The Good News of the Incarnation: Jesus - God With Us and Saving UsSaturday, December 24, 2005
Jesus: God With Us and God Saving Us
Delivered on Sunday Morning,
Preface: A year ago tomorrow morning I delivered a sermon on the above text which, in God's strange but good providence, provided much comfort to myself and the little flock I was pastoring. We were in the midst of legal turmoil unlike anything we or anyone else had ever seen or heard. The Superior Court in our region had just ruled against us several weeks earlier, siding instead with the troublemakers, the ones who sued the deacons and I over fabrications and misallegations. The current flowing swiftly beneath the conflict was all about the gospel. But the troublemakers, knowing that no doctrinal dispute would ever be heard in court, chose instead to fabricate lies about us in order to see us removed from leadership. The Judge granted what they had desired all along: a vote to remove us from leadership, to determine whether my wife and I were church members (though we had been affirmed as such my second month as pastor), to determine whether or not another family were church members, along with a few other important decisions which these very troublemakers had already affirmed many months before. In short, a county registrar was to enter the church building, set up voting booths and a registration table, use the badly kept church roll book to determine who is and is not a church member, issue a judge-prepared ballot, and direct them to a booth where they were to pull the curtain behind them and vote. This verdict was set to go into motion on December 12, 2004. Three days earlier, the Appeals Court of the State of Georgia issued a stay on the Superior Court's decision. This sermon was preached on the heels of that stay.
Somewhere in the mid to late 8th century B.C., the prophet Isaiah was sent by God to deliver a prophetic word of comfort to a wicked king who had no respect for or faith in the God of prophecy. Ahaz heard of the confederacy between Israel and Syria and he feared because it was formed for the specific task of conquering his kingdom and putting a puppet king in place to serve their purposes.
But Isaiah essentially told Ahaz and his men not to be afraid. The foundational point behind the prophetic word is this: if Judah were to be destroyed at that time then the Messiah (the apex of God's work in history) couldn’t come. But in order to remain faithful to His promise to David – a promise that Messiah would come from the line of Judah and family lineage of David – God made sure that Judah would not be destroyed. Instead, Assyria came and destroyed both Israel and Syria just a few years later.
The promise to Ahaz was couched in the words of Isaiah 7:14. The virgin would conceive and bear a son and call Him Immanuel, which means "God with us". Seven hundred plus years later, that promise was fulfilled as we find in Matthew 1:21-23.
Our little congregation has just come out of a severe time of testing. There has been a temporary stay granted to us by the Appeals Court of the State off Georgia, along with a temporary season of peace. Providentially, the answer to our prayers was given to us the week before Christmas. And providentially, the text I had intended on delivering to you this morning portrays Jesus Christ as the answer to hundreds and thousands of years of prayers, prophecies and promises in the midst of danger and trouble much, much worse than ours ever will be.
This text is pivotal to our worship of Jesus Christ this morning, this first day after Christmas. He came for many reasons, the chief of which was to die and save us from our sins. And in His coming He accomplished so much and revealed so much more to us. My prayer this morning is that through this sermon we would all taste of His divine glory. We will look at Immanuel, God with us, this morning. And while we are looking upon Him, I want Him to make that presence which is still a reality with us right now so much more perceptible to us in our hearts and minds. I am asking Him to make it real to you and I as we look at this text. I am praying that spirit would accompany truth making our worship real and intimate.
1. Jesus Came to Save Us From Our Sins (Matt. 1:21)
His name is the most precious name on earth.
He was to be given the name Jesus because He would save His people from their sins. The name Jesus is the English derivative of the Latin word, translated Jesu. This comes from the Greek word Iesous. This comes from the Hebrew names Jeshua or Joshua both of which mean “Jehovah saves, rescues and delivers.” That name comes from the longer name Jehoshua which means “Jehovah will help.” So the name Jesus encompasses a broad stretch of related names, all of which clearly communicate the person of God coming to aid of man to rescue, save or deliver him.
The name and meaning of “Jesus” had two wonderful types or shadows in the OT. The first was Joshua, the leader who followed Moses and led Israel into the promised land, conquering their enemies and taking possession of the promised land (Acts 7:45). This action is a clear shadow of Jesus Christ who, when He came, would enter a world that belonged to Him and become the Captain of our salvation (Heb. 2:10; cf. 4:8,9) and lead us to victory over sin and Satan through His death and resurrection.
