The Gift of Emmanuel
December 7, 2008 / No. 3440
Dear radio friends,
In this time of the year we turn our thoughts once again to the wonder of all wonders: the coming of God’s Son into the world as the Savior. As the church enters into the last days—days foretold in Scripture as abounding in evil, days when men lift themselves up in pride against the Most High and in defiance of His Word and law—in such days the memory of the birth of Jesus Christ grows in its beauty and in its comfort for the church.
For the coming of God’s Son into the world is the message of God’s invincible and conquering grace, a grace that redeems from accursed darkness a people chosen of God and precious, and gives to them eternal life and victory. As sin increases and as ungodliness becomes bold and defiant, our joy as children of God in the truth of Jesus Christ also increases. For the gospel is that Jesus, the Christ, has been born, He has died upon the cross, arisen again, ascended up into heaven, sits at the right hand of God, and returns in judgment.
The birth of Jesus Christ shouts the message of victory and of comfort to the people of God. It tells us that God has come in power and great glory and has saved His church and obtained for us everlasting and eternal victory.
Today I would like to consider the birth of Jesus Christ from the point of view of one of His names: Emmanuel. There may be as many as one hundred and fifty names of Jesus recorded in the Scriptures. All of these names are intended to show us the majesty of His person and the glory of His work. And when, by faith, we say with the apostle (II Tim. 1:12), “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day” —then we have that confidence in Him because we know Him as He is revealed in His names. The names of Jesus tell us who He is.
So, He is called Jesus—“Jehovah Salvation”; He is called the Christ—“The Anointed of God”; He is the Only Begotten Son of God; He is our Lord; He is the Word; He is the Good Shepherd. On and on we could go. And He is Emmanuel. Emmanuel means “God with us.” There is no name that our Savior bears that so comforts us as that name “Emmanuel.” It explains exactly who He is: God with us; and what He came to do: that we, sinners, might be forever with God.
“Emmanuel” declares to us a wonder: that Jesus came so that God might forever be with us and we forever with God. If you know Him as Emmanuel, then no matter today how lonely and depressed, how miserable and tempted you may be, you have hope, joy, and comfort. To belong to Emmanuel and to know Emmanuel (God with us) is hope and peace and joy fitted for every situation, every moment of this present life.
The word “Emmanuel” first of all conveys to us a miracle, the most profound miracle imaginable: God is with us. This is the most profound truth in all of the Bible. Emmanuel brings to us a truth that is not amiracle, but the miracle. It is God uniting Himself to human flesh.
Now, in a sense, every birth is a miracle, a miracle of God. In the human birth we have a human being that God creates at the moment of conception and that God alone may take. We may say that every human birth is a great mystery and miracle.
But the birth of Jesus is the miracle. For the birth of Jesus Christ came of a virgin. It was God who came to unite Himself to human flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary. A virgin birth is very difficult for children, and for all of us, to grasp. For we all have a father and a mother. Maybe you did not know your father. Maybe your father deserted you. But every single child ever born on earth has a human father and a human mother—except Jesus.
Oh, He had a mother. He was born of a woman, Mary. We read in Luke 2:7 that Mary brought forth her firstborn son, that she gave birth to Him. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit in her womb and developed for nine months in all of the marvel of the birth of a child and was born of a woman (Gal. 4:4-7). But Jesus did not have a human father.
God told Mary through the angel Gabriel in Luke 1 that she would indeed have a baby, and that this baby would be God’s Son, the Son of the Highest, who would sit upon the throne of David forever. And she asked the angel the question: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? I am not married.” And Gabriel replied, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” The Holy Spirit, Mary, will envelop you, will come upon you, and will conceive this child within you. Mary had no sexual relationship with a man before Jesus was born. God conceived the child within her womb. Jesus had no human father.
This was all confirmed by the angel to Joseph, Mary’s betrothed, the man to whom she (Mary) was promised in marriage. Joseph, her betrothed, found out that Mary was going to have a baby. And of course the question: Who is the father? Joseph’s conscience was clear. He knew that it was not he. And so he was minded to “put her away.” But the angel appeared to Joseph and said, “Joseph,…fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.” God has worked a miracle. The infinite God has joined Himself to the finite in the womb of the virgin. The Almighty has united Himself to flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary.
