Perhaps you could turn again to Isaiah and chapter 7 and verse 14, we'll just read verse 14, and Isaiah said to Ahaz: "Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel".
If you turn to Matthew, Matthew's gospel and chapter 1 and verse 23: "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us".
Let us pray: Our Father in heaven, we thank Thee for this time that we can spend around Thy word. We pray, our Father, that as we turn to Thy oracles of truth, we pray that we would see Jesus - the Author and Finisher of our faith. Lord, we ask that by the Holy Spirit of the Living God, that He would be manifest to us in spirit and in truth today. Fill us we pray with the Holy Spirit, in Jesus name. Amen.
Someone has said that if you could convince a man that there is no hope, he would curse the day that he was born. You see, hope for humans - all human beings - is an indispensable quality of life. Years ago an S4 submarine was rammed by another ship and quickly it sank to the bottom of the ocean. The entire crew was trapped within that vessel. Various ships that were in the ocean at that time rushed to the scene of the disaster, but no one really knew what that crew went through on those few hours underneath the water. Men bravely clung to all the oxygen that they could get until, slowly, it gave out. One diver who came to the rescue placed his ear to the side of the vessel and listened, and there were various tapping noises that were heard - someone was tapping in Morse code. The question that was brought to that man who put his ear to the side of that vessel was this: 'Is there any hope?'.
That, if you like, is the cry of all humanity. Is there any hope? Throughout various circumstances, and in various situations, that cry can be heard: 'Is there any hope?'. One of the most interesting cemeteries - if you're interested in cemeteries - is one in London called Bunshill Field (sp?). It's a place where many famous people are buried - Charles Wesley is buried there, Isaac Watts the great hymnwriter, Daniel Defoe the author of Robinson Crusoe - but opposite that great graveyard is the chapel of John Wesley and a monument erected to him. Also across that road is John Wesley's house, where on March 2nd 1791 Wesley opened his eyes and exclaimed for the very last time, upon his deathbed, these words: 'The best of all is this: God is with us'. He could have said various things, but he said that the best of all is this: God is with us.
Now I want to speak to you this morning for a few moments on the meaning of 'Immanuel'. The meaning of Immanuel, of course, we know from the passage that Immanuel means 'God with us'. As Charles Wesley, John's brother, said: 'Our God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man' - God with us, God come to dwell in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. But I want to ask three questions of us all this morning - the first question is this: what did Immanuel mean to Isaiah? The second question is: what did Immanuel mean to Matthew? And the third question is: what does Immanuel mean to you?
So let's deal with the first question first all: what did Immanuel mean to Isaiah? Well, if you turn to Isaiah chapter 7 and verse 14, you find that Isaiah is speaking to the King of Judah, King Ahaz. King Ahaz was an evil man, King Ahaz was a man who was known to sacrifice his own children to false gods. So when you know the character of the man that we're dealing with here, we read this story and we realise that the Assyrian Empire, which was one of the superpowers of that day, it was increasing in its world influence and world power. And because that, Syria and Israel - those two nations which were different from Judah - Syria and Israel wanted to form a coalition with Judah in order to oppose the onslaught and the growing power of the Assyrians. They made a proposition to King Ahaz, but King Ahaz wavered. He wavered to and fro, he didn't know whether to join this coalition or not, and because of his hesitation Syria and Israel turned against him - they decided that they were going to punish him for his lukewarmness, they were going to depose him, they were going to put another King upon the throne of Judah so that they could have their way. Hearing the news that Syria and Israel were against him, King Ahaz trembled in his boots - and because of that Isaiah the prophet was sent to the King to calm him down, to give him a message of comfort, and we read that message in chapter 7 of Isaiah.
