Immanuel: God with Us!

Grasp the grandeur of the God put the galaxies in place—and continues to uphold the movement of the stars. Matthew 1:18–25 tells you that this God is with you. He has not only come down to help when you need him, but in this corner of the universe, God has become truly man. He doesn’t stop being God, but he also becomes truly human. He is with you. He will be with you to the end of the age. And he will be with you for all eternity.

Pay attention to what God reveals. Joseph was faced with something almost unbelievable. Matthew has told you that he is giving you the book of the record, the book of the genealogy of Jesus, the Christ. He has traced his human ancestry back to Abraham. Now he is going to tell you that this Jesus is God with us. The event which disturbed Joseph was his fiancee’s pregnancy. Engagement in 1st century Jewish culture was a much more binding relationship than in ours. Although it was not marriage, and the couple were involved in neither a domestic nor a sexual relationship, its violation was virtually equivalent to adultery. Joseph discovers that Mary, this quiet woman who seemed so godly, this woman whom he loved so deeply, his Mary was pregnant. Mary being unfaithful seemed incomprehensible–but Joseph knew that he was not the father. You can appreciate Mary’s apparent silence. One choice was to charge Mary with unfaithfulness, with adultery. Although apparently the death penalty was not in force for the sin, the shame and public humiliation would have been great. Joseph made another choice. God’s Word informs us that because he was a righteous man, Joseph was inclined to quietly divorce her. Alternatively, it may be that Joseph did hear from Mary the account of the annunciation to her, and did believe her. He may have questioned, in view of Gabriel’s message that her Son would be the Son of the Most High, whether it would be appropriate to continue the engagement, much less enter marriage with Mary. In either case, Joseph was seeking to act justly, in what must have been a most difficult situation. “As a natural phenomenon the virgin birth is unbelievable; only as a miracle, only when its profound meaning is recognized, can it be accepted as a fact.” (J. G. Machen, The Virgin Birth of Christ, pp. 217–218).

Listen to the message of the angel. Matthew does not describe the angels appearing directly. Instead, he describes a series of dreams, and related fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Now, after 400 years of silence, God is again revealing himself. Appropriately, the angelic message comes to Joseph in a dream. God’s revelation in the Old Testament had come in a number of ways, including dreams. God graciously sends an angel to explain the situation to Joseph. What a load must have been lifted from his heart! Mary had not been unfaithful. The child is indeed the Son of God, the Savior. Joseph would become the adoptive father, the one through whom Jesus would legally be the son of David. Joseph’s role would be that of earthly father to the One who would be his Savior. The graciousness of God is evident, not just in the explanation to Joseph, but in the fact that God has reached down into our painful, sin-cursed world, and has touched it with his own saving presence.

Understand the words of the prophet. Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14. He emphasizes that God is fulfilling what he had said he would do. The One who is Son of David and Son of Abraham is also God himself. And he is not a God who exists only in some distant, unapproachable place–he has come to you. He is Immanuel, God with us. In the person of Jesus Christ, all that makes God who he is is there, and all that is essential to our humanity is there. He is like us in every way, except without sin. Remember the context of Isaiah’s prophecy. He was speaking to wicked King Ahaz, a king who turned everywhere but to God for help when his kingdom was threatened. When Isaiah assured him of the deliverance that God had promised to come, he doubted. Rebelliously, he refused God’s instruction to ask for a sign. The sign God gave seemed unbelievable. Contemporary questioning of the incarnation and virgin birth display a similar refusal to take God at his word. “While Matthew presents the quotation [Isaiah 7:14] as his own editorial comment rather than as part of the angel’s message to Joseph, he expects his reader to incorporate this scriptural authentication for Mary’s unique experience into their understanding of why Joseph changed his mind.” (R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew, p. 48).

Experience the promise of “God with us” come to fulfillment. Understand what the name “Jesus” means. Grasp what “Jahweh saves” means. Matthew emphasizes the name Jesus, a name so familiar that perhaps you need to stop and reflect on what it means. In it’s Old Testament form you recognize the name as “Joshua,” meaning “Jehovah (or Jahweh) saves.” You know the story of the man who followed Moses as the leader of Israel, and brought them into the promised land. But this is a greater Joshua. Appreciate the precision in the reason given, “he will save his people from their sins.” He will save, not just make salvation possible. He saves you from your sins, not just from the problems you face. Understand the depth of your rebellion against God and appreciate more deeply what he has done. There is no more important question that you can ask yourself today than whether you truly know this Jesus as the One who saves you from your sins. Matthew wrote his Gospel as a call for you to trust him. By the end of his Gospel he will have explained quite fully who this Jesus is and what he came to do. Live as the people Jesus has saved. He came to save a people, not just isolated individuals. He came to build his church. The body of Christ is important. If he is the King of his kingdom, he summons you to obey.

Do what God says! Joseph awoke, and rather than dismissing the dream, rather than looking for excuses to avoid involving himself in this complicated situation, rather than being put off by the anticipated gossip of neighbors, he simply obeyed. “He did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him…” v. 24. He took Mary as his wife. He assumed the role of (adoptive) father to this Child. Matthew makes clear that although he took Mary as his wife, he had no sexual union with her until after the birth of the Child. There would be no question about whose Son this Child is. He played his faithful part in the plan of salvation as the Lord unfolded it. He gave the baby the name, Jesus. Understanding the message of the angel and appreciating the fulfillment of the promise in the prophets, always involve obedience. Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus approves of of the person who not only listens, but “who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). That is the path to which Matthew’s account summons you. That is not just a dream. It is life in the real world. “Christ saves, he delivers us from sins. This deliverance consists of two parts. Having made a complete atonement, he brings us a free pardon, which delivers us from condemnation to death, and reconciles us to God. Again, by the sanctifying influences of his Spirit, he frees us from the tyranny of Satan, that we may live ‘unto righteousness,’ (2 Peter 2:24).” (John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospels at Matthew 1:21).

God is with you! Matthew, like Luke, makes clear that this Jesus is truly human, he is truly the Son of Mary. But both make the point that his conception was by the power of the Holy Spirit in some mysterious way beyond our understanding. While Mary is not the source of the divinity of her Son, she is truly the mother of God in the sense that her Child is truly God (theotokos). Isaiah promised that God would be with his people as they faced what seemed like overwhelming enemies. He was picking up on a theme that ran through the Old Testament, particularly focusing on the presence of God in the Tabernacle and then the Temple. Now what had been a symbolic and preparatory presence has become a permanent reality. The incarnation is never reversed. Jesus did not stop being human when he ascended. He continues to be God with you, Immanuel. At the end of his Gospel Matthew records Jesus’ promise, “I am with you to the end of the age.” That is your comfort as you face issues that seem to be overwhelming. That is your assurance as you look at the end of your life here on earth. And it is the glorious reality of the new heavens and earth—where God is with his people in a fellowship that is unmarred by any sin.

As you work through the week ahead, do so with the knowledge, the assurance, that as you trust in Christ, God is indeed with you—and nothing can separate you from him.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
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