Emmanuel means that Jesus is “God with us.” It means that Jesus is God and man. That is hard to understand. But it is so. If you had met Jesus, you would have seen that He looked like an ordinary man. We have no descriptions given us in the Bible about Jesus. But He was a man. He was born of the seed of David. He bore the characteristics of His ancestors and of His mother. He was a human being.
But He also was God, God incarnate. The word “incarnate” means in the flesh: God “in the flesh.” The second person of the Trinity, God the Son, is now joined in human flesh. Therefore Jesus is also God. He is God with us. With us. He is a real, complete, human, weakened man. Today also, though He sits at the right hand of God, He still has this real, complete, human nature. It is glorified. It has been brought beyond the realm of death. It is immortal. But He still bears a human body in heaven.
We read in Hebrews 2:14-17 that in all things Jesus was made like unto us His brethren. He took part of flesh and blood. He did not take to Himself the nature of an angel, but of the flesh and blood of the seed of Abraham. God did not prepare a special human nature for Jesus so that we would say that Jesus never had a cold or the flu. No. He took upon Himself a human nature just as our own. He was subject to all things. He needed food and rest. He grew tired and weary. And, yes, He could contract a cold and the flu. He was a man among men. He developed in the womb of His mother as a little child. And when He was born, you could hold Him and you could touch Him. When, as a little boy, He would cut His hand it would bleed. He had a human brain, kidneys, lung, and heart. He had the resemblance, most likely, of His mother.
Oh, there was something different. He was sinless. He was a holy child. God shone out of His every action, word, and thought. He could say to His disciples, “He that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.” But though He was sinless, He was nevertheless completely human. He had a human soul. He had a human mind. He became like us in all things.
“Emmanuel” tells us that Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity, the eternal, the everlasting God now with us. It tells us that Jesus has two natures united in one person—the person of the Son of God. That He has a human nature: complete, real, sinless. And a divine nature: He is God of God. He is very God and He is very man.
The early church came to this truth through a great struggle. For the first three hundred years after the apostles, many heresies arose around this very truth of Emmanuel. The devil hammered away at it. He hammered away at this one name, Emmanuel. He wanted the name “Emmanuel” to be erased from the church’s confessions, and he wanted to rub it out of the pages of Holy Scripture. He wanted to distort the wonderful truth that it conveys. There were those in the early church who said that Jesus was not really human—He just appeared to be a man, like angels who would occasionally in the Old Testament appear to be men. There were others that would say that He was not completely human—He did not have a human soul. There also arose those who said that He was not God. Oh, He was God-like. He became the highest form of humanity. He became divine. But He was not of the essence of God.
And on and on would go the heresies. The battle raged. And yet, by God’s grace, the church—studying the Scriptures—came to see the wonder of the truth of Emmanuel: God with us. Very God, completely God, truly God, God of God, God with us. A man. A human man. Without sin, but yet a man among men. Emmanuel: God with us. That is His name.
The creator of the earth and all of the millions of galaxies, who holds them within the palm of His hand, became a man. The eternal came into time and united Himself to human flesh. He was born as a babe in Bethlehem.
This miracle is important. It is the most important thing that you will ever hear. And I pray that the Holy Spirit who conceived Him in the womb of the virgin Mary may also create in our hearts an understanding of this great truth, that we may bow down in wonder and in worship and see written in the name Emmanuel all our salvation.
Why is this important? Because only as “God with us” can He cover, in the sight of God, the sins in which I was conceived and born. You who are listening to this radio program were born and conceived in sin. You are, of yourself, a corrupt, filthy, lost sinner, who deserves to be eternally damned in hell for your sins. It makes no difference who you are or what is your past, your accomplishments, your social standing, your race. You are a lost, depraved sinner of yourself.
Now I know that the unbelieving world will scoff at that word. And underneath the scoffing is a deep offense. There will be wounded pride when we are told that we are, by nature, nothing but depraved, corrupt, vile, evil sinners. And I know that you and I also, who by the grace of God are now the children of God, do not by nature like to think of ourselves that way either. We all imagine that we are not that bad, at least not as bad as someone else. We can always find someone else who is worse than we are and thereby tell ourselves that we are not that bad.
