Expository preaching from Matthew 1:23, delivered on December 20th
We read in Isaiah chapter 7:14 and and again in Matthew 1:23 these words…
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)
Jesus is called in both places by a name that tells of our rescue, that tells of His love and commitment to God’s children, that tells of His sacrifice. He is called Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
There are at least two grand truths for us in this name of Jesus. The first declares that Jesus is God. He is not God the Father, He is God the Son, but He is God. The second is that this God, Jesus, has come to us to be with us. There is a great deal of support for that first statement, that is that Jesus is God the Son. We read earlier in our service from John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus declared Himself to be God the Son in John 8:58 when He referred to Himself in a familiar way that God the Father declared Himself. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” This “I Am” statement was one of declaring Himself as God. The Jews, His Jewish audience clearly understood the meaning of Jesus’ words by their quick and sudden reaction. Verse 59 says, “So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” The Jews were ready to kill Him because He testified that He was God, God the Son. And so in this name “Immanuel” we see that Jesus is God, He is God the Son. This is a tenant of our faith, it is a bedrock foundational doctrine of the historic Christian faith. It is a stunning truth. Now, it is stunning on many levels and for many reasons. But for today, I want us to consider its magnitude in the incarnation, in the birth of Jesus into this world, as we celebrate this time of year.
By the way, there comes up every year, probably every year for centuries, this question of whether or not we should celebrate Christmas. Here is my short answer. Yes, let’s celebrate the birth of Christ. Let’s celebrate the birth of Jesus into this world. Let’s do it during the Christmas season and let’s do it outside of the Christmas season. Let’s celebrate the fact that Jesus came as our Savior. If you can’t celebrate the birth of Jesus and take part in traditional Christmas activities, then ditch the tradition and celebrate the birth of Jesus. If you can do both then do both. If tradition is too much of a distraction for you, pick Jesus. But let’s not condemn those who can keep it all in perspective and worship our Lord during a festive time of year.
Immanuel, God with us. The God of the Bible came to us. How did He come to us? He came into this world through birth as a baby, miraculously born of a virgin. We read of this in Luke chapter 1…
2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. (Luke 1:2-7)
This Jesus who came to us is the same one we read of in Colossians 1, the Jesus who created the world, ruled over it and sustains all things in it. This is the one who chose to, through the process of birth, come to us. Listen to who this Jesus is…
15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15-17)
The odd thing about Jesus, well except for His miraculous conception and all the prophecies of His coming, one odd thing is that we read of Him as royalty in heaven. He is the preeminent one, there is none greater, more powerful, more kingly than He. And His kingdom is not one of many kingdoms, His domain is not simply one of many, no, He is king, creator, ruler of them all. That is what preeminent means. And this one, Jesus, God the Son, came to us.
In our experience of knowledge of the world we live in, we know that royalty does not come to the average person. We may not, in our country, understand much about kings, but we have a president and other government leaders. They don’t just come into our presence. They don’t reach out to the average person with gifts. Royalty sits on thrones and the people go to them. Not so with Jesus. Jesus, God the Son, is the pursuer of man. And not the pursuer of only great men, or rich men, or famous people, but of regular, poor, even despised people. He came as a baby into our world to pursue us with His grace and kindness. This is what is stunning, and what we need to understand and glory in. Jesus is Immanuel, not just in name but in His deeds as well.
Now let’s take it a step further, this idea of God being with us. First He entered into a family. He had family relationships. He had a mother, a father, Joseph, who of course was not His biological father but a father nonetheless, an adoptive father. He had siblings. This coming into the world as we did is a part of this “God with us.” He experienced things as we experience things. He knows what it is like to live with imperfect people in close quarters, He did that in His home. As Immanuel He didn’t skip over our normal experiences.
I think this is significant. What does it mean? It means He can relate to us not just intellectually, but also experientially. What are your struggles at home? Where do you tend to experience the most tension in your family? How are you tempted with mom or dad or brother or sister or with children or even extended family members? Jesus, Immanuel, had many of these relationships too. He was a child, a sibling, He had extended family. He knows and understands your struggles. He too was tempted, right?
