"God With Us"
(Delivered Sunday, February 29, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotes are taken from the New King James Version.)
This morning, I'd like to begin by inviting you to look with me at a very well-known prophecy from the Old Testament. It's well-known, because it's a passage we often consider during the Christmas season. And as we look at it together, I would especially like you to consider the progressive "unfolding" significance of this prophecy.
This particular prophecy involves a promise that God made through the prophet Isaiah to a king of the southern kingdom of Judah named Ahaz. King Ahaz was in a tight situation, because two northern kingdoms - the northern kingdom of Israel, and the neighboring nation of Syria - were forming an alliance with the powerful and dreaded nation of Assyria. Strengthened by this alliance, the kings of Israel and Syria were plotting to make war against Jerusalem. The threat of this coming war, according to the Bible, made the people of Judah move "as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind" (Isaiah 7:1-2).
The Lord, however, commanded Isaiah to meet Ahaz and exhort him not to fear the kings of Israel and Syria. The Lord was promising that their plot would not stand; saying that, within sixty-five years, the hostile northern kingdom of Israel would be broken and would cease to be a people.
To assure Ahaz of the truth of this promise, God - through Isaiah - invited him to ask for a sign. But Ahaz - in a display of false humility - refused to do so. And so, God Himself offered a sign in these words:
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. Curds and honey He shall eat, that He may know to refuse evil and choose the good. Before the Child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken by both her kings (Isaiah 7:14-16).
Let's consider this promise in a bit more detail. The Hebrew word that Isaiah used for the virgin is 'almā; and this particular word is the word someone would use to describe a young virgin who was about to become married.1 As we read on into the next chapter of Isaiah, we find that the prophet did indeed take a woman - a prophetess - who, through him, bore a son. So, apparently, this promise was made while this young woman was still truly a "virgin".
The son that the prophetess bore was given the name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz - a name which means, "Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil". He was a sign given to Ahaz to show that these threatening enemies would indeed forsake their lands in a very short amount of time. In fact, as the Lord says, they would forsake their lands before the child was old enough to know the difference between right and wrong (perhaps within only two to three years).
Now that's the immediate historical significance of that prophecy. But clearly, it had a forward looking significance as well; and this is shown in that the prophetess would give the child a different name than Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. (And I say, who could blame her?)
The prophecy says that she "shall call His name Immanuel"; which is a name that means "God with us". It's a name that was intended to communicate great encouragement and hope to God's threatened covenant people. And as we read on, we clearly see that the symbolic significance of the promised Child named Immanuel extends further than the immediate concerns of King Ahaz. All of the land of Judah, for example, is referred to as "Your land, O Immanuel" (8:8); but that the foreign nations that threaten Judah will not stand, because "God is with us" (8:10).
The far-reaching significance of this is best shown to us in Isaiah 9:6-7; because there, in the context of this promised Child, we discover His true identity. In this much-loved passage, we read these words of hope for Judah and the world:
For unto us a Child is born,
Do you see it? The child that God promised to Isaiah through his bride-to-be was a real child. But he was also a "sign" - a "type", if you will - of Another who was yet to be born. "Here am I," Isaiah says, "and the children whom the LORD has given me! We are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells in Mount Zion" (8:18). And the One of whom Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz was a sign was a Child who would be born as "God with us"; a Child who would be referred to as "Mighty God".
Isaiah saw the immediate intention of this prophecy; but he was also shown the far-distant promise it held. And the fulfillment of that promise is described for us in this morning's passage from the Gospel of Matthew:
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 shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And she called His name JESUS (Matthew 1:18-25).
* * * * * * * * * *
When we last studied from the Gospel of Matthew, we concentrated on the first 17 verses - and on the human genealogy of the One who was born into the world as King of kings and Lord of lords. That introductory passage emphasized Jesus' full humanity to us.
But that passage also hinted at His full deity; because it was careful to say that Jesus was born of Mary but not begotten of Joseph. It pointed to Jesus as born of a virgin. And in this morning's passage, we see that full deity clearly and plainly explained in His miraculous conception. These two passages are important to the theme of Matthew's Gospel; because in it he is presenting Jesus to us as the King of the Jews who is both fully human and fully divine. This is why the promised Child is not only One born "unto us" and given "unto us" - One who will sit rightfully on the throne of David with the government upon His shoulder; but He is also "Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace". He is the 'theanthropic Man' - fully God and fully Man, with both natures in One Person. He is, in every respect, God with us!
* * * * * * * * * *
Many people are talking lately about Jesus - particularly about His suffering on the cross because of the release of the landmark film, The Passion of The Christ.
Many critics of the movie have complained that it's extremely violent and bloody; and indeed it is. In fact, because of the violence depicted in it, I couldn't personally recommend it as a movie that everyone ought to see. And I certainly believe we should respect the sensitivities of those who have decided not to see it. But the point that I feel many of the movie's harshest critics are missing is that the One who endured all that violence and suffered all the agony of crucifixion was God in human flesh. And He suffered all that He suffered out of love for us!
It was "God with us" of whom Isaiah has written, ". . . He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him" - that is, on 'God with us' - "the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).
