â€œThe difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matterâ€”â€˜tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.â€
As a writer, these words by Mark Twain evoke a resounding Amen deep inside me. How many times have I labored for an hour or more to fix one sentence that came close to expressing my intent, but didnâ€™t quite hit the mark? In recent days, as I began pondering the Christmas story, a singular word struck me with Godâ€™s lightning. It is the word â€œwithâ€ â€“ an unassuming preposition that takes on explosive meaning in the right context.
â€œIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.â€ (John 1:1,2) Here, the Greek word for â€œwithâ€ is â€˜prosâ€™ and indicates a personal relationship between equals. Johnâ€™s iterations are four-fold. The Word, Jesus Christ, always was and always will be, without beginning or end. He was with God, in personal relationship. He was God, having equal status. He has always existed with the Father in eternal fellowship.
It occurred to me that John might have struggled to find apt words to articulate this profound revelation. I am thankful that he did. What if, in an effort to meet some deadline, he threw precision to the wind and wrote something less? We may have gleaned only that the Word was a supernatural being, not quite eternal, not quite God and not so lovingly related to the Father.
A clear understanding is vital because it brings perspective to subsequent revelations. After Josephâ€™s betrothed, Mary, was found to be with child, an angel came to him in a dream telling him not to be afraid. The baby she was carrying would save his people from their sins. â€œSo all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: â€˜Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son and they shall call His name Immanuel,â€™ which is translated, â€˜God with us.â€™â€ (Matthew 1:22,23)
â€œWithâ€ appears again, this time as the Greek word â€˜meta,â€™ meaning â€œin common with.â€ That the Maker of the heavens and earth put aside his glory and dwelt among us sharing in common our vulnerable humanity is astounding. What he communicated in doing so is more astounding. God is with us. God is with man. God dwells among us. He wore the same human flesh that hungered and tired and suffered. Yet, he wore it without sin. The same flesh bled and died under the wrath of his Father to make us sons â€“ because he loved us.
God so loved the world, this tiny blue blip in all the galaxies and universes, an anthill in his sight. Really, it is an anthill and we are ants. That vision unfolded before me one night as I hurried home in rush hour traffic jostling with a multitude of other ants and started to cry. Who are we that God should love us? Who am I? I know I canâ€™t do without him, but mysteriously he canâ€™t do without me, or you either. That is why he came among us.
We could have been subject to the God of Bette Midlerâ€™s song, the one who only watches us from a distance. Indeed, that is the God of some peopleâ€™s imaginings. Yet, it is not who he reveals himself to be. Jesus said, â€œHe who has seen Me has seen the Father,â€ and â€œI and My Father are oneâ€ (John 14:9 and John 10:30). Jesus said these things while breathing the very same air as those who were following him, not from the distance of a dimension outside time and space. He was God with man, God with us.
He was God with the children, God with the captive, God with the poor, God with the sick, God with the weary, God with the suffering, God with the lame, God with the leper, God with the hungry, God with the weak, God with the prisoner, God with the soldier, God with the adulteress, God with the heartbroken, God with the doubter, God with the tormented, God with the dying â€¦ even, God with the dead. Is he not the same today?
During a year when I havenâ€™t heard his voice in exactly the same way Iâ€™ve experienced it in the past, Iâ€™ve at least sensed his presence. One morning as I lay on the floor in the still moments after prayer, I had an impression of laborious effort taking place. It was of Christ joining me to the Father, his ministry of reconciliation. It was of Christ praying for me, his ministry of intercession. Jesus tells us why he does this in John 17:23. â€œI in them, and You in Me; that they may they be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.”
Itâ€™s tempting to never venture beyond the intimacy and peace of knowing God for myself, thinking that is the end game, that the church is just a house for so many saved sinners, I being one of them. True, individually we are members of Christâ€™s body, but how we relate to him has an effect beyond ourselves. Like Maryâ€™s poured out perfume and Paulâ€™s tireless service, it is our passion for Christ, uniquely expressed, that creates intense longing for him in others.
Yet, as John 17:23 indicates, it is unity that will leave a mark on the whole of mankind. Watchman Nee writes in The Normal Christian Life, â€œThe eternal purposeâ€ is something in the mind of God from eternity concerning his Son, and it has as its objective that the Son should have a Body to express his life.â€ Christ is in us and the Father is in him in order to make us his expression of love to the world.
So while we who have experienced the outrageous grace of his salvation have understanding, in varying degrees, that God is with us, how can the lost in this world gain such a revelation? It is this: God is with them â€¦ in us. We are Christâ€™s body in which God is still in the earth dwelling among men performing his ministry of reconciliation, of intercession and of love.
We are Christ to the children, Christ to the oppressed, Christ to the poor, Christ to the sick, Christ to the suffering, Christ to the hungry, Christ to the heartbroken and Christ to the dying. Let it be so.
I pray for myself and each one of us that we might follow hard on the heels of Christ, that we will look, speak, touch and love so much like him that a groaning world will cry out, â€œYes, God is with us.â€