One of my favorite parts of the Christmas program last weekend was when B.J. and Amy and Greg sang that beautiful song of the annunciation, which is right out of Luke 1:28, where the angel appeared to Mary and said: “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you.”
To know that God is “with you” is the greatest blessing there is. That’s the comfort that David knew in Psalm 23, when he said “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil, for YOU ARE WITH ME.” He knew he could face anything – even death – because God is with him.
And that is the blessing we celebrate at Christmas time: that God the Son came to earth, to be “with us,” just as our passage for today says:
“Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘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.’”
If you notice, in many of your translations of the Bible, these words in Matthew 1 are in all caps, or quotes; that is because most of these words are a quote from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah, Chapter 7:14.
God had promised in Isaiah 7 that there was coming a child, who would be “God with us.” And He tells us here that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy. “God is with us” through Jesus. This means several things for us:
I. Immanuel: God is “with us” as a WORLD.
He has not turned against us; He is not out to destroy us. He wants to save us. He CAME to us that day in Bethlehem because He is still working with us; He still has a plan for us. Jesus is “Immanuel,” “God is with us.”
In Genesis Chapter 6 God beheld all the evil of the mankind in the early days of the world, and in one of the most revealing and convicting verses in the scriptures, Genesis 6:5 says “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Do you hear that? It is quite a convicting description of the hearts of men: “EVERY intent of the THOUGHTS of his heart was ONLY evil CONTINUALLY”! And as a result God judged the world, and destroyed most of mankind through the Flood.
But since then, what have we had? Still more wars, more immorality, more perversion and more evil. So is God against us? NO — God came down to earth personally in Jesus to save us. He is “God with us.” He said in John 3:17 “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” God wants to save mankind; He still has a plan for mankind. He is with us, and He has a plan to save us.
If you study the passage in Isaiah that this quote comes from, you can see the historical background of it. Two kings had invaded the land of Judah, and the heart of Ahaz, the King of Israel, and the hearts of his people “shook as the trees of the forest shake with the wind.” They were very fearful. But God told him through Isaiah the prophet “Do not be fainthearted because of these two stubs of smoldering firebrands.” God told Ahaz that He had a plan, that there would be a virgin who would have a child, named Immanuel (“God with us”) and that by the time this child knew enough to refuse evil and choose good, that the lands of these kings would be forsaken. These invading kings looked fearsome to Ahaz — but God was with him, and He had a bigger plan that he could trust in. He wanted Ahaz and Judah to fear HIM, not those “smoking firebrands” who were invading them. GOD was with them!
And the same thing is true today. I have heard several people even this week comment on how much turmoil there is in the world, nationally and internationally, between kings and rulers: President Trump, Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Jerusalem and the Palestinians, and China. Will North Korea paralyze our country’s electrical grid with an EMP explosion? Will there be war between the U.S. and Russia or China? Will moving the embassy to Jerusalem bring another Mideast War? There is so much turmoil!
But this passage should cause us to step back and remember. This world is not in uncontrolled “turmoil;” “God is with us”! Just like in the days of King Ahaz in Jerusalem, God has a plan for this world, and He is working it out and no one can stop it: not Vladimir Putin, not Kim Jong Un, not Donald Trump, not the Arabs — God says these men are nothing; they are “smoking firebrands.” GOD IS WITH US here in this world. HIS plan for this world is going forward! We need to trust Him, and look to Him. God is with us!
II. Immanuel: God was “with us” LITERALLY
But not only was the coming of this “Immanuel” baby “symbolic” of how God is “with us” in this world, it was also literally true: GOD was literally “with us” when Jesus came to earth. This was not just “some baby” who was born that day in Bethlehem. This was GOD. Just as we saw a couple of weeks ago from Philippians 2, Jesus, God the Son, was “equal with God” in heaven, and He emptied Himself to come to earth. But He was GOD with us!
Cheryl & I were shopping in the bookstore for our grandbabies a couple of weeks ago when I came across a book called “The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever.” I saw that it was a #1 bestseller, but I had never read it, so I got a copy. It tells the story of the Herdman kids — the roughest family in town, who take over the church’s Christmas pageant because they heard they gave out snacks. They don’t know anything about the Christmas story, so the pageant director has to try to explain it to them. When she got to the part where there was no room for them in the inn, one of the girls cursed, and exclaimed: “Not even for Jesus?!” She was just blown away that here was God come to earth, and they didn’t even have a place for Him.
(By the way, those of us who think we might’ve done better would do well to consider Martin Luther’s famous Christmas sermon, in which he said if you want to know how you would have treated Jesus when He was born, all you have to do is look at how you are right now treating the poor baby down the street from you. That is exactly what you would have done to Jesus!)
But what’s good about that “Christmas Pageant” story is that it helps us see the Christmas story through the eyes of someone who hasn’t heard it all their life; it reminds us that we have heard the story of Jesus’ birth so many times that it isn’t “shocking” to us any more, but it should be. That is how we treated GOD when He came. Jesus is GOD! “God with us.”
