaven, Jesus said, “I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Heaven is not so far away from you as you may imagine. Jesus is nearby, closer than you may think.

Only one thing is needful.
Mary hath chosen that good part,
which shall not be taken away from her.

Emmanuel: God is with us in His word. When Jesus sent His apostles out on a short mission trip He told them, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16) When we hear faithful pastors preaching and teaching God’s Word we are hearing Jesus because He is there working through His Word to lead us to trust in Him and rely on Him to save us. God’s Word is powerful to work our salvation because God is here working in His Word. God spoke through the prophet Isaiah saying, “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Jesus was baptized to take on the
guilt of our sins and wash us clean

Emmanuel: God is with us in Holy Baptism. Jesus commanded His followers to baptize and teach in order to make disciples and spread His kingdom throughout the world. Baptism is not just a symbol of washing, but it is true washing and rebirth by God, the Holy Spirit. St. Peter wrote, “Baptism … now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Martin Luther showed that the power of Baptism is God working through His Word which is combined with the water to give us a new birth as children of God. (see John 3:5)

Jesus gives us His body and blood
so he will be with us always.

Emmanuel: God is with us in the Lord’s Supper. Here again, Jesus combines the Word of His promise with the physical elements of bread and wine to bring forgiveness, life, and salvation to those who believe in Him. Regarding the bread and wine, Jesus said, “This is my body. … This is my blood
… for the forgiveness of sins.” (see Matthew 26:26-29) Jesus is the God who is with us and who comes to us in the elements of the Lord’s Supper. This again is not just a symbol or representative of God’s presence. Jesus is truly present in His Body and Blood in the bread and wine of the Sacrament. This is for the benefit of believers – who receive what is graciously given, but because Jesus is bodily present in the Lord’s Supper it is also a curse for unbelievers who receive Christ’s body and blood, but do not believe it and so reject Jesus. This is why St. Paul taught, “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” (1 Corinthians 11:27-30)

Jesus was there for Zacchaeus
to absolve him of his sins.

Emmanuel: God is with us through Holy Absolution. When Christians confess their sins to the pastor and the pastor forgives them we trust that forgiveness is the same as if Jesus Himself were standing there proclaiming our forgiveness. Jesus told His Apostles, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. … Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” (John 20:21-23) Once again, Jesus is there working through His Word (and the pastors who properly speak it) to assure us that He has paid the price for our sins and rescued us from punishment.

Emmanuel: God is with us in times of persecution. The Christian life isn’t always wine and roses. Jesus told His disciples that they should expect persecution. He said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.” (John 15:18-20)

Jesus is with us in death
to give us everlasting life.

Those who say that the Christian should expect only success and prosperity are false teachers and heretics. Yet because Jesus is with us in so many ways the faithful Christians are given strength to remain in Christ even in the midst of the worst persecution. There are Christian martyrs suffering and dying for the faith even today in several parts of the world. In some ways it is easy to remain faithful in the face of persecution. Though no one wants to suffer and die, why would the Christian abandon their God who is with them and suffered and died for them, and turn to a false god who calls for his followers to become cruel murderers or terrorized slaves? This is how the terrorists will ultimately be defeated. It won’t happen through military strength and tactics – that’s their game. They eventually will see that they are following a false god and will repent and turn to Christ and be saved. Pray for the martyrs this Christmas and throughout the coming generation, that Jesus will strengthen them and protect them, and will work through their witness to convert their enemies that they may know Christ and His salvation and be saved.

Christ be with you this Christmas, and always!

No comments: