A favorite topic of small talk among nerds: “What is your favorite part of speech?” Verbs and nouns get all the spotlight, that’s for sure. Adjectives and adverbs are usually well-liked among the nerdy masses (sorry, if you are a jock and parts of speech aren’t in your zone of interest).
But what about the seemingly unimportant preposition (in, out, before, beside, under, and so on)? Little prepositions hardly get noticed at all in many sentences. Sadly, subjects and verbs often overshadow them by a monumental amount.
But when it comes to understanding the Bible, every word matters, and that includes prepositions.
Jonathan Edwards’ classic treatise
Updated for today’s readers
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When Jesus was born, Isaiah predicted that one of his names would be Immanuel (Isaiah 7:14 and fulfilled in Matthew 1:23-ff). This cherished name of Christ literally means God with us. Here, we have a proper noun — God. And we have a plural personal pronoun — us. These two are joined together by a preposition — with.
God is Almighty, holy, and perfect, while we are limited, impure, and sinful. Yet, enshrined in the name Immanuel, these two are joined together by a happy little preposition. They are “with” each other.
With-ness and Love
With-ness essentially means togetherness. We like milk with our cereal, bacon with our eggs, soap with our water. These all go together.
With-ness is most important when it comes to relationships. A husband and wife are with each other. They sit with each other at the restaurant. They ride with one another in the same car. The return home with each other to the same house. They even sleep with one another in the same bed. Major with-ness happening there.
With-ness almost always implies love. It is possible to be with someone you hate, but only against your will. It’s not what you want. During World War II Jewish captives were with the German soldiers at Auschwitz, but they were not with them because they wanted to be. They were with them because they were forced to be.
True with-ness happens only when there is love binding two people together. To want to be with someone implies that you love them.
God wants to be with us. John tells us that Jesus came into the world because he was sent by the Father who was motivated by love (John 3:16). In the birth of Christ we find the greatest and most powerful expression of love imaginable, because there God says to humanity, “I want to be with you.”
To Be with God Is Our Highest Calling
Adam and Eve were created to be with God. He did not form them and leave them. He was in the Garden with them, and they with him.
The First Commandment reveals that God wants us to want to be with him: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). Why not? Because we were designed to seek after God in order to be with him.
Being with God is more important than our careers, families, automobiles, and houses. Just as being with your spouse is the purpose of marriage, being with God is the total purpose of our existence.
Our Biggest Failure: We Don’t Want to Be with God
Because of the interference of sin into the human condition, people no longer want to be with God. Adam and Eve opted out of with-ness (as far as God is concerned) when they ate the fruit and were banished from the garden (Genesis 3).
We opt out of being with God every time we sin against him. Our greed, lust, hate, pride, materialism, and gluttony all communicate to the Creator that we do not wish to be with him. We don’t love him enough to want to be with him. No wonder maintaining a regular time of devotion (Bible reading and prayer) is so difficult!
Instead of God with us, we prefer stuff with us. This is the idea at the heart of Christmas commercialism—to replace Christ with gadgets. The notion of God with us is set aside in favor of iPhones, kindles, foot massagers, flat screen TVs, and baskets of lotion. For many, Christmas is about stuff with us, not God with us.
Given that our highest calling is to be with God, it is our biggest failure when we’d rather be with our stuff. We worship the creation instead of the Creator (Romans 1:25).
Being with Us Is God’s Greatest Gift
Here is the true power of Christmas. We didn’t want to be with God, so God came in order to be with us. He is Immanuel.
Once my young daughter disappeared, which was a big deal because she had just turned two. The last I saw her, she was playing on the porch. When I noticed her happy squeals had ceased, I darted out the back door to find her. I ran into the neighbor’s backyard, scanning as far as my eye could see for her little blonde head. Finally, I spotted her bouncing through someone’s backyard two houses down from ours.
As fast as my legs could carry me, I darted up to her and scooped her up in my arms, toting her back to the house. “You belong with me,” I said with my actions. I chased her down because I love her.
On a much grander scale, God is chasing us down. By sending Jesus to die for our sins, he actively removed every obstacle that would hinder our being with him.
Colossians 2:13-14 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
He found us when we were running away from him, and rescued us from ourselves. Just as he chased his wandering prophet Jonah down with a storm and fish (to rescue him, not punish him), so he does not give up until he grabs all of his children up in his arms and says, “You are with me.”
God wants to be with us. What a profound thought. Let’s spend this Christmas season soaking in that wondrous reality.
How Christ Defeats
Darkness, Demons, and Death
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