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Yesterday morning, I was privileged to preach the induction service for Michael Cloete as pastor-teacher of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Horison, Roodepoort. This was supposed to happen last April but, due to COVID-19, it had to be postponed. Shame: last March, Michael and his family moved from Malalane to Roodepoort to commence his ministry, and then two weeks later—lockdown! The church had a new pastor who, for many weeks, was unable to meet many in his congregation, let alone meet with them! Yet he and the church have persevered well and yesterday confirmed the harmony between pastor and people. I was greatly encouraged. Emmanuel Baptist Church is experiencing its namesake, for God is clearly with the church, just as the name Emmanuel reveals (Matthew 1:21).

In some ways, yesterday’s experience was so surreal. You see, some 26 years ago I visited Emmanuel Baptist Church for the first time, in order to meet with then Pastor Martin Holdt. Martin was a well-respected, much-loved “pastor of pastors.” I was young in the ministry and sought out his counsel. And now, nearly three decades later, I was preaching the induction service of Emanuel’s pastor.

As I sat in the church hall, I smiled as I noticed their missions board with the reference to Malachi 1:11, “For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations.” That board with that verse was there in the days of Martin. The print is old and the design outdated, but the message is just as relevant: By God’s sovereign grace, he is with us, and he will be with his people in every nation. God will save his people from their sins, wherever they are. Emmanuel’s fame will be known among the nations!

When Martin was a young pastor, he planted a church in Phalaborwa. Our own Beryl Quinn was converted under his ministry and became a member of the church. God has been with Beryl ever since. Emmanuel, indeed.

When I met with Martin for counsel concerning what seemed to be God’s reformation of our church, he encouraged me to preach the doctrines of grace with evangelistic fervour and to trust the Lord for church growth. I remember his telling me that Calvinistic churches need to silence critics by being healthy and growing. I hope BBC over the years has done some good towards this end. God has been with us, and we have experienced his abundant blessing. Emmanuel continues to encourage us. He will never leave us or forsake us. Though we sometimes wander from him, yet he remains faithful and he continues to be with his people.

Yesterday, when Jill and I drove away from Emmanuel Baptist Church, we shared the same joy of having experienced the presence of the Lord. Jill commented how good it is to gather on the Lord’s Day with brothers and sisters in Christ. Knowing that I was carrying a heavy burden about a matter that morning, she observed how my spirits had been lifted by worshipping and fellowshipping with Christians. And she was right. You see, being with brothers and sisters that morning brought home to me in a personal and experiential way that, indeed, God is with us. How appropriate that this occurred at Emmanuel Baptist Church.

Brothers and sisters, regardless of the name of your local church, be grateful that, through salvation by the gospel of Jesus Christ, we have the promise that God is with us. And as Paul would remind us, this means that God is also for us. Therefore, who cares who is against us (Romans 8:31)! Now there’s a helpful thought for a Monday morning.

May Emmanuel’s encouragement be ours today, and every day.