I Can Experience God's Presence Now and Always

Bible Book: John  1
Subject: God, Presence of; Christmas; Jesus, Birth of

A few months ago I got a phone call in the church office from a man named Bill (name changed) who told Christy he wanted to talk to the pastor. He had a question that needed answering. Christy is very good at recognizing a sales pitch and knows to forward those kinds of calls to my voice mail, but this Bill didn’t sound like a salesman—and part of a pastor’s calling is to help people find answers to the questions of life, so she buzzed me and let me know that Bill needed to talk. But when I answered something in Bill’s tone made me suspicious. This wasn’t a troubled individual with a question—this was a man with an ACCUSATION. Our “conversation”—if you want to call it that—was more of a series of challenges from Bill. I mean our “talk” was very one-sided. As soon as I picked up the receiver and introduced myself Bill immediately began to criticize one of my sermons he had read on our church website—a sermon where I said that Jesus was God become flesh. Bill made it very clear that he didn’t agree with that statement—and the challenges and accusations continued non-stop. I could hardly get a word in.

Every time I was able to insert a reply to a challenge Bill would attack from another “front.” This went on for about five minutes and then I realized who I was talking to. I stopped him long enough to ask a question or two. I said, “Bill, do you go to church anywhere?” He stiffly admitted, “Yes.” So I asked, “Where do you worship?” And he very proudly said, “I am a Jehovah’s Witness.” And then he immediately continued his accusations—his challenges to my conviction that Jesus was God become flesh. I quoted our text for this morning and several others. I explained that Jesus did things only God could do but Bill simply could not admit—or rather WOULD not admit that the Bible teaches that Jesus was God…God become flesh. After a few more minutes I realized our conversation wasn’t bearing any fruit so I told Bill as much and that I was going to have to go—but that I would be praying for him and that if he ever wanted to have a true discussion, I would be happy to do so.

Well, if Bill is “tuning in” to our website this week, he’s going to be upset at me again—because one of the main implications of Christmas is the fact that in Jesus God became man. As John clearly says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The Word became FLESH and made His dwelling AMONG US.” I don’t fully understand HOW God did this—no one does—but nevertheless Christmas proclaims this wonderful truth that in Jesus God came to earth to live here on the same terms as you and me. He became what we are—a flesh and blood human being.

Unfortunately the man who called me that day is not alone in challenging this Biblical truth. John MacArthur puts it this way, “Lots of people don’t embrace Jesus as God. They will welcome Him as a son of David but not as the Son of God. They don’t mind celebrating the birth of a baby, but they don’t want to hear about the Lord of lords. They sing of His nativity but brazenly reject His authority. They adore Him as an infant but will not pay homage to Him as the God-man. They can tolerate the trappings of Christmas—a manger, shepherds, wise men, and Joseph and Mary—but they cannot bear the advent of God in human flesh.”

My purpose in this message is not to “argue” with the “Bill’s” of the world. Instead, the thing I want us to deal with is: WHY did God do this? I mean, what purposes were served in His becoming one of us? Why did God lower Himself to our level of existence? Perhaps the answers to these questions will help Bill and others like him who visit our website—people who don’t understand this wonderful implication of Christmas.

I. God Became Man to Communicate What He is Like

So…to answer my question, the first reason God became man was to communicate to us what HE is like.

You see, through the birth that happened in that tiny cave in that little town of Bethlehem, God became tangible and because He did He became more understandable to human beings like you and me. Prior to that first Christmas night mankind could not even BEGIN to grasp a true understanding of God.

Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness NO ONE CAN FATHOM.” And do you remember Job’s commentary on this subject? In Job 11:7-8 he asked, “Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty? They are higher than the heavens—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths of the grave—what can you know? Their measure is longer than the earth and wider than the sea.”

No one could fathom—or understand—God or His ways until Jesus came because in Jesus God descended to our level. He got down to where we could look Him in the eye.

