The knowledge and practice of knowing and growing in The God Who is with us
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel" (which means "God with us"). Matthew 1:22-23
Applying Christ back to Christmas
One of my favorite names of Jesus is Emmanuel (Immanuel), which simply means "God is amongst us." This is a loved iconic name that has become a holiday tradition, yet it is meant to point us to Who Jesus is and what He does for us. It is what Christmas is all about and, more importantly, what and how our salvation become and entered into us. My endeavor for this article is to help us all grasp the true meaning of Christmas as a daily encounter with our Lord Almighty, personally, collectively and effectually.
Christmas is a precious season, meant to be a reminder of Who and What our Lord has done. It has anticipation, wonder, excitement, family values and precious moments and memories, especially for children. Yet, it has become lost, hidden behind shallow traditions and the emptiness of wants and perceived needs. I am not referring to the secular commercialism of Christmas, but in our own churches and Christian families. We forgot what it is all about! We are missing the message in our expectations as wells as our hurries and struggles and passions. We become so hurried and stressed over putting together a Christmas party or gathering we miss what it is all about!
Just as the early Christians were being oppressed, they were also getting it mixed up; confusing what the Emmanuel is all about. For instance, they were favoring the rich; ironically, they had been cheated by these rich people themselves, as most had. Thus, in the Epistle of James his question was, how could they favor them? They put their favor, not in faith, but in personal motives which is foolishness because it is based on inferior guidelines. They were only seeing what they wanted, their desires fulfilled like fancy clothes and putting their efforts into evangelizing the rich while ignoring the poor and were not interested in what is in the heart. They were giving the wrong people special attention and missing the point of Jesus' teachings--just as we do with Christmas and all the hustle and bustle of our Christmas traditions (many of which I like a lot and look forward to), but we must ask, Do we favor our desires and traditions over the Message and impact of our Lord (James 2:1-4)?
Emmanuel comes to us in the midst of Struggle
Let's try to get a real grasp on what Christmas and Christianity is about by how it all started. First: Jesus Christ. Christmas is all about Him. His birth and Name were foretold centuries beforehand! Then, He comes during a scandalous beginning over two thousand years ago, as a young family was in a dire dilemma. A great struggle for a new marriage and family, while the greatest story ever told and the greatest event ever to come about was unfolding. He comes to us as the Almighty Creator and a baby born in humble beginnings all in One. He comes to heal and restore. Jesus comes to us, saving us from our sins, coming in the midst of our deepest hurts and upsets to give us hope and, more importantly, Himself. The contrast is that we see the Christmas Nativity story as warm, inviting, and precious-of course, it is. The Nativity is so much more-it was, is and always will be that a prophecy is fulfilled even while countering cultural ideals. (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; 42:8).
Mary was a virtuous and wondrous woman to be chosen for this extreme of tasks. She was young, perhaps between twelve and fourteen years old; Joseph was much older-at least between eighteen to over forty years old. Their marriage was almost certainly prearranged through their parents, as was the custom. Mary was dealing with the prospect of losing her life as she knew it as in her family, livelihood, friends and culture not to mention great personal shame. At the same time, she faced the wonders of giving birth--the birth of our Lord, no less. Meanwhile, Joseph was also dealing with great family and cultural dishonor; however, he decided to obey God and trust in Him, not his cultural peer pressure
What about the perceived science buster, found to be with child through the Holy Spirit? This is what is called the "Virgin Birth." Jesus' birth was an unprecedented miracle! This is vital to our faith and practice and the understanding of the Gospel (Matt.). Understand this: Because Jesus is God, He has control of time and matter, and this would be no problem. In converse, He could not have been born as a normal baby by a mother who was younger than He! He could not have been comparable to "normal" babies. Thus, Jesus was not merely born, but came into this world through the birth canal as His passage of choosing (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25, 28:20; Luke 1:26-56; 2:4-7; John 1:1-9; 18:37; 1 Pet. 1:19).
While Mary was with child, she was engaged. This was not just a promise ring and a date to be set and invitations ordered; rather, in first century Judaism, engagement was as binding as a marriage, hence the words of husband and wife, as they were pledged to each other, perhaps from a family agreement or barter. The couple would not have had sexual relations without great scandal and shame as well as the loss of family property and cultural rights. It is unlikely that they would ever have been alone together. If there was infidelity, then Mary deserved to be divorced from her engagement, perhaps even the death penalty by public stoning, or at the very least, to be publicly shamed for being pregnant before the final marriage and without Joseph's aid. Yet, she did not sin, nor did she lose her cultural standing. We know this for the fact they would not be allowed to participate in the family pilgrimage to Jerusalem for dedication or later when Jesus was twelve (Deut. 22:23-24; Luke 2:22-50).
