The Miracle of Immanuel
“ ‘And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.’ ” Mat 1:21
The message of the angel to Joseph explained the divine cause of his dilemma. Mary was the one chosen to bring into the world the “seed of the woman” prophesied in Gen 3:15. As soon as sin entered the world God gave the promise of a Redeemer, who would deliver mankind from the curse and penalty of sin.
However, at no time is this great truth so often overlooked as at Christmas, when we supposedly celebrate the coming of the Savior into the world.
“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luk 2:7
When most people see the Nativity scene depicted, they see only a cute baby, surrounded by a barnyard menagerie: cows, sheep, donkeys, and a few shepherds. While the depiction may be reasonably accurate (for all we know), the great miracle and mystery of the incarnation is lost. We forget the message of the angel, who said to the shepherds in the field,
“ ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger,’ ” Luk 2:10–12
Several amazing things stand out here. First, this infant has come to be a “Savior,” not just to some, but “to all people.” He is the Savior of the whole world. In fact, the name “Jesus” means “The salvation of Jehovah.” Second, He is none other than “Christ the Lord.” Many think “Christ” is Jesus’ last name, but the promised Messiah had to be both God and man, united in one person. While “Christ” speaks of His prophetic title, “Lord” declares His undiminished Deity. Finally, the angel spoke of a “sign”. The word here implied a supernatural yet visible occurrence having great spiritual significance. This awesome and mighty Person entered the world in a humble peasant family, unwelcomed and outcast from the beginning. He who created the universe and named the stars would be found lying in a stone feed trough. And not only this, he would be wrapped “in swaddling cloths.” These were simply strips of torn cloth—the very kind that the poor of the ancient world used to wrap their dead for burial. He who listened to the praise of angels, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa 6:3), came into the world of sinners to die on a cross of shame!
“ ‘Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.’ ” Isa 7:14
The very first prophecy of the Prophet Isaiah was regarding the coming of the Savior of the world (note 6:13b). And to this unique God-man is given a fitting name, “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us”. Imagine this! The very creator becoming part of His creation, that He might deliver His masterpiece, mankind, from their sins. Over 700 years before the event, the Prophet was given the message of hope for a lost and dying world.
Consider that the sign of which Isaiah spoke would be given by none other than “the Lord Himself,” the very one who would be discovered lying in the manger. He who would bear the price for every sin was Himself the author of the prophecy. He who would bear our sin and shame could not bear that mankind live in shame without a shining light of hope.
“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zec 9:9
How earnestly the Prophets spoke, as they were moved by the Spirit of God, with comfort for the weary world. How greatly in this troubled world today we need to lay hold of that comfort.
“ ‘Comfort, yes comfort My people!’ says your God” Isa 40:1
What a tragedy that in all our commercialism and materialism, we look at the Nativity and see only a “cute baby in a manger”. Would to God that we could grasp the “signs of the times” that shout to us that His birth will yet have it’s ultimate fulfillment!
“But you, Bethlehem Ephratah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” Mic 5:2
The implications of this were not lost to the vile king Herod at the time of Jesus birth. He rightly concluded that if “Immanuel” (Mat 1:23) was indeed “God with us”, and that if He who would be a “Ruler who will shepherd My people Israel” (Mat 2:6), and if He had chosen to come as a helpless infant, then the time to strike was immediately, before He gained power. And with that conclusion Herod sent and killed all the infants of the region of Bethlehem (Mat 2:16). Something tells me that the same diabolical reasoning is at work in the present struggle over Jerusalem. If the people of the King can be evicted, and the city of His predicted reign is safely in the hands of those who hate Him, perhaps His reign might be thwarted. How puny are the efforts of sinful man, to resist coming under the authority of Him who died for their sins. How slack are we, like those of the first century, who fail to see the mighty drama unfolding before our very eyes!
