The Presence And Purpose of God In Jesus
December 23, 2018 | Randy Smith
The Presence And Purpose Of God In Jesus
Sunday, December 23, 2019
Pastor Randy Smith
Think about this for a minute: Jesus had to be our Immanuel to be our Savior and once He becomes our Savior He becomes our Immanuel.
Though our focus on Jesus Christ should never change throughout the year, the church has chosen this time of the year to remember the birth of our Savior in a very special way.
While Jesus is the only King to have become a baby and His conception in the Virgin Mary through the power of the Holy Spirit is definitely unique in many respects, Jesus came into this world similar to that of any other baby: He cried, He nursed and He wet His pants. And like any newborn baby, He was given some names. However, these names were not selected by His parents, but rather were ones chosen by God to best identify Him. In a society when a name meant something, that newborn babe in Bethlehem that first Christmas morning was called: Jesus and Immanuel.
Here is the main point, in an effort to worship the Christ-child this morning, I’d like to explore with you something about Christmas you may have never considered. I’d like to examine the profound meaning behind both of these names for Christ as they are recorded in Matthew chapter one. The two names will be our two sermon points.
1. The Presence Of God-Immanuel
In desiring to show the Jews that Jesus really is their Messiah, the Apostle Matthew, under the inspiration of the Spirit, quite often quotes their own Scripture, what we know as the “Old Testament.” It’s been estimated that his gospel contains 50 direct quotes and 76 allusions to the Old Testament. After presenting an extended genealogy (in 1:1-17), which defines the human birth of Jesus, Matthew then presents the divine birth of Jesus (in 1:18-25), which initiates His first Old Testament quotation originally spoken over 700 years ago from the prophet Isaiah (7:14). Beginning in verse 22, “Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us’” (Mt. 1:22-23).
There is much we could discuss regarding this verse, but for this morning I’d like to specifically focus on the first name given to Christ: “Immanuel” (“Im” means “with,” “Anu” means “us,” and “El” means “God”) which translated means, “God with us.”
From the time of the fall up until this point, a survey through the Old Testament reveals God as a loving, but somewhat distant and unapproachable deity. Boundaries were clearly established. Whether it be around the perimeter of the Mount Sinai (Ex. 19:12, 24) or walls surrounding the Most Holy Place in the Temple (1 Ki. 8:6), only certain people were allowed to approach God at certain times and were often required to bring certain sacrifices in order to be found acceptable in His sight. For most people, God certainly didn’t feel “with us.”
But at the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), God broke into His creation in a unique way. In His final act of revelation, God did not drop a scroll from heaven or send another prophet like the ones of old; rather He came down from heaven and gave us Himself in bodily form (Col. 2:9). Though still set apart, retaining all His holiness and deity, God in His infinite wisdom became a man that first Christmas morning and chose to dwell intimately and personally amongst His creation. The God who created stars larger than our earth’s orbit and ten million times brighter than our sun, created the womb where He would grow and the manger where He would lay. The God who dwelt in perfect glory through eternity past would be wrapped in swaddling cloths to share space with barnyard animals. The God who deserved every right to born in a palace to royal people, humbled Himself and chose Bethlehem and a poor betrothed teenage couple named Mary and Joseph. Most humiliating was the fact that God, though without sin, took on human flesh with all its weaknesses and problems and chose to dwell among sinners. Martin Luther said, “The mystery of the humanity of Christ, that He sunk Himself into our flesh, is beyond all human understanding.” John Donne said, “Twas much, that man was made like God before, but that God should be like man much more.” The God I am speaking of is none other than Jesus Christ.
The story is told of a wise and loved Shah of Persia who greatly cared for his people and desired to only do what was best for them. One day he disguised himself as a poor man and went to visit the public baths. A furnace in the cellar heated the water for the baths, so the Shah made his way to the dark place to sit with the man who tended the fire. The two men shared the coarse food, and the Shah befriended him in his loneliness. Day after day the ruler went to visit the man. The worker became attached to this stranger because “he came where he was.” One day the Shah revealed his true identity, and he expected the man to ask him for a gift. Instead, the man looked long into his leader’s face and with love and wonder in his voice said, “You left your palace and your glory to sit with me in this dark place, to eat my coarse food, and to care about what happens to me. On others you may bestow rich gifts, but to me you have given yourself!”
