Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Promise of Immanuel

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The Promise Fulfilled

One of the best Christmas traditions is going home for Christmas. Naturally, one of our favorite Christmas songs is “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

I’ll be home for Christmas 
You can plan on me 
Please have snow and mistletoe 
And presents on the tree 

But in reality the biblical Christmas story is about leaving home. Luke 2 tells how Mary and Joseph left their home town of Nazareth to travel to Bethlehem where, of course, Jesus was born. And, more significantly, Christmas is the story of how Jesus, God the Son, left his heavenly home to be born as a human baby and become Immanuel—God with us.

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isa. 7:14).

“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) (Matt. 1:21-23).

The promise of Immanuel was given through the prophet Isaiah in around 700 B.C. and was fulfilled by the birth of Jesus. 

It's also possible that the prophecy may have been doubly fulfilled. There may have been a near fulfillment (the birth of a son named Immanuel in Isaiah’s day) and a far fulfillment (the birth of Jesus, who was literally God with us.).

The promise of Immanuel was given during a time of fear. 

This prophecy was given “in the days of Ahaz” (Isa. 7:1). King Ahaz and the people of Judah were afraid because of a threat from Syria and Ephraim (v. 2). The “sign” the Lord gave the people was meant to give them hope and to encourage them to trust him. The prophecy went on to say that when the child was old enough to choose between right and wrong, the threat from Syria and Ephraim would be gone (v. 16). Instead, Ahaz put his trust in Assyria, which eventually led to Judah’s loss of sovereignty.

Born of a Virgin 

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:34-35).

In Isaiah 7:14, the Hebrew word for “virgin” is ‘alma. In Matthew 1:23 and Luke 1:27, the Greek word for “virgin” is parthenos.

“Although some claim that the word translated ‘virgin’ (Hb. ‘almah) refers generally to a ‘young woman,’ it actually refers specifically to a ‘maiden’—that is, to a young woman who is unmarried and sexually chaste, and thus has virginity as one of her characteristics (see Gen. 24:16, 43; Ex. 2:8, ‘girl’). Thus when the Septuagint translators, 200 years before the birth of Christ, rendered ‘almah here with Greek parthenos (a specific term for ‘virgin’) they rightly perceived the meaning of the Hebrew term; and when Matthew applied this prophecy to the virgin birth of Christ (see Matt. 1:23), it was in accord with this well-established understanding of parthenos (‘virgin’) as used in the Septuagint and in other Greek writers” (ESV Study Bible, p. 1254).

What does Scripture tell us about the virgin birth?

First, Jesus was conceived in the womb of his mother Mary. 

Some theologians prefer the term virgin conception, rather than virgin birth. But we probably don’t need a new term because Mary was still a virgin when Jesus was born. Matthew 1:21 states that Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son.”

In Scripture, Jesus is called the “last Adam” (1 Cor. 15:45). Adam was made from dust (Gen. 2:7). He was not made ex nihilo (“out of nothing”), and neither was the baby Jesus. It could be said that Christ’s humanness was made ex Maria (“out of Mary”). Jesus was “the fruit of [Mary’s] womb” (Luke 1:42). And he developed within his mother’s womb like every other human child.

Second, Jesus was conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit. 

While the birth of Jesus was natural, His conception was not. The angel told Joseph, “That which is conceived in [Mary] is from the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 1:20). Donald MacLeod writes, “The virgin birth is posted on guard at the door of the mystery of Christmas; and none of us must think of hurrying past it. It stands on the threshold of the NT, blatantly supernatural, defying our rationalism, informing us that all that follows belongs to the same order as itself and that if we find it offensive there is no point in proceeding further” (The Person of Christ, p. 37).

Third, Jesus was conceived without a human father. 

Luke writes, “[Jesus] was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph” (Luke 3:23 NIV). Galatians 4:4 declares, “When the fullness of time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman” (KJV).

Why is the virgin birth so important?

The virgin birth made possible the unity of full deity and fully humanity in one person. 

God Is With Us 

“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

When Jesus came to earth, God was physically with us. 

“The Word [Jesus, who is declared to be “God” in v. 1] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). 

Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; 
Hail th'incarnate Deity, 
Pleased as man with men to dwell, 
Jesus, our Emmanuel. 

Now that Jesus has left earth, God is spiritually with us. 

Do Not Fear 

Throughout Scripture, God promises to be with his people.

Moses told the Israelites, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of men, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6).

God promised Joshua, “Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous” (Josh. 1:5-6).

“Then David said to Solomon his son, ‘Be strong and courageous and do it. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. For the LORD God, even my God, is with you. He will not leave you or forsake you’” (1 Chron. 28:20).

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Ps. 46:1-2, 11).

“Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

Notice that these promises of God’s presence were given to people who were afraid. (And remember that the promise of Isaiah 7:14 was also given to people who were afraid.) These people were told, “Do not be fear. Be strong. Be courageous. Be not dismayed.” Why? Because God is with you. The same promise is given to every child of God in this world today.

In every circumstance of life, God is with you. 

God will not always remove our difficult circumstances, but He will always supply us with what we need to go through adversity: strength, courage, comfort, peace, and hope.

To the one who is afraid, God is with you. To the one who is lonely, God is with you. To the one who is grieving, God is with you. To the one who is discouraged, God is with you. Jesus is our Immanuel.

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