The danger facing Israel was great. Ahaz the son of Jotham was on the throne; the combined forces of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel had attacked and the king was directing efforts to strengthen the defences of Jerusalem. Isaiah faced the ungodly monarch with the challenge to acknowledge the Lord and ask Him for a sign, which request he refused. The response of the prophet rings down through the centuries: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel". The sign of the virgin conceiving and bearing a son would indicate the soon arrival of Israels deliverer. When He came the Lord would be with His people.
The beautiful name "Immanuel" is only found three times in the Scriptures. On the third occasion it confirms the meaning, "God with us", a precious truth of which Paul writes, "God was manifest in the flesh" (1 Tim 3.16). It was, therefore, the desire of God that He would be with His people. From the beginning this was so, as He sought to walk with them in the garden and speak to them (Gen 2.8). Let us rejoice in the fact that He wishes to be with us; not a distant, remote God but one whose presence we can enjoy.
To tired, weary disciples who had rowed for hours and made little progress He came over the waves. He talked with them and went up unto them to take away what was causing their troubles. When you are weary, perhaps exhausted by circumstances that bar your way, by troubles that have drained your strength, remember the Christ who could walk over the waves to be with these men. It may be that you feel like those in the boat, as John records it, that "It was now dark, and Jesus was not come to them" (Jn 6.17). Take heart! He comes near to restore our strength.
After the darkest days through which they had lived, two disciples turned their backs on Jerusalem and set out for Emmaus. Their conversation could only centre on one topic, the things that had taken place over the past few days. No matter how they reasoned they could not work it out. Their hopes were dashed; their spirits were low and the outlook was dark. But then, "Jesus himself drew near, and went with them" (Lk 24.15). He comes near to open our understanding.
But such blessing of His presence is not limited to the days when He was on earth. Mark, the servant Gospel, ends by stating that after the Lord had gone to heaven the disciples "went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them (Mk 16.20). They were determined that all would hear the message, that none who could be reached would be denied the gospel. Today, in like manner, He comes near to empower our evangelism.
As the end of his days of service drew near Paul was arraigned before a Roman court. He was alone. There was no one to support, no smile to encourage, no words to comfort. But yet he was not alone! "The Lord stood with me" (2 Tim 4.17), he declared, and in so doing strengthened him. Yes, the One who is God was still indeed "God with us". He comes near to support in times of trial.
But, will this ever end, this desire of the Lord to be with us? The words of the Lord which close Matthews Gospel confirm our confidence in Him: " lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world" (28.20). Right to the end of this age He will be with His servants. The promise contained in the announcement at the beginning of this Gospel, "Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us", will not fail. Those who serve Him will never be abandoned.
And what of beyond? Yes, His presence will be enjoyed for eternity. The great voice that spoke out of heaven declared, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God" (Rev 21.3). In that day of tearless eyes, of deathless life, when sorrow, crying and pain are no more, we will be with Him. With confidence we can rest on the promise given to Joshua, but directed by the writer to the Hebrews to all of His own: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee" (Heb 13.5).