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God is with us

A change is as good as a rest.

Last week I attended the Think Conference in London, spending 48 hours luxuriating in the riches of Matthew’s Gospel with Andrew Wilson guiding our thoughts.

The event was a bran tub of good things, but one insight was particularly valuable. It started with the comment that the central statement in the Lord’s Prayer “on earth as it is in heaven” is also at the centre of the Sermon on the Mount which proves to be a striking thematic statement in Matthew’s Gospel.

The Gospel begins with the reminder that Jesus, son of Abraham and David, is Immanuel: God with us. The whole Gospel teases out the implications of that claim and concludes with the final words of the Great Commission:

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)

I was reminded of this theme in a conversation with someone at I met while leading a day away for a church in Sussex. The man commented that there seemed to be a lack of accessible books available on the practical implications of the incarnation of Jesus and that maybe I should think about writing one.

One writer I know who has written three books on the topic is the Rector of St Martin in the Fields, Sam Wells (A Nazareth Manifesto, Incarnational Ministry and Incarnational Mission).

His basic thesis is that much of our Christian thinking has been on the topic of Christ for us rather than Christ with us. The former concentrates on the vital topic of what Jesus has done for us but can underemphasise or ignore the equally vital truth of Christ being with us.

These two complementary truths are seen in the two names given to Christ in Matthew 1.

He is Jesus, a name that emphasises what he has done for us: “saved his people from their sins.” He is also “Immanuel, God with us.” It is important to keep these two things together.

In the message of Jesus, we see God becoming one of us so that he could identify us, be with us, and die for us. In the famous words of the early church father Gregory of Nazianzus

“For that which He has not assumed He has not healed …”

The true manhood of Jesus ensures that he is our representative man. He actively lives the life we cannot and do not live, a life of perfect righteousness.

He passively submits himself to death on the cross, bearing in his body the consequences of our unrighteousness. The true manhood of Jesus means that he takes our humanness into that death and through death into his resurrection. Now he has taken our humanity into heaven itself.

The Lord Jesus Christ has ascended in his resurrected humanity; he is our man in the glory. The pastoral implications of this are so important for the way I think about Jesus.

How encouraging it is to know that Jesus knows me not only as my Creator but as one who has stood where I stand, knows me from the inside and has promised to be with me always to the end of the age.

Preachers: assess your preaching over the past three months. How much have you emphasised Jesus being for us and how much have you focused on Jesus being with us?

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