The second shadow was Joshua the High Priest (Ezra 2:2; Zech. 3:1 ff; 6:11-12) who, in association with Zerubbabel, led the Jews back from captivity in Persia to rebuild the temple and reestablished the worship of Jehovah there. Jesus fulfilled that shadow by becoming the Great High Priest who led His people back from captivity to sin to rebuild His world through the gospel.
These two Joshua’s preceded the ultimate Joshua, named Jesus, who would perform similar acts but on a spiritual realm with finality and ultimacy. He was born for the specific purpose, not of delivering His people from their earthly oppressors, not of rescuing the religion of His people from adulteration. He entered the world for the specific purpose of rescuing, saving and delivering His people from something invisible and unseen, yet at the same time the powerful force behind every visible act, word and thought of disorder, chaos, wickedness and unrighteousness. Let us examine the first verse in our text, and more specifically what the name Jesus means. We will do so word by word.
A. “He will save His people from their sins…”
Only God and God alone can save anyone. John said at the end of Revelation, “Salvation belongs to our God” (19:1). The apostles told the religious leaders of their day, “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12) Paul taught Timothy that, “There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). He is the only one who is “able to save to the uttermost” (Heb. 7:25).
(See Gen. 49:18; 2 Kings 19:15-19; 2 Chron. 14:11; 20:5-12; Psa. 3:8; 25:5; 37:39; 62:1; 81:1; isa. 12:2; Jer. 3:23; Lam. 3:26; Dan. 4:35; Mic. 7:7; Hab. 3:18; Zech. 4:6 and a host of other passages clearly point to the sovereignty of God as the only one who can save us. The NT emphasis is just as strong: Matt. 19:28; 28:18; Luke 12:32; 18:13, 27; John 4:6; Acts 4:12; Eph. 2:8; Phil. 2:12, 13; Rev. 1:18; 3:7; 5:9; 19:1, 6, 16.)
B. “He will save His people from their sins…”
God promised to accomplish this salvation and He kept that promise, fulfilling it in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He will continue to fulfill that promise to save us. He is faithful (1 Cor. 1:9; 10:13; 2 Cor. 1:18). He will never see His promise undone. There is nothing any person or any force, any angel or spiritual power can possibly do to throw His plan off course or upset Him in anyway (cf. Rom. 8:28 ff). He will do what He has set out to do. He will save all His people from all their sins no matter what.
C. “He will save His people from their sins…”
Jesus has emancipated us from the guilt, pollution, punishment and power of sin. Through His death, He freed us from the guilt of our sin. We had no merit to earn favor with God. His righteousness was credited to our account so that God could have favor on us. So by His merit we are cleared from the punishment our sins would have brought us.
But also, by His Spirit, we are saved from the power and dominion of sin. The Spirit of Jesus Christ, the spirit of grace lives within us. “The Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires” (Gal. 5:17). He works to control the mind and heart of the believer, sanctifying it and killing sinful desires (Rom. 8:6-14).
D. “He will save His people from their sins…”
First and foremost, the reference here is to Israel, for they are the first and rightful heirs of the promised Messiah. This is what Matthew intended to communicate to the Jewish readers of his gospel. In 15:24 of his gospel, Jesus is confronted by a Gentile woman. To her request for healing He responds, “I was sent only to help the people of israel – God’s lost sheep – not the Gentiles.”
These were the people Matthew refers to in 1:21. The Messiah was promised to come through the Jews, to come primarily for them, and in order to use them to reach the rest of the world.
In Romans 9:4, Paul describes Israel in these words. “They are the people of Israel, chosen to be God’s special children. God revealed his glory to them. He made covenants with them and gave his law to them. They have the privilege of worshiping him and receiving his wonderful promises. Their ancestors were great people of God, and Christ himself was a Jew as far as his human nature is concerned” (9:4-5). Two chapters later, in 11:2, Paul says that God has chosen Israel from the very beginning.
This is the primary reason why Paul made it his personal and primary effort to preach the gospel to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. Christ came to His own people first, so they ought to be given the first chance to receive Him. But it was only after they rejected Christ that Paul took the gospel to the Gentiles. And we learn in Romans 11 that the Jews’ rejection of Christ is what sent the gospel to the Gentiles. And hopefully, this will make the Jews jealous and desirous of accepting Him too.