Jesus, Immanuel, made a greater change and left a greater place of glory to give a greater gift to those whom He loves. In His gospel the Apostle John said, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). Think about that! Almighty God taking on flesh, retaining all the properties of the Godhead, yet becoming an ordinary human just like us to be with us.
It’s no surprise that John began his epistle by saying. “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life” (1 Jn. 1:1). This was a time when God’s people cried out for a word from their Creator (400 years of silence), now they have heard from the living Word Himself in face-to-face dialogue. This was a time when no one could see the face of God without dying (Ex. 33:20), but Jesus said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9). This was a time when touching the ark improperly resulted in death (2 Sa. 6:6-7), but now John reports that God was touched with his own hands.
Charles Wesley in his popular Christmas hymn that we sang today captured the essence of “God with us.”
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see;
Hail, the incarnate Deity:
Pleased, as man, with men to dwell,
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Jesus, our Immanuel, “God with us,” was revealed in the flesh (1 Ti. 3:16). Jesus brought God’s presence and promises to the people that first Christmas morning. But in 33 years He was murdered on a Roman cross and placed in a tomb no longer to be seen or touched by the public.
Why was Immanuel taken away and no longer “with us?” And is it possible to have Immanuel, “God with us,” again? To answer these questions we must move to the second name of the Christ-child that identifies His purpose in coming as Immanuel.
2. The Purpose Of God-Savior
In verse 21 of Matthew one, the angel told Joseph, “She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (cf. Lk. 1:31). The name Jesus comes from the Greek word Iesous. In Hebrew the word is Yeshua commonly translated Joshua in English meaning “Jehovah Saves.” As His name indicates, Jesus, “God with us,” came for the purpose of saving His people. However, we must ask the question, “Save His people from what?”
If asked, most people are completely unaware of their greatest need. Believe it or not, our greatest need is not financial status, good health, influential social situation, education or positive self-image. Rather, we have a much more desperate need that plagues and curses every human being. Our greatest need is deliverance from sin.
Sin is basically “missing the mark” of God’s standard. On an interpersonal level sin brings guilt and consequences. But on a divine level sin brings judgment and condemnation from God. In his letter to the Romans, Paul made it clear. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23) and “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a).
You see, regardless of our religious affiliation and good deeds, our sin remains and the consequences of such sin is eternal death, unending separation from God in hell. We need deliverance from the wages of sin. This is our greatest need. God is holy so He must punish sin by His nature. We need forgiveness because we have incurred a debt of sin against Him that exceeds the national deficit. We need God to save us from God!
How can that be done? How can God be just and yet merciful? How can God exercise His wrath upon sin and love toward sinners? How can we as sinners enter the holiness of heaven? How can we be saved from our sins?
Answer: Verse 21, “You shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Immanuel would take on human flesh and come to earth that first Christmas morning. He would live the perfect life [God] and then die on the cross as our substitute [human]. God the Father would punish Him for our sins. He would face the fury of God’s wrath in our place. In exchange we would receive His righteousness and the privilege to be called children of God. Jesus came on a rescue mission to save us from our sins, deliver us from eternal death to give us eternal life. And this wonderful gift is available at no charge for all who believe in Him and turn from their sins.
Someone once said, “If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.”
Earlier we learned about the Persian leader who humbled himself to the point of identifying with his own people. Jesus did that and much more when He became Immanuel, God with us. Now we learn that Jesus went well beyond that leader when He also humbled Himself by dying for His people and becoming the Savior they desperately needed. Listen, the child was born in the wooden manger to die on a wooden cross to save His people from their sins.
Paul, in Philippians 2, commented on the humility necessary to be our Immanuel and our Savior. Listen to how he takes us from Christmas morning to Resurrection Sunday and beyond. “Who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:6-11).
