Our church is reading through Matthew this month. Luke’s account of Christ’s birth is more detailed than Matthew’s compact version. But one thing that stands out to me in Matthew’s telling is at the end of chapter one.
After reassuring Joseph that Mary is still pure and her pregnancy is of the Holy Spirit, the angel says: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Then Matthew adds this comment:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Jesus was to be the baby’s name, but He would also be called Immanuel. The prophecy Matthew quoted was from Isaiah 7:14, written around 700 years before Matthew’s book.
We often zip by that phrase to get to the next part of the narrative. But the fact that God is with us is so significant, I want to ponder it for a moment.
God was with His people in full fellowship and harmony in the garden of Eden. But then they sinned and were sent out of the garden. Sin separates from God. He is always omnipresent, everywhere at all times. But that complete, harmonious fellowship was broken. He made a way for people to be reconciled to Him through Christ, but Jesus’ sacrifice would not take place for thousands of years. People in the OT looked ahead to what God would do to redeem them. People in the NT and our day look back.
God told Isaac: “I am the God of Abraham your father. Fear not, for I am with you and will bless you” (Genesis 26:3).
Israel became God’s chosen people, known especially because their God was with them. He was not a block of wood or brass set up in a tent. He was a Spirit who led and protected them. After one of Israel’s most grievous sins in the wilderness, before they came to the promised land, God sent them on ahead with Moses. God promised to make the way for them into Canaan, but He would not go with them “lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Moses pleaded:
Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”
And [God] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:1-16).
Have you ever felt like Moses? “Don’t send me if You’re not going with me. I can’t go forward without You.”
Before Moses died, he assured the people, “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6).
When Moses died and Joshua was appointed to take Israel on to the promised land, God reassured him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).
The psalmist rejoiced, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. . . The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:1, 4, 11).
David declared, “I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. . . You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:8,11).
The prophets, who so often had to point out the people’s sins, also reminded them that God had nor forsaken them and was with them. “Then Haggai, the messenger of the LORD, spoke by the commission of the LORD to the people saying, ‘I am with you,’ declares the LORD. . . all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts” (Haggai 1:13; 2:4).
Through Isaiah, God promised His people: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you” (Isaiah 43:2). Notice He didn’t say “if” you pass through water and through fire. He said “when.” Trouble’s going to come. But God is with us in it. Earlier Isaiah had quoted God, “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. . . For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Fear not, I am the one who helps you'” (Isaiah 43:10,13).
When Jesus took on flesh, He was with His people in a physical way. Before He ascended back to heaven, He promised them, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
Those verses we often lean on in anxiety in Philippians 4 are predicated by “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”(Philippians 4:5b-7).
We can trust God for our provision. “Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5).
At the end of life, if we know Him, we can rest in the fact that “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”( Psalm 23:4). Then we’ll be “absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” once again in full fellowship unhindered by a sin nature (2 Corinthians 5:8).
An old song said God is watching us from a distance. No, He is very close. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:13). Because Jesus was God’s Son, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died on the cross for our sins, and rose again, we can be forgiven, redeemed, close to Him. In overcoming and need, in anxiety and danger, in everyday life and our walk with God, and finally in death, we can rest and rejoice in the fact that God is with us.
For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones. (Isaiah 57:15).
Written by C. H. Spurgeon at the age of 18
When once I mourned a load of sin;
When conscience felt a wound within;
When all my works were thrown away;
When on my knees I knelt to pray,
Then, blissful hour, remembered well,
I learned Thy love, Immanuel.
When storms of sorrow toss my soul;
When waves of care around me roll;
When comforts sink, when joys shall flee;
When hopeless griefs shall gape for me,
One word the tempest’s rage shall quell–
That word, Thy name, Immanuel.
When for the truth I suffer shame;
When foes pour scandal on my name;
When cruel taunts and jeers abound;
When “Bulls of Bashan” gird me round,
Secure within Thy tower I’ll dwell–
That tower, Thy grace, Immanuel.
When hell enraged lifts up her roar;
When Satan stops my path before;
When fiends rejoice and wait my end;
When legioned hosts their arrows send,
Fear not, my soul, but hurl at hell
Thy battle-cry, Immanuel.
When down the hill of life I go;
When o’er my feet death’s waters flow;
When in the deep’ning flood I sink;
When friends stand weeping on the brink,
I’ll mingle with my last farewell
Thy lovely name, Immanuel.
When tears are banished from mine eye;
When fairer worlds than these are nigh;
When heaven shall fill my ravished sight;
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel.
(Sharing with Inspire Me Monday, Global Blogging, Senior Salon, Hearth and Soul, Purposeful Faith, Happy Now, InstaEncouragement, Anchored Abode,
Worth Beyond Rubies, Recharge Wednesday, Let’s Have Coffee,
Faith on Fire, Grace and Truth)