Only in the course of progressive revelation, in a wider sense, may we understand this passage to refer to the true Israel of God. Paul spoke of those in Romans 4 and 9. True Israel is the holy nation of people who have the faith of Abraham, who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and trust in His righteousness rather than their own.
John intimated as much in the first chapter of his gospel. He speaks of those to whom Jesus came as His own land and people, yet they didn’t recognize Him. “But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn! This is not a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan – this rebirth comes from God” (vv. 11-13).
Regardless of which view is taken, for scholars, pastors, and theologians have taken both views, we need not miss the selectivity that is intended here. Whether He came to save His people, the Jews, from their sins, or whether He came to save the true Israel of God from their sins, the text is clear that He came to a select group of people. Jesus told us in John 10:11 and 15 that He came to lay down His life for the sheep, not the goats.
And lest that group think that there is anything special or worthy in and of themselves that would want to make Jehovah step out of heaven to come and live with us, the next phrase in our text tells us that Jesus came to save us from our sins.
E. “He will save His people from their sins…”
The presence of sin is what tells us that there was nothing worthy in this select group of people. He came not because that group was worthy but because they were unworthy. Indeed, they could never ever hope to become worthy. Their sins have separated them from God (Scripture?). Their sins have warranted God’s anger and punishment against them.
But Jesus came to save His people from their chief enemy and foe which, little by little, destroys his very heart and life. Notice that the angel tells Joseph that Jesus will save His people from their sins, plural. This refers to those thoughts, words and deeds of omission or commission, and even all the filth which flows from our sinful inner disposition inherited from our parents at conception.
The word “sin” itself simply means, in the Greek, ‘to miss the mark.’ Romans 3:23 tells us that all of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. All of the various ways in which man has missed the mark of God’s glory are considered sins. And Jesus came to save us from those failures. He didn't merely come to fill in the gaps where we get it wrong in life. For even our best attempts at hitting the mark are flawed. Isaiah taught us that all our righteous attempts are like filthy rags. So we need Jesus through and through.
And we don’t just fall short of the mark, as if to picture us simply missing the bulls eye by one or two outer circles. The picture of sin, based on the description we get from Scripture, is that we have tried to please God and have failed, but also that we have not even attempted to aim at the target. Paul taught us in Romans 3 that there are none who are righteous, not even one. There are none who seek after God, none who understand God (vv. 10-13). Rather, we have pointed our bows toward the heavens and have tried to shoot God!
But Jesus came to save us from all of that! Picture that if you will. The very One at whom the arrows of sin have been aimed and shot by those He created, He is the One who stepped out of heaven to be born as a baby, to live and die as a man, in order to forgive those arrows and the evil intentions behind them.
Such acts of sin are considered high treason because they are committed against the King of the Universe. They deserved the death penalty. And because these acts were committed against an eternal God, the death penalty should also be eternal hell. Yet is this same God who steps out of heaven and becomes a baby, who would grow through infancy, toddlerhood, adolescence, teenage years, and adulthood only to be murdered by those He created so that He forgive them and free them ultimately and eternally from the consequences and dominion of sin, from the penalty and power of it.
“In saving them from sin, he saves them from wrath and the curse, and all misery
here and hereafter. Christ came to save his people, not in their sins, but from
their sins; to purchase for them, not a liberty to sin, but a liberty from sins,
to redeem them from all iniquity (Tit. 2:14); and so to redeem them from among
men (Rev. 14:4) to himself…” (Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole
The Human Side of the Name "Jesus"
In verse 21 Matthew recounts the angel’s visitation because in that visitation the name Jesus is given to the baby. It was the name given to a human, a name borne by many men before Him. It pointed to His humanity, His ability to eat and drink, live and breathe, sleep and run, play and work, and finally to be hurt and to die. It was by becoming a man that He was able to do all of this in order to be able to relate to us, help us and die for us. The human life He lived and died is what saved us.
The Divine Side of the Name "Jesus"
By becoming a man He could die for man’s sins. But that couldn’t be all there was to it for this one reason. Any man can die for someone else, but that death has no supernatural power to cause any real and lasting change in a person’s life. How many times have you personally been affected by someone’s death? How long did that effect last?
In order to make that death cause lasting and effective and continuing change, it had to be a supernatural death. So while Jesus died a human death as a man, the change He is able to bring about in someone’s life through His death is only because He was and is God.
