When COVID fell hard in March of 2020, our congregation ceased in-person worship for several weeks and our school went to online education. I remember how hollow and lonely the building became.
By the grace of God, we had the tools and personnel to produce a virtual worship service that continues to this day. While congregations have made their best efforts to produce a high-quality, edifying online service, most would agree that it is just not the same as worshiping in person. There is a sense of disconnectedness. Worshiping in person affords the beauty of the worship space, the company and mutual support of other Christians, and the reception of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper.
God’s Old Testament Promises to Be with His People
God took measures to be sure He was connected with the people of Israel. After freeing the people from centuries of slavery under the Egyptians, God was present with His people as He led them through the desert with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night. God also gave His people instructions for building a tabernacle in which He would meet them. Specifically, God would be present among the people in the Most Holy Place—the inner chamber of the tabernacle that only the high priest could enter once a year on the Day of Atonement—at the ark of the covenant, the golden box in which lay the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 25 we read, “And you shall put the mercy seat on the top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony that I shall give you. There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel” (vv. 21–22). Centuries later, our Lord promises to be present with the people in an even more intimate way. We consider the passage:
And when you have multiplied and been fruitful in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, “The ark of the covenant of the LORD.” It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. At that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD, and all nations shall gather to it, to the presence of the LORD in Jerusalem, and they shall no more stubbornly follow their own evil heart.
God’s Promises of Presence Fulfilled in Jesus Christ
God fulfilled His promise through the prophet Jeremiah in Jesus Christ, His Son, when He took on human flesh and entered the world. Although Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of His earthly ancestor David, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in keeping with God’s commands as we read in the second chapter of Luke.
And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord.
Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem
Jesus comes to the temple again with His parents at age 12. When He remains behind, Mary and Joseph find our Lord sitting with the teachers and dialoguing with them. When Mary and Joseph express frustration, Jesus responds.
“Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.” And He said to them, “Why were you looking for Me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
Jesus’ Passion in Jerusalem
Jesus’ most important time in Jerusalem is His Passion. He enters the city in triumph but is eventually betrayed, arrested, falsely accused, spit upon, beaten, denied, flogged, condemned to death, and murdered on the cross. It is important to note that although Jesus enters Jerusalem, He is actually crucified outside of the city, fulfilling His role as the scapegoat, cast out to carry the sins of the people.
Jesus’ Ascension to Heaven
It is noteworthy in Luke 24 that, after Jesus rises and ascends into heaven, His disciples “worshiped Him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (vv. 52–53). From this, we can gather that the disciples understood Jesus was the Son of God and, as He had risen and ascended, they would now go to the temple to find Him and His gifts.
Jesus’ Presence with Us Today
Jesus continues to bless us with His intimate presence today in the Word and Sacraments. Each time we read the Bible, the Holy Spirit shows us Jesus Christ, creating saving faith through the message of the Gospel. Christ is present in Holy Baptism as we receive His Holy Spirit and, through His baptism, the gifts He would eventually earn for us on the cross. In, with, and under the bread and wine, we receive Christ’s true body and blood in Holy Communion.
The Fullness of Jesus’ Presence in Heaven
The Book of Revelation extracts this idea of Jesus in Jerusalem and intimacy with our Savior:
And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be His people, and God Himself will be with them as their God.”
Jesus sustains us in faith each day with Himself until we experience Him in fullness in heaven.
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