Jesus Our Immanuel

Baby Jesus Website Banner
(Originally published 12/7/10)
One of the most famous and well known Scriptures of this time of year—I say well known because it adorns Christmas cards and Christmas songs alike, comes out of Isaiah 7:14:
Isaiah 7:14 (NKJV) 
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
The Contextual Setting
The days of this prophecy were not unlike the days we find ourselves in as a nation. These were dark and frightening times for the nations of Israel and Judah.

They had turned their backs on the Lord and had given themselves over to gross idolatry and immorality.  And even though God sent numerous prophets (like Isaiah) to warn them that if they didn’t change He would have no choice but to judge them—they refused to repent and turn from their sins.
And so God began to bring the Assyrians against them to hopefully force them to see the error of their way so that they would repent and trust the Lord to save them.
Assyria was growing stronger by the day and had been conquering one smaller nation after another—but instead of turning back to the Lord and trusting Him to protect them God’s people began to make alliances with other nations who they hoped would save them.
The northern Kingdom of Israel made an alliance with Syria and tried to pressure the southern Kingdom of Judah into joining them but Ahaz, king of Judah refused—why? Because he had secretly made a treaty with Assyria! (2 Kings 16:5–9)
This led to war as Israel and Syria planned to conquer Judah and force this alliance by removing Ahaz from the throne and putting a vassal king in his place.
Ahaz and the people of Judah were terrified but, even though Ahaz was not a godly ruler, God had compassion on the people and sent the prophet Isaiah to the king with a message exhorting Ahaz to trust in the Lord and take comfort.
Isaiah 7:4 (NKJV) 
“Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands…”
King Ahaz was exhorted to take heed and be quiet, not to fear nor be fainthearted, because of the two kings who had joined forces against him.  In God’s eyes, these two were nothing but “two smoldering stubs of firewood” (NIV), who would be off the scene very soon—they both died two years later.  Furthermore, within sixty-five years, Ephraim (Israel, the Northern Kingdom) would be gone— Isaiah spoke this prophecy in the year 734 B.C.
Assyria defeated Syria in 732 B.C. and invaded Israel in 722 B.C. and by 669 B.C. (sixty-five years later from when the prophecy was first given in 734 B.C.), the northern Kingdom of Israel no longer existed.
In the meantime, before God brought all of this to pass, how would Ahaz find this inner peace?  By believing God’s promise that Judah’s enemies would be defeated—“If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established” (v. 9)
Faith in God’s promises is the only way to find peace in the midst of trouble. “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You” (Isa.26:3, NKJV).  The Lord even offered to give Ahaz a sign to encourage him and confirm the Word the prophet Isaiah had spoken.
Isaiah 7:10-12 (NLT) 
“Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign of confirmation, Ahaz. Make it as difficult as you want—as high as heaven or as deep as the place of the dead.” 
But the king refused. “No,” he said, “I will not test the Lord like that.”  If these had been the sincere words of a godly man they would have been admirable—but instead they were nothing but hypocrisy.
Ahaz didn’t want God’s help because then he would be indebted to Him—and Ahaz didn’t want to owe God anything—just like many people today.  Besides, he had already made a secret treaty with the King of Assyria so he didn’t think he needed any help from God.
So since Ahaz wouldn’t ask God for a sign, Isaiah said—
Isaiah 7:14 
“[All right then], the Lord himself will give you the sign. Behold! The virgin will conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
The “you” is plural in the Hebrew—instead of speaking only to the king, Isaiah addressed the whole “house of David” and in fact the whole human race when he gave this prophecy concerning the birth of “Immanuel.”
The So-Called Controversy
Much controversy has swirled around this prophecy of the virgin giving birth (definite article in the Hebrew denoting a special virgin).  Liberal theologians, who deny the virgin birth, are quick to point out that the Hebrew word translated ‘virgin’ is “almah”.
The word “almah”, strictly speaking, means ‘a young woman of marriageable age’ and therefore doesn’t have to mean ‘a virgin’.  The word “almah” is never used in the O.T. to speak of a married woman.
So this leaves only two options—this “almah” must be either (1) a young woman who conceived a child out of wedlock; or (2) a virgin.  