When pastor and writer Clark Cothern was five years old, he thought college presidents were powerful, frightening beings. That is, until one stooped low to spend time with him. He writes:

“What I saw of college presidents I saw from floor level, as I played on the other side of my mother’s desk in the administration building at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona. My Mom was the Dean of Women at the time. I would watch as students walked slowly down the hall toward the president’s office and stop. They would rub their sweaty palms on their pants or skirts, take a deep breath, straighten their shoulders, and knock. The door would creak open. That’s when I would catch a glimpse of the president’s shiny, black wingtip shoes. A steady, strong hand would reach through and shake the trembling hand of the student. The student would then disappear inside the mysterious chamber known as ‘The President’s Office.’ I figured that walking into that room must be pretty much like going before the throne of judgment. It was a terrifying thought—that is, until the day the president stooped into my world. I was playing with my toy car in the hall outside his office when the door opened. There they were—those shiny, black wingtip shoes. The next thing I knew, President Robert Sutherland, the biggest man on campus, dressed in his pinstriped, three-piece suit, knelt down. He placed the knee of his crisply creased trousers on the hallway floor. ‘May I have a turn?’ he asked. After we played cars together, President Sutherland asked if I would do him the favor of calling him ‘Dr. Bob.’ That’s the day my opinion about college presidents changed. I can see how some people might think God is a powerful, frightening being. Yet after I met Him, through faith in His Son, my opinion about Him changed, too. John 1:14says, ‘The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.’ When he stooped low into my world, Dr. Bob helped me understand that verse a little better.”

Hopefully Cothen’s experience helps us ALL understand that verse a little better because in the man Jesus God did indeed “get down on His knees.” He got down on our level of existence so that He could communicate with us in ways we would understand and tell us what He is really like. As Hebrews 1:3 says, Jesus Christ, “…is the radiance of God’s glory and the EXACT representation of His being.” So, if you want to know what God is like…if you want to “look Him in the eye”—all you need to do is look at Jesus.

And—when you think of it—this is condescension of God is what love would do. I mean, knowing that on our own we could never fully grasp an understanding Him…knowing that we could never come to Him…the love of God would prompt Him to come to us—prompt Him to become one of us since that would be the only way we COULD know Him. Years ago, after a long tour, Bono, the lead singer for U2, returned to his home in Dublin and attended a Christmas Eve service. At some point in that service, Bono grasped this truth that is at the heart of the Christmas story—the truth that in Jesus, God became a human being. With tears streaming down his face, Bono realized, and I quote: “The idea that God would seek to explain itself is amazing enough. That He would seek to explain Himself by becoming a child born in poverty and straw, a child, I just thought, ‘Wow!’ Just the poetry of it all. I saw the genius of picking a particular point in time and deciding to turn on this—I realized that love NEEDS to find a form, intimacy NEEDS to be whispered. Love has to become an action or something concrete. It would have to happen. There must be an incarnation. Love must be made flesh.”

And Bono was correct. By its very nature love WANTS to be understood by the object of that love. That’s the way love is. For God that would necessitate the incarnation. He would have to become one of us and that’s what He did! So one reason God became flesh—one reason that He “dwelt among us”—is so that we can better understand what HE IS TRULY LIKE.

II. God Became Man to Show us What We are Like

But another reason He did this was so that He could show us that HE knows what WE are like.

As the early Church Fathers put it, “He became what we are—a flesh and blood human being—that we might understand what He is and believe at last that He understands what we are.” Listen—God has always loved us and wanted a relationship with us. He used the prophet Jeremiah to say as much to all humanity—to say: “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” (Jeremiah 31:3) God WANTS to lovingly walk through life with each of us in the same way that He walked through the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. He wants a friendship with us—and nothing establishes a friendship between two beings quite as effectively as a sense of COMMONALITY. When another person has walked where I am having to walk and has experienced what I am experiencing a bond of rapport is created between us. You know what I’m talking about. We all feel closer to those whom we believe UNDERSTAND FROM WITHIN what we are going through and of course God was fully aware of this fact—so He came to live AMONG US that first Christmas—came to live and experience life just as we do.

Understand—it was not that He NEEDED to learn anything about our needs that He did not already know. Remember, He is God—omniscient—ALL-knowing. As Jesus said in Matthew 6:8, “Your Heavenly Father KNOWS what you need before you ask Him.” God didn’t come to earth that first Christmas as some sort of “Undercover Boss” research project. God already knew what life is like for humans. No—He came FOR OUR SAKES so that WE might be convinced that He really does understand us—that He really does know what it is like to live on this fallen planet.