We know little about Joseph, the stepfather, other than his occupation of being a carpenter, which was a very fine, lucrative and difficult job to obtain. We also know what is important: his character being just and wise, and as one who trusted in God. Joseph is clearly shown to us in the Matthew 1 passage as a great and honorable man by his affectionate consideration for Mary and reverence for God. Keep in mind that God picked him to be Jesus' father on earth, to raise and care for Him, to graft Him into his family and profession. Joseph went with Mary to Bethlehem; he was there when Jesus came into this world, and when Jesus was presented at the Temple. He was the head of a family that included Jesus plus up to seven other sons and daughters (sorry Catholics, this is what the Word says). He also took Jesus and Mary to Egypt and back to Nazareth, and worked as a carpenter (Matt. 13:55-56; Luke 2:4-16, 33).
Joseph showed himself to be an example of a real man, as the Bible calls him a righteous man. This meant then to be zealous in keeping the law. But, more importantly, it meant he obeyed God beyond commonsense, and Joseph is a role model for us all! vHe could have and should by his family and culture, divorced Mary quietly. Yet, Joseph was willing to bear ridicule from his family and community. He could have signed the "legal papers" or made an announcement at the town's gate to the elders. But he followed God and trusted in the dream. God sometimes uses dreams to speak to people, and God spoke through dream to convince Joseph to keep his vows to Mary and trust in God during this time. Joseph engaged in the call and responsibility that God has given and being obedient, trusting, and loving. (Gen. 37:5-11; Deut 22:23-24; Dan. 1:17; 2:19-45; Luke 1: 26-35; 2:1-7; Col. 4:14).
Joseph is important, because if Jesus had a human father, then the Bible is untrustworthy, there would be no reason for His supernatural life, and He would have no ability to save us! Without the "Virgin Birth" we have no deity, no miracles, and no salvation. Thus, this is an essential doctrine, and since the Bible and Christ are true, the Virgin Birth must be true also! Otherwise, He could never have conquered death and Satan, or have taken our place of suffering and death. By His Resurrection from the dead, He proved true to His Name.
The Christmas story is also a picture of how God provides us with opportunities and situations to better ourselves, but we may not see them because we are either not looking or we are so consumed by our past experiences, expectations, or hurts that we refuse to look or strive.
Emmanuel is God Who is indeed with us!
The Christmas story is about Christ, that He is unique, He was not just born; He came into our world. He was birthed, as the 'Preincarnate' Eternal God, the Lord and Creator of time, matter and life, who came to us as a man--as a meek and mild baby, no less! The Virgin Birth shows us how Jesus was brought into this world as any baby would be; with the extreme exception that Mary did not have sexual relations to conceive Him! Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He is pre-existent, and He is sinless. Immanuel is not just a Christmas decoration or a theological construct; rather, it is about Who and What Jesus does for us. In our trials and troubles, in our hopelessness and confusion and most importantly in our sins that separates us from God for eternity, Jesus SAVES us. He comes to us with undeserved Salvation for eternity and real hope for today, He is unlike any deity or god of any other religion or thought, He is God and He is with us (Isa. 7:14; 9:6; 10:21; 11:1; Matt. 1:23; Luke 1:26-35; John 1:1-3,14; 4:9-10; 8:56-59; 17:5; Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:5-11;Col. 1:17; 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16;Heb. 2:17-18).
Why is this important? Because Jesus was born into the world, yet was not from it (that is, He did not come from it since He created it) and He is not corrupted by it, lest He be corrupted by sin. Jesus Christ is God incarnate! He can give us what we need-- salvation and hope. Not only is He able, because He is God, He gives us a proof by fulfilling incredible prophecy. In fact, Matthew uses the term fulfill twelve times to make the point that this is the Messiah, the One we are been waiting for since the dawn of humanity and the Fall that give us sin and separation from God. He has indeed fulfilled the Old Testament requirements. The events of Jesus' life, death, Lordship, and Salvation in the New Testament were predicted in accurate details and are a powerful testimony and proof for the infallibility of the Bible by its exactness (Matt:1:22; 2:15, 23; 3:15; 4:14; 5:17; 8:17; 12:17; 13:14, 35; 21:4; 27:9).
God dwells with His people! He is the God Who is now, Who has come and Who is to come. This is also about His perfection, holiness, and purity. God is the One who restores, converts, and brings salvation and hope. His righteousness, rightfulness, and renewal are on our doorstep. Christ has come into the heart of the Christian and, one day, will be coming and all will consummate His will and purpose. Justice and His Kingdom will be fulfilled, and every knee will bow (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10; Rev. 21:1-22:5)!
