Isaiah 7: 14, Matthew 1: 22, 23
There is a great yearning inside every person to know God. From the very beginning, we were made to know God, and there is something in us that wants to know our Creator. We yearn to know that God has broken through into our world. It is not enough to know that God is “up there” or “out there” somewhere. We want to know that God has come down to where we are, that he knows where we live, that he knows our name, that he cares about us, that he has “walked this lonesome valley” the same way we do. We want to know that we are not alone in the universe.
All the prophets spoke of this universal yearning in the human heart. Joel spoke of it, so did Malachi, Hosea, Jeremiah, Daniel and Zechariah. But no one spoke more eloquently than Isaiah. 700 years before the birth of Christ, during the reign of a king named Ahaz, Isaiah predicted the birth of One who would be God coming to dwell with men. Isaiah 7:14 predicts an absolutely stunning event: A virgin would conceive (something that had never happened before and has never happened since) and give birth to a son named “Immanuel.”
From Isaiah to Matthew
Now run the clock forward 700 years and you come to the moment when Joseph, having discovered that Mary is pregnant, and suspecting the worst, decides to give her a private divorce to spare her from public shame. The angel of the Lord came to him in a dream with the reassuring news that the baby inside her womb was not the product of fornication, but had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. The angel instructs Joseph to call the baby Jesus (which means “God saves” or “Saviour") because he will save his people from their sins. Then the angel quotes Isaiah 7:14, with its prophecy of the virgin birth, and the name Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
Of all the names of Christ, perhaps none is more significant than Immanuel because it gives us his ultimate identity. He is God come down from heaven in the form of a tiny baby boy. Theologians call this the “Incarnation,” a term that means “to take on human flesh, to be born as a human.” The Son of God descended from heaven to earth and wrapped himself in the frail body of a tiny Jewish baby in a stable, in the little town of Bethlehem, in a forgotten corner of the Roman Empire called Judea. “God did not send Christ to us; God came to us in Christ.” Jesus Christ is God in the flesh. That tiny, helpless baby is the God who created the universe. What a stupendous, mind-blowing miracle that is.
In this message I want to focus on the word Immanuel, which means “God with us.” There are 3 words in that phrase and each one teaches us something about who Jesus really is.
1. God With Us: A Son
The first word is God. It precisely identifies the baby born in Bethlehem as the divine Son of God who came from heaven to earth. 1 Timothy 3: 16 - God was “manifest” in the flesh. Christ appeared in human form. This means that whatever else we may say, Jesus Christ is more than a mere man. He was truly human but his ultimate identity goes far beyond humanity. He was God come down to earth in the form of a baby born of a virgin.
I have come to understand that this is a doctrine of huge importance for the Christian faith. In many ways, this is the central doctrine and everything else flows from it. If you can believe that God was born in human form from the womb of a virgin, you’ll have no trouble with the concept of walking on water. Compared to the Incarnation, healing the sick and raising the dead isn’t hard to believe either. The Resurrection itself makes perfect sense once you understand who Jesus really is.
Let us make no mistake about the importance of this truth to the Christian faith. It is central, fundamental, essential and absolutely non-negotiable. It is not some “secondary issue” about which we may all have our own private opinions. This is truth that goes to the core of what it means to be a Christian.
The Circle of Truth
Suppose we draw a circle and inside the circle are all true Christians. Everyone on the outside of the circle is not a Christian. Those on the inside are saved; those on the outside are lost. Those on the inside are going to heaven; those on the outside are not. What is it that a person must believe to be “in the circle?” There are several answers to that question, but one fundamental answer is that you must believe that Jesus Christ is “God manifest in the flesh.” You must believe that the baby born in Bethlehem is more than just another baby, that he really and truly is the Son of God in human form, “the Word made flesh” and living among us. If you do not believe that, if you deny that, you are not a Christian and you are not going to heaven. It really is as simple as that. It doesn’t matter what else you believe about Jesus. If you deny the Incarnation, you are not a Christian at all.
This is one of those rare points where all major Christian groups have always agreed. Protestants and Catholics disagree about many important issues, but on the Incarnation, we are in total agreement. Catholics and Orthodox fight about many things, but on this, they are in agreement. This is a point so important that, if you deny it or decide you don’t believe it you have placed yourself “outside the circle” of true Christian faith.
The question of who Jesus really is touches issues of ultimate importance. We sing “Who is He in Yonder Stall?” That’s the most important question in the whole world. Who is that baby in the manger? Is he the Son of God from heaven, or is he someone else? The chorus proclaims our answer:
’Tis the Lord! O wondrous story! ’Tis the Lord! The King of glory!
At His feet we humbly fall, Crown Him! Crown Him, Lord of all!
