Immanuel: God Behind Us
I. Also Known As?
When you talk about Jesus, which title or titles do you prefer? Do you use the term “Lord” more often than not? Or how about “Christ”? Or maybe you like to tell others about the “Savior”. I've heard some also use “King”, “Redeemer”, and “Master” on a somewhat regular basis.
But as we enter the Advent/Christmas season, consider the title given to Jesus in Matt. 1:22, 23
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').
Immanuel. Is that a title you've used of Jesus... with any kind of regularity... even beyond the month of December? If you're like me, then the answer is “no”. The interesting thing about this name is that we don't find it anywhere else in the NT. That might explain why most of us don't often refer to Christ as “Immanuel”.
But maybe that should change. Why? Well, all this month, I'd like to show you how, even though the name is used only once in the NT, the idea behind Immanuel is everywhere in Scripture. My hope is to help you understand the richness, the depth, the beauty of this title... so that you'll never hear it again the same way. Sound good?
Well, I can't think of a better place to start this study than with the Old Testament verse that Matthew quotes In chapter 1 of his Gospel. That verse is Isaiah 7:14. Turn there if you would.
II. The Passage: "The Lord Himself Will Give You a Sign" (7:10-17)
Instead of looking at just verse 14, let's take a slightly larger 'bite'; that way we can get a better handle on the context of this chapter. So let's look together at verses 10-17. Now, it's important to know before we dig into this passage that we are reading about a conversation, about an incident, that took place over 700 years before the birth of Jesus. Listen as I read the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah, that is, God's word through him. 7:10-17...
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz:  “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”  And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.  The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria!”
So clearly there's more going on here than we understand at this point. Let's see if we can make sense of things by thinking about three aspects of the text. For example, consider with me...
1. The Situation: Two Kings You Dread (vs. 15-17)
Did you catch that bit in verse 16 about how “the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted”? What exactly is being referred to there? Well, here's a quick summary:
King Ahaz, a king from the family of David, a king over the southern kingdom of Judah, King Ahaz and his kingdom had no interest in being part of an political/military alliance with two other neighboring kingdoms, one being their brothers in the northern kingdom of Israel, and the other being Syria. These two kingdoms were forming an alliance to resist the neighborhood "super-power", known as Assyria.
So because Judah and her king did not want to go along with the plan, Syria and Israel were going to kill Ahaz and replace him with a puppet king who would do what they wanted.
But Ahaz had a plan: he wanted to curry favor with Assyria in order to get their protection. We might call his strategy the 'take the biggest bully on the block a plate of cookies so he'll protect you from the smaller bullies' plan.
But there was one major problem with the plan: where was God in this equation? You see, God wanted to give Ahaz an even more certain promise of protection. Thus he graciously invites Ahaz to ask for...
2. The Sign: The Virgin Shall... Bear a Son (vs. 10-14a)
Look again at verse 10: Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz:  “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”
God wants to reassure Ahaz, doesn't he? That's why he's inviting the king to ask for any sign, anything at all, that will let him know everything will be okay. But Ahaz resorts to a kind of false piety. Do you see that in verse 11? "I will not put Yahweh to the test". But even though verse 13 reveals Isaiah's frustration, God remains gracious. He still provides Judah with a sign.
Verse 14: the sign God will give will be a child. We read that a “virgin”, in Hebrew, simply an unmarried young woman, will have a baby, and she will call that baby Immanuel, which in Hebrew means "God with us" or “God is with us”. How would Ahaz know about this pregnancy? Well, we're not told. Our best guess is that this young woman was a member of Ahaz's household. While there is no indication in the text that this pregnancy will be supernatural, it will be unusual since the woman is unmarried. But why this sign? Why a baby?
Well, chapters 7 through 12 in this book of Isaiah all seem to be connected. And one of the themes that you find all over this section is the significance of children being born. Some children (two being sons of Isaiah) simply have names that are in and of themselves messages from God. But another child, an unnamed child mentioned in chapter 9, seem to be much more important. We heard part of this earlier. This is from Isaiah 9:6, 7...
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
So it seems as if these many births are ultimately pointing to one birth! But let's not get ahead of ourselves. When it comes to this child, and the name, “Immanuel”, we still need to understand...