Isaiah said to him: 'Look, if you would only trust in God, Ahaz. If you would only put your faith in God, give everything into His hands, then you would be alright and God would look after you, He would take care of you'. Isaiah commanded Ahaz, he commanded him to actually test God, to actually ask God to prove this message that he was bringing, to confirm it with a sign. But Ahaz in all his pride, in all his stubbornness, he refused - he went his own way. He trusted in his own wisdom and he decided that it would be better to use men, and he went and made a treaty with another nation, with the King of Assyria - the enemies of the whole of that continent - only to have the King of Assyria break that covenant and Ahaz, as we would say today, ended up with egg on his face. But Isaiah announced to Ahaz, in verse 14, what would happen - that if he only trusted in God, if he only put his faith in God, if he ceased to move the nations like pawns on his face of the earth, as if he owned it, and he just trusted the one - as we were telling the children this morning - who has the hand that moves the world, if he would only trust God, God would send a sign. That sign would be a baby, and that child that would be born and would be conceived would be called Immanuel, he said, and he was given his name even before the child was born or even conceived. And if Ahaz would wait, and if Ahaz would have faith, when the age came that that child was able to discern right from wrong then all the bother, all the pressure, all the threat, all the onslaught from the other nations around, it would all pass away and all would be peace.
Ahaz refused to listen to the voice of God. Because of that - listen, and this is beautiful - God did not withdraw his promise just because of a King's unfaithfulness, just because of a leader's unfaithfulness. God was faithful to the remnant of those people in the nation of Judah who were faithful to Him, and He said: 'I'm going to send this child, I'm going to send this baby - whether Ahaz fails Me or not - and this child will be born, a virgin will conceive, and his name will be called Immanuel'. And there was a child born in Ahaz's day - it wasn't the Lord Jesus, but it was a child that was the sign. And when that child grew - we don't really know the name of the child, but we know that there was a child - and that child was simply this, listen: that child was to signify that the God of all grace is with His people. Have you got that? Amidst all the trial and tribulation and pressure that the nation of Judah faced, even though their King betrayed them, even though their King buckled under the pressure of human men and kings and politicians, God remained with His people. That's what Immanuel meant to Isaiah - it was a child that would be born in his day that would signify judgement upon Ahaz, judgement upon Assyria, Israel and Syria, and would signify deliverance of God's people, it would signify divine hope, God's grace, God's faithfulness in the midst of failure.
Now, this name 'Immanuel' is only found three times in the word of God: it's found here in Isaiah, then it is found again in chapter 8 and verse 8, and then it's found in Matthew 1 and verse 23. It can have two meanings in Isaiah - it can either mean that 'the birth of this child signifies God's hand on us', simply that God is looking after us, simply that God was caring for His people - or the second meaning of the word could be this: that God is not just looking after us, that God doesn't just have His hand on us and is caring for us, and is planning our greater good, but God within the birth of this child, God's very presence had come to actually dwell within the body of this child. Which meaning is it? Well, if you turn to Isaiah chapter 9 and verse 6, you see that it says: 'For unto us a child is born' - speaking of this child, Immanuel - 'unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God'. El-Gibbor, the mighty God! And the birth of this child was not simply to signify, like a badge or like a licence to God's people, that He was with them and they could produce it, they could show this child [to prove] that God was with them - but this child was more than that, this child actually signified the living presence of the eternal, mighty God with His people. And that child was born in Isaiah's day - that's what Immanuel meant to Isaiah.
The second question that I've asked is: what does Immanuel mean to Matthew? If you turn to the second reference of 'Immanuel' in Matthew's gospel chapter 1 and verse 23, you read that very famous verse: 'Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us'. What did this name 'Immanuel' mean to Matthew? What did it mean to the Jews whom Matthew was writing to? An artist once drew a picture of a winter twilight, the trees within the picture were heavily laden with snow, there was a dreary, dark house in the background that looked lonely and desolate. Right there, in the midst of the storm, all that could be seen was a dark black house shadowed with the silhouette of these trees. It was a sad picture, but then with a quick stroke - just one quick stroke - with a yellow crayon, the artist simply put in a streak of light coming from the window. The effect, it was transforming, it was magical, because the entire scene was translated into a vision of comfort, a vision of cheer. Listen this morning: that is what the name 'Immanuel' meant to Matthew, that is what the name 'Immanuel' meant to God's people, the Jews, at this time. It was like a streak of light, just into the darkness - and Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, Immanuel, another child, the second child that would be born would be the Light of the world.