Not everyone believes that, but we do. He is Immanuel—God with us. We gladly commit all that we are to him.
2. God With Us: A Shepherd
The second word of Immanuel reminds us that Jesus is not only God in the flesh, he is also the shepherd we need when troubles come our way. Ironically, we need that truth more than ever at Christmastime. This is a lonely time of year for many people. In the midst of the laughter, there is pain and sadness, grief and many reminders of broken relationships. Some family reunions are like war zones and much of the drinking that is done is not so much drinking because we are happy but drinking to cover our pain. Most people feel exhausted and stressed out as the big day approaches. There is enormous pressure to find the money to buy the presents to make our loved ones happy. During this difficult time of year for many people, we need to be reminded that the Lord knows all about our troubles.
We can say it more forcefully than that. Jesus knows what others do not know about you. He knows all the hidden secrets, the inner fears and the unspoken doubts about what tomorrow may bring. He knows the whole truth about you and me, and he loves us anyway.
What is your valley today? Is it the valley of pain? The valley of a loved one suffering? The valley of bad health? The valley of a failing marriage? The valley of children in trouble? The valley of broken promises and failed relationships? The valley of career disappointment? The valley of financial crisis? The valley of temptation? The valley of bitterness? Whatever valley you may be walking through today, the Lord Jesus knows who you are and where you are. You are not lost or forgotten.
From “He” to “You”
The wonderful truth of Immanuel—he is God with us in the midst of our pain. The familiar words of the Psalm 23 come to mind: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil” (v. 4). Do you know the most wonderful word in that beloved psalm? It’s the little word “you.” Have you ever noticed how David changes his mode of address when he talks about the Lord? In the first verses he refers to God in the third person: “He makes me lie down … He leads me … He restores my soul … He guides me.” He speaks of God in a formal way: “He … He … He.” But when he comes to the darkest, saddest, most fearful moment of life, David’s experience of God becomes very personal. “You are with me.” It’s no longer “he.” Now the God of the universe has become David’s personal shepherd. “When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you, O Lord, walk with me. I am not alone. I am not abandoned. I don’t have to make that final journey on my own.” Thank God for the word “you.” It’s a promise we can all count on in the saddest moments of life. No need to fear for the Lord himself is with us. Immanuel - God with us in the darkest of dark valleys. Our shepherd walks with us when we need him most.
3. God With Us: A Saviour
The angel told Joseph to name the baby Jesus “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1: 21). Luke 2: 11 - the angel announced to the shepherds, “Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” You will never understand who Jesus is until you realise that he came to save you from your sins. This is why he lived, this is why he died and this is why he rose from the dead. He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19: 10). And he saves all those who trust in him.
If our greatest need had been education, God would have sent a teacher. If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent a banker. If our greatest need had been advice, God would have sent a counsellor. If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent an entertainer. But since our greatest need was forgiveness, God sent a Saviour. His name is Jesus. He is Christ the Lord, the Son of God who came from heaven to earth.
That brings us right back to the doctrine of the Incarnation. Who is that baby born on Christmas day? Familiar carol - “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing; haste, haste to bring him praise, the babe, the Son of Mary.” He is the divine Son of God from heaven who in his earthly birth took on a fully human nature. All that God is and all that man is meet in perfect union in Jesus Christ. He is fully God and fully man - the God-man who came to earth to save us from our sins.
For those who face loneliness during this season of the year, take comfort in this fact: God’s answer to loneliness is not a theory or an abstract doctrine or a book to read or a seminar to attend. It’s not a better job, more friends, another movie to watch or another song to sing. It’s not even the beauty of a sunrise or a sunset. God’s answer to loneliness is wrapped up in a person - Jesus Christ. He is a friend who sticks closer than a brother. He is the only one who will never leave you or forsake you. Loneliness can be overcome through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Do you know him?
All that God has to say to us can be wrapped up in one word: “Jesus.” Not just any Jesus, but only the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in the New Testament. He alone is the Lord from heaven. He alone can save us. All that God has for you and me is wrapped up in his Son. No matter what difficulties we face or the decisions we must make, in the end God leads us back to that simple one-word answer: “Jesus.”
Prayer – “Father, we thank you that you did not send an angel because an angel would never meet our need. You did not say, “Read a book,” as if books alone could save us. When we were far gone in sin and hopelessly lost, when there was no hope and we were doomed to eternal judgment, you came to us in the person of your Son, Jesus Christ. You did not forget us, and you did not leave us alone. We bless you for remembering us in our misery and coming to save us through Christ the Lord. You clothed your Son with human flesh so that he might be our Saviour. Fill us with joy this Christmas season because if God be for us, and if God be with us, who can be against us? This we pray in the name of Immanuel, God with us, the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.”