The word renew means to continue something after it is paused. This is what happens to God’s plan to fill the world with His presence through His children. They again renew, re-engaging their calling to partner with God in the spreading of His presence in the world. To renew is also to bring fresh life to something that is exhausted or degenerate. The story of the Bible after the disobedience of humans is one of renewal.
God had not given up on His plan to fill the world with His presence; He draws near to Abraham, reinstituting the command to go into the world to flourish and be fruitful. He draws near to Israel, beginning the process of shaping them into a people among whom He can dwell. The temptation faced by Adam and Eve will also be ever-present for Israel. The opportunity to pursue freedom and to flourish under the steam of their power will continue the trend of disobedience amongst God’s people.
Israel will discover that there are two alternatives to renewal. First, in an attempt to preserve their own will and human strength, they may choose to resist God’s renewal, their flesh, in disobedience, forming a blockade against the entry of God’s presence. The second option is to attempt to engage in renewal in their strength, to join in renewal without God’s presence. Both options actively work against God’s plan to fill the world with His presence.
God had come close to Israel, yet His people still lived under the flesh. “Salvation would mean the reversal of this fallen condition,” writes Peter Leithart. “Salvation would bring free admission to eat and drink in God’s presence. Salvation would involve deliverance from mortal flesh, and from the taboos and exclusions that resulted from it. Anyone who could achieve that would be the Savior of Adam’s race.”1
God’s plan would still involve the end goal of filling the world with His presence and glory. It also must deal with the eradication of flesh and disobedience. Thus, in His coming to earth, in His incarnation, we see several key elements of God’s presence.
1) GOD’S PRESENCE IS THE GOAL OF HISTORY.
God’s presence is directed to the end of the age, to the New Jerusalem, for His presence will fill the earth.
2) GOD’S PRESENCE IS HIS MEANS OF ACCOMPLISHING THIS GOAL.
While history will end with God’s presence, throughout human history, He uses His presence as the means of achieving this goal.
3) GOD’S PRESENCE IS LOVE.
It shows His desire to draw near to His people and to dwell amongst them as He did in Eden and will in the New Jerusalem. We were created to be in relationship with Him.
4) GOD’S PRESENCE IS JUSTICE.
His presence comes to wage war against that which resists His goal of filling the world with His glory. His presence is also His justice. It comes to remove from the world unredeemed flesh, disobedience, injustice. It comes to destroy our attempts to pursue our original Adamic vocation in our strength.
All of these threads would tie into a knot in the life of Jesus. He will be called Immanuel—God with us—to fulfill the promise that God will be with His people. Ryan Lister notes, “Christ’s being Immanuel is a gateway to the promises of God and his redemptive purposes. The presence of God once enjoyed in a measure by the patriarchs and by Moses and Israel at Sinai is now manifest in the person of Jesus Christ. And like the presence of Yahweh in the Old Testament, Christ comes to his people to work salvation and restore to them the covenant blessings.”2
Jesus is therefore not just God’s presence amongst us. He is God’s redemptive presence, sent to renew us, to complete God’s goal of moving history toward His full presence.
He shows us the end of history, but also how we are going to get there. Lister continues, “Being the fulfillment of the Immanuel sign and all its implications reveals that Christ is the completion of God’s Old Testament promise to be with His people for their redemption, while simultaneously working to consummate God’s promise to reopen access to God’s . . . presence.”3
His early years show Him shaped in the ways of God in the temple, learning and following, dwelling in the house of the Lord. His ministry begins with baptism and the empowering of the Spirit for ministry. He announces through His preaching that the kingdom was here. God had drawn near. Despite opposition, the crowds, the stubbornness and difficulty of His disciples, He continually retreats to spend time with His Father.
Jesus models the perfect life system—at the center is abiding with the Father. His life is an act of total worship and service to God.
Unlike Adam, Jesus’ life is marked by obedience. He shows us how the Spirit of God can exist in a person and be spread by the Spirit by living in the Spirit. He is the presence enfleshed.
Jesus is a walking renewal.
Excerpted from Reappearing Church: The Hope for Renewal in the Rise of our Post-Christian Culture by Mark Sayers (©2019). Published by Moody Publishers. Used by permission.
MARK SAYERS is a cultural commentator, writer, and speaker who is highly sought out for his unique and perceptive insights into faith and contemporary culture. Mark has written a number of books that speak directly into leadership, culture and identity. He is the author of Reappearing Church, Disappearing Church, Strange Days, The Road Trip That Changed the World, and Facing Leviathan. Mark is also the Senior Leader of Red Church in Melbourne, Australia and the co-host of the popular podcast This Cultural Moment. Mark lives in Melbourne with his wife, Trudi, and their three children.