The Shall Call His Name Immanuel
Topic: Christmas Passage: Matthew 1:18–1:25
Several years ago I received an e-mail from a Rev. Dr. Leslie Pinto, Pastor. I remember being amazed that someone could fit that many titles around their name. Anyway the Rev. Dr. Leslie Pinto, Pastor wrote in the subject line “God loves you and so do I.” Now I don’t doubt that the Rev. Dr. Leslie Pinto, Pastor, whoever he is, meant well, but there was a huge disconnect between what his e-mail said and what his e-mail communicated, because it seemed so hollow and insincere. And because of that disconnect, it was a very easy thing for me to hit “delete” and quickly move on to other things.
A similar thing can happen to us at Christmas time. We hear the words peace on earth, good will toward men, a Savior is born, joy to the world, God sent His Son, wise men still seek him, Jesus is the reason for the season and all the other words so common to this time of year that after a while we can become numb to them and there can a disconnect between what they say and what they mean in our hearts.
In fact, one of the days I was working on this message I was having a really bad day and was struggling with a bad attitude. I was offended, angry, discouraged, and I’m sure sinning all over the place, but at the time I sure couldn’t see how. (Yes, pastors do have bad days). And it’s hard to prepare a message in that place. I felt as hollow and insincere as the Rev, Dr. Leslie Pinto, Pastor’s e-mail subject line. Merry Christmas – God loves you and so do I!
Aren’t you glad, brothers and sisters, that we have a real Savior who came to us right where we live and right where we need Him most? God entered the human race, not in some artificially sterile context, but in a dirty, smelly stable, born to poor parents, and surrounded by real and imperfect people just like you and me.
Of all the gospels, Matthew is most concerned with connecting the birth and early life of Christ to the OT scriptures. Luke’s gospel tells great stories that are full of detail and life. Matthew only gives enough details to demonstrate how scripture was fulfilled through Christ. Matthew wants his readers to know that the birth of Christ and the events that surrounded his birth fulfilled specific prophecies of the Old Testament.
And that is true of this section as well. We know the story well about how Joseph wrestles with what to do with his betrothed when she is found with child, finally deciding to mercifully divorce her quietly, but before he can do that an angel appears to tell him that he should not fear taking Mary as his wife, that the child in Mary’s womb is conceived of the Holy Spirit and that his name was to be Jesus (which means Yahweh is salvation or Yahweh saves!), for he would save his people from their sins. Matthew then concludes that all this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet Isaiah:
Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).
God didn’t send someone to help us; God Himself came to help us. The Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, came to earth as a man through the incarnation to be with us and to save us. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. That is the wonderful message of Christmas.
We have grown familiar with this – but it is actually shocking and it’s meant to be shocking. This is a conception like no other in the Bible or in human history and this is a child like no other in the Bible or in human history. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
I was at a Bible college years ago, and this BC had a prayer room. It was a small room with only one entrance going into a breezeway. One evening a couple friends and I went to that breezeway and looked through the small window on the door to see if anyone was in the prayer room. Sure enough, we could see someone kneeling with their back to us. We couldn’t tell who it was or whether it was a male or female – but whoever it was had long dark hair. So we sat in the breezeway and talked – all within clear view of the prayer room door. After about an hour, since no one had come out, we looked in again – and now there was no one there! I’m not kidding – we could clearly see them in there praying and now no one was in the room – and we were always within view of the one door out and knew no one had come out that door. The thought that it was an angel crossed our minds – this was supernatural! We were giddy with excitement!
And this filled my heart with a heavy sense of awe as I stood where the being kneeled – to think that I was standing where a creature from heaven kneeled just a few minutes ago – filled my heart with reverence and awe. Now, as we were telling the story of the angel excitedly at dinner, a shy, quiet girl spoke up and said it was her. She heard us talking in the breezeway and rather than have to walk by us she climbed out the small window onto the roof, walked the roof over to the driveway and jumped down. Couldn’t believe she would go to such lengths to not have to say hello to a couple of people, and couldn’t believe that it wasn’t an angel.
But Jesus was from glory – he sat on the throne of God. He existed infinitely before the world began. He created the heaven and the earth. He created the angels. Jesus was Immanuel…God with us.
I. Jesus is Immanuel - God with us in human history
Matthew anchors our understanding of Christ firmly in the bigger scope of human history. Jesus’ birth wasn’t a great dramatic event, an event that went unnoticed except for a few shepherds and a few magi. But Jesus’ birth was a historical event of indescribable magnitude. As prophesied hundreds and even thousands of years earlier, God entered the human race as a man – as a baby – born to a poor couple in the humble city of Bethlehem.