In this one person dwelt a human nature, capable of experiencing everything humans experience, and yet also a divine nature, capable of knowing everything and doing anything. In Jesus Christ we have a person who was 100% man and 100% God at the same time, all the time.
It was necessary for Jesus to be God in order to actually save us from our sins. Otherwise, the death would not save anyone. Remember, because we have sinned against an Eternal Being, the penalty for our sins is eternal punishment in hell. Therefore, if we are to be saved from that, an Eternal Being would have had to suffer that eternal punishment for us. But even then, if the Eternal Being stayed dead in hell forever, there would be no victory over it all. That’s why being an Eternal Being must of necessity include a rising from the dead to give death and hell the death stomp. As God, therefore, He could forgive our sins and save us from them by taking our eternal punishment for us and by rising from the dead to conquer it in us and for us forever.
This then is the connection between verse 21 and verses 22-23. Jesus came to save His people from their sins because He is Immanuel, which means God with us.
2. Jesus Came to Save Us BY Coming to Live With Us (Matt. 1:22-23).
A. Jesus’ Birth Fulfilled OT Prophecies (v. 22).
The prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 prophecies God living with man. The birth of Jesus Christ fulfilled that promise.
1. Matthew’s use of prophecy.
This prophecy in verses 22 and 23 falls in line with a succession of five other fulfillments of OT prophecy in the childhood life of Jesus. Matthew uses the phrase, “and so was fulfilled,” or some other similar translation depending on your version. His purpose in doing so was to point to the early life of Jesus as being a fulfillment of OT prophecy, thus legitimizing the claim that Jesus is Messiah.
· Compare Matthew 1:18-25 with Isaiah 7:14. This is the first prophecy and paves the road for the rest.
· Compare 2:1-12 with Micah 5:2. The prophet Micah prophesied that God’s ruler would come from Bethlehem, which we know was fulfilled as Jesus was born in a stable there.
· Compare 2:13-15 with Hosea 1:11. Hosea makes a prophecy of God bringing Israel from Egypt, later fulfilled when the angel told Joseph and Mary to get out of town and move to Egypt because Herod was seeking to kill Jesus. Then, when they moved back from Egypt a couple of years later, the prophecy that Israel was brought out of Egypt was fulfilled.
· Compare 2:16-18 with Jeremiah 31:15. Herod’s plot to kill the toddler Jesus fulfilled Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the weeping and crying of mothers in Israel who had lost their children in that mad slaughter.
· Look at 2:19-23. Though there is no exact OT text on this prophecy, it seems to be a reflection of several possible allusions.
· (See also 8:17; 12:17; 13:35; 21:4; and 26:54 for other fulfilled OT prophecy in Jesus’ adult life.)
2. Why Matthew included fulfilled prophecies – because Jesus fulfills all OT promises.
The point is that by his repeated use of the fulfillment phrase, Matthew clearly wants his readers to see that, “Jesus was not only the completion of the OT story at a historical level, as his genealogy portrays, but also that he was in a deeper sense its fulfillment…Not only does the OT tell the story which Jesus completes, it also declares the promise which Jesus fulfills” (Christopher Wright, Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament, p. 56).
B. The nature of OT redemptive prophecies is important.
1. These prophecies were initiated by God, and they cause us to have greater confidence in God and His Word.
Peter taught all prophecies about Christ, and in fact all prophecies from God in entirety, had their origin with God and not with man. What this means is that it is God who has chosen to reveal His plan to man in His own timing and in His own way through His own messengers. And through those messengers, who are called prophets, we have the truth about Jesus given hundreds before they actually happened. And the fact that He came down to live as a man, and to live with men, and in particular twelve of them called disciples, means that these eyewitnesses make us pay closer attention to and place greater confidence in those prophecies about Jesus Christ. In other words, the fact that ancient prophecies were fulfilled in Him, and the fact that people actually saw him and lived with Him means we must put our confidence in the Word of God written to us in the Bible. Listen to how Peter talks about this truth.
“For we were not making up clever stories when we told you about the power of
our Lord Jesus Christ and his coming again. We have seen his majestic splendor
with our own eyes. And he received honor and glory from God the Father when
God’s glorious, majestic voice called down from heaven, ‘This is my beloved Son;
I am fully pleased with him.’ We ourselves the heard the voice when we were
there with him on the holy mountain. Because of that, we have even greater
confidence in the message proclaimed by the prophets. Pay close attention to
what they wrote, for their words are like a light shining in a dark place –
until the day Christ appears and his brilliant light shines in your hearts.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the
prophets themselves or because they wanted to prophesy. It was the Holy Spirit
who moved the prophets to speak from God” (2 Peter 1:16-21, NLT).
