There’s something amazing about being in God’s presence. But think about it from a human relationship. When you meet that special someone, there’s nowhere else you’d rather be. You want to be with them all the time.
God is no different. When he created you and me, he wanted nothing more than for us to enjoy him in his presence. Some theologians suggest that before God began creating the universe he enjoyed perfect relationship and companionship within the Trinity.
Divine figures range from the watchmaker god who acts and steps away to silent gods. But the God of the Bible is relational. He desires more than anything for his creation to know him, love him, and serve him out of love.
Everything he has done from the beginning of creation to the cross to the resurrection is all about relationship. Let’s take a look at how Jesus fulfilled Scripture and then sent the Holy Spirit to continue his ultimate goal of being with his people.
There’s a Christmas prophecy ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. I say “a Christmas prophecy” because you mainly hear it during the Christmas season. But it speaks of Jesus from the incarnation to today. Though we emphasize the incarnation of Christ, the prophecies of Isaiah have a far more reaching fulfillment.
In Isaiah’s day, Judah was in a heap of trouble from its northern neighbors. They were stronger and well armed. They formed an extremely powerful northern alliance with three nations. Judah was outnumbered and outgunned. Enter King Ahaz and Isaiah.
Isaiah prophesied King Ahaz didn’t have to worry about this northern coalition. God would take care of them (Isaiah 7:4-9). It’s too bad King Ahaz was an unbeliever. He was already working on plans to unite with Egypt. You know Egypt, the house of slavery for Israel.
He would rather choose slavery over the divine help of Yahweh. Although the prophecy said God would provide a sign, King Ahaz refused to ask for one. He feigned testing the Lord as his excuse, but God gave a sign through Isaiah anyway (Isaiah 7:10-13).
That’s when we come to our famous Christmas prophecy, “Behold, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, Immanuel.” Matthew quotes this same sign as completely fulfilled in baby Jesus (Matthew 1:25). By applying it to Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, Matthew calls Jesus the ultimate Immanuel, God with Us.
So Jesus brought God’s presence in himself because he is divine. This is how he completely fulfills the prophecy. He is literally what the title says, God with us. He walked amongst humans for some 33 years. And he taught us a lot about God, about himself. But he did not stay forever.
A Thing for Tents
The theme of God’s presence dwelling among humans started in the Garden of Eden and continues to this day. But he’s done it in one of the most interesting ways in all of the Bible. He’s done it in tents.
In tents, you say? Sounds kind of strange. Stick with me. Let’s begin at almost the beginning. God frees the Israelites from Egypt, but as they go into the wilderness everybody’s going to need a place to stay. Tents are the perfect dwelling because they travel well.
So when God set up his own tent, he made it better than any tent around. We call it the tabernacle. Moses designed the Tent of Meeting to soak in God’s presence after Mount Sinai. Israel’s leader was in daily communication with Israel’s God.
What is it about tents? I believe there are two reasons God chose tents to house his presence. They are transient and temporary. By transient, I mean they move from place to place. The tabernacle, unlike the Temple, followed the presence of the Spirit in the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night. The people followed the Spirit and the tent came along.
When the Temple was built in Jerusalem, God’s presence dwelt in the same place all the time. The people had to come to that place. But God could lead the people in the wilderness and they had to follow. Today, the Spirit leads and we follow.
Second, tents are temporary. They have their issues. They can break down, develop holes and tears, and are nothing like a house or building. They will represent the human body, also a temporary, perishable object.
Our bodies house our soul and spirit, like the tabernacle and Tent of Meeting housed God’s presence. God’s presence dwelt in the Temple in Jerusalem, but in the beginning, he protested against the idea of a permanent dwelling (2 Samuel 7:5-7).
While God physically dwelt among the people through the tabernacle and the temple, Paul declares that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temples (1 Corinthians 6:19). He dwelt with the Israelites if they were holy, but his Spirit dwells in us and guides us to holiness. What the law could not do in ancient Israel the Spirit does in us through his guidance.
