Lutheran Church Missouri Synod
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The Meaning of Immanuel, God with Us
By Dr. Richard P. Bucher
There is no one in history that has been given more names or titles than Jesus Christ. If you've read through the Bible carefully then you know what I mean. Throughout the pages of Holy Writ over 100 names and titles are given to Jesus. And whether He is called "Bright morning star, Wonderful Counselor, the Root of Jesse, the Alpha and the Omega, or the Lamb of God", each of these names and titles is rich with meaning. They all say something significant about who Jesus is.
However, there is no name more significant than "Immanuel". This name, which Matthew refers to in his Gospel (Matthew 1:23), was first given to Jesus by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before His birth (Isaiah 7:14). And this very special Christmas name, as Matthew tells us, means "God with us." Jesus Christ is Immanuel, "God with us," and I'd like to share why this is so meaningful at Christmas time.
The babe born to Mary in a manger, the infant that the shepherds ran to see, the newborn child that the Magi traveled hundreds of miles to worship is Immanuel, God with us. But in what sense is Jesus "God with us?"
Wasn't God always with the human race? Wasn't "God with us" before Jesus? Yes. In one sense God, the Creator, has always been "with" His creation. Unlike the false god of the Deists and Theists and of many evolutionists, who believe in a god who started the world and then departed far away, the true God has always been with us. About this He says in Jeremiah 23 "`Am I God who is near,' declares the LORD, `And not far off? Can a man hide himself in hiding places, so I do not see him?' declares the LORD. `Do I not fill the heavens and the earth?' declares the LORD." (Jer. 23:23-24). The God of the Bible, the true Creator is omnipresent, everywhere at the same time. He fills all of creation with His presence; every mountain and every molecule; and yet He is not a part of that creation. He remains Creator distinct from His creation. And so a God who is everywhere is certainly a God who is with us.
When Paul preached to the pagans of Lystra (in Acts 14) He reminded them that the true God, the Creator, had always been with them, giving them witness of Himself by providing them with rains, fruitful seasons, and giving them food and glad hearts. Thus, God has always been with His creation in the sense that He, who is everywhere, has showered all mankind with blessings -- despite their sin.
But with the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, Immanuel, "God With Us," takes on a whole new meaning. For in the person of baby Jesus, God is "with us" not merely to bless us. Nor is He with us in the sense that He is going to merely work through Jesus to help us, protect us, and guide us. No-the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay is "God with us" because He is God.
What sent the shepherds back to the fields rejoicing, what made the wise men fall down in wonder in the shadow of that babe, was the gripping realization that they were in the presence of their Creator made man.
Years later St. John the Evangelist under the inspiration of the Spirit would write the perfect commentary on the Christmas events. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; and all things were made through Him and apart from Him nothing was made which was made...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1-3, 14).
The true message of Christmas is one to stagger the imagination: The Second Person of the Trinity, the only begotten Son of the Father, the eternal Word, our Creator wills to clothe Himself in our nature, and to become man, our brother, one of us. God Himself lies in the manger, completely human, completely Divine.
But allow me to play the devil's advocate for a moment. So what? So the message of Christmas is that God is with us in the Person of Baby Jesus. What difference does it make? Why do we need this Immanuel? Why do we need "God with us?" It is said that one does not appreciate the cure, unless one first tastes of the sickness. And such is the case with the true meaning of Christmas.
Why does mankind need "God with us?" First, because He is not. Listen to what our Creator says in Isaiah 59: "Behold, the LORD's hand is not so short that it cannot save; Neither is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He does not hear." These words were spoken originally to the covenant people of Israel, but they apply to all who have sinned against the Creator.
And the Scriptures pronounce in no uncertain terms that every human being stands guilty before God--guilty not only of misdemeanors, but guilty also of untold felonies. In one place it is written, "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John 1:8) And in another place, "The LORD has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one" (Psalm 14:2-3). And still in another place God says, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of it all" (James 2:10).
Why does the human race need "God with Us?" Because we have separated ourselves far away from Him by our sin.
