In the Bible, God is called by many names. One of those names is Emmanuel. Emmanuel is a name that has significance for this time of year – the Christmas season. The first time we see the name Emmanuel is in Isaiah 7:14. It says:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
This prophecy refers to the time when God became flesh and dwelt among us – when Christ was born in Bethlehem – which is what we celebrate at Christmas.
We see the fulfillment of this prophecy in Matthew chapter 1. Verse 23, which quotes Isaiah 7:14, tells us what the name means:
Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.
Emmanuel is “God with us.”
Throughout the Old Testament, we see God introduced his various names at different times. The names have special significance in relation to the events at the time the name was introduced. God didn’t just randomly say “sometimes I’m called Jehovah, and sometimes Yahweh, and sometimes Emmanuel.” He revealed specific names at specific times to reveal more about his character or his plans. To get a better understanding of the significance of the name Emmanuel, we need to understand the events leading up to the time when the prophecy in Isaiah was given.
The time period was about 700 years before the birth of Christ. The book of Isaiah begins with God rebuking Israel for their rebellion, for their sin. God calls them a “sinful nation, a people laden with evildoers.” He promises judgment and destruction of the unrighteous. In this book we see prophecies of God’s judgment on Israel and other nations, but we also see some of the best-known prophecies of the coming Messiah, in particular in chapter 53. It is in this light where we begin to see the significance of the name Emmanuel – God with us.
Isaiah 7:14 reminds us of the proto-evangel, the first gospel message, in Genesis 3:15, which says:
And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
God promised a Messiah all the way back in Genesis 3, and here in Isaiah, a few thousand years later, God is still promising the Messiah – Emmanuel – God with us. Every generation since Adam & Eve has been looking for the coming Messiah. When Eve gave birth to Cain, she thought he might be the fulfillment of the promise in Genesis 3:15. Down through the years, when a new king was anointed, or a new prophet came on to the scene, people wondered if he might be the Messiah. We see this all the way to Jesus’ day. In John chapter 1, the people thought John the Baptist might be the Messiah. They came to him and asked “Who art thou?” Of course, John denied being the Christ. A couple weeks ago, Pastor spoke about John, and we heard that even John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask “Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another?” The people were still looking for the fulfillment of God’s promise. There was always a remnant that was waiting on God’s promise. God’s chosen people were looking forward to the day that God would dwell with them. They were looking for Emmanuel – God with us.
God coming to dwell with man certainly was a big deal for the Israelites. But what does it mean for us? Why is it important to us that he is Emmanuel – God with us? It is important for at least two reasons.
The first reason is, just as Israel was a sinful people who needed deliverance from their sin, so are we. We all have sinned. An honest evaluation of our lives in light of the Ten Commandments would reveal that every one of us has broken most if not all of them multiple times over. We are told that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. We are also told that the one whose blood is shed must be perfect, without blemish. We certainly cannot die for ourselves. No other human can die for us either, for no other human is without blemish, without sin, except for God in the flesh, Emmanuel, God with us. Only Jesus was perfect, without sin, and only he could take our sins upon himself and suffer God’s wrath, so that we could be free from the guilt and punishment of our sins. For this reason, the coming of Emmanuel, God with us, was important for Israel and important for us.
The second reason it is important that he is Emmanuel, God with us, is that we are his children under his care. God never promises an easy, trouble-free life for the Christian. In fact, it is just the opposite – filled with trials, persecution, and tribulation. But just as a child receives comfort from the presence of a parent during troubling times, so we receive comfort from the presence of God during the troubling times. God promised to never leave us or forsake us. Even when Jesus was getting close to his ascension to Heaven, he told his disciples that he would not leave them alone, that he would send the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
Even now, he is Emmanuel, God with us.
There might be times when we feel like Elijah sulking under the juniper tree, thinking that we are the only ones who are trying to do right. God will bring others into our lives. Do not be discouraged. Be encouraged. He is Emmanuel. God is with us.
We might be worried about test results for some ailment or physical issue. God numbers every hair on our head and is the great physician. Do not be anxious. Be calm. He is Emmanuel. God is with us.
This time of year often seems bleak and despairing for many. God makes his light shine into the darkness. Do not be dismayed. Be hopeful. He is Emmanuel. God is with us.
Some might be faced with unemployment and struggling to put food on the table. God takes care of the sparrows, even more so his children. Do not be fearful. Be confident. He is Emmanuel. God is with us.
There could be some here whose spouse or children have forsaken them. God will not forsake us. Do not be saddened. Be cheerful. He is Emmanuel. God is with us.
Emmanuel is a term of hope and deliverance. Roughly two thousand years ago, Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 when he became flesh. He has since returned to Heaven, but God is still with us in the person of his Spirit. And one day soon, God will be with us forever more in all three persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Be of good cheer. He is Emmanuel. God is with us.