Immanuel: God with Us

Dr. Brian Allison

The Royal couples' saga continues. This past week Queen Elizabeth announced that she strongly desires that the Royal couple, Prince Charles and Lady Diana, should divorce. Apparently, the situation has deteriorated so much that it has become irrecoverable. Lady Di reportedly was quite upset with the Queen's announcement. For Lady Di, it was 'the cherry on the cake.' This announcement marked the final and complete rejection by her husband, as well as by the Royal family. No doubt, Lady Di feels more isolated, more ostracized, more alone. Do you know what it feels like to be rejected? Have you ever experienced the loneliness of rejection?

A colleague of mine was recently informed that his teaching tenure would be terminated within nine months. This man has given about eight years to the institution, and has made personal sacrifices in doing so. Needless to say, he was extremely hurt. He and his wife are experiencing the pain of rejection, feeling ostracized, alienated, and alone. Do you feel ostracized or alienated, either from your family, your friends, or your spouse? Are you feeling lonely? Mother Theresa (b. 1910) once said, "Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty."

With the Christmas season now upon us, we should remember that the essential meaning of Christmas centres on a real companionship and intimate connection with God. The essential message of Christmas is the message of 'God with us.' Matthew 1:23 reads, "'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.'" No doubt, when you think about the meaning of Christmas, many things may come to your mind. Maybe you think of a time with family, sharing joys, memories, and fun; or maybe you think about giving gifts, decorating the pine tree, and enjoying various festive events; or maybe you think about the little town of Bethlehem and the birth of Jesus. However, the essential meaning of Christmas is 'God with us.'

God is physically with us

Deity has assumed humanity. God who inhabits eternity became subject to time. The second Person of the Trinity has entered into, and has identified with, the human condition. He is not some distant deity; He is very near. So, we read, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:1,14a). Similarly, Hebrews 2:14a and 17a read, "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same...Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things." Through divine incarnation, we have complete human identification. Accordingly, the Son of God understands what it is to suffer. He understands what it is to be distressed and overwhelmed. Our God understands what it is to be in anguish and pain. He understands what it is to be disappointed and to suffer loss; and as a result, He is able to sympathize and come to our aid.

'God with us.' He really knows and feels your struggle. Maybe your best friend has left you for a time in order to attend to other matters. He or she may be far away and you miss the fellowship and support. God knows and feels your struggle. Maybe your long-held dreams have been dashed. That for which you have planned and worked so hard has not materialized. God knows and feels your struggle. Maybe one of your family members seriously misunderstands you. You have tried to make things clear. You have tried to communicate, but there is still misunderstanding, and as a result you are being judged and condemned. You may feel like a stranger in your own home. God knows and feels your struggle. "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need" (Hb. 4:14-16).

My wife and I have a friend who recently sent a letter to her friend who is experiencing a great deal of suffering. In this letter, there is a reference to the sufferings of Christ. Hopefully, by reading and meditating on Christ's sufferings, this one who is suffering may realize that she is not alone – that Christ can fully identify with her and sympathize – and thus be encouraged. The Son of God knows what suffering is; He has fully identified with the human condition, and He cares.

God is spiritually with us

God is not only with us physically, but He is with us spiritually. As Christian believers, we can know and experience fellowship with God Himself. By His Spirit, He indwells us so that we may know spiritual union and ineffable communion with the divine. The Christian is never really alone. When Jesus was about to leave this world through the crucifixion, and return to the Father God, He spoke these words of consolation to His disciples who would be left behind, those who would feel forsaken, "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. After a little while the world will behold Me no more; but you will behold Me; because I live, you shall live also. In that day you shall know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you" (Jn 14:16-20).

Jesus will not abandon you, He will come to you by His Spirit. My troubled and perplexed saint, you need to remember that God is with you each day, through all your trials, through all your difficulties, through all your problems. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Jesus said to His disciples, before His ascension, that all power and authority was given to Him, and that He would be with them even until the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). Remember this truth when you have that tough decision to make concerning the future. When you feel the burden of providing for that ailing family member, remember that God is with you. When you are faced with that uncertain job market this year, remember that God is with you. In 1980, I returned from studying in the United States, and I began to search for a job. I filled out many applications. I searched for weeks and months. Some days I would return home quite discouraged. Yet, though I was discouraged, what supported me and helped me to persevere was the truth that God is with me. He would comfort me by His Spirit. Spiritual fellowship with Him sustained me.

'God with us' means 'God for us'

To appreciate the full significance of this name, Immanuel, we need to understand the historical situation that occasioned the promise of the One who would come and be called by this name. Isaiah 7 provides us with the historical situation. Judah was threatened by attack from the armies of Ephraim and Syria. The king of Judah, Ahaz, was desperate. He sought protection from these armies. Accordingly, against the wishes of God, he turned to the Assyrians for help. Ahaz had panicked. Rather than trusting in God, he trusted in another; and he devised his own plan. So, God sent the prophet Isaiah to him with the message that the enemies of Judah would not be victorious; that God would help. Apparently, Ahaz did not believe that; and Isaiah, accommodating this man's lack of faith, told him to ask for a sign in order to verify the promise that God would be with him and bring victory. Ahaz refused to ask, but Isaiah offered a sign anyway. So, we read in Isaiah 7:14-16, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey at the time He knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. For before the boy will know enough to refuse evil and choose good, the land whose kings you dread will be forsaken."

Now, there was an immediate fulfilment of this promise (and prediction), as well as an ultimate realization or fulfilment of it in the coming of the Son of God incarnate. The kings of Ephraim and Syria were defeated within a matter of years. Now, as we understand the historical context, God is with His people, with the view of helping His people. God's presence implies His assistance. So, with this prophecy's ultimate fulfilment, we may say that this name not only refers to the Son's incarnation, but it also infers the Son's salvation. Thus, we read, "And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21); and this statement (though the name used is different) is the New Testament fulfilment of the Isaiah prophecy. Thus, we read on, "Now all this took place that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled, saying, '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.'"

In assuming human flesh and receiving the name of Jesus (which means 'Saviour'), we have the fulfilment of this prophecy of the promised One who would be called Immanuel. So, 'God with us' entails 'God for us.' With Christmas, we indeed celebrate the birth of Jesus, but we should also remember that Christmas is the message of His eternal presence, and His loving and continual protection. Be encouraged my troubled or struggling saint; God is with you. Are you lonely? He is with you. You do not need to fear.

This past week I received a letter from one our Church members who had returned to her civil war-torn country of Sri Lanka. The contents of this letter are a concrete illustration of the reality of 'God with us.' She writes, "I hope this letter will set everyone's mind at ease. I had a very smooth journey, right up to my house here in Batticaloa. My flight took off on time and reached Colombo. God mercifully provided and undertook; every detail was well put together. The ten hour drive from Colombo to my hometown was pretty smooth. As we neared the Eastern border, the scene changed, and I was surprised to see how badly the province had deteriorated...As we were approaching my hometown I saw how badly affected my hometown is. Most of the roads are not in operation. There are two checkpoints on either side of my house too. Last night I heard the sound of gunfire for the first time in six years. My mother and father both look frail. Our house has deteriorated too; I cannot see myself living in this country at all. I stay confined to the house...It is good that I came here as it has provided them [my parents] with a diversion from the same oppressive scenario. I am very thankful that God brought me not only safely, but comfortably back home." What is she saying? What is her experience demonstrating and verifying? – the reality of 'God with us.' And God is with you, my Christian friend. Be encouraged. God says, "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you" (Is. 43:1b,2a). He is faithful.