3. The Significance: God is With Us (v. 14b)
Why “Immanuel”? Well, the baby's name was a confirmation that God was with his people and would not abandon them to these two kings. In fact, as we read in verse 16, by the time little Immanuel was weaned and was learning right from wrong (maybe about three years), by that time, Israel and Syria would both be in ruin... deserted. But, as the prophet tells us, Assyria was still coming: not as a protector, but as conqueror. Judah could rest easy for now, but they were not off the hook.
But when it comes to the name “Immanuel”, it's important to remember what the OT tells us about the idea of God being “with” someone. Remember, “the Lord was with Joseph” (Gn. 39:2); “the Lord was with Joshua” (Josh. 6:27); “the Lord was with Samuel” (I Samuel 3:19); “the Lord was with David” (I Samuel 18:28); of Solomon it was said: “God was with him” (II Chronicles 1:1); we even read about Hezekiah, the son of Ahaz, that “the Lord was with him” (II Kings 18:7).
In one of my favorite psalms, Psalm 46, this refrain is repeated in verses 7 and 11: The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
And in the second half of Isaiah, we discover these incredibly reassuring words in 41:8–10...
But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend;  you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, “You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off”;  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.
Do you see why the name of Isaiah 7:14 is so important? The reassurance that God was with them communicated the idea that God was behind them, or as we might say, that God 'had their backs'; that He supported them; that He was present to protect... and provide... and prosper.
Could there be a more beautiful name? Immanuel: God is with us!
III. If God is With Us
Do you understand why Matthew referenced this verse? He saw that Isaiah 7:14 was (pardon the expression) pregnant with much more meaning than its initial fulfillment seemed to indicate. The reassuring promise of "God with us" given to the house of David would only be 'fully fulfilled' when the coming king from David's house would rescue his people, not from their political adversaries, but from the power of sin and death.
Yes, there was a little boy named Immanuel who was born 700 years earlier. But only Jesus Christ can fully be called “Immanuel”.
Let's think about why in light of this idea of “God behind us”. As I mentioned at the outset, even the title is never repeated in the NT, the ideas it convey are everywhere. One of those places is Romans 8:31–39. Turn there if you would. Listen to how the Apostle Paul speaks about this reassuring, this comforting, this confidence-inspiring idea of “God behind us”, or as Paul expresses it, “God for us”. Verse 31...
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us [if God is with us and stands behind us; if God 'has our backs'], who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,  nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Just as God spoke his tailor-made word through the prophet to an ancient king, he still speaks today. Are you listening? He has a tailor-made word for you this morning. In fact it's the same message he gave to Ahaz: “I will give you a sign... Immanuel... God is with you.” What did Paul tell us about our 'sign'? Verse 34: “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised... “
Did you notice how every ounce of reassurance in this passage, in Romans 8:31-39 is inextricably tied to Jesus Christ? He alone makes it possible for us to have certainty that we are forgiven and right with God. And even more, that we are (v. 33) “God's elect”, that we are chosen children. Thus Jesus is rightly called “Immanuel”, because he makes certain that God will always be present with us to spiritually protect, provide, and prosper... or to put in another way, that “God is for us”.
In what ways do we as a church need this encouragement this morning, to know that God is with us as a people? What about you personally? How do you need that reassurance this morning? Struggling on this inside? Struggling outside... with others... with difficult circum-stances? Believer, hear God's word to you: because of Jesus, God is with you. What fear are you fighting to overcome? Remember, because of Jesus, God is with you. How is uncertainty hampering his work through you to others? Be encouraged: because of Jesus, God is with you.
How many times have you had the confidence you needed to accomplish something scary or hard because you knew that a parent, a friend, a coach, a manager, a spouse, was standing with you, was fully supporting you, was behind you 110%? How much more then should “God with us” inspire godly confidence in us, that we might live for Him, giving 110%?
Maybe this morning, even though you've trusted in Christ as both Savior and Lord, you don't feel like God is with you in this way. Or maybe you're unsure about your relationship with God... but you desperately want the soul-comforting reassurance we've been talking about. Wherever you are this morning, would you take some time this morning and ask God to help you know Immanuel... to help you experience Immanuel... to help you cling to Immanuel? Let's do that even now, thanking God for his reassuring word, secured for us in Christ. Let's pray.