Soren Keirkegaard tells of a young king who truly cared for his subjects, but was not sure they realized this because of the remoteness of the palace from their daily life. So, to the dismay of his court, one day he laid aside his royal garments and put on the garb of a peasant and went out for a whole year to live among his subjects as one of them. This action revolutionized the spirit of that whole kingdom, not because of what it did for the king, but because of what it did for the PEOPLE. The sovereign already knew what conditions were like in the kingdom and was concerned about them, but until this act of identifying with the people, THEY were not aware of his concern. They could not believe that he really did understand FROM WITHIN what life was like for them. The same thing could be said of God when He was only known as “Jehovah” and people only thought of Him in terms of remoteness. But when He became “Emmanuel” that first Christmas night, everything changed. A whole new way or relating to God opened up and it amounts to this: Wherever you are in life—whatever you are up against you can believe God when He says to you, “I KNOW. I UNDERSTAND fully. I have been there Myself and walked the very road you are walking. I really do know FROM WITHIN what it feels like. I understand. Therefore, let me help you. Let me share the load with you.”

Remember those wonderful words found in Hebrews 4:15-16, “For we do not have a high priest Who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have One Who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

The implication of this is the fact that:

If you are a child you can know that God understands.After all, He was born into the helplessness of infancy and went through all that is involved in trying to grow up. I like how Philip Yancey puts it. He writes, “The God Who roared, Who could order armies and empires about like pawns on a chessboard, this God emerged in Palestine as a BABY who could not speak or eat solid food or control His bladder, Who depended on a teenage couple for shelter, food, and love.” God understands what it is like to be a child.

After all, He was born into the helplessness of infancy and went through all that is involved in trying to grow up. I like how Philip Yancey puts it. He writes, “The God Who roared, Who could order armies and empires about like pawns on a chessboard, this God emerged in Palestine as a BABY who could not speak or eat solid food or control His bladder, Who depended on a teenage couple for shelter, food, and love.” God understands what it is like to be a child.

If you are a teen wondering where you fit, in this world there is One Who understands and Who can help you. You see as a human being Jesus wrestled with some of the same questions all teens wrestle with: “What shall I do with My life? Should I devote all my energies to material concerns?” “Should I set out to be famous and spectacular?” “Should I seek to cover myself with glory—to rule and dominate?” “What will I bow down to? What will I stand up to?” You’ll remember Scripture records that in the wilderness, Jesus dealt with all these temptations so He understands what every adolescent goes through and He stands ready to help.

If you are an adult with all the responsibilities that go with this particular stage in life, God understands. Do you feel sometimes that you have more on you than you can bear? Family—career—home—all pulling at you and expecting something of you? One man said, “They tell me I’m in the prime of life. But what I feel like is a piece of prime RIB and everybody wants a part of me and there is simply not enough to go around.” If this is where you find yourself this morning, then please know there is One Who experienced this very pressure and knows what it is like. After all, when Joseph died, it fell to Jesus to provide for the family. He had to run the carpentry shop and bring in enough money to make ends meet. Then, all through His ministry Jesus was besieged by MORE DEMANDS than He could possibly meet in the flesh. He knew what it was like to give His all and it not be enough for people. Remember when He received news of Lazarus’ illness and traveled all the way to Bethany—only to hear Martha condemningly say, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died?” Jesus was no stranger to the crushing loads of life — and if that is what you find yourself under this morning then take heart. God understands and He can help you if you will let Him.

In short, Christmas proclaims the wonderful truth that God DOES understand EVERYTHING about our lives because, as Jesus Christ, He lived it. And this knowledge makes it easier for us to turn to Him as the Friend and Helper and Companion He wants to be.

In an article for Christian Standard magazine entitled “Carols for Any Season of Suffering,” Matt Proctor reflects on the Incarnation. He writes: “My 5-year-old, Carl, and my 3-year-old, Conrad, love it when I dress like them. After they put on jeans and a blue T-shirt, they’ll come ask me to wear jeans and a blue T-shirt. When I do, they have a SAYING. They will survey me, survey themselves, and say, ‘Look, Dad—same, same.’ For my birthday, Carl bought me a North Carolina blue mesh shirt because he has a North Carolina blue mesh shirt. We could be ‘same, same.’ When I play living room football with my boys, Conrad will not let me play standing—so big and scary and towering above him. The theological term for this is ‘completely Other.’ Instead he insists I get on my knees. When I am down at eye-level, Conrad puts his hand on my shoulder and says, ‘There. See, Dad—same, same.’ They like it when I enter their world. This summer, I scraped my leg working on my house. When Conrad fell down and scraped his leg, he pointed at my scab, then showed me his and said, ‘Hey, Dad—same, same.’ Here’s the point. God Himself has felt what we feel. In the Incarnation, He chose not to STAY ‘completely Other.’

