Sunday, January 1, 2023
The Resistance Against Loneliness
For years I have loved the many names and titles of God given to us in the Scriptures.
- Lord Almighty
- Lord Most High
- The Ancient of Days
- The Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the beginning and the end.
And I love the many names and titles ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels:
- The Word of God
- The Lamb of God
- Resurrection and the life
- Good Shepherd
I think about Jesus’ names all the time. They tell us so much about who he really is and what that means to us.
One of my favorites is Immanuel.
The apostle Matthew, in his Gospel story of Jesus, quotes Isaiah the prophet (Isaiah 7:14), and he writes,
Matthew 1:23 CSB See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
Immanuel is a Hebrew name, and Matthew gives us the translation. Jesus is “God with us.” God has come down to us. Heaven has invaded earth. Often we may wonder if God is far away. If he doesn’t hear or see us. If he has forgotten us. And we can hesitate to even express that out loud.
But the psalmist boldly expresses this for us:
Psalm 10:1 CSB Lord, why do you stand so far away? Why do you hide in times of trouble?
There may be times we will or ought to echo that prayer. But the prophetic title, Immanuel, argues against our wonderings and our doubts. It tells us that God is very near. He is near to us.
The main reason I particularly appreciate Jesus’ name, Immanuel, is that one of my favorite themes from God’s Word is that God is with us. I have a file with all the statements in the Bible that speak of that theme. I have found 55 passages so far. Here is one beautiful example about Joseph in Genesis 39:
Genesis 39:20–21 CSB …[he was] thrown into prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined. So Joseph was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden.
The story of Joseph is one of the more dramatic stories in the Bible, and is in my Top Five list. Joseph encountered extraordinary difficulties.
- Loved by his father, but despised by his 10 older brothers. They hated him so much that they sold him to slave traders. Today we call it human trafficking. They sold their own 17-year old brother! What a horribly broken family!
- He lived for several years as a slave, but the Lord was with him and blessed him.
- Then he was falsely accused by his owner’s wife of trying to assault her. And so without a trial or the ability to defend himself, he was thrown into prison.
- He spent 13 years total as a slave and a prisoner. From age 17 to 30. His youth was stolen!
- We might think, “Oh, his life is simply ruined!”
Yet in spite of the horrific circumstances, the loneliness, the mistreatment, and the many, many tears, Joseph was strengthened by the presence and help of God Almighty. “The Lord was WITH Joseph and showed him kindness.”
Years later Joseph stood before his brothers—the brothers who had presumably ruined his life by their great wickedness—and they were terrified that Joseph might want retribution. But here is what Joseph said,
Genesis 50:20 NIV You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Joseph was not shy about admitting the evil his brothers had done. But at the same time, he acknowledged that the Lord was present. He had been with Joseph all the way, and so he could say, “God intended all of this for good, in order to save our family and save an entire nation during seven years of extraordinary famine.
Consider our own hardships. Do we believe the Lord is with us? Do we believe he is watching out for us? That he is kind? That someday we will understand fully that he is present with us even today… even in our most difficult days? We are not alone.
We must not underestimate the power of God’s commitment to be present with his people. To know that God is with us is life-altering. Immanuel, God is with us.
I like in Jesus’ final words on earth. In what we call “The Great Commission”, Jesus gives his disciples the command to go into all the world and make disciples. In this massive mission to his disciples, one that would require their entire devotion and heart, and even their lives…a calling that may have felt glorious to the disciples yet overwhelming in its scope…Jesus concludes with these beautiful and reassuring words:
Matthew 28:20 And surely I am with you always, to the end of time.
The vast majority of instances when the Lord gives the promise of His presence is when His people were facing situations of fear, of overwhelming odds, or of their own weakness. He called on them to have strength and courage. He called on them to not be afraid. How? By simply assuring them that He was with them. He is IMMANUEL.
One of the greatest human needs God has designed us for is a need for companionship. To not be alone.
In the highs and lows of our lives, aren’t we drawn to have someone with us—someone important, someone who loves us, someone who is special to us? When we learn some exciting news. Or when we encounter some painful circumstances.
- Like a boy who shoots the winning basket in his basketball game, he looks into the stands to know that Dad is there and is sharing in his joy.
- Like the woman in the hospital with cancer wants her husband and children to be with her.
Yet sometimes even in a crowded room, we can feel very alone in this fallen world. We think: No one understands. No one cares. No one supports me. No one loves me. No one protects me. No one provides for me. So when the Lord says, “I am with you,” he intends to fill that God-shaped need. And when God says he is with us, he does not mean merely standing by disinterested, uninvolved, or uncaring. No, he is there to watch over us, protect us, and comfort us. He is there with a fierce loyalty and commitment. He is present to strengthen and reassure us. He himself will be the Great Companion that we long for.
Before God sent his Son, he promised many times in the OT that he was with his people. Like the story of Joseph. Like he promised to Joshua and Israel before they entered the long-awaited Promised Land in Joshua 1:9.
But now in Christ, the promise has become so much richer. So much more intimate.
For God took on humanity. The theological word used for this is the Incarnation. Incarnation means that God has taken on human nature. Jesus Christ now has a dual nature: Both Divine and Human.
The Apostle John tells us this in his Gospel:
John 1:1–3 CSB In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. All things were created through him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created.
Jesus, the Word of God, was in the beginning. He was with God. He was God. Everything was created through him. Everything.
But then John goes farther.
John 1:14 CSB The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
This divine Creator God became flesh and dwelt among us. Heaven descended to earth. John witnessed Jesus among the people. He was WITH them. And he was and even now is full of glory. Full of the brilliant light and honor and majesty that belongs to God. All that glory and power has come down to earth in the most intimate, sympathetic way. Immanuel. God is with us.
