IMMANUEL— Jesus, IS GOD WITH US
Key Verse 1:23
“‘The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’— which means, ‘God with us.’”
In the first part of this chapter, Jesus’ genealogy seems to be filled with men and women of faith who loved God and trusted him, and who kept the lamp of faith burning from generation to generation until the coming of the promised Messiah. The genealogy shows that our God is a faithful God, who keeps his promises in spite of his people’s unfaithfulness, weaknesses and failings. After Matthew recounts the genealogy of our Lord, he then tells us of the circumstances of the Savior’s birth. It involves two amazing people, Mary and Joseph, whose faith made it possible for the Son of God to be born into this world. It’s what we know as the Christmas story and it tells us how deep and wide is the love of God for us. May the baby Jesus who was born to Mary and Joseph on Christmas Eve, also be born in all of our hearts.
The Christmas story then begins with two extraordinary people, Joseph and Mary. (18a) Like many young men of his time, Joseph was an ordinary man who struggled to make a living as a carpenter. But he was of royal descent, which means that he was born in a line of kings. In other words, Joseph was a direct descendant of King David— the famed king of Israel. This Joseph was also engaged to Mary, an ordinary country girl of the same descent— that is, Mary too was a descendant of King David. There’s one more detail about them that we know. Joseph and Mary were happily engaged to soon be married. So, when this story takes place, they may have been in the middle of wonderful and joyful preparations for their upcoming wedding day. And they were clueless to what plans God already had in store for both of them. It’s amazing how ignorant we usually are of God’s plans for our lives. The Bible tells us: “In his heart a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps.” And, “Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” (Proverbs 16:9; 19:21) It’s necessary to make some plans for our lives. But what the Lord plans for your life and mine is most important, because “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart throughout all generations.” (Psalms 33:11) What I plan for my life may be good and noble, and it may serve my own purposes well. But what God plans for my life is everlasting and God means it to endure forever.
As the day of their wedding approached, what these two had planned for their lives was unexpectedly interrupted by something most unusual. Look at verse 18b. “…But before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit.” Surely this is most unusual! Before the wedding day, and all of a sudden, Mary became pregnant. Matthew tells us that what was in her was the work of the Holy Spirit. That means that she had miraculously conceived by the power of God. And it was not ordinary child. He was the Son of God and the Promised Messiah of the world. What an amazing thing happened that day, a woman conceiving a child without the intervention of a man. It had never happened before. Why Mary? Why was ordinary country-girl Mary so favored as to conceive the Promised Messiah? It was God’s grace. In his grace, God had chosen her for his world salvation purpose.
God’s grace to Mary was amazing, and more precious than anything this world could have ever done or given to Mary. But there is something that we cannot ignore in this amazing thing that God had done for this woman! His grace to her was costly— more costly that any human being could ever bear. What was the cost of such amazing grace in her life? What was the cost of God’s plans for Mary’s life? More than we can ever tell of course! But on the surface, we know that God’s calling and his grace in Mary’s life required a sacrifice— a huge sacrifice! She would had to sacrifice her marriage plans and carry the shame of being found pregnant out of wedlock. And that meant that she would be misunderstood by her parents and her fiancé; and she would be shamed by her people and community and rejected. How difficult this amazing grace was for this young woman to bear! And we’re not talking about a liberated 21st century woman with rights to prostitution and freedom of speech and conduct. We’re talking about a woman of conscience and dignity. God’s plan challenged to disrupt her life and her future. God’s plan for her life challenged her to be ready to give up her own lovely plans. It challenged her to give up her dignity as a woman— all for God’s grace to her and his own plans for her life. This is not a small thing at all. How could God do this to her? Don’t you know that while God’s grace to us is free, it often requires sacrifices on our part. Today’s Christianity seems to have forgotten this. Most people want God’s favor, but don’t want God to interfere in their lives and plans. Most want to do something great for God, but they don’t want to have to sacrifice much. Where does this false Christianity come from? It comes from our own corrupted hearts and unwillingness to humble ourselves and submit to God. But Mary! Mary was different. She knew the cost. And she accepted this painful grace. And she bore the heavy cost bravely. And there’s no deep secret to Mary’s courage! Mary loved God. Mary did it by faith. Mary trusted God with her life and future. Especially Mary understood that God’s plans are better, higher, nobler and more precious than anything else we have planned for our lives. She was worthy of bearing the Son of God in her belly and heart.
What about Joseph? Verse 19 tells it all! “Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” [The New NIV puts it this way: “Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.”] Mary’s situation— what happened to her was very difficult for anyone to believe— even for Joseph. How should he feel? What would he do? Joseph had a decision to make in the face of this enormous problem! He battled with his feelings. He struggled with his thoughts. And it’s amazing that Joseph didn’t lose it. It’s amazing that his love for Mary didn’t suddenly turn to anger and rage. What he did was also amazing. Instead of going for revenge, the Bible tells us that he didn’t want to expose her to shame. He wasn’t thinking about himself. He was thinking about her. At the same time he was also thinking about the word of God— what the Bible had decreed to be done with women who are pregnant out of wedlock. Their punishment was severe. Joseph wanted to obey the word of God and see justice done. But he also wanted to show her mercy as well. He had the heart of God, who struggled with our own sinful situation. The word of God punishes sin because sin is a disease that must be punished and contained. God would have had to punish us. But he also loved us and wanted to show us mercy. So he sent his Son to cover our shame and guilt, that his Son may take the brunt of our own deserved punishment. Joseph found himself caught up between a sense of justice and a sense of mercy. What would he do? The Bible says that he was a righteous man. But he was also a merciful man. He must have wrestled with God on this issue. And when he didn’t blow up and see justice done; when he wanted to show mercy, God gave him direction for his life. God helped him see what needed to be done. God showed him that that Mary’s situation from God. And he told him what to do. When a person decides to put aside emotions and human thinking to resolve difficult life issues, God always intervenes to give them direction.