Why does the human race need "God with Us?" Because the plain truth is that without "God with us" we human beings are incomplete at best. For no matter what we in our arrogance like to imagine about ourselves, we humans are creatures. We did not will ourselves into existence by our invincible spirit. Nor do we owe our existence now to our superior intellect and will to survive. These explanations are quite flattering and are also quite without any evidence of truth. We human beings are creations: beautiful, complicated, and intricate creations fashioned by an all-powerful Creator who has revealed Himself to us as our God. His name is Yahweh. And He has revealed Himself to us as Three Divine Persons in One Divine Essence: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We human beings were created by this loving Creator in the image of God (Gen. 1:27). This means that we were created for the express purpose of knowing and loving Him. We were meant to have the most intimate relationship imaginable with Him. We were to depend on Him for all things; we were to daily walk in His light, His love, His joy, His power.
But all this man chose to throw away, and did throw away, when He rebelled against the Creator by sinning against Him. And the last six thousand years of man's history has witnessed the restless creature man trying to find meaning in life apart from the Creator.
St. Augustine's familiar words hit the mark, "For You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until we find rest in You." The human race needs God, the Creator, because it is built into the very core of our nature to know Him intimately. Without Him, we are incomplete, empty, unfulfilled, restless, all because we are living life contrary to the purpose for which we were made.
When the creature no longer has fellowship with the Creator, he seeks to find a replacement to make the gnawing emptiness go away. Some call this "man's drive to succeed", others "finding myself", and still others refer to it as "self-actualization." But these restless strivings are the creature trying to fill the void left by the Absence of the Creator. Some try to make the emptiness go away with romance and relationships, family and friends; Others throw themselves completely into a career hoping that will give their life meaning. Others find themselves almost obsessively buying one thing after the other, desperately hoping to find fulfillment under the sheer weight of the new. Sadly, many turn to the dark side of drugs, alcohol, crime, and other deviant behaviors to drown out the emptiness and lack of meaning in their lives. We need "God with us" because without Him we are incomplete.
Why does the human race need "God with us?" Because the human race is slowly sinking into oblivion. I know that doesn't square with the signs of hope around the world. But I am speaking from God's holy perspective.
From God's perspective, the creation which originally was "very good" is becoming more corrupted all the time. We as a race are becoming so perverse, so jaded, so violent, that we can't judge properly anymore. But God has seen the awful wickedness of this world and He tells us what will befall it and us: "The earth will be completely laid waste and completely despoiled, for the LORD has spoken this word...The earth is broken asunder, the earth is split through, the earth is shaken violently, the earth reels to and fro like a drunkard, and it totters like a shack, for its transgression is heavy upon it, and it will fall, never to rise again." (Isaiah 24:3, 19-20). And of all those who are guilty of sin, God says that at the end of time His holy angels "will cast them into the furnace of fire, in that place there will weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 13:42).
That is why we need "God with us," Jesus Christ, our Immanuel. Because only He can undo what we have done. Only the One who created us in the first place can restore us again. Only our Creator can break down the wall of sin that separates His creatures from Him. Only He can give their lives the meaning and completeness they were supposed to have. Only "God with us" can rescue us from the oblivion that we are heading toward.
And that is what the eternal Word of God decided to do. For He saw the dire predicament the human race was in. He saw the ugliness, the brutality, and the violence that sin bred in man. He saw the emptiness and the restlessness of creatures in rebellion against their Creator. He saw that death reigned like a cold-hearted tyrant over His creation. Most of all He saw (with tears in His eyes) that His creation which had once been so beautiful, was now marred and vandalized almost beyond repair by corruption and sin; and that everything was heading for everlasting condemnation.
And so God the Son, sent by the Father, sprang into action. He knew that according to the Law He had laid down, that man must die because of their sin. He also was well aware that man could not be restored to His Creator until the Law was kept perfectly and sin was done away with. But such was His love for His creation that He did not want them to die. But to be true to His Law and not be found a liar someone had to die. Someone whose death would cancel the penalty of sin, stop corruption, and make all things new again. So the eternal Word decided to die for His creation. But to do this He must become human. And thus 2000 years ago, He came, "born of a woman, born under the Law" (Galatians 4:4). The Word became flesh and became Jesus Christ.
So great was His love for His fallen creation, for you and for me, that He left His glory to come here. And through His perfect life and death on the cross He broke down the wall of separation that our sin had built and reconciled us to Himself; as it is written "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them." (2 Co. 5:19). Through Jesus Christ, Immanuel, our sins are forgiven and we have fellowship with our Creator again.
Immanuel. In this one name, everything humankind needs and the entire plan of God's salvation is subsumed. How blessed we are that Jesus Christ became Immanuel, God with us.