Immanuel: God Among Us
I. Her Pregnancy, His Presence
If you met a man named, “Little John”, you might quickly assume that this individual somehow resembled the famous character from the Robin Hood stories, right? Apparently confirming that idea, his friends do describe him and feisty and strong. But what if, in meeting this gentleman, you noticed that he was, on a good day, around five feet tall? But moreover, what if, in talking with this gentleman, you discovered that his father was often called 'Big John'? What might you conclude about his name? Well, you might conclude that there were multiple reasons he was called “Little John”.
I believe something similar is true about the name Immanuel. As we learned last time, “Immanuel” is only mentioned three times in the Bible. The first two occurrences of this name appear in the book of Isaiah. There the name, which means “God with us” or “God is with us”, [the name] clearly communicates the idea that God is behind his people 110%, or as we might say, that God 'has their backs'.
But listen to the fuller context of the third occurrence of this name, in Matthew 1:23. This is what we read, starting in verse 20:
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).
Now, at first, there's no reason to believe that the birth of Jesus isn't simply a sign confirming the same idea we find in Isaiah, that is, that God is present with his people in order to protect and prosper them. But if we look carefully at Matthew 1:20, we find a stunning phrase: “...do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” This amazing declaration is expanded upon in the Gospel of Luke, where another angel declares, this time to Mary herself... (Luke 1:35)...
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.”
In addition to that verse, yet another Gospel, the Gospel of John, describes how the pre-existent “Word” who was not only “with God” at the beginning, but “was God” (John 1:1) how this “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)
Now consider the implications of all this for the name Immanuel, which means, “God with us”.
Do you see? With all this in mind, the name seems to point to the idea that Jesus was (as John described it) God among us; not simply in terms of being present with us, but as one of us; that He was counted among us... as a human being. We call this event, this reality, the Incarnation. It simply means, Jesus took on flesh. But why? Why? Why would deity put on humanity? Let's dig into that question by looking together this morning at Hebrews 2.
II. The Passage: "Since... the Children Share in Flesh and Blood" (2:5-18)
In Hebrews 2, verses 5-18, we find an amazing section in which the writer speaks to that very question, in a variety of ways. Now before we work through this passage, let me tell you something about the context, specifically, about what came before these verses. Only a few verses into chapter 1 the author begins to address the issue of the Son's, that is, Jesus' superiority to the angels. In First Century Judaism angels were 'all the rage'. People mistakenly believed that if they could invoke by name or communicate with angels, they would gain secret spiritual knowledge and have power over evil spirits.
This is precisely why the author of Hebrews seeks to show the superiority of Jesus Christ. Why turn to angels (and false ideas about angels) when we have something so much better. But keep that in mind as tackle our central question: why did deity take on humanity? Why did God become a man in the person of Jesus... Immanuel? Well, in light of this passage, I think we can say that deity took on humanity in order to...
1. To Fulfill Humanity (vs. 5-9a)
Look with me at Hebrews 2, verse 5 through the first part of verse 9. We read...
For it was not to angels that God subjected the world to come, of which we are speaking.  It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him?  You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor,  putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him.  But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
Now this passage can be a little confusing, but here's what you need to know. When the writer says in verse 6, “it has been testified somewhere”, he's referring to Psalm 8, quoted here in verses 6-8. In Psalm 8, David is referring to “man”, that is, to human beings in general, and how we were created to have dominion over the earth; to reign as God's deputies; His vice-regents.
But did you notice that as we get a little deeper into verse 8, it seems like the author is talking about someone more specific than human beings in general. And when we get to verse 9, that sense is confirmed. The writer makes it clear that he's also talking about Jesus. How was the exalted Son made a “little lower than the angels”? By becoming a man. But as the author indicates here, in taking on our humanity, God the Son, in the person of Jesus, has and will fulfill God's design for human beings in a way we never could. You see, our dominion in this world and our glory as those made in God's image have been tainted by our sin; by our 'me-centeredness'. But Jesus is different. As we read in chapter 7, he is “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners”.
Thus, as God the Son in human flesh, there's (v. 8) “nothing outside his control” (even angels); similarly, even though (v. 8) at present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him, one day, that will all change. As Paul describes that day: ...that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth... (Phil. 2:10) This is God's plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth. (Eph. 1:10)
So Immanuel became like us that we might become like him; to be what we were always meant to be; exalted man coming sent for fallen man, the we might be exalted through Him. That idea of a sinless man is central our second point. Deity took on humanity in order to...
2. To Deliver Humanity (vs. 9a-15)
Look with me at the rest of verse 9, and going all the way down to verse 15...
But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.  For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.  For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers,  saying,“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”  And again, “I will put my trust in him.” And again, “Behold, I and the children God has given me.”  Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,  and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.
Now, there's a lot in this passage that we simply don't have time to work through. The main thing I hope you noticed is that the writer is explicit here about why Jesus (v. 14) “partook of the same things”, that is, why he also “share[s] in flesh and blood”. He did this so that he might (v. 9) “taste death for everyone”. The problem of human death could only be solved through a human death; specifically, through the death of the God-man Jesus Christ. But how?
