About 2700 years ago, the prophet Isaiah used a name to refer to the Messiah, the saviour promised to Adam and to Abraham, and who all the Jews were waiting for. This name was Immanuel (see Isaiah 7:14). In his gospel, Matthew quotes Isaiah and then helpfully translates this name for us.
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us. (Matthew 1:23).
It’s a really descriptive name which summarises the whole gospel message. This Christmas, amongst all the busyness, pause for a moment and spend some time thinking about Emmanuel, and the meaning ‘God with us’. Here are two pointers.
Throughout church history the idea that Jesus was both divine and human has often been denied. Some say he was just a good man, but not God. Others say that he was God, but just taking the shape of a man (without a true human nature). However the Bible could not be clearer, Jesus was both a real man and almighty God. Look closely at the passage in Matthew 1 we are considering:
- Fact 1 – Mary, a real woman, conceived (albeit miraculously), carried for 9 months and gave birth to a son. He must have been a real baby boy, a real human being.
- Fact 2 – His name, as prophesied centuries before, was Emmanuel, which means God with us, clearly teaching that this baby boy was also almighty God himself.
Put these two facts together and you have the incredible truth, that Jesus is the God-man; at the same time both distinctly God and distinctly human. He was almighty God, yet he became a human being, coming to earth to live amongst us. It’s hard (even impossible) to fully grasp, but it is still a fact and, it’s a fact backed up by the rest of the Bible. Consider John 1,
In the beginning was the Word [Jesus], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1) …the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us… (John 1:14).
We are all sinners. There are no two ways about it, and if we are honest we will admit it. This gives us a major problem. God as our just creator demands perfect obedience to his laws and requires that all sin must be punished. So, all of us face God’s divine, infinite wrath and can do nothing to escape it. Our only hope is for a substitute to take our place, bearing God’s wrath on our behalf and satisfying his justice. This substitute would be completely unique as he would need (amongst other things) to be:
- Fully man, so that he can represent us and take our place as human beings.
- Fully divine, so that he can endure God’s infinite anger.
Another way of looking at this is that we need a mediator, someone with a foot in both camps, who can bring two opposing parties (us and God) together again. Therefore, this mediator, this substitute must be a God-man!
Of course, the Lord Jesus fulfils these requirements and is the only one who does.
For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… (1 Timothy 2:5)
He is Emmanuel, God with us. He is a real man and he is true almighty God. We cannot save ourselves, but in love to his people God has made a way of escape, a way of reconciliation and this is the reason the Lord Jesus, the second person of the trinity, stepped into history and became a man. He lived his life in perfect obedience to his Father and then took the sins of his people upon himself, bearing the punishment for them on the cross.
But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. (Hebrews 2:9)
Emmanuel – God with us, to reconcile us with God. This is the gospel. This is why when Jesus was born, the angel told the shepherds ‘unto you is born this day in the city of David, a saviour which is Christ the Lord‘ (Luke 2:11) and the multitude of the heavenly host gathered in the night sky near Bethlehem praising God and saying ‘on earth peace, goodwill towards men‘ (Luke 2:14).
Joseph Hart sums it all up better than I can in one of the most beautiful hymns ever written:
A Man there is, a real Man,
With wounds still gaping wide,
From which rich streams of blood once ran,
In hands, and feet, and side.
‘Tis no wild fancy of our brains,
No metaphor we speak;
The same dear Man in heaven now reigns,
That suffered for our sake.
This wondrous Man of whom we tell,
Is true Almighty God;
He bought our souls from death and hell;
The price, His own heart’s blood.
That human heart He still retains,
Though throned in highest bliss;
And feels each tempted member’s pains;
For our affliction’s His.
Come, then, repenting sinner, come;
Approach with humble faith;
Owe what thou wilt, the total sum
Is cancelled by His death!
His blood can cleanse the blackest soul,
And wash our guilt away;
He will present us sound and whole
In that tremendous day.
This hymn tells us the gospel message, and in it there is a clear invitation for those who realise their sin and need of a saviour – ‘Come, then, repenting sinner, come‘. What about you? Are you a sinner? Did Jesus, Emmanuel, this glorious God-man, come to earth to be your saviour? If you do know this Emmanuel for yourselves, the meaning – God with us – should cause you to praise God for his love and mercy. What love was shown by the Lord Jesus in leaving the glory of heaven to come to this fallen world as a man. Only our great God could have made such an amazing way to save sinners.
We wish all our readers a very happy Christmas.[A00056 – 23/12/2017]