It’s why in John 15, Jesus tells this to his disciples:
John 15:15 CSB I do not call you servants anymore, because a servant doesn’t know what his master is doing. I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father.
Jesus calls his followers, “friends. If you have believed in Christ, you can and should call Jesus your friend. This makes it a staggering, astonishingly intimate relationship. That’s why we can sing the old hymn, “What a Friend We have in Jesus.”
In Hebrews 2:12, Jesus calls us his brothers and sisters.
With such words, we begin to see the intimacy and the nearness of Jesus Christ to all who know him. This ought to stagger us, that we have tender, intimate, close companionship with the glorious Creator of heaven and earth. For every one of you who has believed in Jesus Christ and found his forgiveness and given you holy access to God the Father, to you…know this…you will never, never, never be alone again. People may abandon you and neglect you and ignore you and hurt you, but Jesus never, never will. You will never be isolated again.
And it gets even better. God actually now dwells inside the heart of every true Christian.
Ephesians 1:13–14 NIV And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
If you have believed in Jesus Christ, the Spirit of the living God is within you. Put your hand on your chest. He’s in you. He’s in you until your final redemption comes, when Jesus Christ comes back to establish his eternal kingdom and to gather you to himself into his physical presence forever and ever.
My wife and I watched this show “Alone.” Ten contestants were put out in the wilderness of British Columbia in the winter. Their goal was to make it to 100 days in complete isolation. If anyone could make it to the end, they would win $1 million. Certainly they had challenges of finding enough food. Danger from wild animals. But for most of them, the biggest test they had was to be completely alone for 3 months. I said to my wife, “That’s not healthy. We’re not made for that.”
God has designed us for community with people. But more importantly, he has designed us for communion with Himself. Our sin has broken that communion, but Jesus, Immanuel, God With Us, has come to restore it. To restore us to our Creator God. To our Heavenly Father. To our Savior and Friend and Brother, Jesus Christ. To the indwelling Holy Spirit.
The Incarnation shouts to us of the nearness of God.
The Scriptures tell us of the many outcomes of Christ’s nearness.
- Hebrews 4:16 tells us that Jesus can sympathize with our weakness. A sympathetic friend.
Hebrews 4:15 CSB For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.
- Hebrews 7:25 He is intercedes for us when we sin. He is always defending us against the accusations of Satan? Who among us doesn’t need such a friend and helper?
Hebrews 7:25 CSB Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, since he always lives to intercede for them.
- Hebrews 13:5 He promises to never leave us nor forsake us. Abandonment will NEVER happen with our God.
Hebrews 13:5 CSB Keep your life free from the love of money. Be satisfied with what you have, for he himself has said, I will never leave you or abandon you.
We could list dozens more of the blessings of the nearness of our God named Immanuel.
Though God promises over and over again that he is near to us, we often battle with doubts. How can we move toward a more consistent and stronger confidence of his nearness?
Here’s what I recommend: In prayer regularly read the stories of great men and women of faith in the Bible. Stories of great testing and difficulties and joys. And as you read, pray that your eyes would be opened. Then look for the presence and the blessings of God on their lives.
One place to start is the Psalms. We can pray and read the Psalms… such a beautiful place to see the people like us interacting with God in their joys, their worship, and their heartaches.
Then we also go to the many wonderful stories of people of faith.
I already mentioned the story of Joseph in Genesis.
I just finished reading the Book of Daniel. Chapter 3 tells us of the story of Daniel’s three faith-filled friends. They refused to bow down and worship an idol that King Nebuchadnezzar put up.
Under threat of death by being thrown into a blazing furnace, they said to the king,
Daniel 3:16–18 CSB “Nebuchadnezzar, we don’t need to give you an answer to this question. If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us, we want you as king to know that we will not serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”
They had no guarantee that they wouldn’t be martyred. But their hope and obedience was in God.
And then astonishingly they were delivered.
So this pagan king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar exclaimed,
Daniel 3:28 CSB Praise to the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego! He sent his angel and rescued his servants who trusted in him. They violated the king’s command and risked their lives rather than serve or worship any god except their own God.
The phrase, “The Lord was with them,” is not used in the passage, but it’s obvious God was there and was active in their lives. Read this story.
There is also the story of Ruth, with her mother-in-law Naomi, and her future husband Boaz. The Lord was with her. And she became the great-grandmother of King David.
The story of Gideon, in Judges 6 and 7. Gideon was a very timid man. Actually he was a coward. But God was with him and did extraordinary things through him.
Esther and her relative, Mordecai (in the book of Esther). In the midst of a horrible threat to kill every single Jew in the Persian empire, we read of a beautiful portrayal of the care, power, and presence of the Lord watching out for Esther, Mordecai, and the people of Israel. Surprisingly the name of God is never used in this book.
But one author said this,
“The great paradox of [the book of] Esther is that God is omnipotently present even where God is most conspicuously absent.” (Karen Jobes)
In this book, we read of an extraordinarily evil man, Haman, who is bent on destruction. And we wonder, “Where is God? Why doesn’t he do something?” Then as the story unfolds, we realize, “Oh, he is omnipotently present.”
Read these stories of the OT in your daily Bible reading.
Read stories from the Gospels and the Book of Acts.
Read them at the dinner table with your household.
Listen to them on an audio Bible while driving in the car.
As we hear such stories of the presence of God, our faith will be strengthened. Our loneliness will diminish. Our hope will be restored.
Immanuel, “God with us,” has come. And at the end of this age, all of this will come to its full fruition. Heaven and earth will merge in a resurrected creation. And we will enter into the glories of everlasting life in the very presence of Almighty God.
Revelation 21:3 CSB Then I heard a loud voice from the throne: Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God.
This is our hope! Amen!