Knowing Whom We Believe: Immanuel

December 19, 2004 / No. 3233

 Dear radio friends,

     In the last weeks of this Christmas season we have sought to know our Savior, whom we believe through the revelation of His names.  That means that we have taken the words of the apostle Paul in II Timothy 1:12 and said, “We know whom we believe, and we know Him especially as He tells us about Himself in the names that the Bible gives to Him.”  In all, there are about 150 names attributed to Jesus Christ in the Scriptures to show us the majesty of His person and the glory of His work.  Then, by faith, we look at those names and we say, “I know whom I believed and am persuaded that He (because of who He is — as He makes Himself known to me in His names) shall keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.”

     In the last weeks we have seen that He is called “Jesus” — Savior; “Christ” — Anointed; “Only Begotten Son of God and our Lord.”  Today we conclude our series by looking at the name “Immanuel,” which means “God With Us.”  This is what we read in Matthew 1:23, “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.”  No name so comforts, so explains who He is and what He came to do, as does the name Immanuel.  It is a wonder — God with us!  He came so that God might forever be with us and we forever with God.  If you know Him as Immanuel, then no matter how lowly, how oppressed, how miserable, how tempted you might be today, you have hope, you have joy, and you have comfort in the name Immanuel.  May the Spirit of God give you to confess, “He is my Immanuel — God with us.”

     We should focus for just a moment on that doctrine, because there are many things in the Christian faith which converge at Immanuel.  It is just like a major interchange or expressway.  For instance, as in the city of Chicago, perhaps our Chicago listeners know about the “Circle” or that place where various expressways come together — the Kennedy, the Eisenhower, the Dan-Ryan — they all converge and they all come together at that intersection.  So the name Immanuel is a convergence of Christian doctrine.  And the enemy (the devil) knows this.  Just as in World War II (or any war) they sought to bomb the rail centers — those strategic points where everything comes together — to destroy that, so also the enemy has sought to destroy this truth that Jesus is Immanuel.

     What truths converge here?  First of all, very plainly, the truth of the virgin birth.  That Mary was a virgin is extremely important.  If you deny the virgin birth, you have denied the entire Christian faith and salvation.  For if Jesus is not the Son of God in the flesh, if Jesus appears as but another man among men, if you deny the miracle of the virgin birth, then He is no savior.  He is just an imposter.  He is just a man with a bloated opinion of Himself.  He joins the list of those who have failed to be saviors.  You see, the truth of the virgin birth is essential.  He is Immanuel.  He is God with us.

     But more.  The wonderful truth of atonement, and even the wonderful truth of the covenant — these find their meaning in Immanuel.  The truth of the covenant (and I do not have time to talk about this glorious and wonderful truth) is that God is a God of fellowship, a God of friendship.  By grace He has willed to bring His people to His own bosom, into His own arms, and to hug them eternally.  And He does this through the Son of His love.  We see all of this in Immanuel.  He is God with us.

     Let us look at that name Immanuel.  This is the most profound truth in the Bible.  This is not simply a miracle, this is the miracle — God united Himself to human flesh in the womb of a virgin.  It was done by virgin birth.  Now that is difficult to grasp for children.  That is difficult to grasp for all of us.  Children, you have a father and a mother.  Maybe you do not know your father or maybe you do not know your mother.  But every single human child ever born has a human father and mother.  Except Jesus.  He has a mother.  He was born of a woman.  He had a mother:  Mary brought forth her firstborn son (Luke 2:7).   Mary developed for nine months in her pregnancy.  He was made of a woman (Gal. 4:4-7).   But Jesus did not have a father — He had no human father.  God told Mary through the angel Gabriel in Luke 1, “You are going to have a baby.  And this baby is going to be God’s Son.  He is going to be the Son of the highest.”  And she asked the angel, “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man — I am not married — I’m not living sexually with a man?”  And Gabriel answered, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the highest shall overshadow thee (or envelope thee), and, therefore, that holy child which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).   Mary had no sexual relationship with a man.  God conceived in her womb her child.  The Holy Spirit conceived Him.  Jesus did not have a human father.

     This was all confirmed by the angel to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, the man to whom she was promised in marriage.  Joseph found out that his beloved Mary was going to have a baby.  He was not the father.  He thought, “Who is the father?”  Therefore, he was intending to “put her away.”  Then we read in Matthew 1:20 that the angel said, “Joseph, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife:  for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.”  God had worked a miracle, Joseph.  The Infinite has joined Himself to the finite; the Almighty has united Himself to the flesh and blood of a woman and is now conceived and will be born as a dependent baby.

