Then, ask and discuss the following:
- What do you like most about this story?
- Why did God’s Son come into our world?
- Why do you think God had his son born in a barn?
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”g (which means “God with us”). -- Matthew 1:22-23
The prophet Isaiah first spoke these words about the messiah 700 years before Matthew quotes them in his opening chapter.
I find it really interesting how Isaiah proclaims that Jesus’ name will be “Immanuel” at the moment of his incarnation. According to Isaiah, the moment Jesus leaves Mary’s womb and enters our world He is to be called “God with us.”
On one hand, the name makes straightforward sense. God is literally with us. Jesus who is divine now shares our embodied reality. He breathes our air and cries with our vocal cords and occupies space on this planet like the rest of us.
But on the other hand, the name ‘Immanuel’ begs the question “was God not with us before?” Why are we saying ‘Immanuel’ when Jesus shows up, if God was always with us?
To fully appreciate the wonder of Christmas—which is really the wonder of the Incarnation (God becoming man)—we have to understand this distinction. Yes, God was with humanity before Jesus, but he chose to be with us in an entirely different way through the coming of his Son. The change is so dramatic that the prophet can rightfully give Jesus this new name “Immanuel” and not be redundant.
The way God was with us before Jesus is physically represented in the layout of the Temple. God dwelt in the Holy of Holies, a room set in the innermost courts, sectioned off by heavy curtains. No one could enter but the high priest, once a year, with the appropriate sacrifices. To violate God’s presence with anyone other than the high priest at the designated day would mean immediate death.
And so the ancient Jews knew God was “with them” but not necessarily “WITH THEM” in an intimate, relational way. They navigated around him like we would a nuclear plant, where we deeply appreciative the incredible source of power, but prefer to be separated by at least several protective buffers.
God’s ultimate aim was not distance. He did not want to be walled off from his people. And yet this was the awkward reality of having total holiness reside in a sinful world. Until the issue of sin was completely addressed, God’s actual presence (his shekinah glory) had to be quarantined.
All this would change with the coming of Jesus.
The moment he was born, it was clear that God was choosing to be with us in an entirely different way. Jesus, the bible tells us, was fully God (John 1, Col 1) which means just as holy. And yet, this holiness emerged from the womb of a woman in barn. There were no curtains separating him from our humanity. He actually wore our flesh. He was truly WITH US.
God the Father, by virtue of his divinity, could not be with us in our weakness and limitations and sin. He could certainly minister to us, but he could not KNOW our experience because he could never be anything less than perfect. But Jesus, by virtue of his humanity, was WITH US in the rudeness of birth—the vulnerable, bloody, naked entrance all of us make into this world. He was WITH US in the wonder of childhood, and all its accompanying cuts and bruises. He was WITH US through all the travails of adolescence, and the temptation of adulthood, and the was WITH US as he felt the entire spectrum of human desires and emotions, from hunger to fullness, acceptance to loneliness, joy to terror, laughter to tears.
It’s comforting to know that Jesus gets it. He truly understands our condition because he became one of us. But there was a deeper purpose to his incarnation than to provide us warm fuzzies. He had to be WITH US so that he could fully be capable of carrying the weight of all our sin. Sin was still the issue. Until sin was addressed, Jesus’ incarnation would be a one off—a stunt that accomplished nothing—where he would live and die like the rest of us and nothing would change. Jesus did not come to earth to go slumming through our humanity. He came to ransom us from the unpayable debt we incurred through our sins by dying on our behalf.
In order to be a true substitute, in order to actually BECOME our sin, he must have every channel of humanity available to him to feel our guilt and shame. Because we sinned through our bodies, Jesus had to become embodied to bear this sin. He must also become embodied to die for this sin.
So not only was Jesus WITH US in our humanity, he was WITH US in our darkness, in our worst decisions, in the ways we have hurt others and ourselves with evil. He became those things, and hung from a cross, absorbing the wrath of God that we deserved.
It’s impossible to comprehend the price Jesus paid to be with us. To be with us all the way to the cross meant abandonment by a father He had known in perfect love for all eternity past. For three days, as he was taken off the cross and sealed in a tomb, Jesus suffered hell to be WITH US.
But three days later, Jesus would resurrect, taking up his own life by his authority and forever breaking the power of sin and death for those who believe in him. When the grave stone rolled and the glorified Jesus emerged the victor, his being WITH US moved to an even greater level.
For those who believe, Jesus now promises to be WITH US forever. His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, lives in us which means Jesus and the Father are permanently inside of us. In fact in John 14:23 Jesus promises that he and the Father will make their home WITH US.
THEIR HOME! God’s only other home outside of heaven was the temple in the inaccessible Holy of Holies. But because of Jesus, the Holy of Holies has now been relocated to our hearts so that we become their home. We become the very dwelling place of God. The glory of the Father and Son, all the unapproachable splendor, holiness, power and beauty is now in us.
God is no longer at a distance. And this was the plan all along. He wanted his throne to be known as a throne of GRACE, not of fear and terror. Amazingly we can now “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb 4:16). But this required the death, and resurrection of his Son. Jesus had to be WITH US on earth, before the Father and Son could be WITH US in spirit.
Immanuel. God with us.
We bow our heads in worship.
For truly, Jesus, you are God WITH US in every sense of the word—from the incarnation, to the crucifixion, to the resurrection—you are WITH US.
[OPTIONAL] Sing “Here I am to Worship” as a response and to reflect on all that Jesus has done, so that He can ensure God is WITH YOU forever. Lyrics here.
- What does it mean to you that God is with you?
- How have you seen God being with you in 2016?
- Where do you need God to be with you most right now?