He got down at eye-level, and in the Incarnation, God experienced what it’s like to be tired and discouraged. He knows what it’s like to hurt and bleed. On the cross, Jesus Himself prayed a psalm of lament: ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’ (Psalm 22:1). In your pain, you may be tempted to say, ‘God, you have no idea what I’m going through. You have no idea how bad I’m hurting.’ But God can respond, ‘Yes, I do.’ He can point to your wounds and then to His own and say, ‘Look: same, same. Me too. I have entered your world, and I know how you feel. I have been there, I am with you now, I care, and I can help.’ That is what Christmas is all about.”

Isn’t this encouraging! I mean, isn’t it wonderful to know that God DOES understand…that He loved us enough to make sure WE would believe…COULD believe that…believe enough to come boldly to Him when life is hard!?

Okay, let’s review. Why did God become flesh and dwell among us? He did this so that: He could communicate with us what He is like and so He could convince us that He knows what our lives are like.

3. Let's Absorb the Full Implication of this Truth

Let’s stop at this point so we can absorb the full implication of this wonderful truth. By nature we are relational beings. God created us to thrive on companionship. My two-year-old granddaughter, Lydia is always asking, “Grandad, would you play WITH ME?” or “Can you come to my house?” Teens are often obsessed with finding “the one” person who will make them feel complete. When we enter adult hood we love to go out to dinner with other adults. And few things put a smile on an elderly person’s face like the appearance of grandchildren or a lifelong friend even if it comes in a SKYPE session. I’m saying we are relational beings. We hate to be alone. We are made such that we need to be with people. This is why we consider solitary confinement to be a punishment. We can stand almost anything in life if we know we are not alone for we need friendships in life. But you know even the best of friends cannot meet our yearning for the ULTIMATE friendship. Even people with whom we share a kindred spirit can’t be around all the time. Lifelong friends move away or die. The most understanding of friends can’t always comprehend what we’re going through. And even the most trusted of friends don’t always prove dependable. We might ask God, “Why would You make us yearn for significant relationships but then deprive us of that very thing?” To which God would smile and reply, “I know you have that yearning and I have supplied a way to satisfy your need. I offer you Me. I am the ultimate Companion. I understand you—everything about you. I have been there. I have lived life as a human being and unlike other friends I can and will be with you WHEREVER YOU GO in life.” Do you understand what I’m getting at? Because of Jesus—because of EMMANUEL—God is with us—ALWAYS! In Hebrews 13:5 God says, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

I love Max Lucado’s paraphrase of Psalm 139. He writes, “Where can I go to get away from God? If I go to the rehab clinic…the ICU…the overseas deployment office…the shelter for battered women…the county jail…even there You will guide me. Even there Your right hand will hold me fast!” The fact is we will never go where God is not. As Acts 17:27 says, “He is not far from each one of us.” God is ALWAYS with us and through our personal faith in Jesus we can experience God’s ever-presence wherever we go. Before Jesus came, sin separated us from God. It prevented us from enjoying His “everywhere-ness.” But, thanks to Christmas, when a human being like you or me…when someone admits that they are sinners—realizing that sin is what separates the from a relationship with our Holy God when they ask for forgiveness through faith in what Jesus did on the cross God gives it. In that decision our Lord comes into their heart and life as Redeemer AND friend. From then on we experience God with us always—EVERYWHERE—as He lives within our heart. That PRESENCE—that NEARNESS—that relationship gives us strength and comfort and guidance no matter where life takes us.

In his book, Deliver Us From Evil, Ravi Zacharias shares the true story of a man named Hien Pham who served as one of his interpreters when he ministered in Vietnam in the early ‘70’s. Hien was an energetic, devoted young Christian who had also worked as a translator with the American military forces. He was just a civilian though—no official or military responsibilities.