2. They were promises for His people.
In the midst of mostly doubtful, depressing, distressing, destructive and discouraging days, the ancient prophecies about Jesus were given to a people whose hope looked bleak. The fact that the Messiah was promised to come through them, that is through Israel, meant that God would preserve Israel. To not preserve Israel would mean that His Son could not come, and that would be breaking His promise.
3. They progressively revealed His unfolding plan of redemption.
God made many prophecies about His coming to live with and among them. They occur hundreds of times throughout the OT. But they were not all revealed at once. They were revealed progressively, over the course of hundreds of years. The reason was that the life and ministry of the Messiah was inextricably bound to Israel’s history. God’s repeated acts of redemption and deliverance for His people Israel were repeated signs and pictures of the redemption and deliverance He would accomplish once and for all when He came to live among them. Therefore, as their history unfolded, so also did God’s plan of ultimate redemption, not just for Israel but for all the rest of the world.
Moving back to Peter, he also writes of this concept in his first epistle. In 1 Peter 1:10 he continues his letter by explaining the historical redemptive work of God behind the salvation of their souls to which he referred in verse 9.
“This salvation was something the prophets wanted to know more about. They
prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you, even though they had
many questions as to what it all could mean. They wondered what the Spirit of
Christ within them as talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s
suffering and his greatly glory afterward. They wondered when and to whom all
this would happen. They were told that these things would not happen during
their lifetime, but many years later, during yours. And now this Good News has
been announced by those who preached to you in the power of the Holy Spirit sent
from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching
these things happen” (vv. 10-12, NLT).
Now, if you’re a good Bible student, you’ve probably picked up on the differences between verses 21 and 22 through 23. In verse 21 we have the name Jesus being given to the baby. And then in verses 22-23 we read that verse 21, along with everything else that preceded that verse, happened as a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy in 7:14.
So the question comes, how does verse 21 fulfill verses 22-23? How does Immanuel serve as a fulfillment of prophecy when verse 21 says they called Him Jesus? In other words, verse 21 says they named Him Jesus, and then verse 22 says that this naming of Him was to fulfill the prophecy Isaiah spoke, which his repeated in verse 23. How does this mesh together.
There are two answers here. First, this section of text has been a source of frustration for many who have sought reasons to disbelieve in prophecy. Unbelievers read this, see the inconsistency, and then decry inspiration and revelation. According to them, the fact that his name was prophesied to be Immanuel and yet he was later named Jesus is clearly contradictory, making the whole thing worthy of being shredded and tossed out with the garbage.
In response, the Scripture has another example of this sort of thing happening. Do you remember the baby born named Jedidiah? Probably not. Do you remember that this was the name that a certain prophet named Nathan gave to a certain baby? That probably doesn’t help any more, does it? But it helps when I tell you that the baby was actually named Solomon (2 Sam. 12:25). Yet that was not the name given to him at birth, was it? (A comparison of Isaiah 60:18 and Ezekiel 48:35 will provide another useful example.)
The point is not that prophecy got contradicted or unfulfilled. It simply points to the fact that God spoke through His prophets concerning the name He gave them, but when history actually produced the child, the parents gave him a different name. The parent’s name doesn’t change the way God views the child. Furthermore, God’s naming is more descriptive of the child in terms of his life, rather than the actual name by which the child is called.
But second, and greater than this answer, is the simple response that the name Immanuel as applied to Jesus mean that God had now come to live with His people in the person of a little baby whose mission would ultimately be to save His people from their sins. Jesus Himself would save His people from their sins because He was God, Immanuel, God with them, then and there. Once again, listen to Matthew Henry expound this truth. He wrote that it was not
“improper to say that the prophecy which foretold that he should be called
Immanuel was fulfilled, in the design and intention of it, when he was called
Jesus; for if he had not been Immanuel – God with us, he could not have been
Jesus – a Savior; and herein consists the salvation he wrought out, in the
bringing of God and man together; this was what he designed, to bring God to be
with us, which is our great happiness, and to bring us to be with God, which is
our great duty” (Matthew Henry, p. 7).