God’s presence dwells with us through the Holy Spirit. He walks and talks with us every day. He makes us like Jesus. He wants us to be holy from the inside out. And the reason for this is the same it was in ancient Israel. If God will dwell among his people, we must be holy as he is holy.
God’s Ultimate Goal
From the beginning of creation, God has walked with humanity. He walked with Adam in the cool of the day (Genesis 3:8). It was only after sin entered the world and continued to get worse that this was no longer the status quo.
Sin and wickedness destroyed this intimate relationship. Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden instead of walking with him anymore. When sin reached the apex that God could stand no more, his Spirit could no longer strive with humanity (Genesis 6:3).
Even Israel fell short of this goal, turning to idols and committing spiritual adultery against God. Israel didn’t keep its part of the covenant and went into exile. It’s not that God no longer wanted relationship with humanity. We can’t have it on our terms. A holy God must dwell with a holy people.
I believe the most foundational truth of Scripture is the idea that God will be our God and we will be his people. Over and over he says, “I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 24:7; 31:33; Ezekiel 37:27; Hosea 2:23; Zechariah 8:8; 13:9; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 8:10; Revelation 21:7). It starts in our hearts and ends in heaven.
Desperate for God’s Presence
There’s a common phrase I’ve heard over and over, that we all have a God shaped hole in our hearts. Although we may try to replace it with everything else under the sun, as St. Augustine said, our hearts aren’t at rest until they rest in God.
Even before we realize it or know it for what it is, we have a desire to know God and walk with him. And when we become Christians, that draw grows stronger and stronger with every step we take in Christ. And the depths of God are infinite.
Creation responds to God’s presence throughout the Psalms (Psalm 29:3-9). God brought creation into existence by his voice. The Holy Spirit hovered over the waters and made order out of chaos (Genesis 1:2).
But he doesn’t always speak as he did in the past. Elijah went to hear from God on Mount Sinai (1 Kings 19:11-13). He had to distinguish between a great wind, earthquake, and fire. God’s presence came as these things in the past. He must know God’s voice, not the effects of his presence.
In the same way, Jesus expects that all of us who follow him as his disciples also know his voice (John 10). We are surrounded by voices all day long. Everybody wants to control us. But only Jesus’ voice matters.
Jesus told his disciples, and us, that when he went away it was to our advantage the Spirit came (John 16:7). While Jesus could walk alongside his disciples, the Holy Spirit can inhabit them. Until he returns, the Spirit is Jesus’ presence in us on this earth.
As we commune with the Spirit, we enjoy his presence. We seek him on the deepest levels. We want to know him more every day. Our seeking becomes desperate until we find him. We are poor in spirit, spiritually bankrupt until we find our rest in him. And that bankruptcy results in the blessing of fellowship with him.
Spirit with Us
Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7, but he passed the baton to the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus fulfilled within his own Person the full meaning of Imanuel, God with us, so now the Holy Spirit takes his place.
Just as Jesus is divine, so also is God’s Spirit. As he dwells in us and we are his temples, he is also “God with us.” He has come as our Helper and Comforter (John 16:7). He walks with us along the way and conforms us to Jesus’ image (Romans 8:29).
We couldn’t ask for a better companion. He comes alongside of us as our Guide. He leads us into God’s plan for our lives. And all of this started long ago when Adam walked with God in the cool of the day. Now we walk with God’s Spirit every day.
We have a cherished and precious relationship with God’s Spirit. He guides us into godliness. He walks with us along the holy path. He teaches us every step of the way how to be more like Jesus.
How can we ask for anything better than this? To be in God’s presence, to be his tents where his Spirit and glory dwells, there is nothing better. The Holy Spirit is only a foretaste, a down payment of heaven (Ephesians 1:13-14).
He shows us what heaven will be like. If this is amazing, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be physically present with God for eternity. Leave a comment and tell me about the Holy Spirit’s impact on your life.