He knew English and was a great help to the military in their linguistic struggles. By virtue of the same strength he also worked with missionaries and traveled the length of ‘Nam with Zacharias as he preached. During those months they became close friends. Four years after his weeks with Zacharias, Vietnam fell to the communists and Zacharias wondered what happened to his friend.

Seventeen years later he got a phone call from Hien and was able to hear his story.

Hien shared that shortly after Vietnam fell to the Communists, he was arrested and accused of aiding and abetting the Americans. He was in and out of prison for years. During one long jail term, the sole purpose of his jailers was to indoctrinate him against the West—and especially against democratic ideals and the Christian faith. Hien was cut off from reading anything in English and restricted to communist propaganda in French or Vietnamese. This daily overdose of the writings of Marx and Engels began to take its toll on him. Hien began to buckle under the onslaught. He thought, “Maybe, I HAVE been lied to. Maybe God does NOT exist. Maybe my whole life HAS been governed by lies. Maybe the West HAS deceived me.” The more he thought, the more he moved toward a decision. One night, he made up his mind. Hien determined that he would not pray anymore or ever think of his Christian faith again. The next morning, he was assigned to clean the latrines of the prison. It was the most dreaded chore, shunned by everyone, and so with much distress he began the awful task. As he cleaned out a tin can filled to overflowing with toilet paper, his eye caught what he thought was English printed on one piece of paper. He hurriedly washed it off and slipped it into his hip pocket, planning to read it at night. Not having seen anything in English for such a long time, he anxiously waited for a free moment. Under his mosquito net that night after his roommates had fallen asleep, he pulled out a small flashlight and shining it on the damp piece of paper, he read at the top corner, “Romans, Chapter 8.” Literally trembling with shock, he began to read: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He Who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Hien wept. He knew his Bible, and he had not seen one for so long. Not only that—he knew there was not a more relevant passage of conviction and strength for one on the verge of surrendering to the threat of evil. He realized anew that God was with him—even in that prison—that God had sent that piece of paper and the message it contained. He cried out to God, asking for forgiveness. The next day Hien asked the camp commander if he could clean the latrine again because he realized that some official in camp had a Bible and was using it as toilet paper. In this way every day he picked up another portion of Scripture, cleaned it off, and added it to his nightly devotional reading. Eventually he retrieved a significant portion of the Bible. Well the day came when through a providential set of circumstances, Hein was released. He promptly began to make plans to escape from the country. After several unsuccessful attempts, he began again to build a boat in secret. About 53 other people planned to escape with him and Hien was taking the lead. All was going according to plan until a short while before the date of their departure when four Vietcong knocked on Hien’s door. When he opened it, they accosted him and said they had heard he was trying to escape. “Is this true?” they demanded. Hien immediately denied it and was able to convince them but afterward he felt guilty for his cowardice so he prayed and told God if they came back he would admit his plan. In a couple days they DID come back and Hien admitted he was planning on escaping with 53 others in fact. He asked if they were going to arrest him and the leader leaned forward and whispered, “No…we want to escape with you!” Well, when they sailed they went through a horrible storm and thanks to the sailing skills of those four Vietcong, they survived. Once again Hien saw the presence of God. He experienced the full implication of IMANNUEL—he learned that because of Christmas God is indeed with us always…in prison…when threatened with arrest….even in a storm on the high seas.


If you are here this morning and you have never experienced God’s presence in a personal way—if you’ve never asked Jesus to come in to your heart and life, don’t leave this sanctuary this morning ALONE. God can and will come into your life—but only if you invite Him in.
In Revelation 3:20 He says, “I stand at the door and knock and if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in.” Open the door of your life and invite God in. Claim the forgiveness for your sins that Jesus’ death and resurrection made possible. Do you remember what John said in our text? “He—the Word—Jesus—came unto His own and His own received Him not but as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” The same thing will happen this Christmas. God will continue to come to lost people—drawing them with His love. There will be those who reject Him, turning to ways of darkness and death. There will be those who receive Him, turning into ways of light and life. Be sure this morning that you are among those who receive Christ. Invite Him into your life today. And make that commitment public. Walk the aisle this morning and share this decision with us all. If you have other decisions to make public—maybe you feel a need to renew your relationship with God or perhaps you feel God is leading you to join this church. Whatever decision you wish to make we invite you to do so as we sing.