When we hear the word ‘Immanuel’, we probably are quick to think of two words – Jesus and Christmas. It is at Christmas time, this time of year, that we celebrate Immanuel, that is, ‘God with us’ in the incarnation of the Son of God. We turn to both Isaiah 7:14 and Matthew 1:23 and find two of the most known passages in all of Scripture:
Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel.
In Isaiah’s situation, centuries before the birth of Christ, the people of Judah found themselves in a very difficult situation. Both Israel and Syria to the north were trying to get Judah’s king, Ahaz, to form an alliance with them against the world dominating power, Assyria. Thus, everything was heavily pressing against king Ahaz. For starters, he had already been defeated by those two neighboring countries to the north (see 2 Chronicles 28:5-8). If he did not join with Syria and Israel, he was asking for trouble, for invasion and war again. Yet, if Ahaz did become part of this tri-nation alliance, he would be inviting the reaction of Assyria. So might I just emphasize that this is no small matter – we are looking at war here.
Therefore, Isaiah is sent to Ahaz by God. He arrives with a request from God. Yes, a request from God – ‘Ask for a sign’ (Isaiah 7:11)! Ahaz, on his best spiritual behavior, says ‘I will not ask, nor will I test the LORD’ (7:12). But it is God who just said to ask for a sign! Why not comply? Thus, Isaiah basically replies, ‘Well, it doesn’t matter anyways. God is going to give you a sign. Oh, and it is going to be very big’ (7:13f). In the midst of the promise we read that a virgin will bear a son, and his name will be called Immanuel. The name, as we know, means ‘God with us,’ in the sense of not with them, but God with us! For Ahaz and the people of Judah, God is declaring that He was not with Syria and Israel, but rather He was with Judah.
In Isaiah’s day, Immanuel was the name of the son most likely born in chapter 8, that is Maher-shalal-hash-baz (see Isaiah 8:1-10). And it was also the name given to the second person of the Trinity who had come in flesh – Jesus. Neither Maher-shalal-hash-baz nor Jesus were actually called by the name Immanuel. It was a prophetic name characterizing the promise of God in Isaiah’s day, and much more, the promise of the Word becoming flesh centuries later. Though the name shows up only three times in all of Scripture, twice in the Old Testament and once in the New Testament, the prophetic promise of Immanuel rings throughout all centuries. Let’s take just a brief look at a few examples.
Even after the Fall, God shows up in the garden with Adam and Eve ‘walking in the cool of the day’ (Genesis 3:8). Wait, Adam and Eve had just ruined it for all humanity! And we still walk in the effects of such a decision. Why does God still show up as Immanuel, God with us? This doesn’t fit into many peoples theological boxes, does it? Yet, God still comes close and even makes garments to cover their nakedness (Genesis 3:21). Do you see Immanuel?
Then there is the angel of the LORD who shows up numerous times throughout the Old Testament. This angel, this messenger, comes on behalf of, speaks on behalf of, and even sometimes seems to be God Himself. Our thoughts are also drawn to the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night which led the Israelites throughout the wilderness wanderings. Two of the greatest ‘Immanuel’ declarations in all of the Old Testament were the tabernacle and temple, which housed the ark of the covenant on which the weight of God’s glory was to rest. Are you beginning to get a bigger glimpse into the Immanuel heart of God?
We only then turn to the New Testament and in Matthew’s first chapter we are met with the beautiful fulfilment of Immanuel found in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. We revel in the cross and resurrection of Christ, and rightly so. But to ponder the initial incarnation of the divine One is truly amazing in and of itself!
And let us not forget ‘God with us’ today in the Holy Spirit who both seals us for redemption, and dwells within us, not to mention His role of empowering and filling God’s people that we might accomplish the purposes of God. This is the kingdom reality each and every day for the body of Christ – God with us!
We, then, finally come to Revelation 21:1-3 at the end of the redemption story, which describes Immanuel in this fascinating way:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “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.”
When one picks up the Scriptures, turns the pages, and encounters the text by the Spirit, one is only left with this conclusion – God is really with us, His people. Though we do specifically remember the Immanuel heart of God in Christ during the Christmas season, we must remember that our God has been such from the beginning of our story, and He will be so through all eternity in the restored heaven and earth. And I suppose that if we were to record all of our testimonies about God being with us, the whole of planet earth would be filled with volumes and volumes of books (see John 21:25)! So, let us be encouraged to walk in the beautiful truth of knowing that God is with us even now and, as it is stated elsewhere, He will truly never leave us nor forsake us (Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).