Even Jesus’ disciples didn’t realize it. In John 14:8-9, Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” Jesus is “Immanuel,” God with us.
— Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. Hebrews 1:3 says “He is the exact representation of His nature.”
— If you want to know if God controls the weather, just watch Jesus calm the storm on the sea.
— If you want to know if God is stronger than demonic powers, watch the demons fall at Jesus’ feet and BEG to be cast into the swine.
Jesus is GOD come to earth. If you want to know what God thinks about something, see what Jesus said about it:
— You want to know what God really says it takes to get to heaven, just listen to Jesus tell a very religious man in John 3: “You must be born again!”
— You want to know whether God would send anybody to hell, listen to Jesus in Matthew 10 say to “fear HIM who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
— You want to know what God thinks about marriage, look at what Jesus said in Matthew 19: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. What God has joined together, let no man separate.”
— What does God think about the holiness of His church? Just watch Jesus turn over tables, and clear the compromisers out His temple with a whip.
— You want to know what God thinks about our busy-ness, just listen to Jesus tell Martha that all her chores weren’t the most important thing, but just sitting at His feet was!
— If you want to know how seriously God takes sin: just look at Jesus — GOD — who took it seriously enough to be tortured, and die on a cross; paying for our sins in His body.
— And if you want to know if He will really forgive you, then hear Him tell the adulterous woman: “Neither do I condemn you; now go and sin no more.”
If you want to know God — look to Jesus. He is “Immanuel, ‘God with us.”
As Colossians 2:9 says “In Him the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” GOD literally, physically, came into this world in the Person of Jesus Christ.
He is “Immanuel”: “God with us.”
III. Immanuel: God CAN BE “with us” PERSONALLY.
But even more than that, when we receive Jesus Christ personally as our Lord & Savior, then God is “with US”! Jesus (GOD) is literally “in us” when we are saved.
II Corinthians 13:5 says: “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you — unless indeed you fail the test?” Here Paul challenges us to “test” ourselves as to whether we are really Christians. And the test is, “is Jesus Christ in you?” Because that is what a real Christian is. “God is with us”, IN US, in our lives when we are saved.
Ephesians 1:13 is a verse you need to learn and memorize.
“In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise.”
This verse tells us that when we hear the message of Jesus and believe it in our hearts, God’s Holy Spirit comes into our lives and SEALS us — this is like the Roman Emperor’s “seal” that was put on something to indicate that it belonged to him. In the same way, this verse says that God puts His “seal,” His Holy Spirit, on you when you are saved. (Ephesians 4:30 goes on to tell us that the Holy Spirit “seals us to the day of redemption”, which is one of the reasons why we believe that a genuine believer can never be lost. God Himself has put His seal on us, and nothing can break it! The Roman emperor’s seal was broken at the tomb when Jesus rose from the dead — but NOTHING can break the seal of God’s Holy Spirit on your heart! Jesus said “No one shall pluck them out of My hand”!).
But what this verse also tells us, is that when we are saved and sealed, God’s Holy Spirit comes into our life. God is now “with us”, literally; He is IN OUR LIFE through faith in Jesus. He is “Immanuel,” “God with us.”
I Corinthians 6:19 says “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit whom you have from God.” God’s Holy Spirit lives inside of us! He is “God with us”!
Romans 8:15 says “You have received a spirit of adoption by which we cry out ‘Abba, Father.’” When the Holy Spirit (which is the Spirit of Jesus Christ) comes into you life, He gives you that confidence that God is your Father. And HE IS! “God is with you.” God is IN you, through His Holy Spirit because of your faith in Jesus.
And if He is, then just like Ahaz in Isaiah 7, you don’t need to tremble like the trees in the wind because of the difficult situations you face — you have “Immanuel,” “God is with you”!
You know, when that angel appeared to Mary that day and said: “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you”, that didn’t mean that everything was necessarily going to be “easy” for Mary. Think about all the things that she would go through:
— a pregnancy that no one was going to believe or understand
— fleeing for a foreign country while the king of your land tries to kill you and your son
— several moves from country to country because they were trying to track you down and kill you.
— watching your Son become a controversial public figure, loved by some but hated and maligned by many others.
— And then to stand there and watch Him be publicly humiliated and mocked, and nailed to a cross, and bleed to death there before your own eyes.
What Mary would go through wasn’t “easy” at all. But “God was with her” — and that made all the difference.
And the same thing will be true for you too. Don’t let anyone tell you “just give your life to Jesus and you’ll have an easy life.” That is lie! The Christian life is NOT easy. It wasn’t easy for Mary — and it won’t be for you, either. But if Jesus is your Lord & Savior, then the Holy Spirit is in your heart, and “God is with you,” and that makes all the difference.
