God with us; God in us
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory,
the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14 NKJ)
The story of the incarnation of God coming to Earth in the flesh is not a new concept. How often we forget the beginning of the Book: God made Adam and Eve, and said to them, “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen. 1:28). God spoke to man again when He placed him in the garden to tend it and warned him not to eat of the forbidden tree (Gen. 2:16-17). After Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating of the forbidden tree, we have an amazing picture of God walking in the garden looking for the pair who were hiding from His presence (literally face). A dialogue between God and His created beings ensues. Even in the midst of a now sinful people, God chooses to come in the flesh, walking in the cool of the morning, engaging in conversation with fallen sinners – was it a foreshadow of Jesus’ ministry? It was definitely God in some bodily form walking in the midst of humanity! God desires to be out in the open with people, dwelling among them, conversing and interacting in the midst of them! He is not containable in a building as the Apostle Paul so clearly declares "God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands” (Acts 17:24 NKJ). Paul declares this to a group of very religious philosophers who are idol worshippers, at the feet of several Greek temples devoted to their gods. He emphatically declares that his God does not dwell in temples like their imaginary gods.
Several thousand years later, God is born in the flesh, not in a castle, temple or palace but in a manger, a feeding trough, most likely outside, accessible by the shepherds who were the first to see Him. God is incarnated amongst the people for all to behold and share. Glory came down, manifested for all to see. John’s gospel opens with God in the flesh, living amongst the people, going from village to village, interacting with ordinary fisherman. Next, He is at a wedding feast, and then flipping over tables in the temple area, scolding them for their religious practices. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus enters the synagogue in the power of Holy Spirit and preaches His Messiahship. He is quickly thrown out of the synagogue for His inflammatory comments and almost killed. Jesus, God in the flesh, is constantly challenging the religious status quo, declaring by His words and deeds that God wants to be amongst the people, not in buildings. All three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) contain a second temple cleansing near the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry. It is interesting to me that Jesus never enters into the place in the temple where the priests are doing all their religious ceremonial and sacrificial rituals and says, “great job men…keep it up!” NO! Rather He is outside in the temple courts where the normal blokes are, teaching the masses in the open air. In the book of Acts, when Stephen is challenging the religious elites, he, like Paul makes this bold statement,
"However, the Most High does not dwell in temples made with hands, as the prophet says:
‘Heaven is My throne, And earth is My footstool. What house will you build for Me? says the LORD, Or what is the place of My rest? Has My hand not made all these things?' " You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you.”
(Acts 7:48-51 NKJ)
What an indictment! Like Jesus calling the Pharisees a “brood of vipers”. Two temple cleansings; two statements declaring, “God doesn’t dwell in temples made by hands”. God reviles a religion that creates an elite ruling class and segregates the masses from accessing God in the flesh. In Matthew 24, Jesus leaves the temple for the last time and prophecies its destruction. For two thousand years we have tried to reconstruct that temple to contain God and keep Him from the masses.
Oh friends, as I ponder the Christmas story, I am somewhat grieved in my spirit that we still put so much emphasis on a building. Our God came to dwell in the midst of people, in their everyday lives. Jesus modeled a lifestyle of relational evangelism/ministry, going to the people, confronting and driving back the forces of darkness that were oppressing them. He manifested His glory in the presence of the common folk and vehemently opposed organized sectarian religion. Jesus preached to the masses in the open air, in fields, and communal gathering places, and proclaimed: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). Religion was not the solution; nor was it a specific church at a specific building. Jesus was the main attraction! He wanted to dwell with people and reveal His glory to them. The simple fisherman John, who experienced the incredible grace and love of God in the flesh exclaims: “we beheld His glory”!!! He did not find the glory in a synagogue or temple, or a worship service, or a religious institution. He found glory in the presence of the incarnate Christ – the God who chooses to dwell amongst people out in the open, where they live their lives.
Now, let us think about this: Jesus said, "For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them"(Matthew 18:20). The early church met in homes, in fields, in marketplaces, and in various other public spaces – definitely not in mega-church temples! The point is that a few gathered together allowing Holy Spirit to lead their gathering with spontaneous psalms, hymns, spiritual psalms, words of knowledge and wisdom, prophecies, tongues etc. Why do we continually try to put God in a box or a building and expect Him to “show up” when He specifically says that is not where He dwells? He dwells in the midst of ordinary people who want to worship Him in all His glory, through their everyday lives. Am I oversimplifying this? Am I missing something? I don’t want to ‘resist the Holy Spirit’ like those to whom Stephen was preaching. Let us be reminded of Jesus’ prayer in John 17: “And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: "I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me. "Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me” (John 17:22-24). God is incarnate in us! We are to bring Jesus to the world, into the highways and byways, for all to experience Him, His love and power. The closer we get to Jesus, the more we reflect Him to the world through our everyday living (2Cor. 3:18). We are the church; the church is not a building. The Book of Acts is the story of the fellowship of believers, the called-out ones, who are incarnating Jesus to the world around them. In the beginning of the book they are gathered together in a room to wait for Holy Spirit who will make them witnesses to the person and work of Jesus. Once Holy Spirit falls on them, they are driven out of the room into the presence of the masses where 3,000 get saved. Holy Spirit continues to scatter and disperse the believers from Jerusalem, to Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the Earth. We know from history that shortly after the birth of the church, the temple where Jesus used to teach is destroyed once and for all, and that Jesus is incarnated through His disciples all over the earth through relational evangelism. For almost 300 years till Constantine, the church is free from “temples” as official meeting places with elite clergy running them.
For me, Christmas is a reminder that Immanuel-God with us, has come down to dwell with sinners to save them out of/from their sinful lifestyle by bearing their sins on a roman cross. He came to die to set us free, not confine us to a building, but to release life into the world as He is incarnated through His followers. We are the temple of God: “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1Cor. 3:16-17; 1Cor. 6:19). We are the city on a hill that cannot be hidden. May we be those Jesus followers who do not invite people to a building and a religion but be those who reveal the glory of Christ to the masses through our transformed and surrendered lives. Let us be those Christmas lights that shine bright in a crooked and perverse generation. Let’s get out of the buildings (maybe that’s our house too) and be incarnational, cause now Jesus is in our flesh. Think about it!
Have a thought-provoking week!