“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel” (which means God with us).” Matthew 1:23
What does this verse tell me about how You, Jesus, were sent by the Father to us on earth? By Your name, this part of Your name, Immanuel, I know that You were sent to be with us. That even means that You were sent by God to be with me. But what does that really mean? I mean, if I’m looking at it through the eyes of these words of Yours, “As my Father has sent me, even so send I you” (John 20:21), what relevance does this “knowledge” have on me and my life?
Let’s start with this one question? What does it really mean for God to be “with us”? What does that word Immanuel really mean? Here in Matthew it’s from the Greek word “Emmanouel” but to really understand, we need to go back to the Hebrew. Why? Because this isn’t an original saying that just came to be here in the conversation about Jesus in the “New Testament.” This is a Torah word, a word from the Old Testament, a part of prophesy. We find this in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.'” So here it is. Immanuel. Not the all-inclusive name of Jesus. But one of the names that tells us about who He is.
Who is He? I mean, who are You, Jesus? Which is kind of interesting. Because I was looking up the Hebrew meaning behind the word “Immanuel.” And as I watched someone sharing about the parts that make up that whole word, and sharing the Hebrew meaning, I was glad I did. See, Immanuel, does mean “God with us.” But it’s not telling us that God IS with us. What?! Is there a difference. Well, yes, there seems to be.
In Hebrew, the verb “to be”, “is”, implies what action is taking place. When “is” is used, it’s sharing behavior that “defines whatever is doing the behaving.” It was explained this way. If a Hebrew were to say that the dog is outside, it’s not implying that he’s outside dozing in shade. It implies that he is doing whatever it is that makes him a dog, like chasing squirrels and barking. When God identified Himself as I AM (and Jesus, You did too), there’s that same concept. God was identifiying Himself as everything that He does that makes Him God. But Immanuel is different, yet still God.
In Immanuel, there is no “to be” verb. It denotes a “passive” presence of God. A “to be” verb would emphasize how God is working in us or for us, but not so here. Can you imagine someone calling it “coexisting, with undetermined result”? Now at first, I don’t like that idea of removing the working of God, of “coexisting”, of not knowing the results. But stop to think about it. It’s all about God’s walking with us, just like He casually walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. Funny, but when I share the Gospel with kids in the Philippines, that’s one thing I always emphasize, how God would walk with Adam and Eve in the garden. (Genesis 3:8) And as a kid myself, I always wanted to walk with You, Jesus, more than anything. I wasn’t thinking about working. I was just thinking about what it would be like to just be with You. It’s also in the way that You, Jesus, are just there in the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21:21-23.
So how is any of that a good thing that I need to know? Definitely a virgin birth is a rare thing. Nonexistent up to this point in time. But the rarer thing is to have a God who desires to be with us. Check out the other religions of other nations, does any god want to truly fellowship with man? Yet this is what God Himself desires and designed. Immanuel means that God wants to fellowship with you and me. This is absolutely unique and it’s absolutely central to who He is.
God’s desire to come near us isn’t just in the New Testament. It was there all along, yes, even in the Old Testament. In Genesis 26:3 He says, “I will be with you…” Job says, “When the Almighty was yet with me…” In Isaiah 41:10 God says, “Fear not, for I am with you…” And if you read, you would find more and more like this. This is unique to our God. He wants to be there for us, there with us, alongside of us. Think about it. God, Almighty God, actually also wants to be friends with us!
Isn’t that sacreligious to say that God wants to be friends with us? What does His Word say? Hmm. Let’s look at Exodus 33:11. “And the Lord spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks unto his friend.” Jesus says these words in John 15:15, “but I have called you friends…” And in James 2:23 we are reminded of God’s feelings about Abraham, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which said, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.'”
This is part of the Good News of Jesus Christ, that God wants to be friends with us! So what bearing does this have on me? If You, Jesus, were sent to be my friend, what does that mean for me? If I think about it, how desireable of a friend am I compared to God? Yet You stepped down from heaven for me. You came alongside me when I was in dark places. Even before You acted, You were there. You were there for me. And maybe that’s the point. That before You acted You were even there. You weren’t afraid to come to me, though I was filthy and unworthy. You came. You stood beside me. You called out to me in the darkness. And whenever I turn to You, You act. But first, You were there. That in itself is an awesome reality. The God of creation, the God of angel armies, the Almighty God, the Great I AM, came next to me and was there for me all along, and all I had to do was turn to Him.
I can’t help but think about these words of Paul in Romans 5. They ring out so loud and beautifully right now in my ears. The Good News Bible puts it this way. “For when we were still helpless [weak, impotent, sick], Christ died for the wicked [each of us] at the time that God chose [there on the cross that day in history]. It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. But God has shown us how much He loves us–it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us!” And that makes all the difference in the world in my life now and into eternity. And when I understand the magnitude of You, Jesus, coming alongside me while I was yet offensive to You, and You loving me so much that You gave Your life for me, and rose again for me, and want to have an eternal relationship with me in You, well, that just breaks my heart for You and overwhelms me. And it leaves me asking myself, well then, what does my love for You look like?
“As the Father has sent me, even so send I you.” That means that I must be there for others. I must go and reach out to those in need as I was. I must look to their future and not their filth. I must stand beside them in love, and wait, and pray, and accompany them until they see and until they turn. So that’s my question today. Lord, is my life like Yours? Am I just there for people? Would I go to anyone who needed me because they need You? Or would I pick and choose? Lord, because You’ve always been with me, even before I realized it, I want to learn to be there for others, even before they realize how much they need you. So make me able. Because You can. Because I’ve turned to You and I abide in You and You in me. And now, because of that dear relationship in You, You can bring Your will to pass through me. So let people come to know Immanuel by the way I draw near to them in You. In that way, let them understand how You drew near first.