Have you ever thought about the fact that Matthew says the baby born in Bethlehem is to be called Jesus but Isaiah says He is to be called Immanuel? “’She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ 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.’” Matthew 1:21-23. This seems like a contradiction at first read. Was that promised One to be called Jesus or Immanuel? Who was right, Matthew or Isaiah?
In Matthew 1:23, Matthew quotes from the prophet Isaiah. 800 years before Jesus' birth the prophet Isaiah wrote, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel." Immanuel means God with us. The baby born it that manger was literally the presence of God. The promised child. The Hope of all creation. Our Redeemer. Our King. Our Immanuel. Our God with us!
You may be wondering, as I was, about the two different names, Jesus and Immanuel. The passage in Matthew that quotes the prophet Isaiah states He is to be called Jesus. Then it says He is to be called Immanuel. So what is His name supposed to be, Jesus or Immanuel?
The answer is simple. Jesus is a personal name. Immanuel is a role.
Jesus never actually bore the name Immanuel during His earthly life. The name Immanuel indicates His role, bringing God's presence to man. Immanuel, the role, means God with us. The phrase God with us describes the nature of Jesus. He is God who became man. When Jesus was born, God came down and dwelt among man. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.... And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.... No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, He has made Him known.” John 1:1-18. His presence among His creation meant that He was a man among men, yet at the same time, He was also the holy Son of God.
Immanuel is Messiah, the God of Israel.
Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, the God of Israel. His words were not disputed at the time because he spoke of things that were distant, things far into the future. 800 years into the future! Yet, when Jesus spoke of Himself as the Messiah He pushed all the boundaries of political correctness.
When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well in John 4:25–26 she said, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus answered her by saying, “I who speak to you am He.” In John 10:30 He also said to the Jews in the temple when they inquired if He was the Christ, “I and the Father are one."
C.S. Lewis' quote embodies the challenge of aligning Jesus with His statements about Himself.
"A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic, on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg, or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to." -C.S. Lewis
The child is born, but the Son is given.
The reality of Matthew 1:21-23 is not merely that a baby was born, the reality is that God became that baby. God was in that manger! We also read in Isaiah 9:6, and I find this particularly interesting, that the child is born, but the Son is given. "For to us a child is born, to us a Son is given; and the government shall be upon His shoulder, and His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Why was the child born and the Son given? This is because the Son existed before the child was born. The virgin gave birth to a child, but the child that the virgin birthed existed before she even conceived. Therefore, the Son was given, not born.
The Son came to do the Father's will.
Hebrews 10:1 talks of the law and says, "...it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near." In verse 4 we read, "For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." Then in verses 5-7 we have this recorded dialogue between God the Father and Christ the Son. “Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have You prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God, as it is written of Me in the scroll of the book.’” This is Christ. This is God. This is the babe in the manger. It's our Immanuel, our God with us coming to earth in the form of a man to do the Father’s will.
In doing the Father's will He experienced the struggle of mankind.
Not only did Jesus come to earth to dwell among men, not only did He become man to do the Father’s will, He came to be God. He came to be our Immanuel, our God with us. This was His role.
Throughout His life on earth, Jesus demonstrated a constant awareness and closeness to mankind. He experienced the struggle of a fallen, chaotic world. His words were comfort. His actions were compassion. He understood the issues of the day. He demonstrated this understanding with empathy for the people and their struggle. Jesus lived the human experience to the fullest. And in all this, He remained holy.
What is at stake here is not whether we celebrate with tinsel and lights the birth of the child Isaiah wrote of. What's at stake is our understanding of Who God is and His roll of Immanuel. It has everything to do with recognizing that Jesus, Immanuel, Messiah, the God of Israel cares so much for His creation that He sent His only Son to be with us. He is Immanuel. He is our God with us.
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