Inhabit: God Dwells Among His People

Have you ever held so tightly to a belief that you refused to hear any other idea on the subject? I’ve personally dug my heels in a few times–like the years around age twenty when I thought I knew better than God on most things. I’d been taught the truth, but I no longer listened. Pridefully sure I knew what was best for me, I stuck to my plan. Until it became excruciating. 

Israel’s history is no different. In the years of King David, these wandering, homeless people finally know peace and have their own place. Because of their faithfulness to God and the covenant, He remains in their midst–His glory hovering in the Holy of Holies. 

With King Solomon, prosperity reigns, but the beginnings of unrest also awaken. So, under his son, Rehoboam, the united country splits and the covenant is forgotten. When the people stubbornly turn to other gods, they lose everything. No homes. No land. No presence of God.

And yet. God keeps His word. 

Promise Keeper

God first offers promises of truth and hope through prophets–like Isaiah and Ezekiel–to His broken, exiled people:

“Though your people be like the sand by the sea, Israel,
    only a remnant will return.”

Isaiah 10:22, NIV

“I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. …They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.’”

Ezekiel 37:21, 25b-27, NIV

The truth: seventy years after Babylon carries off Judah, God finds a remnant of faithful followers among all the scattered exiles and leads them home. 

The hope: for those who are faithful, there is a future where God will be among them forever. 

God’s promises endure. He still wants to be with His people. His plan doesn’t change because the people fail. He just implements the next step of the plan: Incarnation.

Here Comes the Messiah

You know the story. God sends an angel to a virgin in Nazareth and says, “‘Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1:30-33, NIV

The Annunciation: The Angel Gabriel
by Gaudenzio Ferrari as seen on The National Gallery website

The words of promise to God’s people in exile echo throughout this angelic revelation: God is coming to earth to live among humanity. And, this Son of God will reign forever.

So Many Years

This is a good place to pause and recognize how long it takes to get from the announcement of this plan to the execution of it. About 700 years.

The plan is first promised: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14, NIV).

Then the plan is enacted: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ (which means ‘God with us’)” (Matthew 1:22-23, NIV).

Much happens to the Israelites during these 700 years, but for the final 400 years, God is silent. The prophet Malachi hears from God during the remnant’s return to Jerusalem, then there’s not one word from Him till the angels appear to Zechariah and Mary.

God’s silence could have been interpreted as absence or abandonment, but the faithful among the people of God do their best to follow the law and hope for the promised Messiah. For hundreds of years.

At the time of Jesus’ entry into the world, the Jews again live in the area once called the Promised Land. Herod has rebuilt the Temple, so they have a place to worship and sacrifice. Promises have been kept. 

But, poverty oppresses as much as the Romans, and corruption is rampant. 

It’s into this context that God sends the promised Messiah to live among His people–to walk the dusty roads, to experience emotion and temptation, to teach and heal and cast out demons. 

This is the Word becoming flesh and making his dwelling among us (John 1:14).

Among Us

Let’s pull all this together by looking at a few words.

In Exodus 25:9 God says, “Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” And, for all our history lessons these last few weeks, we know this tabernacle: the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem. 

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash, taken of The Cathedral Church of St. Nicholas, England

In Hebrew, the word for tabernacle is miskan (as in Exodus 25:9 above). Over one hundred times, Old Testament writers use miskan to identify this holy place where God inhabits earth.

Jump ahead to the New Testament and see a Greek word, skénoó, which means “to pitch or live in a tent, to dwell.” Skénoó is only used five times–all by John. Like when he says, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). Most of the other New Testament writers use oikeo, one of its compounds, or meno to mean ‘dwell.’ Knowing this helps us see that John’s choice of word is intentional. Hear what he’s trying to say:

Jesus tabernacled among us! (maybe read that again and let it soak in)

Jesus’ inhabiting flesh carries with it the weight of Old Testament promises, and it echoes back to God’s tent-dwelling days. John connects the covenants. He demonstrates God’s purposefulness. And, he builds the case that Jesus’ dwelling among us is the only answer to the sin-separation issue. 

The beauty of it all runs very deep. Dr. Sandra Richter, of Epic of Eden renown, says, “We could not go to Him, so He has come to us. The holy place comes to us because Jesus resolves the problem of separation and cohabitation in His own flesh” (emphasis mine).

The original Tabernacle, the Holy of Holies, is but a shadow of the holy place in heaven where God’s full presence dwells; therefore, neither the desert tent nor the Temple are enough to fully redeem humanity back to God. So, God sends the holy place to us.

And, this holy place is enough. Jesus is always enough.

Thirty-three Years

Jesus tabernacles on earth for thirty-three years. The last three of which He steps fully into the ministry of teaching the Kingdom of God. Jesus inhabits a human body so He can walk among His creation. No veil needed. No sacrifices required. Just Him and His followers, face-to-face everyday for three years. 

And I marvel. 

I’m grateful you’ve stuck with this historical, biblical journey of Inhabit. I could hardly wait to get to today’s lesson and shout the revelation that Jesus tabernacled among us!!! God’s Rescue Plan has so much intentionality. Despite the years and varying languages, writers of the Bible have given us a well-woven tapestry depicting God’s plan of redemption, illustrating how it has unfolded through each era of humanity. 

Friends, the world rejects the upside-down ways of Jesus now just as it always has. The stubborn desire to do life our way has yet to be fully worked out of us. But, the good news is that by faith we can live into this reality of Jesus dwelling among us more and more everyday. It starts with trusting the Word–the Word made flesh–in every moment and feeling and decision.

And the cool thing is–there’s more to the story, which I’ll save for next week. Till then, keep listening to the promises of God. Stick to them until they become part of you.

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  • What is your response to “Jesus tabernacled among us?” Journal your thoughts and reactions while capturing the ways John connects the old and the new and looking for ways God’s plan has unfolded throughout time.
  • Our Dwell Playlist continues to sustain, feed, and guide me through this ‘dwell’ journey. Is there a song that has particularly spoken to your spirit?
  • We have one more week till we move into our Lent series on the Sermon on the Mount. Can’t wait!

Featured photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

Published by Shelley Linn Johnson

Lover of The Word. And words. Cultivator of curiosity about all things Christ. Lifelong learner who likes inviting others along for the journey. Recovering perfectionist who has only recently realized that rhythms are so much better than stress-inducing must-do's.

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