The point of it is this, the point of the name Immanuel, the only time it's mentioned in the New Testament here is this: to show that - just as the first Immanuel in Isaiah chapter 7 was to signify the hope of Israel, was to signify judgement on their enemies, and deliverance and grace - so the birth of Christ, He would be Immanuel, He would signify deliverance, He would signify God's saving act among His people. The birth of both Immanuels, the first and the second, signify that God's presence is with His people through a child...a child. Was it not one of old said: '...and a child shall lead them'? Isaiah's child points to the Christ child. Isaiah's Immanuel is a picture, is a type, is a painting if you like, simply pointing a big arrow to the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, the child that was conceived in the womb of the blessed virgin Mary, that child that was conceived by the Holy Spirit that overshadowed her, that holy thing - the word of God says - that was conceived within her. It is indescribable, so much so that the Holy Spirit, when writing it down, had to say a 'holy thing'. Titus put it like this: 'For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men'. My friend, can I say to you this morning: if you're not born-again, if you've never met Jesus Christ in your life, if you've never had Him revealed to you by the Holy Spirit, if you've never been saved or if you're backslidden today - listen: do you not see your Immanuel? Do you not see that out of the darkness of your life, or your depression, or your illness, or your weariness - whatever it is - the pressures of the world that are coming in upon you, can you not see that God in His Son, in that little baby in Bethlehem, has sent Immanuel? He is testifying that He is with you! That God is for you! That He wants to save you! That His grace, His saving power, His deliverance, His act of redemption is in the midst of us today by His Son!
That's what it meant to Matthew. It was the good news - we all know it - but can we not revel in it this morning? That Christ Jesus came into the world, Immanuel, God with us, to save us from our sin! He came to save His people, didn't He? But because of the grace of God that we cannot enter into, His grace came toward us Gentiles and we have been brought into the commonwealth of God. Oh, Immanuel, what that name should mean to us this morning! What it meant to Isaiah: the deliverance of this child. What it meant to Matthew: the deliverance of the Son of God into the world. But what does it mean to you? What does Immanuel mean to you? Did not men desire a God that they could sympathise with? Do we not desire a God that we can empathise in, and we know that He sympathises with us? Do we not want to love a representation of Him - and that's why we have some people in our world that want to fix their affections, want to fix their spiritual feelings, upon objects like pictures and idols and so forth, because they want to lavish and direct their spiritual affections toward things - they want to see something! But God is invisible, and through all the eras of time men couldn't do that, they couldn't direct their spiritual affections towards an object, so God stooped. Listen - and I speak reverently, and I have to be careful this morning - but God stooped to become an object! God, who was not an object, became substance that we might see Him, as John says: that we might touch Him, that we might worship Him, that we might hear Him. What a wonderful stoop this was! Yet He took upon Himself form, He took upon Himself nature - yet that was the desire of man: to have an object to vent their affections upon - yet they rejected Him! They'd got what they wanted really, but they rejected Him.
Did men not get tired of worshipping invisible things? For the Bible says, in the book of Romans, that: they changed the glory of God into an image made like corruptible things. In order that He had an outward form, He became man - so that He could be seen of us, so that He could be touched and our hands could handle Him. But the Bible says that He was the express image of the Father, He was like the rubber stamp of God, He was His image, He was His expression - if you could take a photograph of God, it would be the Lord Jesus Christ, Immanuel would be what you'd see! He was the living form of God, yet man shut their eyes to Him. They wanted to see God, but when they saw God they shut their eyes to God, they refused to acknowledge the glory that shined from Him to them.
Do men not want to converse with God? What is a priest? A priest is a person that goes to God for men. And that's what had to happen: they had to have a special man, a holy man, to go to God for them and to worship God for them and to offer sacrifices for them - they couldn't go to God directly, they couldn't talk to Him, they couldn't give Him gifts or worship without someone in between. And man just... did he not want to speak to God? So what did God do? God put Christ, His Son, the word of God, into human flesh [so] that we could speak with Him - yet we rejected Him. To be without God in the world is to be in the most wretched state imaginable. To have God against us in the world is to tremble - surely it is to be fearful! But listen this morning, believers and unbelievers alike take joy in this: to have God with us is to have everything!
