Where Can I Find God Today?
Examining Matthew’s Answer
Few truths are more comforting than the assurance of God’s abiding presence with us. But feeling abandoned by God, such as the sentiment expressed in Psalm 6, spawns feelings of discouragement, hopelessness, and loneliness. But Matthew’s portrait of Jesus provides the hope of enjoying God’s unfailing, abiding presence.
Matthew frames his portrayal of Jesus by an astonishing claim. The presence of Jesus in our lives is the promise of God’s abiding presence. Jesus is Israel’s God in embodied form who is with us. Matthew brackets his entire story of Jesus on the frame of God’s presence with us in Jesus. Jesus as God’s presence begins the story and it also ends the story. Matthew doesn’t want us to miss the hope.
So, if you are searching for God and want the assurance of his abiding presence, join me in examining Matthew’s astonishing portrait of Jesus. His portrait of Jesus is painted with bookends.
Matthew’s First Bookend
The first bookend is captured in the story of an unexpected pregnancy. Matthew explained to us that Mary’s shocking pregnancy—sans Joseph’s role as the male—and the forthcoming baby conceived by the Holy Spirit, fulfills an ancient prophecy:
“This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled. ‘Look, the virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call his name Emmanuel, which is translated, “God with us.”’ ό έστιν μεθερμνευόμενον μεθ’ ήμών θεός Matthew 1:22-23
Matthew signals to us that the birth of Jesus fulfills the ancient prophecy of an astonishing event, a birth to a virgin woman. What is equally mind-boggling is that this birth calls for a special name, Emmanuel. Matthew is careful to translate the meaning of the name for us. Translated, the name means, “God with us.” Jesus, the baby to be born, is Emmanuel. Jesus is God with us.
As readers, we must slowly trek through Matthew’s Gospel and be on the lookout for clues that Jesus truly is God with us. If we have been taught to observe the text carefully, we will spot numerous episodes where Jesus’ words and works reveal God’s unmistakable presence in Jesus and thus makes the case for his divine status.
Matthew’s Claim is Astonishing
Religious readers might doubt Matthew’s claim. His claim is outside the religious box because of its staggering implications. To religious people, God dwells in buildings, temples, cathedrals, and other sacred enclosures. The religions of past centuries hold this view. But Matthew’s story doesn’t fit into that stereotype. It’s understandable for religious people to purse their lips when their hear Matthew’s claim. God’s presence is not found in man-made buildings.
Jewish readers also might be offended by Matthew’s claim. After all, their history reflects a God who dwelt in a tabernacle and, later on, in a temple in Jerusalem. God dwelt in a building. But with the destruction of Jerusalem, and with it the Temple, God’s people must look elsewhere in the world for His presence. Where is God now that the temple has been destroyed? Where can we find God?
For Matthew, that “elsewhere” is a new temple, a new holy of holies, Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of a virgin, a human-but-divine temple.
In part 2 of this blog post, we shall examine a few of the episodes where Jesus’ works and words demonstrate that he is the new temple, the embodied presence of God.
Matthew’s Final Bookend
A quick glance at the final paragraph of Matthew’s Gospel reinforces his astounding claim about Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. Jesus’ final assurance to his disciples—providing the final bookend to Matthew’s Gospel–gives them confidence to proceed on the mission of making disciples of all nations.
“While you are going, therefore, make disciples of all nations…and look, I will be with you until the end of the age.” ίδού έγώ μεθ’ ύμών Matthew 28:20
Jesus promised his disciples his abiding presence, God’s presence, their Emmanuel’s, until the end of the age. Only a divine figure could assure the disciples of his eternal presence in their challenging and sometimes dangerous task of making disciples.
Jesus is our Emmanuel
Jesus was and is our Emmanuel, the embodied presence of Israel’s God, the God whose abiding presence will be with us always. We can find God today. His presence is with us in Jesus.
Wesley’s poetry nails it.
Christ, by highest heaven adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the God-head see;
hail the incarnate Deity,
pleased as man with man to dwell.
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing,
Glory to the newborn King!
 Modern scholars, both of the evangelical stripe and of the liberal brand, typically accuse Matthew of ignoring the context of Isaiah 7:14. In other words, Matthew was wrong to use Isaiah 7:14 as proof of Jesus’ virgin birth. This, today, is the majority opinion among Old Testament scholars. They claim Matthew ignored chapter 7 as the context. This is not the place to argue otherwise, but the appropriate context for Isaiah 7:14 is not simply Isaiah 7 alone, but Isaiah chapters 2-12. I would argue, on the basis of exegetical research done by another on Isaiah 2-12, that Matthew demonstrates a correct understanding of Isaiah’s context. The composer of the book of Isaiah has contextualized chapter 7 indicating a reading and interpretation of it quite consistent with Matthew. Matthew was right, in other words, to use Isaiah 7:14 as proof that Jesus would be conceived in a young virgin woman. Matthew knew what he was talking about.
 Charles Wesley, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, 1739