The book of Matthew begins with a series of stories; actually it begins with a series of names, but Matthew’s readers would know the stories of those names. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Hezekiah, and Manasseh are just a few. These are the names of men whose stories are characterized by how well they walked with God or how tragically they walked without Him. It was a thin, Law-drawn line they walked that determined their intimacy with God and thus their success; a line that was limited, blurring and straining as time and history continued. Then, at a time where Israel’s future looked most grim, God declared, “Behold, days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel…I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people…they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
For about 590 years Israel waited for those coming days; empires changed, cultures relativized the world, and Israel waited and wondered what God was doing and if it even mattered any more. Then in a small Judean village, God came near. In announcing the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the one who would “save His people from their sins” an angel invokes Isaiah’s prophecy to Joseph: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.”
Immanuel. God with us. Matthew has started his gospel with a history and present infused and permeated with God’s presence. It is a presence that will give shape to everything to come. When Jesus saw Peter and Andrew, he told them to “Follow Me”; when he later saw Matthew, he also told him “Follow Me.” Who they would become would be because of who was with them. When the disciples were given authority to heal and preach, all they would do was a result of who had been with them.
Immanuel. God with us. God’s presence not only permeates, it also pacifies. God could not just enter into the human condition but would also transcend its limits. Once Jesus had died upon the cross, the temple veil, the veil separating God’s holy presence from Israel’s human condition, tore from top to bottom. Formerly disconnected from God’s holy healing presence, we “have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace…by abolishing in His flesh the enmity…thus establishing peace.” The debt separating us from God has been paid by God, liberating us to be set apart to God. God with us bought us and brought us to the presence, the with-ness, that pacifies us. Through Christ we “have our access…to the Father.”
As Matthew began his gospel with a history and present permeated with God’s presence, it now ends with Jesus declaring a future throughout which He will always abide, with those who abide in Him. He tells his followers to go and make followers, identifying with the One who identified with them. He concludes, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Immanuel. God with us. God never promised us perpetual physical protection, but He has promised that His perpetual presence will preserve His story in us. The story of God is of how His presence, His with-ness, shapes history, the present, and the future. It is a story we constantly find ourselves in, His presence shaping our story. His with-ness shapes our witness. The life we live and the story we tell is a witness and testimony to the One who abides forever, with us no less.
Immanuel. You are not alone, believer. God with us. His story is shaping you.