“She shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins. Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:21-23).
The name Emmanuel, prophesied hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, surely provided a puzzle for any who pondered in what way its meaning, “God with us,” would be fulfilled. His people had a long history of God’s presence and works, and therefore had much on which to base their speculation. Abraham had been told, “I will … be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee” (Genesis 17:7). His grandson Jacob received a similar word from God: “Behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee” (Genesis 28:15). Israel’s great leader and deliverer Moses was told, “Certainly I will be with thee” (Exodus 3:12). His successor Joshua was similarly encouraged by the divine promise “as I was with Moses, so I will be with thee” (Joshua 1:5). The great king David was also told by the Lord, “I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest” (2 Samuel 7:9).
God’s presence with His people was undeniable—from the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire that led them, to the glory that filled the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant that signalled His presence, to the Angel who protected them from their enemies and the unseen warriors who fought for them on the battlefield—God’s provision for them and presence with them was clearly seen many times and in many ways.
However, it wasn’t until that blessed night in Bethlehem, a night when angels praised and shepherds worshipped, that the world could begin to see the full impact of the prophesied One—Emmanuel, God with us. Despite all of the ways God’s presence and power and glory had been seen, He had never been so intimately “with us” as He was in the Person of a dependent Infant in a humble manger. The ones who crowded in a stable that night did not gather to see a mere baby, or even to gaze at a messenger or a priest or a prophet—they went to see “a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11).
Who could have comprehended that God would provide for the need of man by becoming man Himself! Who could have imagined the Creator and Sustainer of all things becoming the Servant? Who could have pictured that striking scene when, on the hill of Calvary, God—as man—would bear man’s sins, carry man’s burden, and pay man’s ransom?
In this issue, as we take a look at this blessed One, Emmanuel, let us do so with the awe and reverence of the shepherds of old, beholding this most wonderful mystery of Divine provision: “God with us.”
—T. Don Johnson