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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:God with us and God for us
Text:Matthew 1:22-23 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Day
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-12-25
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 84:1,2                                                                                

Ps 19:3,4 

Reading – Isaiah 7:1-17; Matthew 1:18-25

Ps 132:6,8,9,10

Sermon – Matthew 1:22-23

Hy 16:1,3,4,5

Hy 37:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, when there’s the good news that a child is on the way, expectant parents will do a number of things. Paint the baby room, for example, stock up on diapers… and pick names. Mum and Dad might choose a name with a family connection, naming the little one after Grandpa or a favourite aunt. Or perhaps the parents will scroll for hours through baby name websites until they find just the right one, a name with a special meaning or a good sound. It’s a big decision, of course, one that has a lifelong result.

Names in the Bible are important as well. Especially when God reveals his names to his people, we need to pay attention. Through his names, we come face-to-face with what God is like, and what He’ll do. And because God is so glorious, He doesn’t just have one name, but many names: He is LORD, He is El Shaddai, He is God Almighty and Father.

The same is true for the Saviour born in Bethlehem. He doesn’t just have a first, middle, and surname, but He has dozens, even hundreds of names. For example, there is that well-known passage from Isaiah 9:6 about the Messiah, “He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He has many names because He is so majestic, and his work so marvelous. Today we look at one of the names of our Saviour, the name “Immanuel.” I preach to you God’s Word from Matthew 1:22-23,

Jesus our Saviour is called Immanuel:

  1. the sign behind this name
  2. the glory of this name
  3. the hope in this name

 

1) the sign behind this name: When Joseph learned that his fiancée Mary was pregnant, he decided to end their relationship quietly. But before he could, an angel appeared to pull back the curtain on what was really going on: “That which is conceived in [Mary] is of the Holy Spirit” (Matt 1:20). This was no ordinary child on the way. His given name would be Jesus, “for He will save his people from their sins” (v 21).

This expected child will be God’s instrument of salvation, his representative for the mighty work of redemption. And so Matthew reports in verse 23, “They shall call his name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’” He will be named Jesus, and named Immanuel, for in this child, God himself will be coming near!

And the entrance of this special child was entirely in keeping with God’s Word. Matthew points out that Jesus wasn’t the first one with the name “Immanuel.” He wasn’t the first, but He would certainly be the greatest.

So who was the first Immanuel? Here we need to think about something that took place more than 700 years before Christ. The year was 734, and the place was the Middle East. Everyone was feeling threatened by the up-and-coming military power, the Assyrians. On their own, the other nations were basically helpless. They were too small to resist the firepower of the Assyrian army—kind of like if the Chinese today decided to invade one of their little neighbours. But as nations have always done, the peoples of the Middle East made alliances. They formed groups to try and stand together.

Now, keep in mind that God’s people at this time were split in two: Israel and Judah, each with their own king. And the king of Israel, Pekah, had recently made an alliance with Syria, the country just to the north. Syria and Israel want Judah to join too—strength in numbers! They so badly want them to join their alliance that they invade Judah, to persuade them to get on side with their coalition.

They attack, but Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel aren’t able to conquer Jerusalem. Still, King Ahaz of Judah—and the people with him—are terrified. They fear that the next attack was around the corner, and that it would be more successful than the first.

That’s probably why the prophet Isaiah (in 7:3) finds Ahaz at the aqueduct in Jerusalem: the king was inspecting the city’s water supply. He wanted to see for himself just how long they could withstand another siege. How long could Jerusalem survive, with what they had?

And even if they could resist Syria and Israel, they knew that the big enemy, the Assyrians, were still preparing for war. That’s how life is sometimes: you go from one crisis to the next, sometimes from the frying pan into the fire! At this time, Judah felt very much alone. Who could possibly help them? Who was with them?

But God is gracious. He sees the anxiety of his people and gives reassurance to Judah. For He sends Isaiah to visit with Ahaz. And the prophet gives the trembling king this message from God, “Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands” (7:4). God says that Pekah and Rezin were nothing to worry about. They were like logs in a fire-pit that refuse to catch alight: they put off a lot of smoke, but have no real heat. Whatever these kings were plotting, God says, “It shall not stand, nor come to pass” (7:7).

Whatever the outward circumstances, Judah could trust in God. They didn’t need Israel, they didn’t need Syria, or anybody. God can deliver, for He is almighty. As God in his Word says so often to his people in crisis, “Do not fear!” As He says to us, “Do not fear!”

God had the power to save Judah, but they had to believe it. God wanted his people to be still, and to humbly trust—then the LORD will save. Isaiah declares, “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established” (7:9). As ever, the righteous shall live by faith alone.

We live by faith, for without faith in him we cannot please God. Without a trust in the Lord, resting in him daily, we’re probably depending on ourselves. Or we’re finding our confidence in created things, building alliances of our own. But when we believe in him, and rest ourselves in his Word, God will never forsake us.