     Immanuel, God with us.  It means that Jesus is the God-man.  I say that is hard to understand.  But it is so.  If you had met Jesus, He would have looked to you like an ordinary man.  There are no descriptions, of course, given of Him in the Bible — He was an ordinary man.  But He is also God.  He is God incarnate.  The word “incarnate” means “in the flesh.”  He is God in the flesh.  He is the Son of God in the flesh.  Not the triune God, not the first person (the Father), not the third (the Spirit), but God the Son (second person of the holy Trinity) is now united in human flesh.  He is, therefore, really God and completely man.

     Today, too, He has a complete and real human nature.  Hebrews 2:14-17 explains this to us.  It tells us that in all things He was made like unto His brethren.  He took part of flesh and blood.  He did not take to Himself the nature of an angel, says that passage, but the nature of the children.  Jesus did not have a special human nature.  It is not true that He could not get a cold.  He could.  He was subject to all of these things.  He was in need of food and in need of rest.  He was just like us — except that He was without sin.  He developed as a child; He grew ( Luke 2 tells us) in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.  You could touch Him.  When He worked for His father, learning the carpentry trade, He would cut His hand and He would bleed.  He had a human brain.  He had lungs and heart and kidneys.  He probably even had the resemblance of His mother Mary.

     But there was one thing — though He was completely like us — there was one thing that was different.  He was sinless.  He could say, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.”  He was without sin.  He had a human soul.  He could say in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Now is my soul troubled even unto death.”  He had a human mind.  And, according to that human mind, He was limited in the knowledge of His human nature.  He had to learn things the same way that we have to learn them.  He had a human will.  He had human emotions.  He could experience and did experience anger, joy, sorrow, weeping, sighing.  He was made like us in all things, yet without sin.

     He is Immanuel — God, truly God, with us, truly man — two natures:  a divine nature and a human nature — united in the person of God the Son.  Human nature, divine nature united in the one person, God the Son.  That is our confession.  That is what we believe.  That is the miracle.  That is what we are saying in “Immanuel.”

     Is that important?  The most important thing you will ever know — that is how important it is.  I pray that the Holy Spirit who conceived Him in the virgin Mary may also create in our hearts understanding and wonder and worship.  You say, “Why is that so important — that great and eternal mystery?”  Because only as Immanuel, God with us, can He cover in the sight of God my sins in which I was conceived and born.

     You were conceived and born in sin.  You are, no matter who you are, you are in yourself a corrupt, filthy, lost sinner who deserves to be eternally damned in hell for your sins.  You may not appreciate hearing that.  But that is not my verdict.  That is God’s verdict of you and me.  I know that the unbelieving world is going to scoff at that with contempt.  And underneath the scoffing is deep offense and wounded pride to be told that we are by nature corrupt, vile sinners.  I know that you and I do not like to think of ourselves that way, for we all imagine that we are not that bad.  Certainly we can find somebody worse than ourselves.  We are all, by nature, that Pharisee in Luke 18 who can stand before God and say, “I thank Thee that I am not as other men are.”  Nevertheless, the truth of God has declared it.  For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God ( Rom. 3).   All the world is guilty before God — there is none good, no not one.  Psalm 51, in sin did my mother conceive me.

     If you do not like the diagnosis that I bring to you, that you are personally a corrupt sinner worthy of damnation, you will have to talk to God about that.  For it is the verdict and the diagnosis and the judgment of the Almighty in His Word.

     But He is called Immanuel.  The whole blessed gospel begins to shine in that name in its glory and power.  He is a man.  He can take our place.  He can be our substitute, the substitute for all who are given to Him of the Father.  Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection (I Cor. 15).   Man must bring the payment.  He is a man.  He is just like us only He has no sin, remember.

     But He is more.  He is God.  Only God can bear God’s wrath against sin.  If He had a human father, if He is not very God of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of a virgin, if that is not true, then Jesus will crumble and He will end up in the grave and dust like the rest of us.  He will be crushed and consumed under the blows of the holy wrath of God.

     No, He is God.  Listen to Isaiah 59:16, speaking of God:  “And he saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor:  therefore his arm brought salvation unto him; and his righteousness, it sustained him.”  He gave His Son to take upon Himself our flesh so that He could finish our sins, bearing the wrath of God against the sins of the innumerable host that God had chosen, suffering the death that they deserved, and bringing to them the life that they could not earn.