Notice in verse 9 that Jesus was “crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death”. We also see that Jesus is called (v. 10) “the founder of their salvation”. These ideas of his suffering, our salvation, and his exaltation are later explained in 12:2. There we learn about: Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
It was on the cross that Jesus, partly because of his humanity, was able to deliver humanity. Chapter 2, verses 14 and 15 reveal that through his death, Jesus, the spotless Lamb, destroyed the devil's grip on us. He did that by freeing us from the “fear of death”. Only when a man could put death to death, could all men experience that same victory. That leads us right into the idea of Jesus' resurrection and a final point. Why did deity take on humanity? In order to...
3. To Serve Humanity (vs. 16-18)
Look with me at the final verses of this chapter. Listen to what this passage tells us about the risen Jesus and why God the Son became a human being. We read in verse 16...
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham.  Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
The Son's mission was not to save angels. It was to save human beings. That's why He became a human being. But as we see here, His humanity is critical not only in terms of fulfilling humanity and delivering humanity, but also right now, in serving humanity; specifically, in serving as our (v. 17) “merciful and faithful high priest”.
As we just read, His priestly work began on the cross, where he made “propitiation for the sins of the people” (that's a sacrifice that satisfies God's wrath against sin). But that priestly work continues today. Look again at how verse 18 explains the significance of his humanity in terms of his ministry: because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. This is how Jesus was (v. 17) “made like his brothers in every respect”. He is not only in terms of his cells. He is human in terms of his suffering.
He understands what it means to be tempted. He understands what it means to fight against sinful desires. He understands how hard life can be. As the writer goes on to explain in 4:15, For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
III. The Gift of Immanuel
Let's stop and summarize what we've learned from Hebrews 2. We asked, “If Immanuel means 'God with us' in the sense that God was among us, as one of us, then why exactly was this Incarnation necessary? Why was it necessary for deity to take on our humanity?” Well, as we've seen in this passage, it was necessary in order to fulfill humanity, to deliver humanity, and to serve humanity.
Christmas is a time for gifts, isn't it. As a kid, like most kids, that's all I ever thought about Christmas: presents! Gifts! But in one sense, that's exactly right. The very first Christmas was about God giving us an incomparable gift, one that, as we've seen this morning, was and is exactly what we needed. Immanuel is the greatest Christmas gift anyone could receive. Which naturally leads to the question, “Have you?” Have you received Immanuel?
Consider my wallet for a moment. There are many Christmas gifts I've received that eventually end up on a high shelf, or under a bed, or in a box headed to Goodwill. But the times I've received a wallet as a Christmas gift, it is always a gift that immediately has everyday significance. I take it everywhere I go. Maybe you have a gift like that as well. Shouldn't Immanuel be that kind of gift?
Sometimes, people receive, or believe they have received, God's gift, but then Jesus is set aside. We think, “How wonderful! Forgiveness! Heaven!”, but then we move on with our lives. Have you done that? Have you set Jesus aside... in the everyday... in your deepest affections and most urgent priorities? If you have, listen to how the author of Hebrews encourages us, hwo God encourages us, in terms of a right response to such an amazing gift, the gift of Immanuel. I call these the 'let us' exhortations. No, not lettuce like Romaine or Iceberg. “Let us”. We read...
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (4:14, 16 )
...let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean...  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works... [10:22-24]
...let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,  looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith...  Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe... [12:1, 2, 28]
Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. [13:15]
And if you have not received the gift of Immanuel, you can this morning. Consider how what we've learned today sets the Christian faith apart from every other religion, philosophy, and belief system on the planet. I heard a good description from David Platt this week. He described a recent trip, when he was in a foreign country with with others who were of different faiths: someone who was Muslim, someone who was Hindu, and someone was Buddhist. They were all talking together and one of the gentleman was saying, “Well, ultimately we all believe in the same thing. We simply have different paths to get to the same God.”
To this idea David simply said “Well, it sounds to me like you're saying that God is kind of like someone at the top of a mountain, and that all of us are taking different paths up that mountain to get to him. But in the end we'll all end up in the same place.” And those with him said, “That's a great way to put it. Exactly.” But David interjected: “But that's not what Christians believe. Christians believe that the God on top of the mountain came down to us; that He came down to us in our desperate place of need at the bottom. And he did so in order that he might carry us up to the top; that he might bring us to a place of life and fullness, through no power of our own, but simply by trusting him to do a work.”
This is the Christmas message: that Jesus Christ came down, to become like us so that wonderfully, we might become like him... by grace, through faith. Have you received the gift of Immanuel? And if you have, is it, is He, truly making a difference in your life every single day? If you've truly received it, it should be. It has everyday significance, just like my wallet... far bigger than my wallet, of course. The richness of God given to us poor sinners. Amen? Amen! Let's celebrate. Let's give thanks to God for Immanuel, “God with us”.