You see the army today, the army - perhaps the last stand - and they're going into the battle, and one by one those young men get struck down by cannons and by bullets, by explosions and by the bare hands of men - and still for their country they run into battle, one after one continually falling. They're failing, they're losing - but suddenly from the back, from the camp there is a cry that is shouted across the field and it's this: 'The General has come! The King is with us!'. There's many a battle where the tables have been turned because of a voice such as that. Can I ask you this morning, Christian friend: are you a Christian soldier? Are you weary, are you tired? Do you feel the pressure and the pain of the world and the temptations that the world brings, and all of the pressure that we have in this age that we live in? Do you feel it roughly? Do you feel it when you see the gospel of Christ trodden into the ground? When we see less movement nearly than ever, when we see a church that disregards the place of prayer - saint, old soldier do you feel the pressure? Listen this morning: there is the cry of a King among us - for God is with us! God is with us!
When you see the child on the boat, he's sailing on the sea - and a storm comes on to the ocean, and that boat is tossed to and fro, and people are hanging over the edges, feeling sick and even fearing for their life, and the captain doesn't know what to do - but this little child is calm, this little child is at peace. Why? Because the child has its Daddy with it. My friend this morning, are you going through the storms of life? Are you going through the storms of sickness or bereavement or pain? Are you going through the storms of loneliness or desertion? Whatever storms you're going through, listen today: God is with us! God, Immanuel, He has come not just to put His hand on us, not just to say 'Well done' and give us a pat on the back and push us forward - but He has come to stay, He has come to dwell, He has come to reside with us!
Many a man has emigrated, left these shores to Australia, or South Africa, or America - and we often think, when we hear of one who emigrates, how lonely it must be to leave family, to leave friends and loved ones, perhaps never to see them again. But what it is when we hear that: no, he's not going alone, in fact his whole family is going with him, in fact everyone, all his relations are all emigrating to that place - that's different, isn't it? It would be lonely to be on your own. Maybe you're on your own today, maybe you're on your own in life, you've been left on your own - but listen my friend, no matter where you are, no matter how lonely you are, no matter how you feel, no matter where you are in your life, listen: God is with you! For the soldier in the battle: Christ Jesus, Immanuel, is the Captain of our salvation. For the fatherless child, for the orphan: He is the everlasting Father. For the lonely one: He is the omnipotent Companion that is with us wherever we go, whatever we do. For the sick, for the lonely, for the deserted, for those going through the valley of death - listen to this word my friends today: Immanuel...God...with...us! He is with us! Us! He took upon Himself our nature, He took upon Himself our being, our feelings, our emotions so that He would know what we go through. So that He could empathise, so that He could sympathise - He was God with us, but He was God! He was God with us! You think of His condescension, that He had such glory, such beauty, such splendour - yet He came down and He left it all, He was true God yet true God became true man...and he became God with us! He became God at our side.
There's a picture in Milan of a little cherub - you know, a little angel - who is feeling one of the points of the crown of thorns with her finger. There is a look of wonder and amazement upon her face. She has been told that it means agony, it means pain, but she cannot feel it. To her it's so incomprehensible, because she belongs to a different world, she belongs to a world that has never experienced pain, she was never born into the conditions in which the Son of Man was born, where there was sin, where there was suffering, where there was sacrifice. But Immanuel is God with us - and God did not send an angel, but He sent His Son, He sent Himself and He took upon Himself our flesh, that He might suffer that when we suffer He might know what we go through, He might empathise, He might comfort, He might succour us.
Benjamin Warfield - and I finish with this - said these words: 'The glory of the incarnation is that it presents to our adoring gaze, not a humanised God or a deified man, but a true God-man - one who is all that God is and at the same time all that man is - and that means this: one on whose almighty arms we can rest and to whose human sympathy we can appeal'. Your wife can sympathise with you, but oh what it is to have the Almighty God to sympathise with us. Whatever your need is this morning, let this word sink into your mind and your heart: Immanuel, God is with us.
Our Father, we thank Thee today that Thou didst not send us an angel, Thou didst not send us a message but Thou sent us Thy only Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, and clothed Him in human flesh that He might suffer with us, that He might empathise in our sorrows and in our testing - and Lord, that He might save us and deliver us from our sin. Lord, we thank Thee for Him today, we rejoice in Immanuel - that God is with us - and if God be for us, who can be against us. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at Portadown Baptist Church, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the tape, titled "Immanuel - God With Us" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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