It was this very same Child that Paul spoke of when he wrote;
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (vv. 5-11).
We could never understand or appreciate either the depths of Jesus' condescending love for us, nor the height of the destiny He has secured for us, if we didn't understand the affirmation that Matthew is making to us in this passage: that the Child born to Mary is "God with us!" And you and I, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, have overcoming hope and victory because that affirmation is true!
* * * * * * * * * *
Let's consider this passage in a little more detail. It is the birth announcement of the King of kings; and in it, Jesus is being designated to the world as "God with us". First, we see that He is so designated . . .
1. BY HIS MIRACULOUS CONCEPTION (vv. 18-20).
We often (mistakenly) say that Jesus' birth was miraculous. Actually, as far as we know, His literal birth was very normal. But clearly, it was His conception that was miraculous and that designates Him to be "God with us".
Matthew begins with a heading: "Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows"; and he then proceeds to tell us the whole story - not only of Jesus' birth, but of His miraculous and marvelous conception.
He begins the story at the time when Mary was betrothed to Joseph - at a time before they "came together". In keeping with the custom of the time, a young woman would be "engaged" to her husband for about a year's time. During that time, she would remain with her own family, and the two would live separately from one another; but the tie to her husband-to-be would be such a strong obligation that, if she were to have relations with another man, it would be considered that she had committed adultery and was to be punished by death (Deuteronomy 22:23-24). Such a strong bond could not even be broken without a certificate of divorcement - even though they had not yet "come together" in actual marriage.
Joseph and Mary were in that "engagement" stage. And so, what a heart-break it must have been to Joseph when it came to be found that she was pregnant. Matthew tells us that Joseph was, literally, a "righteous" man - which indicates that he was a man who was concerned with doing what was in keeping with God's law. But, as the New King James translation has it, he was a "just" man - which suggests that, with the idea of being righteous was the fact that Joseph was also a merciful man. The Bible tells us, in Psalm 37:21, that "the righteous shows mercy." And so, not wishing to subject the woman he loved to public humiliation, he made up his mind that he would terminate the engagement and "divorce" her privately.
Can you imagine poor Joseph - a righteous but merciful man - as he lay in bed that night and thought about how he would have to go about this very heart-breaking task? Can you imagine the sense of loss and grief he felt over what he thought was betrayal on the part of the young woman he so deeply loved? And can you imagine how hard it must have been to do what he knew the Law of Moses required? I'm sure he plotted and planned, and tried to figure out the right way to go about this difficult and painful task, until he eventually fell asleep from exhaustion.
And it was then that an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. I suspect that Joseph knew this to clearly be more than just a dream; because Matthew tells us that he immediately got up and acted upon it as a word from the Lord Himself. The angel told him, "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" (Matthew 1:20).
* * * * * * * * * *
This is, of course, the story from Joseph's standpoint. But Luke, in his Gospel, tells us the story from Mary's experience. It's an account that's filled with mysteries that it's not our place to delve into; but let me at least read it to you as Luke recorded it. It follows after the story of Elizabeth, the relative of Mary who was six months pregnant with John the Baptist. Luke writes;
Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And having come in, the angel said to her, "Rejoice, highly favored one, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women!" But when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and considered what manner of greeting this was. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name JESUS. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end." Then Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I do not know a man?" And the angel answered and said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God. Now indeed, Elizabeth your relative has also conceived a son in her old age; and this is now the sixth month for her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." Then Mary said, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38).
Mary knew all this before it happened. But all that Joseph knew was that his betrothed bride was pregnant. The truth of her condition had to be authoritatively revealed to him that, indeed, his young virgin bride-to-be "was found with child of the Holy Spirit" (v. 18). This story is doubtlessly being told to us, in part, to assure us that Jesus was definitely not the child of Joseph. And as to her virginity; without saying too much, it was a fact that could absolutely be confirmed (cf. Deuteronomy 22:17). But more importantly, this story is being told to us to stress to us that Jesus, though fully man through His mother Mary, was also fully God in human flesh! His identity as Immanuel - "God with us" - is being designated to us by the fact of His miraculous conception.
* * * * * * * * * *
That He is "God with us" is also designated to us . . .
2. BY HIS APPOINTED NAME (v. 21).
The angel told Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as His wife, and that the Child in her womb is conceived in her of the Holy Spirit. And then, the angel said, "And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins."
The name "Jesus" was a familiar name in those days. In Hebrew, it's the same as the name 'Joshua'; a name that means "Yahweh saves". But in the case of our Lord, the name has particular significance, because the angel clearly identifies this Son of Mary's as the One would "save His people from their sins." He is being marked out as the Savior through whom Yahweh saves - and particularly, saves from sin!
In designating Mary's Son in this way, there's a sense of exclusivity. No one else can claim to be the savior of their people, because no one else in human history has ever had an angel of the Lord come and identify them as the one who would save people from their sins. But Jesus has. And this exclusive designation is confirmed elsewhere in Scripture. Jesus Himself said to the Pharisees, ". . . If you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins" (John 8:23-24). He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6). Peter said, "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12).
