[Jesus to the Christians in the church at Laodicea:] "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me" (Revelation 3:20).
Jesus longs to draw near to us and to be real to us. He will not force himself into our lives. He is looking for people willing to seek after him (John 7:7-8; Acts 17:24-28). While most of us have experienced a soul-hunger for Jesus to be real in our lives, we often forget that Jesus has a similar longing: he longs to satiate our hunger with himself and he has a yearning to fill our soul-emptiness with his presence.
I am not sure why we don't talk about this more as Jesus' disciples. Are we afraid to admit we sense something is missing? Do we feel like we have to keep up some kind of smokescreen so others won't know about our own times of emptiness and longing? Oh sure, most of us know the religious things to say to hide our emptiness, but we are also aware of a hollow place in our soul that can't be filled by more religious activity. So we stumble through our discipleship with a nagging feeling that something is missing. As result, the restlessness in our spirits never gets addressed. We seldom turn to the Scriptures to listen for the Holy Spirit's counsel on how to close the gap between our soul-yearning for Jesus to be real to us and the Lord's desire to draw near to us.
When Matthew wrote his gospel, he wanted the people in Jesus' church — Matthew is the only gospel that uses the term "church" — to know that Jesus came to be Immanuel, "God with us" (Matthew 1:23). God had been writing a story going back to before Abraham and Jesus coming as Immanuel was part of that great story. Yet more than just guiding the story, God entered the story in our world in Jesus. Matthew takes great care to convey Jesus' promises to his disciples — Christians in Matthew's day and people like us today — that he would continue to show up and be present in their world as Immanuel. In fact, the Lord made clear the ways this should happen.
You see, Jesus longs for us to seek him. The Lord wants us to invite him into our lives so that he can be real to us. The question each of us must ask is whether or not we will invite him in to be real in our lives.
I know of a painting representing the Scripture used to begin our thoughts (Revelation 3:20). In this painting, a man is alone eating at a table. He needs something, or someone, he does not have. He is alone and in distress. Jesus stands at the door of his house knocking, seeking to come in to fill this man's need. The problem is that the only latch to open the door was on the inside. The man must get up, lift the latch, and invite Jesus into his home. The painting is an open-ended question: Will the man open the door to Jesus?
In much the same way, Jesus stands at the door of each of our hearts. He yearns to draw near to us. However, we have to be willing to lift the latch, open the door, and invite Jesus into our hearts. Matthew can help us know the ways we can experience Jesus, but we first need to get up, go to the door, and invite the Lord into our lives. But, will we?
Matthew emphasized that there are four ways that we can experience Jesus' presence as Immanuel — God with us:
- Through His story — this is the focus we just talked about in the section above — that Jesus came as Immanuel (Matthew 1:23). This is getting to know Jesus through His story so he becomes real to us. A helpful way to do this is to commit to spend three months reading a chapter from the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) each day. Before reading the chapter, pray something like the following:
Father, I need the Holy Spirit to help me hear the voice of Jesus as I read his story today. Help me know what Jesus wants me to know from this reading, what Jesus wants me to feel as I read, and what Jesus wants me to do with what I have read. I ask this in Jesus' name and to know Jesus better in my life. Amen.The next day, read the next chapter until you have read each of the four gospels in this way.
- In authentic spiritual family — as you share in grit and grace of genuine spiritual family, Jesus shows His presence to you (Matthew 18:20) — but read the whole chapter to see what that involves). We were not made to do Christian life alone. We need brothers and sisters in Christ and as we live in spiritual family caring for each other, Jesus becomes more real to us. This kind of spiritual family experience can be found in a small group, a missional community, a Bible class; but this generally doesn't happen for us by simply going and attending a big church and then remaining anonymous and not connected to a close group of believers.
- In offering compassionate care to others in Jesus' name — as you care for others in Jesus' name, you can experience His presence as God with us (Matthew 25:40 — again, read the context of these verses). Caring for others, especially those who are in need and cannot repay us, opens our eyes to Jesus' presence in those whom we help.
- In making disciples — as we step out of our cultural security and go share the message of Jesus with others and help them become Jesus' disciples, Jesus is present with you (Matthew 28:18-20). This is not evangelizing or witnessing, but investing our lives in others so they become followers of Jesus and he promises to be present.
The last three of these areas of experiencing Jesus as Immanuel should be part of any healthy church, so look for opportunities to be in authentic community, involved in acts of compassion, and be involved in mission trips and maintaining relationships with those who are brought to the Lord through them. The first one is something we can do on our own as part of our daily walk with Jesus in the gospels. Let's begin the New Year with a closer walk with the Lord and inviting him to be real in our lives as Immanuel!