This brings me to the actual phrase, “God with us.” I want us to look at it one word at a time.
B. Each word in the translation of Hebrew name Immanuel carries massive implications for us.
1. “God with us.”
God, the creator of the universe, the creator of everything on the face of the earth is now with man. God, the one who knows everything possible and actual, who is everywhere at once, and who is the most powerful person in the universe – that God is now with man. God, the sovereign ruler and conductor of all history is now with man. The one true, ever living, never changing God is now with man. And He is with man in personal, bodily form.
Further, He chose the time in history, the day, and the hour in which He would conceive Himself in Mary’s womb and be delivered in a stable. He designed it all and enacted it all. He was in charge of every detail of His coming to be with us, from before He created the world!
Folks, the writer of Hebrews teaches in 13:8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Jesus Christ is God with us. He never changes. He never somehow stopped being God when He took on human form and nature. He continued to be God because that is who He was before He was born as a baby.
It was the fact that Jesus was God that enabled Him to save us from our sins. And the fact that He is still God, not changing, means He is still able to save us from our sins, and indeed continues to do just that for His people. God is still with us, beloved. The fact that He cannot be seen, heard or touched any longer doesn’t mean He is not still with us. The fact that He is God means He is everywhere. He is still God and He is still with us.
2. “God with us.”
The English word “with” comes from the little Hebrew word “im” (pronounced eem). The word Immanuel is literally translated “with us God.” That was incredible, almost unbelievable to the Jew, who would have naturally interpreted it in the sense with which he was most familiar.
a. God with man in the OT.
All he knew was what the OT taught concerning God’s presence. He would have recalled that God’s presence was known primarily through the shekinah glory of God, that glorious, supernatural, mysterious, heavenly and divine cloud that descended from the sky and settled into and over the holy of holies, that part of the tabernacle and temple in the very rear of each structure.
They would have recalled the stories in Exodus of Moses on Mt. Sinai when Moses went to the place called “the tent of meeting,” where he would enter and talk with God, face to face, as a man talks to another man. They would have recalled similar stories about Moses at the top of Mt. Sinai talking to God in the same way.
Further, they would remember the implications of these stories. God talked to Moses, and only Moses. He didn’t talk to anyone else. He didn’t visit anyone else. His shekinah glory cloud didn’t descend on anyone else’s tent. God was exclusive, making Himself only available to one man. So the concept of a God making Himself available to every man and woman and child seemed almost blasphemous. Yet this is the glory and wonder and mystery of this truth which an unbelieving Jew will not understand today.
In addition, God’s presence was also reflected in the OT through those strange and intermittent appearances of “the angel of the Lord.” That wasn’t just any angel of God, which is why it is described in the Hebrew language as the angel of the Lord. Theologians and scholars have long since understood this angel to be the Lord Jesus Christ in His heavenly form before He took on a human body in the stable that night in Bethlehem.
b. God with man in the NT.
But what was thought blasphemous to the average Jew was not blasphemous but was God’s intention all along. They just missed it. John the apostle described this for us in the first chapter of his gospel.
“But although the world was made through him, the world didn’t recognize him
when he came. Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not
John continues in verse 14 describing one of the most miraculous events in history. The God who formerly made His presence and residence known in the form of a cloud above and within a tabernacle or temple, had suddenly entered earth as a human and made humanity the tabernacle in which He would now live. John writes in verse 14, “So the Word became human and live here on earth among us.” The actual translation is that the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us. That is, He took up residence among mankind now.
This had startling implications. No longer was God a being who communicated with certain individuals, such as prophets or priests. He could now be communicated with by anyone desiring to do so. Before, only God’s specially selected persons could commune with Him. But now in Jesus Christ, any man, woman and child could commune and fellowship with Him.
No longer was there a barrier separating him from other men. Before, they were not allowed to even so much as touch the mountain where He was communing with Moses. They were not allowed to step one toe in inner court or holy of holies. God was righteous and perfect, man was sinful, and the separation must be maintained. But in Jesus Christ, peace was pronounced with mankind, humans were reconciled to Him, humans of all shapes, sizes, languages, and backgrounds.
And no longer was He a mysterious, shining cloud over a building. Now He was flesh, bones, blood, skin, hair, eyes, ears, mouth, arms, and legs – a human being able to relate with and live among other human beings. This is what John spoke of in his first epistle. In 1 John 1:1-3 John writes of his own personal encounter and experiences for three years with this God-man, Jesus Christ.