     If Mary were not a virgin when she gave birth to Jesus (later on she married and had children with her husband), you have no salvation.  For it was through the virgin birth that He is without sin.  Not because Mary had no sin.  Mary was a sinner.  Mary needed salvation just as the rest of us.  But Jesus had no sin because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary.  Therefore, He is the One who can cover and wash away all the sin in which I was born and conceived.

     Is this how you know Him?  Immanuel, the perfect, sinless Son of God in our human flesh and, therefore, the One who is mighty to save and to cleanse and to set us free, the One who is able to make me alive with God, to make me know God and to know that God is for me, and to make me be with God and God to be with me.

     What a comfort it is to confess that He is Immanuel.  This shows us the love of God.  The love of God, to put our sins and judgment upon His own Son in our flesh!  Just think about that!  God, perfect, eternal, almighty, without any lack, possessor of all things, self-sufficient, holy and glorious — for us!  Who are we?  We are men.  We are dust and frail and dependent and creatures of time.  And we are ungodly (Rom. 5:6).   God’s Son was given to take upon Himself our flesh in order that we might have our sins removed, that His Son might bear our sins and wash us in His own blood from all of our sins.  This is the love of God!  Herein is the love of God (I John 4:10), that God gave His only begotten Son to be the propitiation (that word means covering) for our sins.

     Now, maybe you sometimes ask, “Where is the proof of the love of God for me?”  You should not say that.  Sometimes in our life we say, “Does God love me?  Look at all these difficult things that are happening to me.  I can hardly bear another day.  This problem is consuming me.  It is going to destroy me.  Where is God?  Does God love me?”  Do you say that?  Then you should repeat, right now, to your soul, the name Immanuel.  For He is the One that God gave — God’s own Son — for us.

     Immanuel, God with us, is our Savior.  He is the One who is able to save us and to preserve us.  Our sins pile up high on our conscience.  And Satan comes to accuse us of those sins.  But then you should say one word to Satan:  “Immanuel.”  Say it the next time Satan comes to tempt you and to tell you that you are a wretched sinner and you cannot possibly be forgiven.  Then you say to him, “Immanuel.”  And he falls backward and he is confounded.  For in the name Immanuel I know God loves me and is for me and will preserve me.

     What a wonderful compassion and comfort that we have — the compassion of our Lord.  Now we go to God as the almighty.  But will He hear us?  Will He know?  Yes, He knows.  Does He know how it feels to be flesh on the earth and to sigh and to sorrow?  Yes.  Does He know loneliness?  Yes.  Does He know when everything is dark?  Oh, yes, He knows that, too.  He knows everything.  He is Immanuel.  He is God with us.  He knows all of these things far deeper than you ever could.  He is God in the flesh.  But He is God in the flesh.  He is able to succor us ( Heb. 2).   He is able to give us grace sufficient for all of our needs.  Oh, the compassion of our Savior knows no end.  And what comfort!

     This is what matters.  Is God with you?  It does not matter, first of all, what you have to endure.  It is not first the road that matters.  It is the One who is with you on the road.  I remind you that you could be in a palace, but if you are there alone, what do you have?  You have nothing.  I remind you that a smooth path can be darkness if your companion is not with you or if your companion is not true.  The thing that matters is:  Who is with you on life’s pathway?  Who is with you in sorrow?  Who is with you in trial?  Who is with you at death’s door?  Who is with you when you are burdened?  Who is with you?

     Immanuel, God with us.  Does He know you?  Does He know your earthly way?  Yes, He was God in the flesh.  Does He love you?  Oh, yes.  He gave Himself for you.  Does He know the way that the Father leads?  Yes, He came from God’s right hand.  He knows the way.  Is He a stranger to anything that will come to you on the pathway of life?  Oh, no.  He has experienced it all.  Will He be faithful?  Yes, nothing can turn Him away!  Nothing can take Him from me.  Is He faithful?  Why, He confessed my name upon the cross.  Of course He is faithful.  Then, why are you afraid?  Will He ever fail you?  Here is the answer, the answer to everything:  Immanuel, God with us.  That is everything!

     That is heaven’s Hallelujah!  That is the angel’s wonder and praise.  And that is our praise today, too.  He is Immanuel.

     Let us pray.

     Father, thanks, thanks for Thy Word.  Thanks for that gift of grace, faith whereby we say, “For I know whom I have believed.”  He is Jesus Christ, Only Begotten Son, Lord, Immanuel.  Therefore I am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him until that day.  God, bless this Word to our hearts.  We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.