“God With Us”: that means that God is right there with you, every day of your life, if you are truly saved. That has HUGE implications for us if “God is with us”!
Ryan Cato did such an amazing job of playing Jesus in our Christmas production of “Elf.” At one point I saw some of our cast members coming up to him, and saying they wanted to “talk to Jesus,” and another said they wanted to be next … and for just a moment there I had a flash of an idea of what it must have been like when everyone was crowding around the real Jesus, wanting to meet Him; wanting to touch Him; wanting to talk to Him. But everyone couldn’t get to Him. It was impossible. We can’t all be right with Jesus.
But see, that is the genius of God’s giving us the Holy Spirit of Jesus: He is “God with us.” He is “Jesus with us”, every second. We don’t have to “line up” and “wait our turn” to get maybe two moments with Him like we do with Santa Claus or some best-selling author. When we become Christians, He comes INTO our life, and HE IS WITH US, He is IN US, all the time!
— We don’t have to ask Him to be with us; He is with us now!
— We don’t have to wait to talk to Him; He is here to talk to us.
— We don’t have to hope He might speak to us; He WILL speak to us in His word, if we will read it, and let Him speak to us through His Holy Spirit.
This is what our “Every Day With Jesus” daily Bible reading emphasis for the New Year is all about: Jesus is “with us”! He wants to speak right to US, right to the problems and needs of our lives — and He WILL, if we will get into His word every day, and let Him speak to us. I hope you’ll pick up one of our 2018 Bible reading guides this morning, and make plans to spend time in it every day hearing from Him. If you are a Christian, He is with you, and He will speak to you in His word if you’ll look to Him there every day.
The problem is, that too many people ASSUME that God is with them, without the benefit of really having Jesus in their life. You MUST have Jesus as your Lord & Savior in order for God to really be “with you.”
After one of our “Elf” presentations at the CoMMA, we heard that a little boy from the community came home and told his parents: “I just thought Jesus WAS the Savior; I didn’t know I had to ask Him to be MY Savior!”
That is a big deal for that young man to understand that, and I pray that many other eyes were opened to that last weekend as well. It is not enough to believe that there IS a Savior — quite honestly, the devil knows that! You’ve got to make Jesus YOUR Savior for God to be “with you.”
You can’t just “assume” that God is with you. You have sinned against God; we all have. That means we have offended God and driven Him away by our sin. You have to do something about your sin to get God to be back “with you” and “in you.” That “something” is receiving Jesus as your Savior. When you have Him as your Savior, then His Holy Spirit comes into your heart, and God is with you. But if you don’t have Him as the Lord & Savior of your life, God is NOT with you; He is NOT in you. You must have Jesus, in order to have “God with you.”
It’s like when the SMALLPOX VACCINE was discovered in Europe in the 1800’s. For many years, smallpox had been a deadly plague, killing over a third of everyone who caught it. But just before the 1800’s they developed a smallpox vaccine, and those who took it would come down with mild case, but then they would be immune. This was an amazing and lifesaving innovation!
But just imagine, after the discovery, someone could go around saying, “We’re saved; we’re saved; they’ve cured smallpox. They have a vaccine! We’re all saved!” And they could be so excited about it — and should be excited about it — that’s good news; there is a cure for smallpox! But what they need to be sure and realize is that it is really only good news if they TAKE the vaccine! It doesn’t save you if you don’t TAKE IT!
And it’s the same thing with “Immanuel”; “God with us.” This IS amazing news. We had driven God away by our sin; and He was rightfully against us, since we had rebelled against Him. But now Jesus has come, “Immanuel”, “God with us”, and now God CAN indeed be “with us” and even IN us, all the time. But just like the good news of that vaccine, it is only good if you actually TAKE the cure! Jesus is the cure. Just like you’ve got to RECEIVE that vaccine into your body to receive its benefit, so you must actually receive Jesus into your life to be saved. Only then will He be “God with you;” you have to receive Him in. John 1:12 says “As many as RECEIVED HIM, to THEM He gave the right to become the children of God.”
And when He is, then you can say with the old hymn: Now “He walks with me, and talks with me, and tells me I am His own.” But you can’t take that for granted. You need to make sure He is really with you, and in you.
One of our deacons’ wives in Louisiana had been going along as if Jesus was in her life, but the truth was, she had never really been saved. Her testimony is that one Sunday morning in church they were singing that old hymn: “He walks with me, and talks with me, and tells me I am His own.” And she realized as they were singing, that she was NOT walking with Him, and she was NOT talking to Him. And she did NOT yet really belong to Him. And at the end of that service, she ran down that aisle to give her life to Jesus as HER Lord & Savior, and make sure that God really was “with her.”
Maybe you need to do that same thing today. Is God “with you”? Is He “in you”? He CAN be; that is what Jesus came to this earth for: to be “God with us.” But you’ve got to make sure that you have really received Him, and that He really IS “God with you” in your own life.