The Implication of the Incarnation
“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 beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Joh 1:1, Joh 1:14
When the Lord of glory stepped down into His world and took upon Himself the frail body of His own creation, the drama of the ages reached its climax. Mankind, through the spiritual cancer of sin, had so marred the “image of God” in which we were created (Gen 1:26–27) that true humanity was no longer recognized. As Jesus lived and moved among men, those who saw Him beheld true manhood. Mankind, made in the image of God, having defaced that image, saw in Him the very image of God (Col 1:15; Heb 1:3). What John observed he could only describe as being “full of grace and truth.” A seemingly contradictory mixture of unalloyed truth, the expression of absolute holiness; yet lived out before His eyes in a boundless flow of infinite love and compassion, which he called “grace.”
And I tend to think as our Lord lived, or literally “tented” (literal meaning of “dwelt”) among men, His presence did so much more than convict them of all that was lost through our sinfulness. For that would be the work of “truth” alone. Much more than this, He represented to them what they were meant to be, and by His deliverance, what they could be. His presence had both a magnetic as well as a repulsive impact on men. In the heart of the humble was created a longing to fully realize the purpose of our existence. But to the proud, He stood as a living rebuke to their pretence, an exposure of their true motives.
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen that they have been done in God.” Joh 3:19–21
Initially, Jesus is a threat to every man, because every one of us is sinful. It is interesting that John speaks of one who comes to Jesus as one “who does the truth”. When the sinner, convicted of his own sinfulness, is brought to the point of humbly owning his true lost condition, claiming by faith alone the “grace” of our Lord, that precedes and prepares the way for the “truth,” he can be said to have “done the truth” for the first time in his life. Yet, he has not achieved this by his own power (see Joh.1:12–13), for his act of faith is said to “have been done in God.”
Having taken the first step toward the realization of true humanity, the believer, now born a “new creature” in Christ (2Co 5:17), can begin the life-long adventure of being “conformed” to His image (Rom 8:29). This “transformation” (Rom 12:2) occurs as we develop spiritually “to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” and “grow up in all things into Him” (Eph 4:13, 15). Gradually the innate nature of our Lord, which found expression in His character and conduct, begins to stamp itself on the life of the believer, as we become “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pe.1:4). To the extent we allow this to happen (and it will never be complete in this life), we continue the miracle of the incarnation, for “as He is, so are we in this world” (1Jo 4:17b). From beginning to end, this is a work of God “by grace… through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph 2:8–9).
Looking for His Coming
“This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.” Act 1:11
Our world at present thinks it is done with Jesus. His miraculous coming in frailty and meekness (so contemptible to our advanced and enlightened age) is assigned to a misty past as a mythical story. Yet the power of Jesus is such that even the reminder of Him is sufficient to provoke violent hostility. When Pilate said, “ ‘Behold, the Man!’ ” Joh19:5, the immediate response of the crowd was to scream, “Crucify Him, crucify Him!” Through all the ages the knee-jerk reaction of sinful mankind has not changed, for the nature of mankind continues to resist exposure to the light. And so our world clings to one vain hope: maybe it never really happened. If we deny this terrible nightmare of a holy God invading His own creation, perhaps it will just go away. If we convince ourselves that creation evolved without a Creator, that we are the product of our environment, and that “every day and in every way we are getting better and better,” then we might just escape the awful dread that haunts every life that we are one day going to stand before Him and give an account of our life. It was in fact this very reasoning that pushed the religious leaders over the edge when Jesus said to them,
“ ‘Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.’ ” Mat 26:64
The promise of His return is a threat to all that this world holds dear. For this reason our current “civilization” seeks to remove every reminder of Him from before their eyes. Yet while the nations of the world spare no cost or effort to create the utopia of a “new world order,” still the specter of His imminent return mocks them from a world arena that reverberates with the breath of His own words,
“ ‘For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars….for nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows….Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.’ ” Mat 24:4–8, 30
Then the One who humbled Himself to become “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Joh 1:29) will at last be recognized as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Rev 5:5), and the world will see that in spite of all efforts to the contrary,
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined…For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” Isa 9:2; Isa 9: 6–7
Then, and not until then, will the true miracle of Immanuel be fully seen and finally understood. Let all who claim Him now rejoice! But woe to all who are offended by Him.