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:15)
This verse, an often quoted verse, is only true because God came into the world to live as we live. His coming into the world, “God with us,” provided experiences to which we can relate. We may say, “Well I don’t see all that in the Bible, I don’t see Him being tempted the way I am tempted.” Well that may be true, but the Bible is not a record of every experience of Christ. So we have verses like Hebrews 4:15 that capture in general what we don’t have all the specific details for. John states this in John 21:25: “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” And so we don’t have all the details of His life, but we can believe what we do have, and what we have is that He can sympathize with us, our weaknesses, and was tempted as we are. He chose this way, He chose to be with us in our human experience. This, again, is the King of Kings, the ruler of all, the preeminent one choosing a path to us that included being with us.
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8)
He came to us. Even as Jesus grew and became a man, His “with us” included seeking out people right where they were in life, regular people He sought after in their daily walk, daily living to reveal Himself to them. I think we or others may get this unbiblical idea that maybe God the Son, Jesus, maybe He just sort of puts up with us. Yes, He came into the world to be with us, but does He really want to be with us? Well, we see in the Scriptures that He does. In fact we read in Romans 8 beginning in verse 15 that our place with Christ is not some kind of arms-length relationship, like He just puts up with us or saves us somehow and then leaves us be. No, He leads us into His family, we become a part of the inner circle with Him of family.
15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:15-17)
He draws us into His family! It is not just God with us, in Christ, but also God with us forever. Why? Because we are family, His family as Christians.
In John 17 we see the intensity with which Jesus fully embraces us, all those who have believed. We see Him pouring out His heart, even His feelings in prayer to His Father. I want to read this, I want us to see how He thinks, how He feels, what His intentions are, how permanent His commitment is to all who come to Him by faith. Listen carefully and be sure as I read, if you are a Christian, to put yourself in this passage, or if you are not a Christian think about where you can be as a fellow heir with Christ.
20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. 24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25 O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:20-26)
I hope you see yourself in these words spoken by Jesus. He is with us forever. This is not necessarily an easy concept, that is to think that Jesus is with us forever. It is hard to grasp perhaps because of our experiences here. I wonder how many of us have heard someone say something like, “I’ll be with you forever,” or, “I’ll always be by your side,” or, “I will always be for you.” And you believed it, or I believed it. And one day you find out it was not true. That person that you believed and trusted turns and walks away. That is really hard, you may know the feelings associated with that. Maybe it took years to get over or maybe it’s been years and you still hurt from the pain of rejection by one you trusted. There is one that will, for sure, never do this, and He is Jesus. In a relationship with Jesus there is this permanent intertwining of lives that takes place, that is what He is saying in that passage: ”they also may be in us…I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one.”
Do you know what follows this passage in John 17, after this prayer that describes this intertwining of relationships? What follows is John 18, and do you remember what happens there? Jesus is betrayed by one of His friends. Jesus understands betrayal. But Jesus will never betray His people. He is God with us.
Another reason we may struggle with Christ being God with us forever is because we know our own sinful hearts. We all honestly know how we have sinned against Him and rebelled against Him. We know we don’t deserve His faithfulness. Yes, He is God with us, but…really? Forever? Even when I betray Him with my actions or thoughts at times? Will He still be Immanuel, God with us, with me? And here is the good news. His grace is not weak, His grace is not lacking or unable to be effective when we are weak or rebellious. If we, any of us, are truly His. If we have by faith repented from our sins, meaning we have had a change in our minds regarding sin, having the conviction of our own personal sinfulness against God and a new desire to turn from those sins and to embrace Jesus Christ as not only our Savior who has died for us but also our Lord to whom we now commit our allegiance, then even when we sin, His grace covers it. We live in ongoing repentance and ongoing pursuit of living for Him and for His glory.
We need to know this, that is the permanence that He will remain Immanuel, God with us, and so we have passages like Romans 8 that help us, I think, help us to know of this ongoing reality.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
Once His, once adopted into the family of God as an heir of God and joint heir with Christ, there is never, never condemnation from God. He is not fickle with His grace, there is no stinginess in Him. He is full in with us, not just today but forever. This is why He could say to His disciples that He would be back for them. He said this, as I will read, He says this before those men had fully lived out their lives, He told them this when they had time left to live and before they had committed all the sins that they would commit before their deaths. In other words, He said this as a statement of His commitment to them even if their commitment might at times waiver toward Him. Here is what He told them before His crucifixion in John 14, beginning in verse 1…
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.” (John 14:1-4)
Aren’t you glad that Jesus is the Immanuel, that He is God with us? This Christmas season let’s glory in our Savior, glory in His love for us, glory in our permanence with Him because He is “with us.”
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). (Matthew 1:23)
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