“She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:21-23)
Each Christmas, or Advent season, we sing about Jesus our Immanuel. God with us. We find comfort in the incarnation behind Christmas. God’s stepping down to Earth to be with us by becoming one of us in Jesus. But how is Jesus really God with us?
The language of God being with us doesn’t start in Matthew 1. Throughout the Old Testament, God fulfills his covenantal vow, “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” through his presence. God’s committed promise to be with his people and to be their helper stands at the heart of his covenant relationship.
Throughout Advent, many churches read these forward-looking words from Isaiah 7:14. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
God’s prophet anticipated a day when a virgin would birth a special son, the Son of Man and Son of God. The New Testaments tells us the birth of Jesus completes this promise (Matt. 1:23). Jesus brings God to us by becoming one of us and dwelling with us (John 1:14). All the meaning wrapped up in the Old Testament words of how God is with his people finds its deepest fulfillment in the incarnation of Jesus. Jesus is the presence of God and the promise of God for the people of God. He is both for us and with us.
As we talk and sing about Christ’s coming this Christmas, and as we find comfort and joy in Jesus as our Immanuel, let’s consider a few ways God is with us.
When the Son of God becomes a Son of Man through the virgin birth, God is revealed to us in a new and vivid way. “Pleased as man with man to dwell; Jesus, our Emmanuel!” Throughout the Old Testament, God revealed himself in many unmistakable ways. But now, in Jesus, God makes himself known in a flesh and blood human being who can be watched, talked to, and touched. Jesus is the perfect and exact image of God (Heb. 1:3). He reveals God to us in a more personal, understandable, and intimate way than any prior or future revelation of God in Scripture. Robert Peterson writes, “As we communicate our thoughts to others through words, so God expressed his mind through his Word, Jesus Christ.”
“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 1:14).
If we ever wonder what God is like, look at Jesus. Jesus expresses and reveals God perfectly to us because he is the fullness of God in flesh (Col. 2:9). As we read the Bible and see the glory and beauty of Christ, we see the glory and beauty of God. Jesus draws near and dwells among us so we would draw near to God.
Despite how some Christmas songs make it sound, Jesus would eventually leave the manger and grow up as a man. He was fully human and experienced the range of human emotions—from the valleys of sorrow to the heights of joy. Like us, he was tempted. Like us, he knows what it’s like to be abandoned by friends and assaulted by enemies. Like us, he felt weariness in his bones and grew hungry and thirsty. But unlike us, he never sinned in all his temptations, trials, and suffering. He is like us in all the ways we need so he could be a suitable mediator, and yet he’s unlike us in the ways we need so he could be a sinless substitute bringing us back to God.
Because Jesus walked in our shoes, he is now full of empathy for us. He is with us in our pain and our struggles. Hebrews shows Jesus is not only the risen, ascended King, he is also a sympathetic High Priest. He intercedes and acts for us now. His priestly ministry means he doesn’t watch like a distant onlooker but he watches over us as a close caretaker. He knows our needs and remembers what it’s like to feel and live with those needs, and he then acts on our behalf.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:14-16).
Because Jesus draws near to us with compassion, we can draw near to him with confidence. Because Jesus is with us, we can be confident he will never leave us or abandon us. He understands our hardships and offers his help. He sympathizes with us our weakness, and therefore, he will be full of mercy and grace to us in our weaknesses.
“Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them” (Heb. 7:25). Jesus is with us now. He is working on our behalf. He is bringing to bear all the blessings and provision purchased by his blood. We might feel like we’re failing, and we might be full of fear, but Jesus will hold us fast.
God is with us through his presence, and his presence offers the ongoing help for whatever we face. In the Old Testament, we have many encouraging examples of what it looked like for God to be with his people as their helper. Though the culture and circumstances might change, how God is with his people looks very similar.
God fulfills his covenantal promises through his presence. He comes to our aid and accomplishes everything he promises and everything we need to follow him. The people of God can do nothing on their own, but there is nothing they can’t do if God is with them.
Consider the example of Moses. When God calls Moses to set his people free from enslavement to Pharaoh, Moses knows he’s not up to this task. He shrinks back at what God calls him to do out of fear and a sense of his own weakness and inadequacy. God replies and says it will be okay because I will be with you (Ex. 3:12). God will strengthen, help, and accomplish his work though Moses.
As Israel stands on the cusp of the promised land in Deuteronomy and Joshua, God reminds them in the wilderness they lacked nothing and made it through because he was with them (Deut. 2:7). God provided when their resources ran out. God protected against enemies and threats of every kind. This track-record of faithfulness as God was with them should cause them to be courageous. God now promises to be with them as Joshua takes the reins from Moses and the people press into the promised land (Joshua 1:5). God encourages them with the strength-giving hope he will be with them (Joshua 1:9, 17; 3:7; 6:27). Knowing God will be with us makes it possible to not fear what’s against us.
Whatever God’s people face, they can face it only when and because God is with them. He is with them as their wisdom and guide. He is with them as their help and strength. He is with them as their sustainer, provider, and protector. “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).
We celebrate Jesus as our Immanuel because it means we will not be abandoned or left to our own resources. If God is with us, trust and faith can replace our fear. Because God is with us, our anxieties can be cast on him and carried by him. Because God is with us, we know he will guide and direct each step of the way. He will help us and hold us today and tomorrow just like he has in the past. Because Christ sent the Spirit to indwell us, we can find comfort knowing not only is God at work for us but God is working within us. He goes before us to defeat our foes but he also comes inside us to make us new.
Another way we might think about this language of “God with us” is Jesus offers us friendship. He is with us and present in fellowship. He draws close and stays near. In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus is with us as a friend who sits down at the table to enjoy conversation over a good meal.
In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples he will leave but the Holy Spirit will come to them. The Spirit will live in us and the Spirit will unite us to Jesus. It’s not that Jesus tags out and now the Spirit is with us but Jesus is not, but Jesus is with us through the Spirit (14:28; Matt. 28:20). The Spirit gives us the presence of Jesus and he grows our relationships with Jesus. The Spirit will bring to mind the words and works of Jesus (14:26). He will give the peace purchased by Jesus (14:27). The Spirit is the means by which Jesus abides in us and we abide in him.
This shows up in Paul’s prayer that the Spirit in us would cause us to see, feel, and find our strength in the love of Jesus. He prays,“That according to the riches of his [God’s] glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:14-19). The Spirit unites our hearts with Christ’s heart in intimacy, fellowship, and friendship.
God is not only with us as a savior from our sins and as our strength when we are weak, but he’s with us as a friend. He comes to us and holds out not only his strong arm to defend us but he holds out his hand for fellowship.
This Christmas season we rejoice because our Immanuel has come to us. Jesus is with us as the one who reveals and makes God know. Jesus is with us as a sympathetic High Priest interceding for us. He is with us as our helper through his power, wisdom, comfort, and deliverance. And he is with us a good and faithful friend who offers us fellowship and communion. God is with us.
“Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” by Charles Wesley. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hark!_The_Herald_Angels_Sing