“Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
I once heard a famous preacher correct his audience on their prayer lives. We should never, he explained, ask God to “be with” this person or that. Since God is omni-present (present everywhere at the same time) such a request is superfluous. Though he no doubt thought he was giving sound correction and instruction, he has come wide of the mark I think. When we request that God “be with” us or those that we love, we are not asking merely that God be present and active. After all, in this connection, the damned are said to be “tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb” (Revelation 14:10). Clearly our prayer for God to be with someone is not a request for God’s active presence alone, but that God’s presence would provide special blessings such as peace, protection, provision, and well-being. We learn from Stephen’s inspired speech that God “was with” Joseph in that special way even as he endured the indignity of slavery and imprisonment (Acts 7:9). God’s abiding presence “delivered him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom in the sight of Pharaoh king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house” (Acts 7:10). There are many examples of God being with people in this special way (Genesis 21:20; 26:28; 35:3; 39:2,3, 21, 23; Joshua 1:5; 3:7; 6:27; Judges 1:22; 2:18; 1 Samuel 3:19; 8:12, 14, 28; 2 Samuel 5:10; 2 Samuel 18:7; Acts 18:9-10 et al). Conversely, God is “not with” people who deliberately and intentionally choose to ignore or resist His known will. (Numbers 14:42; Deuteronomy 1:42; 31:17; 2 Chronicles 25:7). Under the Old Covenant, God was with His people in a unique and special way. Even so, under the New Covenant, His people enjoy a new level of intimacy with their Maker and Redeemer. As today’s text reminds us, God came into the world in the Person of His Beloved Son. He was “God with us.” He is the image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15), the brightness of His glory (Hebrews 1:3),the One in Whom all the fullness of the Godhead dwells bodily (Colossians 2:9). The New Covenant He has established in His own blood brings believers into a whole new—and permanent—level of intimacy. Now God the Spirit resides in us (Romans 8:9-11), the guarantee of our future glorification (Ephesians 1:12-14). Though we are in no danger of being forgotten or abandoned by God (Matthew 28:19-20; Hebrews 13:5), God will not endorse our decision to walk contrary to His will. In that sense He will not be with us. May the Lord help us to walk faithfully before Him, moment by moment, that we might experience the full blessedness of God’s abiding presence.
God bless you,