We have in Emmanuel an identification of His love for us His people and an image of our Redeemer's intimacy and the community between God and His children. In ancient Judaism, this was an image of the dwelling of God, that refers to the Tabernacle--how God resides among His people. The Tabernacle tent, where Moses built to house the Ark, before the Temple was built under David and Solomon, was God's heavenly dwelling. This was God's image of a throne were He connected with His people and the inner sanctum of God's most holy of holies where the Ark, with the two tablets of the Testimony Moses brought from Mount Sinai dwelt. This represented God's home on earth as a "copy" of God's Throne Room, made for His presence in the inner chamber. In Revelation, John sees the real heavenly version being brought down to us. This is very significant in Christian redemption (Ex. 24:9-11; 25:8-9, 40; 29:45; 32:15; 37: 24-28; 43:7-10; Lev. 26:11-12; Deut 10:5; 1 Kings 6:12-13; 22:19; Is. 8:8-10; 51:16; Ezek. 37: 24-28; Zech. 2:11; Dan. 7:9-10; Matt. 1:22-23; 13:38; John 8:42-45; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 5:31-32; Heb. 8:1-6; 9:1-14; Rev. 3:12; 4:1; 7:15; 11:19; 14:15-17; 15:5-16:1, 16:17; 19:7; 21:1-8, 22).
Why is this important and what does it have to do with Christmas? God seeks us. He wants to be with us. He is our refuge. He is the One to whom we look for leadership and salvation. He is the Emmanuel Who will wipe every tear, that shows us we have victory in Christ and that God is true to His promises (Psalm 23; 80:1; 49:14; 121:5-6; Isa. 4:5-6; 25:8; 35:10; 49:10; 51:11; Micah 7:14; John 10:11-18; 1 Cor. 15:54; 2 Cor. 1:20; Heb. 3:1; 13:20; 1 Pet. 5:4; Rev. 3:14; 4:6-7; 7:17).
Thus, the title and name of Immanuel, the impact points us to the fact that He is our salvation. For us, this means that Jesus is with us, because as God, He was, and is able to take our sins upon Himself and appease God's wrath because of our sin. He is "God with us," because He walked, lived, worked, and existed in all aspects as any human ever has. He became as one of us while still remaining God, the Creator of us! Jesus is both God and man. He is no character from mythology, He is not a hybrid like Hercules, nor a percentage of one over the other. He is FULLY God and FULLY human. He was birthed into history and into this world, yet, He was not from it!
What is in the name of Emmanuel?
Jesus Christ, as the name Jesus means "Yahweh is Salvation," as in God is salvation, our Savior's Name as told to Mary and Joseph! This was a common name, which was a declension of Joshua. But, for Jesus, this was so much more. This was a title of His office and Nature over and above a name to be called as a boy. It had extra significance because God intervened and gave this name, when the family lineage was usually used to give a person a name with a meaning behind it (Jer. 23:5-6; Matt. 2:6; 15-23; 7:21-23; 28:19-20)
In contrast, as Joshua led the nation of Israel into the "promised land" of Israel/Canaan, Jesus leads the people of God into the Promised Land of Salvation and eternity. Yet for Jesus the Emmanuel, He is The Lord of Glory which means God is Glorious, Wondrous, All Powerful, All Knowing and All Important. This describes God in the most powerful and profound language we could have. In context, Jesus is God and has all of these attributes, all referring to Immanuel, God is with us (Psalm 24:7-8; Prov. 1; Matt. 1:23; James 2:1-4).
The impact of this Name is told to us in the Matthew one passage, He will save His people from their sins. This is His "office," meaning salvation and faith will be through Jesus Christ as God now gives humanity a new Covenant. We are saved from the consequences of sin, the wrath of God, and our guilt by His blood interceding on our behalf (Jer. 31:31-37; Matt. 1:21; John 3:16-17; Rom. 5:8-9; 8:1-2,12-14; 1 Thess. 1:9-10; Heb. 4:14-16; 7:24-25; Rev. 7:13-17)
Emmanuel also means that Jesus Saves!
This all comes down to, again, Who and What Jesus is and did. He is Transcendent, Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent. Although He is Sovereign, at the same time, He tells us that He is Immanuel, which means "God is with us." This describes God in the most powerful and profound language the Jews have and/or that we have: God, THE God who walks besides us and holds us. His name, Immanuel, is also His attribute and nature, for He is God and is fully able to save us by substituting Himself in our place, living a sinless life, and taking God's wrath upon Himself so we would not be lost forever. He is a God who, indeed, carries us through both the trials of life and through our jubilations, too (Isaiah 7:14; Psalm 24:7-8; Prov. 1; Matt. 1:23; John 1:1-3,14; 4:9-10; 8:56-59; 17:5; Rom. 1:3-4; Phil. 2:5-11; Col. 2:9; 1 Tim. 3:16; Heb. 2:17-18).
