5–11 May 2019.
In 2 Chronicles 5 we see the Israelites in the middle of a grand celebration. Solomon had given the order that there should be a great procession bringing the ark of the covenant into the temple in Jerusalem, and this was a reason for great joy.
From a practical perspective, we may think that the ark was just a box. Verse 10 even tells us it was empty, except for the two stone tablets that Moses had placed in there. But of course to the people of Israel the ark was far more than just a box. It was a physical reminder of the glory of God, a solid representation of the presence of God himself. That’s why the arrival of the ark was such a cause for celebration, because it symbolized that God was now coming to live in the temple, to be there together with his people, to share their city, to share their daily lives, and (quite literally) to be their neighbour. Verse 13 tells us that after the ark arrived “a thick cloud filled the temple”, representing God’s arrival in his new home and his real presence there with his people.
The Hebrew word “Immanuel” means “God with us”, and in 2 Chronicles 5 it is precisely this good news of God being with his people that the Israelites celebrated with their sacrifices, their joyous music, and their passionate singing.
Today even though neither the ark nor the Jerusalem temple still exist, we Christians know that we still have reason to celebrate and be joyful. In the Christmas story we hear the wonderful news that God has come again to be with us and to share our lives – not in a man-made wooden box but in Jesus Christ, the true Immanuel. And while the ancient Israelites imagined that God was held behind the walls of the Jerusalem temple, in the Easter story we hear the real good news of how the temple veil was destroyed and torn in two. That’s because God’s presence refuses to be limited to Jerusalem or any one place in this world. Instead God’s presence floods out through the torn temple veil out into the whole world, letting us know the good news that wherever we are in this world God’s presence is right there with us. Whether we are in Taiwan, Africa, or South America, whether we are at home, in hospital, or even in the middle of the sea, God is always right there beside us.
The ancient Israelites celebrated and cheered knowing that God was with them. For the same reason we Christians today can continue to celebrate, sing, and live lives of joy because we too know this good news that we are never alone. Wherever in the world we may be, Christ Immanuel is our God who is always right there with us.
With blessings for the week ahead,
Pastor Stephen Lakkis