“The one who existed from the beginning is the one we have heard and seen. We
saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is Jesus
Christ, the Word of life. This one who is life from God was shown to us, and we
have seen him. And now we testify and announce to you that e is the one who is
eternal life. He was with the Father, and then he was shown to us. We are
telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard…” (ibid).
Our very faith is based on this truth, beloved. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3:16 that the church of the living God is the pillar and support of the truth, the first of which is that “great mystery of our faith: Christ appeared in the flesh.” He was 100% man, but also 100% God. Paul writes in Colossians 2:9 that “in Christ the fullness of God lives in a human body…”
Now, if we let Matthew, the writer of our text, speak for Himself, we will see just how it was that Jesus was God with us (adapted from William Hendrickson, Matthew, p. 141).
In 4:23 he was with the sick, healing them.
In 4:24 he was with the demonized, liberating them.
In 5:1-12 he was with the poor in spirit, the mourning, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure, the peacemakers, and the persecuted.
In 6:24-34 he was with the care-ridden, ridding them of their earthly cares.
In 7:1-4 he was with those who are critical and judgmental in heart, warning them.
In 8:1-4 he was with the lepers, cleansing and healing them.
In 8:14-17 he was with the diseased, curing them.
In 14:13-21 and 15:32-39 he was with the hungry, feeding them.
In 12:13 and 15:21 he was with the handicapped, restoring them.
And overarching everything else, in 18:11 he was with the lost, to seek and save them.
Which option would a soldier in his right mind choose if given such a choice? (A) Receive orders from his general and follow them with full faith that the general knows what he is doing? Or (B) have the general come down from headquarters and personally issue the orders to each soldier, explain the goal, map out the plan, and then pick up a weapon and fight alongside them? God moved from delivering a prophecy of comfort and promise to Himself becoming the that comfort and promise. He moved from issuing orders on how to live to showing us how to live by His own life. He moved from pledging deliverance from sin to actually becoming the Deliverer from sin.
“Behold, in this, the deepest mystery, and the richest mercy, that ever was. By
the light of nature, we see God as a God above us; by the light of the law, we
see him as God against us; but by the light of the gospel, we see him as
Immanuel, God with us, in our own nature, and (which is more) in our interest.
Herein the Redeemer commended his love” (Henry, p. 7).
For you, right now where you sit, God with us has profound application.
First, it is my humble but accurate opinion that if Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, and if this is the way He was with His people in the Scriptures, then He will be with us in the same way today. His presence among us and with us today carries the same implications, including liberation from demonization, healing from sickness, warning from judgmentalism, provisions for earthly needs, and through it all seeking and saving the lost.
Second, because He came to live with us and among us, and as stated before, because He is God, what He brought with Him never stops.
He has promised that He would always be with us, even to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20).
He has promised never to leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5).
He continues to be with us by praying and interceding for us (John 17).
He is with us sympathizing and helping us in our weaknesses (Rom. 8:26; Heb. 4:15).
He is with us providing safe haven to the throne of God to get additional help (Heb. 4:16)
He keeps this promise to continue to be with us through the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, who actually comes and takes up residence in each child of God (John 14:16). Through the Spirit God is with us…
...in the Spirit’s illumination and guidance (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:13).
...working His spiritual gifts through us (Eph. 4:7,8; 1 Cor. 12-14).
...bearing witness in our hearts that we belong to Him (Rom. 8:16).
“The noble persuasion that, in order to help the downtrodden, one should be
willing to live and work by their side and share their lot has moved many a
sympathetic person to make heroic sacrifices…”
Paul became all things to all men so that by some means, he might be used of God to bring some to salvation in Christ.
Francis of Assisi embraced the very lepers from whom he had turned away at first in revulsion.
The greatest missionaries have been “incarnational” missionaries, men and women who have believed that the best way to reach the unreached, is to reach them like Jesus, moving in and living among them as one of them. The lives of William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Henry Martyn, Amy Carmichael, among many others are all testimonies of this truth and reflections of Jesus’ own example.