Look at verses 20-21. “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’ She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” The name “Jesus” means “the Lord saves.” And the words, “his people” refer to God’s people lost in their sins. God’s people, as all people are, were miserable not because of their social or political or economic situations, but simply because of their sins. People today do not want to even acknowledge that there is such a thing as sin. When misery hits them hard, they want to blame it on something else. When they do evil things, they call it “behavioral issues”. But no one wants to call it what it is— sin! Christians even ignore the problem of sin, and try to find solutions in programs and workshops and education. But sin is sin whatever you call it, it is still sin and it’s the major problem of our misery! And that’s why God sent his Son to save us. From our sins! And from the misery of our sins.
Jesus restored our broken relationship with God. When there was no sin in the world, we were happy not miserable in any way, because we had a relationship with God. But when sin came, that relationship was broken, and being cut off from God brought us all kinds of miseries. But God wanted to bring us back to himself. And he sent Jesus to save us from our sins. God didn’t want us to suffer the consequences of our broken relationship with him and that of sin. So Jesus took the problem upon himself and shed his blood to rescue us. That is the simple and powerful story that we call the gospel. Nothing else saves us from sin. Nothing but faith in what Jesus has done brings us out of the misery of this world and back to the arms of God. And Jesus did more than this! Jesus came to bring meaning into our lives. How? By restoring our original purpose of life. And that’s why God intervenes in our lives to change our own plans. That’s why God requires that we humbly surrender to him and to his plan. We are forgiven when we put our faith in Christ. But that doesn’t mean that we will have meaning and purpose until we have humbled ourselves and submitted to God’s plans. And that’s why Jesus died for as well. For those who trust God, Jesus intervenes to give purpose— our original purpose in serving him— not in our own way with our own made up plans, but in his own way, with his own plans.
But Jesus came to save us from a meaningless and useless existence, and to restore to us the original meaning of our lives— the one we were all created for— to serve him and his purpose. If we are not serving God, we have no meaning to our lives. Living a life just to eat and drink, just to work and receive comfort, just to pursue success and find personal glory is no meaning at all. The Bible calls all that slavery to sin and to its demands in our lives. Sin wants us to fail. Even our successes and achievement are failures if they do not include God and glorify his name (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s the truth of the Bible. But Jesus saves us from sin— He breaks its power which robs us of the meaning of our lives— and He fills our empty hearts with joy purpose and meaning.
The words, “…he will save his people from their sins,” are very meaningful and important words of hope and life to you and me, and not just some nice verse in the Bible that we read only in the Christmas season. They are words of life for those who would embrace them and seek to humble and submit to God and to his grace— even if it is costly grace.
Read verses 22,23. “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’— which means, ‘God with us.’” This is the prophecy regarding the coming of the Savior God to the world. The prophesy announced his coming as a child— a child who would be with us. And his name is Immanuel. This Immanuel is himself the child-God. He is as his name verifies it in every way, “God with us.” And “Immanuel— God with us” really shows us how beautiful God’s character is. God never abandoned his people in all history. The Bible itself is a story of Immanuel— God with us— the God who has been with us all the way until the coming of Jesus, and beyond. Immanuel, is not just a name! It is the most glorious truth and reality of a God who loves us and cares for each of us because he came to be with us.
Matthew understood the meaning of Immanuel— God with him. He could understand this when he spent time with Jesus. Matthew used to be a terribly selfish person. His philosophy was “Me first” and “money talks”. He thought that those who loved God more than money were foolish, unrealistic and incoherent. So he decided to make money— and he got it mostly from the poor people’s taxes. But the sin of selfishness and the love of money costly. He wasn’t happy! His “each man for himself” philosophy became the source of his struggle. He had money— lots of it. But he didn’t have real friends. No one loved him for who he was. No one trusted him. Matthew never wanted to become what he became— he just wanted to make some money, and live a little better than others. But as he was doing this, his conscience was dying. Worse yet— he didn’t think about God at all, and lost God and his chance at eternal life. One day something wonderful happened to this animal-man. Jesus stepped into his life and said to him, Matthew, “Follow me.” It wasn’t a condemning voice. It was a voice filled with love and compassion, forgiveness and hope. Matthew found what he desperately had been looking for, and it wasn’t money. It wasn’t a quiet life on the beach. It was Jesus. He found the love and meaning of his life in Jesus. Matthew then knew that God loved him and wanted him— that God always loved him and wanted him. Jesus was God with him.
Our Lord Jesus is God with us. He came to be with us. Many people say “God doesn’t want me. He has abandoned me. Look at my misery.” But it’s not God who brings us misery. It is sin, and not knowing how precious it is to have Jesus— Immanuel God with us, and to be called and blessed by his grace in our lives. God loves us— really loves us in Jesus. He comes to be close to us, to be our loving God. And he has been with us. He has been with us in our sorrows and in our joys, in our struggles and victories. He has led us through our hardship and spoken to us his precious words of life and comfort. If you stop to think for a moment, every one of us has a Matthew story, before and after. God is Jesus with us, with me and you. We can only give thanks to God for such grace. And we should be more than willing and ready to sacrifice anything this grace and mercy requires of us, like Mary and Joseph. There is nothing more precious in our lives than to know and be able to say from our hearts— Jesus is Immanuel God with me. Bless you.