“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).Matthew 1:23
Isn’t it wonderful when someone wants to spend time with us? Not just a token, obligatory, “showing up” to either fulfill an obligation, salve guilt, or ask for something…a real wanting to be with us.
As special as it is in human relationships, think how amazing it is when we realize that the Sovereign God of the universe has wanted to be with us! Yes, US! and according to the Bible words used, we see that in Jesus, our Emmanuel, He is with us on every level possible.
In the original language of the New Testament, there are three Greek words that can be translated with. With is one of a group of many words we call prepositions. Don’t worry about the grammar of it all. Just keep in mind that the key idea with prepositions is relationship.
So how perfect of our communicating God to use these prepositions to express His relationship with us! Each of these reveals a different level of with-ness, so to speak. Be sure to notice the ascending order of the list, from lesser to greater:
para, meaning beside, nearby, in the immediate vicinity or proximity, alongside
meta, meaning with, in close association with, in companionship with
sun, meaning together in intimate union, inseparable from
Let’s start with the middle Greek preposition, meta. In our key verse (above), Matthew quotes the prophecy of Isaiah, explaining the meaning of the significant name for the Messiah Emmanuel — God WITH us. In Greek, the little word translated with is our second preposition meta, meaning in close association.
So what does that mean? In Jesus Christ, The Son of God, the Messiah, God permanently identified Himself with us, His human creatures. God and man are in close association, forever joined in the God-Man Jesus Christ.
It’s always been God’s plan to be one with His people, but you know what happened. That fateful tree in the “hands” of that sly deceiver lured our ancestors from the richness of relationship with a loving Creator (LIFE!) to an independent relationship on their own terms. This resulted in death on every level (Genesis 3). So there we have it! And we ourselves have repeated that scenario time after time. And it has resulted in death, separation of every kind, rather than union!
Now does that mean that God was not with His people in the Old Testament before Jesus, our God With [Meta] Us came to earth?
Yes, He certainly was with His people, but in a different sense. To understand this, let’s go back to our first preposition para. Did you notice that para is on the lower end of the with-ness scale, so to speak? As you may recall, it means nearby, alongside, in close proximity (not closely associated with, like meta).
There’s a statement of Jesus at His Last Supper that gives us a clue as to the dimensions of God’s With-ness in Old Testament times versus after Jesus the Son came into the world. It’s found in John’s gospel:
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another [of the same kind as Himself] Helper, to be with [meta] you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with [para, in Old Testament times] you and will be in you [in New Testament times]. John 14:16-17 ESV
This passage is a summary statement of how God’s presence was with believers in the Old Testament — para, beside, nearby. His presence was most often experienced as temporary and transcendent, often for a specific purpose, at times externally manifested.
1. Take, for example, His presence manifest to some of the Old Testament people (often called theophanies). Here are some:
Abraham – Gen 15:17-18 — “a flaming torch and a smoking oven”
Jacob – Gen 28:12-16 — “a ladder reaching to heaven”
Gideon – Judges 6: 11-24 — “the Angel of Jehovah”
David – Ps 51:11 — “Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me”
Elijah & Elisha – 2Kgs 2:9-15 — the Spirit of Elijah came upon Elisha “in double portion”
2. God was also nearby, alongside (para) in a sense through the pictures and types and symbols. They pointed to Emmanuel who was yet to come (these are just a few examples):
Rock, water from the rock — 1Corinthians 10:1-4
Serpent in the wilderness — John 3:14-16
3. He was also nearby, alongside (para) in another sense in the promises and prophecies of Emmanuel. Here are a few significant ones:
Is 7:14 — the virgin birth
Is 9:2-7 — humanity & deity
Micah 5:2 — born in Bethlehem
Isaiah 53 — a sacrifice for sin
But God’s presence took a dramatic turn when, at just the right time, God spanned the separation in the Person of His Son. In His very own Person, Jesus Christ the Son of God joined God and man. God’s WITH-ness took on a new dimension:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. Galatians 4:4-5 ESV
We’ll explore the glory of these other dimensions of our God’s WITH-ness in the next post.
But now rejoice! God is no longer just nearby or alongside! His manifest presence is not temporary, only for specific purposes! He is GOD WITH (meta, in close association with) US!
O Savior of Our Fallen Race
O Savior of our fallen race,
O Brightness of the Father’s face,
O Son who shared the Father’s might
Before the world knew day or night,
O Jesus, very Light of light,
Our constant star in sin’s deep night:
Now hear the prayers Your people pray
Throughout the world this holy day.
Remind us Lord of life and grace
How once, to save our fallen race,
You put our human vesture on
And came to us as Mary’s son.
Today, as year by year its light
Brings to our world a promise bright
One precious truth outshines the sun:
Salvation comes from You alone.
For from the Father’s throne You came,
His banished children to reclaim;
And earth and sea and sky revere
The love of Him who sent You here.
And we are jubilant today,
For You have washed our guilt away.
O hear the glad new song we sing
On this, the birth of Christ our King!
O Savior of our fallen race,
The world will see Your radiant face
For You who came to us before
Will come again and all restore.
Let songs of praise Your name adorn,
O Christ, Redeemer, virgin-born
Whom with the Father we adore
And Holy Spirit evermore.
Original Lyrics: Christe Redemptor Omnium, Latin office hymn, circa 6th Century. Translated by Gilbert E. Doan, Jr. (1930-), Adapted by Kristyn Getty. Text Copyright © 1978 Lutheran Book of Worship, Admin by Augsburg Fortress Press. Music: Keith Getty Music Copyright © 2011 Gettymusic, Admin by Music Services
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on A Branch in the Vine