The Story of God With Us
Immanuel. We hear it in songs. We have heard that it means “God with us.” We know it’s Hebrew. We have told friends it refers to Jesus. Yet, when I was asked to teach on Immanuel, I had to think about where to start. There are classic passages like Isaiah and Matthew. But I believe that “God with us” is one of those beautiful themes interlaced through the entire Bible. It is so central to the Story that it can be found on the first and last pages of Scripture. Some of the best news of the gospel is “God with us.” Because of this, I decided to start at the beginning and trace the theme of Immanuel through the Bible, all the way to the glorious end. Doing so gave me a richer and fuller understanding of what the incarnation means, and I pray that it will do the same for you.
Even the very best memories we have of Christmases spent with loved ones pale in comparison to the joy and love that was there between God and his children.
I began in the Garden of Eden. When God created Adam and Eve, he created them for a dependent, intimate relationship with him, like a Father to his children. He was with them. Even the very best memories we have of Christmases spent with loved ones pale in comparison to the joy and love that was there between God and his children. Yet, that intimacy was broken when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command. One of the most devastating consequences for their sin was that they were cast outside the Garden of Eden, away from the presence of God. Terrifying angels with flaming swords barred the way, reminding them of all that was lost.
Of course, the story did not end there. In Genesis 3:15, God promised that the Redeemer would come to undo the destruction that had been wrought by sin. God began to fulfill this promise in the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He revealed himself to each of them, was with them in a unique way, and promised that the Redeemer would be one of their descendants. When those descendants grew in number and were slaves in Egypt, he was “God with them” as he brought them out of slavery and into the wilderness, as a pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. He was “God with them” as he brought them into the Promised Land, empowering their army and giving them the land he had promised. However, the way in which God was “with” the Israelites was not the same as it had been in the Garden of Eden. As we saw before, God’s glory was magnificent, but because of sin, the people could now draw near to him physically. Even once the temple was built in Jerusalem (God’s way of being with his people in the Promised Land), only the High Priest could draw near to the Holy of Holies where the presence of God dwelled…and then only once a year at risk of great peril….and then only after atoning for his own sin. This certainly did not mirror the intimacy and closeness that God had with his children before there was sin.
It was like being cast out of the Garden all over again, this time on a grand scale.
The consequences for sin continued to increase as the people of God continued to disobey him. The book of Ezekiel tells us that God’s glory departed from the temple. Then God sent his people into exile. It was like being cast out of the Garden all over again, this time on a grand scale. God’s presence dwelled in the temple itself. To be cast out of the land, away from Jerusalem and the temple, was to be removed from the only place they could approach and worship, even if they could not enter his actual presence. However, once again, God promised that the Redeemer would come. It’s in Isaiah that we see that his name would be Immanuel- God with us. This was a welcome spotlight on what Christ would come to do: he would make a way for God to be with us.
As we move into the New Testament, we see that it was to the gospel-writer Matthew that the Holy Spirit illuminated this truth. Matthew loves to show how the Old Testament points to Jesus. In his first chapter he writes that an angel came to Joseph in a dream. He said,
“Joseph, Son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew excitedly continues, “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’” (Mt. 1:20-23).
Conceived by the Holy Spirit, Jesus was not just another boy. This had never happened before, nor would again. God himself was going to be born. God with us. God’s presence was returning to his people in the form of a baby. Unlike Adam and Eve, unlike Israel – unlike all of us – Jesus could obey God perfectly and he did so on our behalf. Our Immanuel also bore the consequences for sin on the cross. He was separated from his Father for the first time when he cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In doing so, he lost the presence of God so that we could gain him.
Because Jesus took on humanity, we can now enjoy intimacy and fellowship with God like never before.
Because Jesus took on humanity, we can now enjoy intimacy and fellowship with God like never before. He took our penalty, resurrected, and ascended. He went away and sent his Spirit to dwell in us for that very purpose – that we might now, every day, have God with us. We are now the temple of God. The Spirit brings us into fellowship with the Father and the Son (Jn. 14:23).
What we have now in terms of restored fellowship with the Lord is still not equivalent to the intimacy of the garden. It is actually merely a downpayment of what’s to come. It’s the foretaste of the great feast. Someday our Immanuel will be visible and tangible forever – us with him and him with us. John writes that on that day, “He will dwell among them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be among them” (Rev. 21:3). The physical presence of God who walked in the garden will live with us. This is what Christmas is all about – Immanuel - God with us. God himself came the first Christmas, so that we could be with him forever now and at the glorious end.
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