Immanuel: God Beside Us
I. The Priority of Presence
If you found yourself in a difficult place, if you were going through a painful time or were faced with an extremely hard decision, it would not be unusual to lean on a good friend, family member, or brother or sister in Christ. Haven't all of us done that at some point? The comfort and/or counsel of that other person can make all the difference in a season of suffering or time of confusion.
But if given the option in your hour of need, what would be the best way to connect to that other person? Would you opt for a) a text message, b) a phone call, c) a video chat, or d) an in-person, face to face conversation? Or what if we were explaining those option to a little girl or boy whose dad was in the armed forces and deployed in a far off country? Which option would they choose?
I feel confident in saying option “D” would be the winner every time. There's nothing that can really replace the presence of a faithful friend, a loving family member, or a supportive fellow believer; yes, in good times, but especially in hard times. That hand on the shoulder. That reassuring world. That loving embrace. Obviously, at times, it isn't always possible for someone to be physically present, so we are thankful for those other options. But as support-ers, presence should be our priority.
Keep option “D” in mind as we look at our last passage in this Advent series entitled, “Immanuel: God with Us”. Turn over to Revelation 21. It's not the last chapter of the Bible. But it's close: it's the second to last chapter of the Bible.
II. The Passage: "He Will Dwell with Them" (21:1-4)
Revelation 21. We're going to look this morning at verses 1-4. Now even though there are four verses in our passage, I'd like break it into three parts. My hope in doing this is to give you a better sense of how these verses fit together. So for example, consider with me...
1. The Eternal Context (v. 1)
Our first lesson in this series was focused on a message that God delivered through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Judah and Jerusalem in 730 BC. The second message you heard focused on the fact that God the Son became a man; that He was born as a baby on that first Christmas; or as the Gospel of John describes it, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). But in contrast to those past events, our third lesson looked at a present reality made possible by the Holy Spirit: Christ dwelling in our hearts through faith... today... right now.
But Revelation 21 points us neither to the past or the present, but instead, to the future. Look with me at verse 1...
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.
The Apostle John is describing for us, not this world, but the world to come. This new world was first described in Isaiah 65, but mentioned again in II Peter 3:13 where we read...
But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
In light of these passages, and in light of what the NT overall teaches us about the age to come, we know this new world will follow the second coming of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and the great Day of Judgment. So yes, our context is the future. Our context is eternity. But for what is this the context? Well, it's the context in which we can experience...
2. The Eternal Consolation (vs. 2, 3)
Now, before I read verses 2 and 3, let me share with you a few OT verses.
I will dwell among the people of Israel and will be their God. [Exodus 29:45]
I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people. (Leviticus 26:11–12)
My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Ezekiel 37:27)
And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst... [Zechariah 2:11]
Now, look with me at what John sees and hears in Revelation 21:2, 3...
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
Did you hear that? Did you hear the eternal option “D” that God has in store for us? Did you hear how God is going to one day finally fulfill (to the fullest) all of those OT passages containing that three-fold promise: they will be my people, I will be there God, and I will dwell with them? Now the other amazing thing about this passage is John's word choice. The words “dwelling” and “dwell” in verse 3 are bigger than the English words communicate. Literally, verse 3 says, “Behold, the tent of God with man. He will fix his tent with them.”
Outside of a few passages in the Revelation, do you know the only other time this word is used in the NT? John 1:14. “And the Word become flesh and fixed his tent among us.” Consider with me how “the Word”, how Jesus, makes it possible for us to know this consolation and...
3. The Eternal Consequences (v. 4) (of that consolation)
What will it mean for God to “fix his tent among us”, just as Jesus once fixed his tent among us? We read about the consequences of his presence in verse 4...
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
How good does that sound to you? Isn't that what every person ultimately longs for? Listen to an earlier description of that same reality. This is from Revelation 7:15–17...
“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence [lit. 'will spread his tent over them'].  They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.  For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Brothers and sisters, friends, that Lamb mentioned in 7:17, that “husband” mentioned in Revelation 21:2, is none other than Immanuel... Jesus Christ. What does all this mean? It means that Immanuel is not simply God behind us (110%), he is not simply God among us in First Century Judea, he is not simply God within us through the work of the Holy Spirit; He is all those things! But Immanuel is also God beside us... forever... and ever... and ever. Immanuel, Jesus, and Jesus alone, fulfills, embodies, and makes possible, through his birth, his life, his death, and his resurrection, the staggering and eternal reality of “God with us”.
III. Practicing His Presence
Do you believe that? If you do, then how will you live it out each day. How will, how should, the fullness of God's eternal option “D” impact you this morning?
Well, first, I believe hope of what will be should strengthen us in the face of what is. When life now is extremely hard, God wants the promise of life then to comfort us; to keep us moving forward; to encourage us that it will not always be this way... the hurt, the loss, the tears. Hope.
But I think, second, we can also say that hope of what will be should remind us of what is... that is, in terms of God's presence. Building on what we learned last time, what the Revelation tells us about the comforting presence of God and of the Lamb should point us back to Jesus' words, spoken the night before his crucifixion. In John 13-17, Jesus spoke a lot about the painful reality of our pilgrimage now; of life in this world. But Jesus spoke of another reality as well...
“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you... 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.” (14:18-20, 23)
When Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:17 that anyone who is in Christ is a “new creation”, he was reminding us that the newness that will one day engulf heaven and earth, has begun now in the hearts of those who have trusted in Christ as their only hope. The Lamb IS our shepherd, and God IS wiping away our tears! The Son and the Father are dwelling with all who believe!
No, the bitter realities of sin and death have not been deleted forever... but they have been defeated forever. The reality that Immanuel embodied is the reality that Immanuel secured, through his own blood. The eternal reality that Immanuel promised is the eternal reality that Immanuel purchased on the cross. But that eternal life with Him begins the moment you trust in Him.
When it comes to pain, is hope of what will be strengthening you in the face of what is today? When it comes to His presence, is hope of what will be reminding you of what is today?
Immanuel, “God with us”. This well-known Christmas term or title might only be mentioned in two parts of the Bible, but as we've seen, the reality to which Immanuel points is everywhere in Scripture. May God, by his grace, help us to know Immanuel in every part of our own lives. God behind us. God among us. God within us. God beside us... forever.
Let's praise God for the gift of Immanuel, and thank him for the price that was paid to secure the promise of His presence.