The fact that Isaiah uses the definite article (“the virgin”) indicates that this woman and this conception would be something unique and therefore would be a clear sign that God was at work.  The birth of a child by a young unmarried woman is so common it could hardly be a “sign” of anything.  Furthermore, the word “almah” always indicates a virgin every other place it’s used in the O.T.
In fact Martin Luther offered a hundred guilders to anyone who could show any other place in the O.T. where the word “almah” is translated “young woman” rather than “virgin.”  And finally, for evangelical Christians, all controversy is put to rest by how Matthew, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, when he quoted from Isaiah 7:14—chose the Greek word “parthenos” which no one disputes always refers to a virgin.
Matthew 1:18-23 (NKJV) 
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit.  Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 
“Behold, the virgin (parthenos) shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
Now you might be thinking to yourself, “What does all of this have to do with Christmas?”
And the answer is—‘a great deal’ because the birth of Jesus, who is called Immanuel, which means “God with us” is what the Christmas story is all about.
The Christmas Story
You see without the virgin birth there wouldn’t be a Christmas story because without the virgin birth, without God working a miracle by placing the Seed of God in the womb of Mary without normal physical relations with a man, Jesus wouldn’t have been born the sinless Son of God and therefore couldn’t have died for sinners.
God’s Word teaches that sin is passed from the father to the children. If Jesus would have had an earthly father He couldn’t have been born sinless and therefore wouldn’t have been able to die for sinners as the sinless Lamb of God.
And so Mary was chosen by God for the special and absolutely unique ministry of being the virgin mother of the Son of God.
This is not to say, as the Roman Catholic Church does, that Mary is herself the “mother of God”.  She became the mother of the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ, but He who was born of her existed before her because He Himself is the eternal God Who, at one point, was manifested in the flesh.
John 1:1-3 (NKJV) 
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was in the beginning with God.  All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made…”
John 1:14 (NKJV) 
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
We refer to this as the incarnation—which is what Christmas celebrates.
The incarnation is one of the greatest stories ever told—the problem is we have heard it so many times and it has become so familiar that it no longer moves us and has ceased to amaze us.
J.B. Philips who has given us one of the great paraphrases of the N.T. has also written what he calls his “Christmas Fantasy.”  He writes about the incarnation from a different perspective than we’re used to—imagine, if you will, the incarnation as seen through the eyes of an angel!
Here’s how the story goes—
In his version, a senior angel is showing a very young angel around at the splendors of the universe. They view whirling galaxies and blazing suns and then they flit across the infinite distances of space until at last they enter one particular galaxy containing 500 billion stars.
As the two of them draw near to the star that we call our sun and to its circling planets, the senior angel pointed to a small and rather insignificant sphere turning very slowly on its axis. It looked as dull as a dirty tennis ball to the little angel whose mind was filled with the size and glory of what he had just seen. “I want you to watch that one in particular,” said the senior angel pointing with his finger. “Well it looks very small and rather dirty to me,” said the little angel, “What’s special about that one?” To the little angel earth did not seem so impressive, he listened in stunned disbelief as the senior angel told him that this planet, small and insignificant and not overly clean was the renowned visited planet. “Do you mean,” said the little angel, “that our great and glorious Prince went down in person to this fifth rate little ball?
Why should He do a thing like that!? The little angel’s face was wrinkled in disgust. “Do you mean to tell me”, he said, “that He stooped so low as to become one of those creeping, crawling creatures on that floating ball?” “I do,” said the senior angel, “and I don’t think He would like you to call them creeping, crawling, creatures in that tone of voice, for strange as it may seem to us,” said the senior angel, “He loves them, He went down to visit them, to lift them up so that they could become like Him.” The little angel looked blank, such a thought was almost beyond his comprehension.”
Let’s continue in Matthew’s gospel–
Matthew 1:22-23 (NKJV) 
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:  “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.”
But there seems to be a problem here. Where is Jesus ever called “Immanuel” in the N.T.? When the word ‘name’ is used in the Bible it doesn’t always refer to a ‘proper name’ but often refers to an attribute or quality.
Exodus 34:5-7 (NKJV) 
“Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord.  …merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation.”