God knows, of course, that faith involves effort and trial. How do you trust an invisible God? How do you really know He’s there? So He wants to give Judah every reason to believe. Isaiah says to Ahaz, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God” (7:11). He lets the king request a marker of God’s favour, a proof of his nearness. But Ahaz, for whatever reason, thought he was “above” needing a sign. So he turned down the offer. The LORD rebuked him, and He gave him confirmation anyway.

And this would be the sign: “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (7:14). A child is going to be born to a woman, and this child’s name will reveal how near God is to his people, how invested in them God is. For this newborn will be called Immanuel, which is Hebrew for “God with us.” What a beautiful gospel message for the troubled people of the LORD: God is with you! As sure you see this child among you, so certainly God is near.

Still, there is mystery surrounding Isaiah 7. First, we don’t know the woman who was going to bear this special child. It was obviously a woman Ahaz knew, someone he would be expected to encounter, because Isaiah says to him, “The virgin shall conceive…” Perhaps it was someone in the king’s family, an attendant in his royal court, or maybe it was the king’s own wife. So that he’d get the message, Ahaz had to be able to notice the sign.

So was the wife of Ahaz a virgin, someone who hadn’t had sexual relations? Well, that’s not likely, considering that they’d already had a son, Hezekiah! It’s possible that whatever woman is meant, she wouldn’t actually be a virgin. The Hebrew word here most often means simply a “young, married woman,” or a young woman who is of marriageable age.

Not to say that God could not have caused a virgin to become pregnant—certainly God could’ve. But chapter 7 says the sign isn’t so much the conception of the child, or the fact of his birth. Rather, the sign is what will happen during the child’s life: “Before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken” (7:16). The child will be a living, breathing, promise from God. Because before he reached a certain age, those threatening Judah will be no more. Immanuel will outlive them! By the time he reached his teens, the danger will be passed: “The land you dread will be forsaken…”

What a comfort this was! Whenever Ahaz saw this child Immanuel, he’d be reminded of God’s promise to save them from their terrible enemies. Whenever Ahaz saw Immanuel, he’d be reassured. This child-with-a-special-name was a walking pledge from God, a sign that He would not forsake his people, but be near them in grace.

And God was. Only twelve years after this prophecy, in 722 BC, Israel and Syria were both wiped out. No longer would they threaten Judah and Jerusalem. The sign of Immanuel was fulfilled, as God promised. Surely God was with his people!

But we know what happened to Judah. Ahaz was a man of little faith, even a wicked man. Later on, he tried to bribe the Assyrians with the gold from God’s temple. He too, tried to get security by human means. And it wouldn’t work—as verse 17 says, the Assyrians will still invade. Later, Judah too was exiled, not by Assyria, but by Babylon, the next world power.

So why did Judah fall? Wasn’t God with them, like He said? Whatever happened to that kid with the special name? God was with them, but despite that gracious sign, Judah again surrendered to fear. They didn’t stand firm in the faith, so they collapsed.

Let’s go back to Matthew. When he mentions “Immanuel”, his readers probably would’ve nodded. They knew Isaiah 7. They remembered how Judah failed to trust in God. And Matthew doesn’t want us to make the same mistake, but to really trust in Christ. Whatever your trouble or sin, is your only comfort in his saving work?

If we have eyes to see, there is a powerful sign right in front of us. In Christ we have a sure pledge of God’s faithfulness, a pledge waiting to be believed, inviting our trust, calling us to faith. For in Christ, all of God’s promises are ‘yes’ and ‘Amen.’ In Christ, God is with us. If we believe in the name of Immanuel, we will always stand.

 

2) the glory of this name: God delivered his people in the days of Ahaz, just as He promised. Even later, when it was time to be taken into captivity for their sin, God showed grace. For a remnant would return. The name “Immanuel” brought sure comfort to Judah in their fear. But that wondrous name has become even richer. Matthew says that Isaiah’s words about Immanuel are “fulfilled” (1:22). For the name is filled out, its promise made more beautiful, and its glory increased a thousand times.

How is the fulfillment so much better? The young woman in Matthew 1 isn’t just a young woman, but she is a virgin. Unlike in Isaiah 7, the Greek word in Matthew can be translated in no other way. It’s not ambiguous: this was a woman who had never slept with a man, and by a miracle of God’s power she was going to have a baby.

And there’s more to the name of her child Immanuel. He’s not merely the promise of God’s presence, a sign that in some sense God would accompany his people. Now the sign is much more, for the child is God himself! The LORD Almighty is really and truly among us, even in the flesh. You can see him, hear him, touch him. God was actually living among the men and women and children of Israel. When this child was born, grew up, and walked on the earth, He was in the truest sense, “God in our midst.”

Some 30 years later, in Matthew 12, Jesus speaks about who He really is. He first compares himself to Jonah. Jesus says that like Jonah, He’ll be three days in the grave, but He’ll rise again. And if Nineveh repented at Jonah’s preaching, so everyone should believe in Christ, “for one greater than Jonah is here” (v 41).

In the same chapter, Jesus compares himself to King Solomon, one renowned for his wisdom. People came from all over the earth to listen to him. If that’s how Gentiles responded to Solomon’s wisdom, everyone should definitely listen to the wisdom of Christ. For (again), says Jesus, “Now one greater than Solomon is here” (v 42).