Jesus being fully God, "God is with us" is Yahweh, Lord God, Creator of all things, and Sovereign Lord over all. He made the universe and He gets to run it, including you and me. This comes to the truth slogan that Jesus saves. That means He substituted Himself in our place, lived a sinless life, and took God's wrath upon Himself so we would not be lost forever. Has this hit you in your realization of what Christ went through for you--the magnitude and depth of His life and suffering that was given for you(Ex. 15:11; Isa. 6:3; Matt. 1:23; John 1:1-7Rev. 1:6; 4:11; 19:10; 22:9)?
Later, in Matthew 22: 42, Jesus asks "Who do you say I am?" is answer to us is Immanuel which also means that Christ was birthed in history; by so doing, He must also be birthed into you and evident in you! His Immanuel means He is touching you, disciplining you so He is fully engaged in your heart and mind, and so He is Supreme in you, too. Your transformation and Fruit are the evidences of Christ carrying you. For Him to carry you, He must be evident in you!
Emmanuel is the reality of who Jesus is!
Are you ready to receive the reality of who Jesus is? For Christ to be in you, you must yield all of your rights and will to Him! The Christmas theme is not about getting, not about presents of gifts or decoration or any of the trapping we consider sacred. As much as those things pull on our heartstrings, what is important is the gift we get from Him and the gift we give by our faith and trust and obedience.
Emmanuel theme should call to us for a response; it should prompt us to hear God through His Word and Holy Spirit to speak to us about the importance of spiritual maturity as we are living in the certainty of God's Promise. We are called to take hold of the hope offered by our Lord with faith and patience and we will inherit that which has been promised!
Jesus, who went before us, demonstrated what it means to walk by faith; He paved the way in our redemption and our ability to live a life of worthiness, faithfulness, and joyfulness. He can and does identify with and understand you personally and your life, situations, obstacles, and opportunities. He is the God who is there, Who is here, here with you now, knowing you and carrying you through the ups and downs of life. He walked your life in your behalf, cheated death and sin, and now we all have a True Lord and are anchored to Him as Savior; we can go directly to Him, because He knows us, loves us, and will minister to us now and forevermore.
The Christmas Emmanuel must not be a mere ornamental slogan; it, He must be so much more! It should be the sign that points us to the risen Savior. We are called to spiritual growth--that is, the formation of the investment of faith Christ gives us that we give back to Him in dividends. This is a deep conviction of our faith, a practiced submission that shows our obedience, and a life of personal and relational maturity. It must not be hidden in traditions and wrappings; He must be real in us. We have to listen to God; if not, we will not we miss what Christmas us all about. We will not learn, and we will not grow; we will not have lives of transformation and growth. Instead, we experience a storm-tossed sea of life, wayward in every perspective because our eyes and ears are not upon our Lord (James 1).
Emmanuel is the Real Living Nativity!
Do not make the mistake of the Jews at the time of Christ. They thought a royal king would come to save them; that is why they accused Him of blasphemy. Even though they knew the Scriptures, they refused to accept the Word or Him, and held to their presumptions instead! People will accept a human Jesus, a baby Jesus, a helpless infant in a manger Jesus, but not a Divine convicting Jesus. This is the same problem we have today--both in our presumptions and our acceptance of truth!
If you want to make the most of your Christmas, if you want to make the most of your Christian life, you must know and grow in the love, awareness and impact of Emmanuel--Jesus is with you and among us all. His Name is also His nature; God is with us, for He is God indeed. It all comes down to the fact Jesus must also be born and formed into you. Have you allowed Jesus into all aspects of your life? Are you surrendered and poured out to be His Bethlehem? Then Christ can use you to "form" others around you. We cannot do the work of God unless we are the people of God, as Christ is formed in us (John 3:7; Gal. 2:20; 4:19)!
Take the lesson from the first Christmas story, Joseph and Mary. God often leads His children down the roads less lit--the paths of life that seem scary and foreboding, where we fear to tread and dare not go. So, He is there; God with us, His hand on our shoulder, His presence in our hearts, leading us where we think is too hard, where we do not understand the whys and what is going on. Yet, this is where the crucible of faith is lit, where our doubts are melted and our faith is poured out and formed, then molded and polished and presented for inspection and use. We have to take the faith and go, trust in His presence and seize the opportunities all to glorify His Name. He is Emmanuel. Do not forsake your faith and replace it with fear; do not hold onto doubts. Hold on to Him.
Some thoughts on Emmanuel for this Christmas season:
For Christ to be in you, you must yield all of your rights and will to Him. So, how can you start to implement this more fully in your life?
What can you do to be better at knowing and showing that Jesus is supreme in you?
Are you willing to obey Jesus as the One who was "God with us", and through whom "God is Savior?"
Do not allow your desires and traditions, as good as they might be, distract you and your family from the real Emmanuel!
© 2007 R. J. Krejcir Ph.D. Into Thy Word Ministries http://www.intothyword.org/