But all of that will never alter the truth of what God has declared: you and I are dead, lost, corrupt, filthy, vile sinners. Listen to God: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. All the world is guilty before God. There is none that is good, no not one. In sin did my mother conceive me.
If you do not like that diagnosis, that you are a corrupt sinner—of yourself worthy of damnation and hell—you will have to talk to God about that. That is not my verdict. That is God’s verdict. But He is called Emmanuel. And the whole gospel shines in all of its glory and power in that name: Emmanuel. He is the Savior that we need. Jesus is a man. For only a man can be the substitute for us; only a man can represent us. By man, says the Scripture, came death. By man must also come the resurrection of the dead. Man must bring a payment for his sin to God. And Jesus is a man. He is a true man. He may represent us. And He is God. He is God with us. He is God in the flesh. And only God can bear away the wrath of God against our sin. Only God can sustain His wrath against our sin.
If Jesus had a human father, if He is not very God of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the virgin womb, then Jesus will crumble and be crushed and be consumed under the blows of the holy wrath of God against sin. Only God can save. Isaiah 59:16, “And he [God] 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.” Jesus is God of God. And, therefore, He is the Savior.
There is only one who can cover, in the sight of God, the sin in which I was conceived and born, the sin that I have committed and continue to commit. That one is Emmanuel. He can represent me, for He is a man. And, by grace, He was appointed of God to be my representative. He can bear away the burden of my sin, for He is God. He can make me live with God, He can make me know God, He can make me to be one with God. He is Emmanuel, God with us.
The wonderful comfort of Emmanuel is that it shows us the matchless love of God. The name Emmanuel reveals the love of God that puts away our sins by placing those sins upon His own Son in our flesh. Now, just think of that. God—perfect, eternal, almighty, absolutely without any lack, all-sufficient, holy, and gracious. And man? What is man that thou art mindful of Him, says the Bible. We are made from the dust, frail and dependent, and sinners on top of that. And yet God gave His Son. God’s Son was united to our flesh. Why? That we might be forgiven our sins and brought near unto God. Herein is the love of God: that God gave His only begotten Son to be a propitiation (a covering) for our sin (I John 4:10).
Do you ever ask, “Where is the proof of God’s love for me today?” Do you ever say, “All that I experience is darkness and cancer and sickness and hardship and economic loss and suffering and old age and troubles and woes and depression. Does God love me?” And the answer of God will be one word, one name: Emmanuel. That is the answer. There is the assurance: God with us. Our sins pile up in our consciousness. Satan comes to accuse us of those sins. By faith we repeat one name: Emmanuel, and Satan falls back and is confounded. For in this I know that God loves me and that God is for me and that God will preserve me: Emmanuel. Jesus is God with us.
The comfort is the perfect compassion of our Lord.
We go to God, as the almighty God and Father, in our prayer and we ask, “Will He know?” And we say, “Well, yes, in His omniscience He certainly knows all things.” But it is even more than that. He knows. For Jesus is God with us. In all points, says the book of Hebrews, Jesus was tempted as we are, yet without sin. He knows all our weakness and frailties. He knows what it is to be a human being on this earth. He went through the vale of tears and sorrows. He is touched with it all.
So the comfort is that we belong to an unfailing and perfectly good and faithful Savior. That is what matters. What matters is: Is God with you? It does not matter, first of all, what you endure. It is not, first of all, the road that you must take that is the important thing. But what matters is, Who is with you on that road? It matters who is with you in your sorrow, in your trial, and at death’s door.
Do you know Him? Do you know Emmanuel? By the grace of God, do you put all your trust in Him? Do you love Him? Do you hear the wonder, the wonder of God’s grace? Jesus Christ is Emmanuel, God with us, so that we might be with God. Emmanuel, so that I shall never be left alone. Emmanuel, so that I have an answer to all of my sin. It is everything. It is heaven’s Hallelujah. His name is Emmanuel, God with us, that we, forever, may be with God.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for Thy holy Word and pray that it may be a rich blessing to our hearts in this day, through Jesus Christ. Amen.