They shall call his name Immanuel, which means, God with us. —Matthew 1:23
When Jesus was born, God gave us himself. God entered in as fully as could be. In this time of economic uncertainty, we’re finding out all over again how wonderful that is. When God wanted to love us the most, he didn’t give us more stuff; he gave us himself. And having God as your Savior, your Provider, your Treasure and, above all else, your Friend – having God in all these ways and infinitely more is to be finally alive!
On this Christmas Day, we rejoice in God! The birth of Jesus means that God is not our Enemy. He is our Ally. He is not our Attacker. He is our Defender. That is the whole point of this wonderful verse: “They shall call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.’” Let’s enjoy this great assurance today: God with us, God for us, not against us.
Around 118 times in the Bible, God assures us that he is with us. For example, “I will be with you and will bless you” (Genesis 26:3). “I am with you and will keep you wherever you go” (Genesis 28:15). “Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9). “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Psalm 23:4). “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:7). “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). And the whole biblical story concludes this way: “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:3-4). The gospel is a promise that, through the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, and in spite of every reason we’ve given him to stay away, God has come to be with us as our Friend forever.
When you hear the name Immanuel, here is what I want you to remember. The name Immanuel/God with us means that, whatever battle you’re walking into, God is not leaving you to yourself. He is going into it with you as your ally. In fact, if you’ll trust him, he’ll do the fighting for you. And that really matters as we all face the impasse of our guilt. When everything is on the line and we need a mighty Friend, God is with us. He proved it when Jesus was born. That is the happy meaning of Christmas. So let’s take three words, God with us, and savor each one.
First, God is with us. I love the way Marcus Dods paraphrased the promises of God in the Bible. Here is how he unpacked what God is saying to us:
“I am the Almighty God, able to fulfill your highest hopes and accomplish for you the brightest ideal that ever my words set before you. There is no need to pare down the promise until it squares with human probabilities, no need to relinquish one hope it has begotten, no need to adopt some interpretation of it which may make it seem easier to fulfill, and no need to strive to fulfill it in any second-rate way. All possibility lies in this: I am the Almighty God.”
Now that is the one who is with us – no one less than the Almighty God, for all that he’s worth.
Some of us walk through each day feeling that everything in our lives is bigger than God. That’s our basic problem. One time when Martin Luther went on and on in despondency about his own life, his wife Katie put on a black dress as if she were in mourning. He asked her, “Who died?” She said, “God, apparently. I just thought I’d join you in mourning his death.” And that helped Luther. If we believe God is with us, it makes a difference. And who is this God? The Bible says, “And I saw a great white throne, and God was seated on it, and earth and sky fled from his presence” (Rev 20:11). The most formidable person in the universe chose to come down as a baby, to reach out to us in a non-threatening way we could accept. He reaches out to us still. He is ready to serve us as our Friend with all his grace and power. If you feel that you don’t deserve the presence of God in your life, God gives himself only to the undeserving. If you will receive him today, you too will find out how wonderful it is to be among the undeserving to whom God gives himself in Christ.
Second, God is with us. There is not one moment when his eye is off us or his attention distracted from us. There is not one moment when his care for us hesitates. He hears your cry. He sees your need. He knows your sin. And he is with you in it all – especially when you sin. A Savior who is with you at all times, except when you sin, is no Savior for you! But our Jesus is not like that. This passage says, in verse 21, “He will save his people from their sins.” It does not say, “He will save his people from being sinners.” It is the sinful to whom Jesus gives himself forever, and only the sinful – if you will have him. And if God is for you, who can be against you? Not even you.
God is so with us, he gets personally involved. Every time I see the word “himself” in the Bible, when it refers to God, I perk up. For example: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10). God does this himself in our experience. He might use us with one another. He might even recruit some angels to help out. But the greatest thing is that God himself, God personally and directly, will get involved. He could not be more with you. Here are some more “himself” verses from the Bible: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way” (2 Thessalonians 3:16). “The Lord himself will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise” (1 Thessalonians 4:16). God is so with us, he could not be more personally involved.
Finally, God is with us. It’s amazing, but we matter to God. God treasures us. God rejoices over us, for Jesus’ sake. He came down into this world to be with us, and he’s with us today. He’s not just with me; he’s with us. He’s not just with big important people; he’s with us. He’s not just with smart people or good people or cool people; he’s with us. His presence is how he changes us. He loves us into newness of life. John Owen, the great theologian, put it this way:
A man may love another as his own soul, yet perhaps that love of his cannot help that person. He may thereby pity him in prison, but not relieve him; suffer with him in trouble, but not ease him. We cannot love grace into a child, or mercy into a friend, though it may be the greatest desire of our soul. But the love of Christ, being the love of God, is powerful. He loves life, grace, and holiness into us; he loves us into heaven.
On this Christmas Day we celebrate our Immanuel – God with us, always and forever, through Christ. God be praised!