31 December 2012

Fear Not, For God is With You

by Dr Mark Keown

So another year is over. Two years ago Harold Camping thought the world would end 21st May but got the end of the world wrong. Last year, another bunch of doom-dayers got it wrong; the 12.12 on the 21/12 went by without a hitch. What is it about the number 21? Another day at the apocalyptic office.

Whitney Houston’s death was the major new event in 2012 Google searches, followed by Gangnam style and Hurricane Sandy. “One Direction” was the pop sensation of the year, not that I noticed. The movie of the year was The Hunger Games – I noticed that, brilliant but disturbing. The Middle East as usual is the hot spot with the on-going Arab spring, Egypt, Syria, Israel and Palestine – so it goes on. Obama was re-elected which was no surprise; but American politics is more exciting than sport! Speaking of sport, the sports event of the year was without doubt the Olympics. Wasn’t it great to see so many New Zealanders prove that Kiwis can fly – or should I say, row, ride, throw and paddle. As we would expect, the All Blacks kept winning (apart from a notable exception) and the Black Caps kept losing (apart from a couple of notable exceptions). The global recession just won’t go away. The rebuild of Christchurch has yet to kick in. Life remains tenuous on planet earth.

Yet through it all God was good. He loved us. He provided for us. He watched over us. He worked all things for good. He was firm in the shifting sands of life. And above all, he was with us.

I was working on Philippians 4:9 recently and the phrase “with you” stands out – “and the God of peace will be with you” (see also Rom 15:33; 2 Cor 13:11; 2 Thess 3:16). The Great Commission finishes with similar words – “and behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). In John too, Jesus promised that God would send a helper to be with his disciples forever, the Paraclete (John 14:16).

The notion of God being with you is found in the OT especially of the special people of Israel’s history such as Abraham (Gen 26:24, Jacob (Gen 28:15), Moses (Exod 3:12), Joshua (Josh 1:5), Gideon (Judg 6:12), and the obedient king (e.g. 2 Sam 7:3; 1 Kings 11:38; 1 Chron 28:20), Jeremiah (Jer 1:8, 19) and Haggai (Hag 1:13). He met Israel in tabernacle and temple (Exod 29:42). He travelled with Israel in the Wilderness (Exod 33:14; Deut 2:7; 31:6, 8). He was with the exiles to ultimately save them (Jer 42:11). So they should “fear not” (Isa 41:10; 43:2, 5). The prophets dreamed of a day when God was with all people in Israel (Zech 8:23).There is no better blessing than, “the Lord be with you” (Ruth 2:4; 1 Sam 17:37; 20:13; 2 Sam 14:17; Luke 1:28).

For Israel, if things went well, it meant God was with them. However, if things went wrong, this was a sign that God was no longer with them. His presence was seen as conditional and for the “special.”

The beauty of the New Testament story is that, now that Christ has come and his work to save is complete, if a person believes in Christ, no matter what their status or their circumstances, God is with that person. We no longer need to interpret our struggles and suffering as being evidence that God is not with us. Nor do we interpret our good times as indications that God is with us. The truth of the gospel is this – no matter what our status and situation, God is with us!

So, as we end 2012 we can give thanks, for God was with us through thick and thin. We know that he has been at work in our struggles and suffering, and has been with us enabling us. This is the miracle of the Spirit in our lives. Similarly, as we look forward to 2013 we can do so with confidence for we know that he will be with us with us as we go into the New Year. So, we can sing with Isaiah, “fear not, for I am with you.” We can know peace, for we have the resources of God in our beings and, “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

We at Laidlaw College wish you all a Happy New Year and the richest experience of Emmanuel (God with us) in 2013.

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