WHAT’S IN A NAME (A CHRISTMAS MESSAGE)

December 20, 2011

WHAT’S IN A NAME

There are many names given to Jesus in the Bible– each one gives us a fuller and clearer picture of who He is and What He means for us… And so, as we are unpacking the various names of Jesus we are asking ourselves “Who IS this man that we have put our hope in?” That has brought about an advent which causes the whole world to take part in a massive annual, global celebration spending trillions of dollars! After all, what’s in a name? The very name Jesus means “God saves!” He is God’s promise to deliver us! He is Messiah, the Christ… “The anointed one”, our KING and we are his subjects! This morning, I want us to look at another name of Jesus found in the text read a moment ago: Immanuel.

Any time is a great time to look at the person of Jesus, but it seems especially appropriate this time of year as millions the world over pause to think about the holiday that is named after Christ. And yet, I wonder amidst all the pomp & circumstance of the season… how many truly understand the importance of the story or the reason for the season. We put on those old records of Bing Crosby singing “O Holy Night” or Perry Como “Away in a Manger” Nat King Cole “Chestnuts Roasting Over An Open Fire” and our mind’s eye is filled with the image of the baby Jesus nestled in that manger in that stable in Bethlehem. The shepherds are there adoring the newborn king…”no crying he makes”. But do we really grasp the significance of that event?…. In the text, (Matthew 1:18) we have Matthew’s beautiful account of how the angel of the Lord prepared Joseph and Mary for what was about to take place. Even though we chose this text as oppose to Luke’s account in (Luke 1:26), I selected Matthews text because of the significance Matthew sees in the story.

“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’– which means, ‘God with us.’”  Do we understand the significance of that? …that Jesus is “God with us.” He is God-in-the-flesh!

A couple of years ago there was a popular song out by Joan Osborne that caused a good deal of stir … one of the lyrics posed the question: “What if God were one of us?” Okay, while I don’t make a habit of listening to the Osborne’s, her question isn’t a bad one, and the good news is: It has been answered!  God did become ONE OF US! In the person of Jesus Christ, God Almighty left the glory which was His and His  throne in Heaven, wrapped himself up in human flesh and became a man! And he did it in the most unflattering of circumstances… by being born as an infant (a completely dependent child) to a young woman who was pledged to be married to a common carpenter (certainly no royalty); and on that first night, placed in an animal’s feeding trough (A Manger) because there was no room for them in the inn. How much more humble of circumstances could God have entered into our world? But that’s what he did, and that’s what is implicit in the name: Immanuel!  God with us!

To understand what Matthew intended by using the name, we’ve got to go back to the O.T. book of Isaiah to see the original prophecy in its context… The word Matthew interprets to mean “God with us” appears three times in two O.T. passages; both are found in Isaiah. Both are set in the context of God’s promised deliverance of the Kingdom of (Judah) at time of great national peril. The Northern Kingdom (Israel) was in league with Syria to capture Judah’s (Southern Kingdom). Judah’s king at the time was Ahaz, and he was frightened about his prospects against the mighty Northern Kingdom. He was a wicked king, and he knew that he was in no position to claim God’s presence or power for deliverance. Nevertheless, Isaiah was sent by God and gave assurance that God would deliver the people, not for Ahaz’s sake, but for the sake of the Lord’s own faithfulness to his people.  So, when Isaiah was sent to Ahaz, God offered the king a “sign” that the message was authentic. Isaiah 7:13-14, verse 13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? Over seven hundred (700) years before it happened we see in verse 14 the prophecy of the Messiah’s birth, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (NIV)  In the very next chapter, the name Immanuel occurs’ twice more.

Although the Southern Kingdom would be spared at the hands of the Syria-Israel coalition, it was foretold that Immanuel’s land, Judah, would nevertheless one day be conquered by Assyria. (8:8) then, only two verses later, the name is repeated as an assurance that even so mighty a power as Assyria would not thwart God’s sovereign purposes for Judah. So, the enemies of God were told, “Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us! Immanuel! (8:10)

So why does Matthew use this O.T. prophecy to describe Jesus? It’s because he wants us to know that Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promise to always be with his people! Matthew is saying that this child, who is to be named Jesus, is the ultimate fulfillment of that prophecy… that Mary is that virgin who will be with child; and that the child himself is “God with us.” That was the promise given in Isaiah’s words to King Ahaz and it has been His promise to His people ALL throughout the Scriptures!

Do you remember God’s promise to Moses?  (Exodus 3:12) in many ways Moses was an unlikely candidate for a ‘Deliverer of God’s people.’ Even though he had grown up in the household of Pharaoh, he had been banished from the kingdom after he had murdered an Egyptian slave master. Since that time, he had worked as a shepherd for his father in law. It’s not until the age of eighty that God calls on Moses to: “Go back to Egypt and free my people!” But at first Moses doesn’t want to go! In fact he starts offering up excuses why he can’t go and if you look at Exodus 3:11 you see him trying to get out of it… “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Here is the answer that he received: 12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” (Exod 3:12 NIV)

If Moses was afraid… notice how God answers his fears… “I will be with you!” And He was… as Moses faced the new Pharaoh, he could do so with confidence… God enabled him to perform a number of miracles… and when Pharaoh refused, God brought upon Egypt a series of plagues… and when Pharaoh finally relented and the people found themselves free, but wandering around in the desert, God was still with them… leading them with a pillar of cloud of by day and of fire by night… sustaining them with manna from Heaven! In fact God never left them! He is always true to his promises!