So “Jesus” is His name (“Jehovah is salvation”) because He came to save His people from their sins.  “Christ”, is His title which means “Anointed One.”
And “Immanuel” is not a proper name but one of those descriptive names indicating Who He is in relation to us—He is Immanuel—“God with us”.
I’d like to spend the rest of our time looking at this incredible truth and what it means to us as Christians.  The first time we see God with man in the sense of fellowship was in the Garden of Eden—but sin eventually drove man from the Garden and their fellowship with God was broken.
The next time we see God dwelling with man in intimate fellowship was when He instructed Moses to have the children of Israel construct a Tabernacle in the wilderness which was also called the “Tent of Meeting” because it was the place where God and man met for the purpose of fellowship.
And when it was completed we read—
Exodus 40:34-35 (NKJV) 
“Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.  And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle.”
A similar thing happened when Solomon finished building the Temple in Jerusalem and dedicated it to the Lord—
2 Chronicles 5:13-14 (NKJV) 
“indeed it came to pass, when the trumpeters and singers were as one, to make one sound to be heard in praising and thanking the Lord, and when they lifted up their voice with the trumpets and cymbals and instruments of music, and praised the Lord, saying: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever,” that the house, the house of the Lord, was filled with a cloud, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of God.
So God’s presence was now with this nation He had chosen to have fellowship with.  However as the years progressed and God’s people got more and more involved in idolatry along with its sexual perversions at one point we read in Ezekiel 10 how the presence of God departed from the Holy of Holies in the Temple, crossed the Kidron Valley and the Mount of Olives and disappeared into the distance. At this point His fellowship with the nation was broken.
The next time we see God coming to be with His people was at the incarnation—when Immanuel (“God with us”) was born.
John 1:14 (NKJV) 
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt (“tabernacled”) among us…”
Jesus promised that, for those who received Him into their hearts as Savior and Lord, He would never leave us ever again but would always be with us (Matt.28:20; Heb.13:5)
The Conclusion
My point in all of this is to demonstrate that the whole purpose of redemptive history is so that ‘paradise lost’ could become ‘paradise found’—or in other words fellowship lost could be fellowship restored.
You see it was God’s desire from the very beginning to have deep personal fellowship with mankind. This fellowship was initiated in the Garden of Eden but was ended when sin entered into the heart of man. At that point man was separated from God (Isaiah 59:1-2) and his fellowship with God was broken.
However it remained a desire in the heart of God to have this fellowship restored once and for all time so He could again be our Immanuel—”God with us.”
In the O.T. God called a nation to demonstrate this truth but sin got in the way and so God could no longer remain with His people.
Sin has always been the impediment to God having fellowship with man on a consistent basis, but in the N.T. God sent His Son to do away with sin so that He could say to us, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” and “I will be with you always even to the end of the age”  (first through His Spirit and when Jesus returns in Person forever).
And yet in the meantime we are living in dark and troublesome times politically, morally and spiritually—how are we to cope with all the stress and fear and an uncertain future? The answer, of course, is by clinging to the God of the future.
And just as God sent Isaiah to His people living in the southern Kingdom of Judah to promise them that He would send Immanuel to be with them and that promise comforted them–even so for us Immanuel has come—that’s what Christmas celebrates!
Keep reminding yourself that, if you have received Jesus into your heart to be your Savior and Lord, God is with you and He will never stop being with you. You’re not going through any problem or crisis alone—no matter how black things look keep reminding yourself that He is there with you and that nothing shall be impossible with God.
Isn’t that what the angel Gabriel said to Mary when he first announced to her that she had been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah and she said, “How can this be possible—I’m a virgin?” To which the angel responded, “with God nothing shall be impossible!”
May you rediscover the wonder of the incarnation this Christmas season. And may the Lord impress upon your heart how much He loves you and desires to have a deep, intimate relationship with you. A relationship He went to great lengths to make possible.
And now that you are one of His children He is with you and will never leave you nor forsake you. You are precious to Him and He has His ever loving arms wrapped around you holding you tight and He is never going to let go of you!
Merry Christmas and may the Lord bless you richly as you walk with Him day by day.
Pastor Phil