But in designating Him as "JESUS" - the One who saves His people from their sins - there's also a sense of invitation. "For," as the apostle John tells us, "God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved" (John 3:17). "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," Paul said, "and you will be saved . . ." (Acts 16:31). ". . . If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus," Paul teaches, "and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). Jesus is, as John the Baptist proclaimed, "The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29); and in heaven, those who are saved will cry out, "Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!" (Revelation 7:10).
A good friend of mine pointed something out to me the other day. We were talking about how so many people complain because, as Christians, we believe what the Bible clearly teaches - that there is no other way to salvation but through faith in Jesus Christ. Such people seem put off by the fact that there aren't "options". My friend had recently watched the movie Apollo 13; the story of how the endangered astronauts managed to stay alive and return to earth by staying inside the lunar landing module. My friend pointed out how the astronauts didn't complain that this was the "only way" or that they didn't have other "options" to choose from. In fact, seeing that they were otherwise sure to die, they seemed unspeakably grateful that there was "a way" at all!!
How good God is to us! We were lost in our sins; and apart from His grace, there would be no hope - no "way". But God has provided "a way"; and He is THE ONLY WAY - Jesus Christ, "God with us", the One whom the angel designated by name as, "Yahweh saves!"
* * * * * * * * * *
Jesus is also designated to us as "God with us" . . .
3. BY THE FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY (vv. 22-23).
Following the announcement of the angel to Joseph, Matthew adds this comment: "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.'"
The "all this" was the story Matthew has just told us of Mary and Joseph. And he makes clear that it was done for a purpose - "that it might be fulfilled which was spoken" through Isaiah. And what was spoken was authoritative; because it was "spoken by the Lord through the prophet". And it all bears testimony that, just as the prophetic Scriptures promised, Jesus has come into the world as "God with us".
Jesus once appeared to His disciples after His resurrection; and He told them, "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me" (Luke 24:44). This is a major theme throughout Matthew's Gospel; that all that Jesus did - His birth and ministry, His death and resurrection - were done in fulfillment of the Scriptures. This has also always been a theme in the proclamation of the gospel to the world. As Paul once said,
Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel, which I preached to you, which also you received and in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you - unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures . . . (1 Cor. 15:1-4).
And this is true of the testimony of His birth as well. The Scriptures tell us that the Messiah must be the woman's Seed (Gen. 3:15); and Jesus was. It tells us He must be of the lineage of Abraham (Gen. 12:3, 7; 17:7); and Jesus was. It tells us He must come from the tribe of Judah (Gen. 49:10); and Jesus was. It tells us He must be of the House of David (2 Sam. 7:12-13); and Jesus was. It even tells us where He must be born - from Bethlehem (Micah 5:2-3); and Jesus was. And now, on top of it all, we see that He must be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14); and Jesus was - in fulfillment of the Scriptures!
Jesus is just what the Scriptures promised Him to be - Immanuel, "God with us".
* * * * * * * * * *
And finally, Matthew's testimony in this passage shows us that Jesus is clearly designated to be "God with us" . . .
4. BY THE RESPONSE OF WITNESS (vv. 24-25).
It's no small thing, really, that Matthew goes on to tell us, "Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name JESUS."
Joseph's reaction to the testimony of the angel, you see, was to do exactly what he was not going to do before. He took Mary to himself as his wife; because he was convicted of the thing that the angel told him; that the Child she bore was of the Holy Spirit. And Matthew takes the time to tell us that, because Joseph was so convinced that the Child in Mary's womb truly was the Son of God, he "did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son". That is to say, he kept her a virgin until that time - perhaps out of reverence the divine Child in the womb; or perhaps to preserve the testimony that the Child truly was of the Holy Spirit; or perhaps both.
And then, Joseph called the Child's name "Jesus" - the name the angel had told Mary He would be given (Luke 1:31), and also the very same name that the angel told Joseph He would be given. There is great significance in the fact that the angel already identified Joseph "son of David". In doing so, the angel testified of Joseph's title to the royal lineage of King David. And now, in the act of himself "naming" Jesus, Joseph is claiming the Child as his own - and passing on to Him the title, "Son of David."
But most important of all, please note that they called the tiny Boy by the very name the angel told them that they would call Him - Jesus, "Yahweh saves"; and this testifies of their faith that it would indeed be Him that would save His people from their sins.
* * * * * * * * * *
This is a wonderful story - whether it is heard around Christmas time or not - because it's the first announcement to the world of the precious name of our precious Savior. It was given in humble surroundings and circumstances; but the Bible tells us that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11).
And above all, don't miss the main point. The virgin in Isaiah's prophecy was to call her child "Immanuel" - "God with us". The virgin Mary called her Son "Jesus" - "Yahweh saves". The Jesus through whom God saves us is also 'God with us'.
Do you know Him and trust Him today?
1Herbert M. Wolf, Interpreting Isaiah (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1985), p. 258.
Missed a message? Check the Archives!
Copyright © 2004 Bethany Bible Church, All Rights ReservedPrintable Version
Bethany Bible Church, 18245 NW Germantown Road, Portland, OR 97231 / 503.645.1436