“Yet, none of their acts of self-denial can compare with that of Emmanuel who,
though he was infinitely rich, became poor, assumed our human nature, entered
into our sin-polluted atmosphere without ever being tainted by sin himself, took
upon himself our guilt, bore our griefs and carried our sorrows, was wounded for
our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, went to heaven to prepare a
place for us, sent his Spirit into our hearts, governs the entire universe in
our behalf, not only makes intercession for us but ‘lives forever to make
intercession for us’ (Heb. 7:5), and will come again to take us not just ‘to
heaven’ but, far more tenderly, ‘to himself’ (John 14:3). Truly, this is the One
who became poor, that we through his poverty might become rich. This is
Emmanuel, God WITH us!” (Hendrickson, pp. 141-2).
3. “God with us."
Oh, how this word ought to humble us! God is with us? Why would He come and do that? What is there about us that would make Him want to come down and live with us and live in us? Why in the world would the God who created the world want to come and live in it, especially when it has been so adulterated with sin? Who would choose to come and live in a pig sty? And why would they make such a choice if they had to make one at all? Why even attempt to get involved in a problem so deep, so widespread, so entangled and virtually unsolvable? Why not just let it go until it destroys itself and then start over again?
God did not decide to come down and dwell with us as the God-man Jesus Christ because we deserved it. One writer has written,
“God’s unique dealing with His people at this point is recognized as an act of
sovereign mercy…There is no trace of the view that anything well-deserving has
evoked this visitation from God” (Gerhardus Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 306.)
You and I deserved none of this! As creatures who have taken God’s goodness for granted by squandering it on empty pleasures that bring no lasting satisfaction, we deserve His eternal wrath. Yet this kind and good and merciful God strangely decided to appease His own wrath by being conceived in a virgin’s womb, born in a stable, laid in an animal trough, raised in toddlerhood on the run from an evil king, raised by a carpenter, rejected as an adult and murdered though He was innocent. He was a king, and all of this happened to Him.
Is this not a strange way to demonstrate His royalty? Is this not the most unbelievable way of showing the world His eternal power? Yet that is just what He did. And He did this in order to save you from your sins – to save you from the power of sin, the punishment of sin, the guilt and stain of sin.
And not only that, but this is what He did in order to come and live with us? Why would God want to come live with us? Why would He want to come and live among sinners? Couldn’t He have just saved us without coming to live among us and with us? Perhaps, but He chose to do it the way He did it. He chose to come and live with us and among us to love us and leave His Spirit with us.
Jesus Christ came as God saving us and God with us. He is still here with us this very moment as I am speaking to you. He is not waiting outside the building. He is not waiting anywhere. He is here, right now. This means that as God still with us, He is offering salvation to you right now. For some of you this means welcoming His salvation for the first time.
- That would mean seeing your sin the way God sees it, worthy of His eternal punishment in hell.
- It would mean seeing how offensive and ruining it is.
- It would mean sensing that desire within to run from it and get away from it. It would mean throwing your all your sin behind you and running to God.
- It would mean falling down before Him and begging His mercy and forgiveness. It would mean receiving that forgiveness.
- It would mean believing that Jesus Christ was actually born of a virgin, that He actually lived a perfect life, that He was actually murdered in order that God could forgive you.
- It would mean believing that God raised Him from the dead so that sin would no longer have any power of you.
- Coming to Christ for salvation means all of that.
Yet for others it means coming to Him for salvation again. All this means is that you come to Christ again and that you continue to come to Him again and again and again, seeking forgiveness, confessing sin, believing in God’s promises. Some of you have erroneously assumed that because you have walked an aisle or prayed a sinner’s prayer that you may be truly saved. Perhaps you are. But the way you really know that you are is if you continue to do what you did when you first got saved – that is, continue to come to Jesus. This is what Paul meant in Romans 1:17 when he wrote that the justified will live by faith from first to last, that is, we will live by faith in who Jesus is and what He's done for us from start to finish. That means continuing to come to Him for His power to conquer sin, to defeat it in your lives, your marriages, your homes, your families, etc.
He is still with you. Will you recognize that today? Will you see it, bow to it, taste it, embrace it? I don’t know who you are, but God does. He knows who among you here does not recognize His presence and welcome it day by day, desiring to live in it more and love it more and more each day. Won’t you do that this morning? Won’t you drop everything in your lives, and I mean everything, and flee from yourselves to Him. Jesus is here how, God with us and God saving us. Oh how He loves us! And look what He has done for us to prove that! Let us bow before King Jesus this morning!