“Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 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). When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called his name Jesus.” (Matthew 1:18-25 ESV)
These two names show us why Jesus is the perfect answer to our most basic need. Two names. Two meanings. Two wonderful promises. He is Jesus. He is a Savior. He will save his people from their sins. This assumes a basic biblical truth. We have sins we need to be saved from.
The news this week provides a perfect example of our culture’s fundamental disagreement with God’s definition of things. If you have been under a rock somewhere this week, then you may have missed that the father of the Duck Dynasty cast was asked a question for GQ magazine, “In your opinion, what is sinful?” He replied by stating a few sins, and then quoted generally from 1 Corinthians 6 a list of sins according to the Apostle Paul. One of those he listed was homosexuality. This created such a firestorm that it led to Phil Robertson’s dismissal from the show. I’m not wading into the debate about it other than to point out that at the core of the firestorm was not whether this or that is a sin but whether there is such a thing as sin. Can anyone call anything absolutely morally wrong? If so, who? To see part of our culture go nuclear at the suggestion of a moral standard and moral accountability is an indication of where we are as a country, divided as it may be.
This is where the meaning of Jesus’ name itself is an affront. “For he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21) And the New Testament further explains that this “saving” he is doing is actually saving us from the wrath of God toward us. We are guilty. Jesus’ very name says a lot about us and a lot about him. He is a Savior and we are in need of saving. He is Jesus. God saves us.
But he is also Immanuel. God with us. Here the majesty of the Incarnation blossoms as we realize that Jesus took on human nature to save us and by that human nature, he remains with us forever. “Remaining what he was, he became what he was not.” (Gregory of Naziansen) He became one of us yet he never divests himself of this nature. He is always one of us and as such, God is always with us. This was Jesus’ own emphasis in our mission purpose, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20)
We see these two names perfectly speak to our needs. He is Jesus, God saves us and Immanuel, God with us. His saving work on the cross perfectly meets our spiritual needs. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot reconcile ourselves with God. Praise God that Jesus has come as Savior, dying the death we could not die, paying the price we could not pay, gaining a victory we could not win. Jesus did this to “save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
But he is also Immanuel, the God who became one of us. Came to us. Lived among us. Experienced all our weaknesses and pains. Suffered in every way that we do. And is right now among us by his Holy Spirit. He intercedes for us with perfect knowledge of the agonies of humanity.
These perfectly balance don’t they? Essentially, Matthew is saying, Jesus is everything we need and everything we want.
Today you may be reading this and your need is for a Savior. I have good news for you. His name is Jesus. Can the name that God the Father gave to his son be for you a faith-giving reality? He came to save his people from their sins if you will see in his coming a statement about your need. Saviors show up for saving people who need saving. The fact that Jesus came says that we need saving and the message of the Bible is that all who repent and turn from their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior, will be saved. Why not believe today?
But I know today that there’s another group reading this. You’ve put your hope in Jesus and you love the fact that he’s the Savior but you’re living in this broken world and there is sorrow and there is pain and you go to church and you go to Bible study or small group and your heart is longing for somewhere you can find comfort, solace, and peace.
And at Christmas time in particular we are often thinking about who is not here. I know this well. I was single into my mid-forties. Somewhere in my twenties it began to bother me. I was always going to my parents’ house for Christmas. Sometimes I thought about how great it would be to have a kid at Christmas. Then I went into my thirties and into my forties and I found myself thinking at Christmas time of who was not there. Maybe for you that is a spouse. A friend. A child. A parent.
And the message of the Bible is that in a broken world—where there are disappointments and unfulfilled expectations—is the message of who is here. His name is Jesus. He is Immanuel. He is God with us always. He promised in Scripture, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5) His abiding presence with us is what gives us courage in our trials and hope in our pain. And I don’t know of a more encouraging word for somebody of faith in spite of the pain to realize that in the midst of this God is with me. And someday that will be a physical reality as I will be with him and he will be with me. We await that day.
If Jesus was either Jesus or Immanuel, we should celebrate him with all our Christmas joy. The fact that he is both Jesus and Immanuel ought to move our hearts to wonder and to worship and I hope that it does for you and your family this Christmas season.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
©2013 Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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