The intimacy and humility, while preserving the holiness and deity, clearly demonstrates how the Christian God exceeds all other gods. While every other religion preaches rules and regulations necessary for salvation, only the Christian faith teaches we cannot save ourselves. We need a Savior! No wonder the Apostle Peter could conclude, “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Ac. 4:12). Jesus Himself said it best, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (Jn. 14:6).
Well, that first Christmas morning, God gave the world a gift. His gift was given in love to a world that hated Him. His gift met the world’s greatest need. His gift came at the greatest sacrifice to Himself through the suffering and death of His only Son.
How do you think God feels when people reject His love offering in Jesus? How do you think God feels when people try to achieve their salvation by their own efforts? Is it not fair to say that if heaven could be attained in any other manner that God’s gift in the death of His Son was needless? Is it not fair to conclude those who reject God’s greatest gift of love are sinning in the worst possible way? Aren’t they rendering to God the greatest insult by refusing to trust Him, registering again and again a vote of “no confidence” in His promises to achieve salvation on their behalf? Will they not receive the greatest wrath for rejecting His greatest display of goodness and glory?
However, those who have their eyes and heart open to see the wonderful gift of Jesus Christ will gratefully receive it. It’s been said, “Salvation is not something we achieve but something we receive.” And then they will lovingly desire to give the greatest gift they can back to God. And the only thing we have that God wants is our hearts. In an exchange of gifts we honor the Gift-giver by receiving His gift and in loving return we present to Him our lives as living sacrifices. That’s true salvation! It consists of dying to self, loving God with all of our heart, surrendering all, yielding to the Spirit and submitting to His lordship with great joy!
A.B. Simpson said the saving work of Jesus Christ, “Tells rebellious men that God is reconciled, that justice is satisfied, that sin has been atoned for, that the judgment of the guilty may be revoked, the condemnation of the sinner canceled, the curse of the Law blotted out, the gates of hell closed, the portals of heaven opened wide, the power of sin subdued, the guilty conscience healed, the broken heart comforted, the sorrow and misery of the Fall undone” (Evangelism, A Biblical Approach, M. Cocoris, Moody, 1984, p. 29).
Immanuel, God came to dwell amongst His creatures. And then He went to the cross and died for our sins to be our Savior. However, you may be wondering, do those who know Jesus as Savior also know Him as Immanuel or was that privilege restricted only to believers who saw Jesus bodily in the first century?
As member of the New Covenant, Jesus is amongst us in a way that far exceeds His physical presence of the first century. At the close Matthew’s wonderful gospel, Jesus said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:20). With the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has taken up personal residence in our hearts (Jn. 14:23). We have the opportunity to experience the fullness of Immanuel, God with us, in a way unimaginable!
If you know Jesus as your Savior this morning personally think about that for a moment. God is with you in the sense of being in you! The Almighty God in His abundant glory is with you in such a way that His sovereign control is producing only goodness through every situation and open communication through prayer. His vital union is dispensing His love, peace and joy continually. Who could not want such assurance, meaning and satisfaction in life to know that my Creator, Jesus, my Immanuel dwells within me? Remember the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 8? “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us” (Rom. 8:31)? Jesus had to be our Immanuel to be our Savior, and once He becomes our Savior He becomes our Immanuel.
About a decade ago we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers. The first airplane was an incredible achievement that is still difficult to believe.However, something even more remarkable happened 2000 years ago when God took on flesh and first came to dwell among us.
It’s been said that when the Wright brothers were successful in getting their “flying machine” off the ground, thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: “We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas.” Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, “How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas.” He totally missed the big news – man had flown!
Let me ask you, have you missed the big news this Christmas in the midst of all the secular tinsel that a Savior has been born? What have you done with the Christ of Christmas, even as you sing about Him this time of the year? It’s one thing to say, “Jesus is a Savior” or even “Jesus is the Savior,” but can you say, “Jesus is my Savior?” And if you can’t say Jesus is your Savior, you can’t say that He is your Immanuel. Therefore, I urge you this Christmas to receive the greatest gift to meet your greatest need. Would you right now surrender your life to Jesus Christ? Would you believe on His work and turn from your sins to receive the forgiveness of your sins and gift of eternal life?
According to Romans 6, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).