This is the third week of Advent; light the three purple candles.
In our first week, we talked about the promises God made to send Jesus, and the hope this brought to the Old Testament saints as they anticipated the Light of the World who was coming. As New Testament believers, our hope is in looking back to the cross of our salvation, and yet also forward to the future promise of eternal life yet to come. On the second week of Advent, we looked at the extensive preparations God made for Jesus’ birth – preparations which brought supernatural peace to those who confidently waited for the Messiah, the Prince of Peace. God still prepares hearts to receive the Savior, providing peace with God – our justification, that allows us to experience the peace of God in every circumstance.
This week, our key thought is the presence of God, illustrated in the name given to the baby born to Joseph and Mary – Emmanuel, God with us. Our word for the week is joy, joy found in the presence of God.
Now all this took place so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Behold, the virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son, and they shall name Him Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.”
Christmas is the time we celebrate the wonderful reality that God stepped into the world He created to reconcile us to Himself and restore the broken relationship between us that was caused by sin. Why would He do this? God is in Himself completely whole; He needs nothing…yet He decided to create a beautiful world and fill it with living, breathing, thinking people – human beings He knew would break His heart and reject Him. He created because He desired us and somehow, in the unfathomable, sovereign mind of God, we were worth all the pain and sorrow He would experience along the way. Scripture tells us that God is filled with joy over those who come to Him, and for our part, we are specifically wired to experience absolute joy when we are in His presence … when He is with us.
The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior. He will rejoice over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
You will make known to me the way of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.
O Lord, in Your strength the king will be glad, and in Your salvation how greatly he will rejoice! … He asked life of You, You gave it to him, length of days forever and ever. His glory is great through Your salvation, splendor and majesty You place upon him. For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence.
In the beginning, the first man and woman enjoyed God’s presence on a daily basis. It was only after they had disobeyed, when sin entered the world bringing shame and guilt, that the presence of God was no longer a source of joy, but of fear.
They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.
Sin separated us from God. A great wide gulf was opened that no man or woman could cross. Adam’s disobedience affected us all, making us heirs of a fallen nature that no longer desires God, but seeks to find joy in sin and self. How comforting to know that this did not take God by surprise; it only set in motion His plan of redemption from eternity past.
Throughout all the Old Testament, God gave signs and symbols that tell the story of God with us. For instance, first in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple, God commanded the people to set a table with the Bread of the Presence. Twelve loaves were precisely placed on a table overlaid in gold each Sabbath as a lasting covenant. The priest and his sons would eat it as part of the offerings made to the Lord. (Exodus 25, Leviticus 24).
What was the significance of the Bread of the Presence and how did it point to Jesus Christ? The twelve loaves of bread symbolically represented the twelve tribes of Israel before the presence of the LORD in the Holy Place. Jesus Christ, as our High Priest, represents God’s holy people before the presence of God in heaven (Psalm 110:4; Heb. 6:20 – 7:28). But Jesus, as the Bread of life that came down from heaven, also represents the presence of God among his people on earth. *
Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
“Bread of Presence” in Hebrew is lechem panim which, literally translated, means “bread of faces.” The face of God is revealed in Jesus Christ. The Bread of the Presence prophetically illustrated how God would come into this world which he created and make his dwelling among his people to reveal his glory to us in the face of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul wrote, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6). Jesus Christ, the Son, is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being … (Hebrews.1:3). *
In Jesus’ prayer for his disciples, we can understand how the twelve loaves symbolically represented both the presence of God with his people and the people of Israel before their God. Though there were twelve loaves, one representing each tribe, through the covenant with God they were united as one nation under one God. The symbolism of twelve loaves representing the twelve tribes is carried over to the new covenant by the Lord himself selecting twelve apostles as the new representatives of God’s holy people. As the mediator of the new covenant, Jesus is the perfect representative of both men and God. Jesus prayed for his disciples to be brought into complete unity in him. *
But now I come to You and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. … I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.
Last week we talked about how God prepared a place for Jesus to come to – the little town of Bethlehem. Did you know that Bethlehem has two meanings in the Hebrew language: House of Bread and House of War? Jesus came as the Bread of Life, the true Bread of the Presence. Jesus also came to wage war against the sin that separates us from the presence of God! Not only did He wage war, but He also won the war when He settled our sin debt on the cross as the perfect sacrifice, and defeated death by His resurrection.
Joy is inextricably linked to Emmanuel, God with us. The familiar prophecy in Isaiah 9 tells us that when the “people who walk in darkness see a great light,” they will “rejoice in Your presence as with the joy of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil” (Isaiah 9:2-4) And how did the angels describe this good news that God had left heaven to be God with us?
And so the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Even while still in the womb, the presence of Jesus affected those He encountered with unexplainable, supernatural joy.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. And she cried out with a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And how has it happened to me, that the mother of my Lord would come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby leaped in my womb for joy.”
Jesus came to live in us, to be God with us, so that we could experience His joy, a joy that is made full by the indwelling Spirit of God. This is exactly what Jesus meant when He told His disciples they must “eat His flesh” as the living bread that came down out of heaven – the mystery of the gospel, which is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full.
And the disciples were continually filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
As we move closer to celebrating the birth of Jesus, let’s examine our hearts for anything that steals our joy and fellowship with the One who came to be God with us. If we find that sin has crept in unnoticed, may we be like David, confess our failures and ask God to “restore to us the joy of our salvation.” If we have let worry or anxiety distract us from His presence, let us turn our attention back to Him and lay all our cares at His feet. Then, and only then, may we approach the manger like the wise men, with exceedingly great joy. Let us worship Him with all our hearts, in anticipation of one day being face to face in His presence. Truly, He is Emmanuel, God with us, the incomparable, eternal source of all our joy.
- How does it make you feel to know that God delights in you, and rejoices over you?
- What does the “Bread of the Presence” tell you about God? Why do you think God used such symbolism?
- How would you explain the miracle of Emmanuel, God with us, to someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus?
- Is there anything in your life keeping you from enjoying God’s presence?
* Information on the Bread of the Presence shared from https://www.messianicgoodnews.org/part-4-the-bread-of-the-presence/