There is a kind of novel gaining popularity these days called dystopian fiction. Dystopian fiction portrays a dying or shrinking future due to a break in human history – often the result of a man-made cataclysm or war, leaving small pockets of humanity struggling to put the pieces back together. The movie I Am Legend is an example of dystopian fiction and it leaves us with a bleak and hopeless view of the future of human history.
History would be shrinking and hopeless were it not for Immanuel, God with us, entering human history as a man. This baby born to Mary would be the light of the world, the hope of the nations, the joy of the redeemed. Jesus came to redeem human history for the glory of God and the good of His people. This is what Isaiah was prophesying about when he wrote in chapter 9:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. 3You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian…6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9:2-7 (ESV)
Now I realize that some of you might be tempted to think that God entering human history is too large and abstract a concept to be of any relevance to our lives. But we need to anchor our faith and hope on greater things than what’s happening in the moment. If all we anchor ourselves to is our day to day experiences and feelings, when the strong winds of adversity or doubt blow we are going to be blown about and our faith will be tossed to and fro with every wind and wave. We need to tether ourselves and our faith to something far bigger and stronger and older than ourselves – like tethering ourselves to a tall oak tree. It’s its history and depth of root that holds strong, and by holding to it, we are held strong too.
When you read the Bible, allow the historicity of it to comfort and strengthen you. Don’t go immediately to, “how do I apply this to my life?” Part of the Bible’s strength for believers is that it isn’t a trendy e-mail subject line bound to go out of style as quickly as it came in style. Part of its quiet strength is that it spoke to believers three hundred years ago in the same way it speaks to believers today. Jesus is God with us in human history – and history will never be the same.
II. Jesus is Immanuel – God with us to save us from our sin
The angel tells Joseph why this child would be born and what his life would accomplish. Jesus came to earth on the greatest rescue mission ever: he came to save his people from their sin. Again, we can grow so familiar with this that it seems like it’s no big deal.
Think of this: a baby born in a manger, born to a young girl from an obscure family with a young man who is watching his wife give birth to a baby that isn’t his own. How crazy this must have seemed to them. But then for them to think that this baby would save his people from their sin. Think of all the sin that every one of us commits on a daily basis – how much sin have anyone of us accumulated over the course of our lifetime? Not just the big stuff that damaged relationships or broke the law or shamed us publicly. But also the daily thoughts and words and motives and actions that do not honor God. Now think of adding all of this to everyone else alive and then to everyone who has ever lived – and we maybe get a small sense of how massive the sheer amount of sin Jesus needed to save us from. Then add to that the fact that our sin separates us from God – He cannot allow sin in His holy presence and His holy justice requires Him to punish sin.
It would seem impossible that a baby could save us. And that’s the point: it is impossible. For man, not for God. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. For on the cross, His infinite soul would perfectly pay for all the filth and stain and debt of our sin until it was washed and cleansed and forgiven.
There is no greater hope for the Christian than this: we have been saved from our sin. Which means that our relationship with God has been restored – God with us. Jesus isn’t just God with us in the broad scope of history, he is God with us in our own personal history. All history is is the ongoing story of people – and our lives are a part of that ongoing story. Maybe you’ll never appear in the history books, but your life is a part of the human story and your life is having an effect on the world, because your life is having an effect on other people (for good or for bad – and for most of us it’s a mixed bag). For the Christian, Jesus entered into the personal history of our lives and changed our destinies forever by forgiving us of our sins and removing them as far as the east is from the west.
Maybe like me, you’ve had some shining moments this past week. Let’s call it for what it is: you’ve been guilty (like me) of sinning against others and against God. We will never move beyond our need for being saved, and Jesus will never leave us or forsake us. He is Immanuel, God with us.
Confess your sin to him right now and ask him to forgive and free you from the guilt of that sin. Then ask for the power to change.
And if you’re not a Christian, the most important question you’ll ever answer is what will you do with Jesus? The Bible says that he is the only name under heaven by which man can be saved. If he isn’t your Savior, you won’t be saved. That’s blunt but the Bible says it’s truth. Martin Luther, the 16th century leader of the reformation said these words that are as true today as they were then:
The life of Christianity consists of possessive pronouns. It is one thing to say, "Christ is a Savior"; it is quite another thing to say, "He is my Savior and my Lord." The devil can say the first; the true Christian alone can say the second.
Becoming a Christian is coming to the point when in faith you say to Jesus, be my Savior, be my Lord. As I close in prayer, if you want to pray that to the Lord, pray it with me.