Jesus is greater than all the old prophets. He is greater than all the old kings. And, says Christ in Matthew 12—here’s the clincher—Jesus is greater even than the temple (v 6). The temple was the place of God’s presence on earth, the place where God showed himself among his people. But Christ is greater. As glorious as the golden temple was, Christ was more glorious.

If you think about it, that’s a shocking claim. No wonder the Jewish leaders were enraged: “Jesus greater than the temple?!” God was in the temple. It was the home of the overwhelming presence of God’s majesty. But now Jesus dares to say about himself, “One greater than the temple is here.”

And Jesus, Immanuel, was greater than the temple. Because if the people wanted to draw near to God, soon they wouldn’t have to go to one particular building, in one particular city. Neither would they have to make sacrifices to receive forgiveness. Soon, Jesus would make the temple and all its sacrifices obsolete. For He becomes the place God’s mercy can be found, the proof of God’s nearness! Christ is our access to God, the door that opens directly into heaven, the gateway to life.

So the name Immanuel is really a name that looks ahead to what happened on Good Friday. Then, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt 27:51). What did Immanuel do to make that happen? He went between a sinful people and the holy God, and He made them one. The chasm between God and sinners is gone, because God has removed our guilt. Jesus brings God back to his people, and He brings his people back to God. God isn’t just above you in heaven, so far away. Nor is God against you with wrath, so angry. But because of Christ, God is with you in his love and faithfulness.

This is the profound reality of Immanuel. For the sake of Jesus, God is on our side. Through Christ, God is our God. Like He was for trembling Ahaz and fearful Judah, but in a way that is far more amazing, God himself is among us, to protect, to help, to renew.

The gospel of Matthew begins with Jesus as “Immanuel,” and that’s how it also ends. For this is what Jesus promises in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always.” It’s the promise of his presence. At that moment, the apostles really craved this promise. Jesus was leaving them—and how could the disciples ever hope to preach the gospel to that big scary world, to people who would reject and kill them? Yet they went boldly, for they did not go on their own. Though He was gone, Immanuel was near: “I am with you always.”

That promise holds true. Christ is with us still. Ascending into heaven didn’t make his glorious name less real or meaningful. Our Saviour is still Immanuel. Not, “God used to be with us.” Not, “God might be with us later on.” No, “God is with us. He will be, now and always.” And his name can give us confidence.

With fears and anxieties, at times oppressed by trouble, we can feel like we’re going it alone. None to help. No one to understand us. No one to share our load. You believe in God, but how do you really know He’s there? How do you know He hasn’t gone away, and how do you know that He’ll help?

Then remember Immanuel. For the sake of Jesus, God goes with you, now and always. As it says in Romans 8, “If God is for us”—if God is with us—“who can be against us?” (v 31). If God is with us, no one can stand against us, and nothing can keep us from his love.

“He is with us always.” Christ is with us in his Word. Whenever we open the Scriptures, we get to hear Immanuel’s voice. Whenever we open the Scriptures, we hear God’s very own instructions and his precious promises. In his Word, Christ is very near—to guide us, to comfort us, to speak to us his words of encouragement.

“He is with us always.” For Christ is also with us by his Spirit. Immanuel sends the Holy Spirit to dwell in our hearts—yes, even like God dwelled in the temple and showed his presence there in grace and power. The miracle is that God’s own Spirit now fills us, bringing Christ very near in his mercy and might.

“He is with us always.” Though He’s in heaven, Christ isn’t distant. For His eyes are always on you. He knows you, and He prays for you to his Father. He sees us, He hears us, and He answers our pleas and petitions. Immanuel means we’re never alone, and never without help, for God is with us.

 

3) the hope in this name: This name of our Saviour is so rich. There’s at least one more thing we can say about it, that it includes a future promise. Immanuel is a promise that our separation from Christ will last only a short while. Immanuel is a pledge that our reunion with the Lord is coming. As He said in Matthew 28, He is with us, “even to the very end of the age.” For at the end of the age, Immanuel will come a second time.

And when He comes back, his bodily presence with us will continue for times without end. God will be among us, and He will live with us, just as He always intended to do. He will return and walk with us once again.

It’ll be better than the first time God walked among us, in the Garden of Eden—for that bliss was short-lived. It will also be better than the thirty-three years God walked among us, in the land of Israel—for that ended in rejection and the cross. No, God will walk among us on the heavens and earth made new: Hymn 16 calls it “Paradise Regained.” God and us together, in person, without sin, and without end.

Immanuel makes it possible. He opens the way to communion with God today, and communion with God forever. For to all who believe—for all who by faith accept the sign of Immanuel—God will show his grace. So trust in this sign. Though you stumble and fall, trust in this sign, the Son, the Saviour. When you believe in him, God will come very near.

Look back on the one who was called Immanuel. But then also look ahead, ahead to the day when this same Immanuel will come again, and restore us to God’s presence forever. Make it your prayer, “O Come, O Come Immanuel! Come, that we may dwell with you again! Immanuel, come!”  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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