Immanuel: God With Us
December 18, 2011 Series: Christmas
Topic: Christmas Passage: Matthew 1:18–1:23
Here we are, one week from Christmas. If you’re like most Americans you’re enjoying a mixture of hustle-bustle and holiday cheer. There’s a lot to do: decorations, baking, cards, shopping, and parties-all to fit into regular life; but there are also many joys to this busy season. And perhaps the biggest joy is being together with family and friends. Nobody wants to be alone for Christmas…and there’s a reason for that.
God has created us as creatures of relationship; we need each other. That’s why when I’m on a trip without my wife and I enjoy a great meal or take in some breath taking scenery, something’s missing. Things are not the same when Siobhan is not with me. When she is with me even a crummy meal and a boring road trip is special. The significance is that we’re together. God made us that way. He made us in a way that we need real, genuine relationships with our families, with friends. And amazingly, all these relationships stem from the most important relationship that He’s wired us for; our relationship with Him.
This time of year we see a lot of these-Nativity Scenes. The main figures are Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus. This is the focal point of Christmas-the birth of Jesus. But my hope today is that our scope of celebration will be expanded when we look at this baby-because Christmas is not just about a baby born in a barn. It’s not even just about the Son of God being born as a baby in a barn. It’s about so much more. It’s about our relationship with God past, present and future.
Read Matthew 1:18-23. PRAY.
Immanuel. This name was significant enough to Matthew that he defines it for us in the scripture: “God with us”. There is unexplainable significance to this reality. That God would even consider, let alone be willing, to condescend from His infinite and holy place of authority where He was in perfect relationship with Himself is incomprehensible. I know people that won’t go to certain parts of town because they don’t want to associate with or be associated with a certain class of people even though in God’s eyes they are both equal. But God condescended to His creation. And He did it all because of relationship. But why go through all this trouble? Why didn’t God just come to us as God; like He used to in the Garden of Eden?
Let’s explore the significance of the incarnation (God becoming man in flesh) and look at how the birth of a Baby born 2000 years ago affects the way we live today. In order to do this we’re going to have to think of this birth and the Christmas story as a part of a larger story. We had a problem that started in the Garden of Eden. The relationship with our creator that we had been made for was broken when Adam and Eve sinned-immediate, decisive and permanant. But we immediately see the grace of God in Gen. 3:15-the first glimpse of the gospel; the promise that woman will give birth to a man that will destroy the hold that the enemy has on us and will restore our relationship to our God. This is why Jesus came to us in the flesh.
God was with us in the flesh…to be our Substitute.
The only way to restore our relationship with God was to remove sin. This is the primary reason that Jesus came to us in the flesh. He came to be our substitute. Because God is holy and just he cannot simply ignore sin. The right and just punishment for sin is God’s wrath and spiritual death-either everyone who has sinned needed to pay this price (which means an eternity of punishment and severed relationship with God) or someone needed to live a perfect life without sin and pay that price as a substitute. And that’s what He did.
Jesus Christ was born to die. He did for us what we could not do for ourselves. And this wasn’t an afterthought. 700 years earlier these words were written as it they had already happened (Isaiah 53:4-6):
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
The Incarnation-Jesus Christ born as a baby in humility would culminate in Jesus Christ hanging on a cross in humiliation. The innocent Son of God had lived a perfect live, demonstrating perfect love, exuding compassion for the purpose of becoming a sacrificial Lamb. He hung on the cross, battered and beaten by man and abandoned by the Father. He endured the wrath of the Father as punishment for sin and then he died.
But the perfect Son of God also rose from the dead and defeated sin and death. And now, for every man and woman who call on His name and trust in His blood-it’s as if He was your representative on the cross. In every way He was our substitute-in His life, death and resurrection. He took what your sin deserved-listen-and gives you what his perfection earned. Forgiveness, right standing with God, new life, eternal life, peace, hope, joy. Ultimately, your relationship with God is restored. That thing that we were created for that was broken has been fixed and our lives now have purpose and significance. So many things were accomplished through Jesus coming as a man but this is the primary significance of the Incarnation: God was with us in the flesh to restore our relationship so that God could truly be with us-even now, 2000 years after His ascension into heaven.
God is with us now through His Spirit.
In John 16 Jesus (telling them he must leave) tells His disciples “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.” In the flesh, even Jesus couldn’t be all places at all times. But through His Spirit all people from every nation for all generations can be reconciled to God and live in intimate relationship with Him. The disciples were the privileged few that were in relationship with Jesus in the flesh and they were deeply saddened by Jesus words that He was leaving them. But Jesus encouraged them in this verse that it will actually be better.
Matthew begins and ends by emphasizing that God is with us-God with us in the flesh (Immanuel) and ends with God with us through the Spirit: 28:20 “Behold, I am with you always to the end of the age”. This was always God’s plan in being born as a baby-and this is the relationship that we know with the Father-through Christ. Everyone who has ever truly believed in Jesus Christ has received His Spirit. And the Holy Spirit in us is God with us.
If you’re a disciple of Christ you know what I mean. You have a distinct awareness of the presence of God in your life. We may not understand it or be able to explain it; we may “feel” it stronger some days than others but the truth is He is always with us and He is always active in us.
It’s the Spirit of God that opens our eyes to understand scripture, brings conviction of sin and gives us the desire to follow the example and commands of Jesus. The Spirit heals and comforts, directs and leads, encourages and gives strength. The Spirit resides within us, changing us into the image of Christ. God’s plan wasn’t just to restore our relationship and then leave us on our own. Now, through our relationship with Jesus He is changing us to be like Him. And the Holy Spirit is the agent of that change-Christ with you to form Christ in you.
So God came to us in the flesh to restore our relationship with the Father and God comes to us in the Spirit to restore us back into His image. And that’s not all-He is coming again-not to be here with us but to take us with Him.
We will be with God forever in His glory.
The story doesn’t even end with the active presence of God with us through the Holy Spirit. He’s coming back! Turn to John 14:1-3. The ultimate goal is the complete restoration of all things. We will be with Him face to face, without sin, without the hindrances of distractions and temptations and limitations. But for now we are to live mindful of that day; in eager anticipation of His return.
In between the bookends of Matthew’s emphasis on “God with us” in flesh and Spirit we find instructions and warning about how to live now BECAUSE Jesus is returning. We are to always be prepared; to live watchful lives; with eager anticipation. And this will have a distinct effect on our lives. We will resemble Jesus. Just as He was God incarnate, people will see in us the incarnation of Christ. [Warren’s Boetcher's message]
On the day that He returns, every man and woman will stand before Him alone and will give an account for our lives, and all men will fall short; all men will be found wanting. For some, this will be a fearful day that will end with the wrath of God being poured out in the form of being cast out of the presence of God forever, being left alone to spend eternity paying the price for sin against God.
But for all who come to that day having put their trust in Christ, they won’t be surprised that they have fallen short-they already know it. They won’t be trusting in their own merits to pass the test. They have already trusted in Jesus blood and righteousness and they will hear the Father say “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Master”. Not because of us but because of Jesus.
So from now on when you see the baby Jesus, celebrate. Celebrate your restored relationship with God. But look beyond the manger and celebrate the active presence of God in your life now. And let it remind you that just as sure as He came as a baby He will return as a victorious King.
If you are not in relationship with God I invite you to do the same. Look at the baby and see the provision He has made for you to be restored to God the Father. Give your life to Him and He will give you eternal life.
Those who are in relationship with God now will live in light of His return and in anticipation of eternity with God. God with us now is the guarantee that we will be with Him forever. What hope; what motivation to live our lives for the glory of the only one who deserves all praise and honor!