Do you remember God’s promise to … Joshua? (Josh 1:5) When Joshua replaced Moses as Israel’s leader, he had his work cut out for him. Moses had been a great and charismatic leader. The people had seen miraculous wonders under Moses’ leadership. They had been freed from 400 years of bondage; they had miraculously escaped Pharaoh’s army; they had seen the law delivered unto them. The promised land lay before them and it wasn’t going to be handed to them on a silver platter… there would be much work to be done in its conquest. Would the Lord do through Joshua the same mighty things he had done through Moses? This is what God promised to Joshua in verse 5.  No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Verse 6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. (Josh 1:5-6 NIV) His word to Joshua– “Be Strong & Courageous because I will always be with you!” How reassuring that must have been for a young Joshua!  And how we can be assured in like manner today in whatever circumstances or trials we are facing today.

Do you remember Jesus’ promise to … His Disciples? (Matthew. 28:16-20) What a roller-coaster ride they had been through! They had seen their Lord crucified… they had seen his body placed on the slab in that tomb… they had wept for him… some had scattered… some had denied him… one who had turned on him subsequently took his own life. But then they had witnessed the most remarkable thing any of them would EVER see… Jesus had risen! First the tomb was found empty and then they realized why had the risen Jesus appeared to them… not just once or twice but on a number of occasions over a period of several days! There was no doubt! Then, on that last occasion just before Jesus is taken up into Heaven, He gives them a set of last instructions…. “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” And one last promise! “And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.” The Disciples would become the Apostles… they would face continued persecution as the teachings about Christ were indeed spread all over the world… and they would ultimately face death just  like their Lord had… but the reassuring promise that each of them carried to their graves… “I will be with you always!”

And THAT’S the promise of Immanuel to US… even today! He is WITH US! True, he is no longer with us in the flesh… as he had been ‘with’ his disciples But, he is ‘with us’ in an even more special way today… through his Spirit! Remember His promise to us… John 14:16-18, verse 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever, verse 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. Verse 18, I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  (NIV) God/ Jesus/Immanuel, continues to be ‘with us’ through His precious Holy Spirit; the wonderful counselor, advocate, comforter; who has come and now lives with us & in us! And God’s promise remains: He will be with us forever! He will never leave us nor forsake us!

And so, Immanuel is God’s promise to always be with YOU……In the tough times & trials of life as many of us are experiencing now. I know that these are tough times for some. From job losses & financial difficulties to family turmoil & marriage problems… we live in a harsh world and the reality is that trouble and tough times hit us all! David knew what it was like to face tough times and he knew what it was like to seek solace in the comforting arms of God. Some of his psalms reflect his awareness of the presence of God in his life. Psalms 9:9-10, “The LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you”. (Ps 9:9-10 NIV)

For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter. (Ps 27:5 NIV)   Immanuel is God’s promise that you are safe in his dwelling/ abiding place. He is with you!

When everyone around us seems to have gone and we feel abandoned.  I know the holidays are tough for many, possibly celebrating the holidays for the first time without a loved one. You know the pain of separation… be it from death, or distance. Is there someone in your life you miss very much? A child? A parent? Grandparent? A spouse? Maybe you’re dealing with the pain of a separation or divorce and the holidays are going to be difficult days for you? Loss of a job, or your home?  Remember God is with you in these moments. Immanuel is God’s promise that you don’t ever have to be alone!

In the “ordinary” moments of life. The fact that we especially feel His presence at certain times doesn’t mean that He isn’t with us at other times! No, he is with us ALWAYS! When you’re driving to work in the mornings… he is there. When you’re dropping the kids off to school… he is there. When you’re veg’ing in front of the TV. … he is there. When you and your wife are in the middle of an argument … he is there. God is with us in the ordinary moments of life, because he is with us & within us! So we don’t have to face anything in life without him!

Even when we have failed to be with him, none of us are perfect. We all know that we have failed him and the Bible confirms it… “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But that’s why He became in the flesh in the first place! If we had been able to be perfect, live a victorious life and get to Heaven on our own, there would have been no reason for God to become Immanuel! But we aren’t and He is… and so we can take confidence in the fact that God is with us!

The story of Joseph, Mary, Bethlehem and the baby Jesus is the story of God choosing to come and live with us. Eugene Peterson in his paraphrase of John 1:14 in The Message Bible put it this way. “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” While that might be quite an understatement, THAT’S what God did! He chose to move in next door, into our run-down, beat-up, world weary neighborhood. The gospel is the story of God, loving us so much, that he became one of us… that he came to live among us so that we might one day live with Him!

Do YOU know that hope this morning? Does God live within you? So many in our time celebrate Christmas, but have no idea of the hope and assurance that Immanuel, God with you, God with me, God with Us offers!

Have you become distant from God our Father?  Do you need to recommit or make a commitment to Christ during this most Holy season? Do you need him to come live within you?  Just acknowledge that you are in need of a savior and invite him in to your life and heart today.  You do this when you are baptized into his NAME! Repent of your sins and make Jesus the Lord of your life.  Do you need help in putting your trust more fully in Immanuel, God with us?  Just ask the Father today and He will forgive you of your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness by just asking and inviting Him in! Immanuel, God with us! 

Again, what’s in a Name?  An eternity with the Father wrapped up as a Christmas present in the person of Jesus, Immanuel.  Have a Merry Christmas!