God came near.
It’s one of the great comforting realities in the world. God doesn’t stay far off in Heaven, abandoning us after our sins. Instead, God comes near. God moves into our mess and walks with us through the struggles.
We often think of the great God came near moment as the birth of Christ. While God is near throughout various moments in the Old Testament, even coming down upon Mt. Sinai after the people have left Egypt, it is at the birth of Christ when God comes in a new way. As Eugene Peterson translates it in the Message, God takes on flesh and blood and moves into the neighborhood. For his name shall be called Emmanuel, God with us.
Yet it’s not just the birth of Jesus when God is near. God is near all throughout the life of Jesus. God is near when Jesus touches the leaper. God is near when Jesus welcomes the tax collector and sinner. God is near when Jesus shares table fellowship with both religious leaders and outcasts. God comes near not just to preach to us and declare to us good versus evil. God comes near to crawl up into the midst of our pain and be present with us. God doesn’t come near to shield us from ever experiencing pain, but to remind us that we are not alone, and even in the midst of our pain God is with us and working toward our good future.
The ultimate God with us moment may be none other than the cross. The cross is the exclamation point of God saying, I will be with you in the midst of your pain no matter what the future holds. The cross is the moment where God in Jesus becomes most vulnerable. As Bonhoeffer says, Jesus allows himself to be pushed out of the world on the cross. The cross is the moment when Jesus says if sin is going to kill you, then it will kill me too. I will join you in your pain, no matter what. And it’s in that being with us, when sin, death, and lostness are overcome. You are not alone, and because you are not alone, you can overcome.
One of the great lies of sin is that we are alone. Sin tries to convince us to hide in guilt and shame. Sin whispers in our ears that no one loves us; or at least no one would love us if they knew who we really were. Sin convinces us to put on a smiling face, and pretend to the world that all is well. Sin reminds us that we don’t measure up, that others are more holy than us, that God would never forgive the mistakes we’ve made. Sin convinces us we are alone.
Jesus, however, goes to the cross to meet us in our sin. Jesus knows that sin has separated us from God’s good story, and Jesus refuses to abandon us. Jesus takes on flesh and blood and moves into the neighborhood for the very purpose of redeeming our broken stories. The cross then becomes the moment when Jesus is most fully with us. In the very moment when we should be dying in our sins, Jesus stands with us to change the story. It’s more than just penal substitution (Jesus taking our punishment). It is Jesus being with us, crawling up into the midst of our pain, and working toward a good future.
If Jesus is with us in our sin, if Jesus stays with us all the way to the cross, is there any place where God will not be with us? If God refuses to abandon us even in our most vulnerable moment, in our moment of complete brokenness, then could there possibly be a moment when God would not be near? In moments of sickness and death. In moments of job loss and financial struggles. In moments of relationships breaking down or the future we had dreamed of being changed. God is with us. God is near.
We know this truth because God became flesh. We know it even more so because God in Jesus went to the cross. Jesus proved for all time, God is with us all the way to the end. God crawled up into the middle of our mess, and promises to be present with us. God won’t stop our pain, but God will work even in the midst of our pain to move us toward a good future.
May we always remember, we are not alone.