“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign.
Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7:14 (English Standard Version)
Around this time last year, I was in the middle of a seven month Bible Study on the book of Ephesians. We had just finished chapter 2, and had spent a significant amount of time discussing our identity in Christ, our position in Christ, our hope in Christ, and our oneness in Christ (specifically in regard to the unity between Jews and Gentiles) as He dwells with us, His church.
And perhaps because we were just beginning to enter the Christmas season, or perhaps because of one of my favorite Christmas songs, or perhaps simply because of the Holy Spirit’s prompting, for the first time, as I began to process and internalize the significant weight of its simple meaning, the familiar name “Emmanuel” became so much more than a name we sing about at Christmas.
“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’).”
Matthew 1:22-23 (ESV)
As we see in Matthew, the name Emmanuel simply means:
God with us.
But it is reasonable to assume that the Jewish audience to whom Matthew was writing already knew that. Not only would they have been able to recognize the familiar Hebrew name, Immanuel, they likely would have been familiar with the words of the prophet Isaiah.
And yet, the meaning of the name was important enough for Matthew to explicitly translate. Almost as if to guarantee that the significance would not be lost.
He was with us.
“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.”
John 1:14 (ESV)
As I began to ponder the depth of the name Emmanuel, I was overcome with a fresh realization that God, as the promised and prophesied incarnate Christ, dwelt among us. Not just as an eternal Godhead far beyond my understanding, not just as a spirit, and not just as a baby at Christmas, but He literally and physically became fully human (while still fully God) to be fully with us! Powerful stuff!
Considering the throne in heaven He left to be with us as the incarnate Christ, I cannot think of a more humble, personal, or intentional expression of unfailing love.
He is with us.
“And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:20 (ESV)
But although he could not dwell among us in human form indefinitely, just prior to His ascension into heaven, Christ left us with the promise that He is still with us. A promise fulfilled through the Holy Spirit who dwells in the hearts of believers.
Although not a new concept (check out Deuteronomy 31:6 for an early example of this promise), when understood with the background of Emmanuel, the incarnate Christ, the truth that God is always with us has the potential to become a much greater and deeper reality.
He always will be with us.
“And the name of the city from that time on shall be, The Lord Is There.”
Ezekiel 48:35 (ESV)
Lastly, we have the promise of the eternal Emmanuel when Christ has won the final battle over the enemy and time as we know it has ceased to exist. His presence, as God eternally with us, will not only define this new city, but will provide its very name. For a greater explanation of this promise, you may want to read the last few chapters of Revelation.
So as you are reminded of the name Emmanuel over the coming weeks, don’t just let it pass as an expression used at Christmas or as part of a familiar tune, but take a moment to pause and reflect on the truth and depth of
Emmanuel: God with us.