[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 and welcome his living presence (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. The Lord longs to satiate our hunger with himself. Christ Jesus years to fill our soul-emptiness with his presence.
I am not sure why we don't talk about this more as Jesus' disciples.
Do we feel like we have to keep up a smokescreen so others won't know about our times of emptiness and longing?
Are we concerned that if we voice our yearning for Jesus' presence, people will think we have lost faith?
I honestly don't know why we won't talk about this soul-emptiness that can only be filled by Jesus. Most of us know that saying and doing religious things cannot hide this emptiness. More religious activity cannot satiate the hunger in our souls for God's presence. Unfortunately, we continue to stumble through our discipleship with a nagging feeling that something is missing. More church stuff only means 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). Matthew is the only one to use this term for Jesus. Yet somehow, we lose the significance of the name Immanuel. The sentimentality of Christmas and the liturgy of Advent steal the blessing of this one incredibly revealing name for Jesus. Matthew uses the word "Immanuel," the story of the Magi, and his genealogy to preach the truth: Jesus came to bring God's presence to all people. The Great Commission at the end of his gospel makes God's desire clear: God longs to be present in the life of all people!
God had been writing his story long before Abraham's faithfulness. Jesus coming as Immanuel, God with us, was the goal of this story. In Jesus, God entered the human timeline of the story. He did more than come near. In Jesus, God chose to be here, with us! Matthew wants us to know this truth from the beginning of his story. Jesus is Immanuel!
Matthew takes great care to convey Jesus' promises to continue to be present as Immanuel with his disciples. He promises to continue to be with them. He reassures them that he will show up and be present in their world as God who chooses to live with them. Jesus made clear the ways his followers could experience him as Immanuel.
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. He years to fill that soul-emptiness we avoid acknowledging and try to hide.
So, here's the question each of us must ask: Will I invite him in to be real, to be Immanuel in my life?
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 to come and be Immanuel?
This passage is often used today as an altar call to come to Jesus and find salvation. That is NOT how Jesus intended. This invitation was for Christians — church-goers whose passion and relationship with Jesus had grown lukewarm. (If you doubt me on this, please read the verses that surround it!) The question of whether or not we will open the door and invite Immanuel into our lives is our question!
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 lives. He is not going to break down the door and barge in on us. Thankfully, Matthew wrote to help us lift the latch, open the door, and invite Immanuel into our lives. Matthew wants us to know that we can experience Jesus. He can be real and present to us. But first, we must get up, go to the door, and invite the Lord into our lives. Matthew wants us to know that Jesus has even told us how we do that in our lives as his followers.
But, will we?
How to Experience Jesus as Immanuel
Matthew emphasized that there are four ways that we can experience Jesus' presence as Immanuel, God with us:
- In Jesus' Story
Jesus came to the world as Immanuel (Matthew 1:23). Getting to know Jesus through His story allows him to become real to us. The more we know Jesus's story — his actions and his teachings and his manner — the better we can recognize him in our lives.
- In Authentic Spiritual Community
Jesus shows His presence to us when we live as Christian community (Matthew 18:20). Matthew 18 shows us what true, Jesus-styled community involves — gritty, relationally hard, fellowship.
- In Compassionate Care
As we care for others in Jesus' name, we can experience His presence as God with us (Matthew 25:40 and its context). He is present in the faces of those we serve. We can see Jesus' presence through them and in them. He is Immanuel, God with us, as the Holy Spirit moves and empowers us to serve.
- In Disciple-Making
Jesus said making disciples involves:
— GOING to share Jesus with others;
— BAPTIZING them in the name of the Father, Son, Spirit;
— TEACHING them to OBEY to Jesus' commands.
As we doe these three things, Jesus is with us, always (Matthew 28:18-20).
Now listen again to the promise of these four ways to experience Jesus as Immanuel, the last three promises given by Jesus, himself:
- ...they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us) — Matthew 1:23.
- "...there am I with them" — Matthew 18:20.
- "...you did it to me" — Matthew 18:40
- "I am with you always, to the end of the age" — Matthew 28:20.
Jesus still stands at our door and knocks. The Lord promises to be present, to be God with us. Matthew has given us four clear ways to experience and know Jesus as Immanuel, ways to open the door and invite him into our lives. But, will I get up, open the door, and invite Immanuel into my life?