EMMANUEL MEANS GOD WITH US—BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

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It’s the season once again to celebrate the birth of Christ the King.  To countless others, it’s an opportunity to give and receive gifts.  For still others, this season is cause for depression—a holiday reminding them of broken families and shattered dreams.  Again, to others the meaning of Christmas is not important, what’s vital is getting together with friends and loved ones, to enjoy a warm meal, pound down a few cold ones, and take the inebriation experience to the next level.

Last Thursday night I went to see my nephew Kai, perform before a live audience of proud parents, relatives, and friends.  The spectacle was celebrating the birth of Jesus with children’s voices filling the auditorium.  Through song and “sermonette”, emphasis was given to the name “Emmanuel” which translated means “God with us”.  The way it was emphasized perhaps missed the gravity of the reality.  Here’s what I mean.

When the emphasis is made that God is with “us”, with “me”, in “my heart”, through Jesus, while true, it can often miss the deeper, more basic reality of what it means for “Emmanuel” to be with us.

For God to be with us, implies that He is present, He is there; He is here.  It’s one of God’s attributes that no other creature can share.  Unlike His holiness which he promises to share with His people, God’s omnipresence is peculiar only to Him.  It means that God is everywhere, at all times, in all places, and simultaneously being non-spatially extended, incapable of being circumscribed because He is not physical, but immaterial.  God is spirit.

For God to be with us, also implies that He is present to lavish divine kindness toward His creatures.   This He does in many ways ultimately by rescuing God haters and transforming them into lovers of the Creator.

For God to be with us also means that he is present to punish the wicked.  Unwittingly, many think that Hell (i.e., the punishment awaiting the unrighteous who reject Jesus of Nazareth as the promised Messiah and only Savior of humanity from sins and death’s grip) is the absence of God’s presence, but that’s impossible in light of God’s omnipresence.  My understanding is that what makes Hell, Hell, is God’s wrathful presence equitably distributed to each individual.

Theologically, this term is pregnant with meaning.  It speaks of the incarnation (i.e., the orthodox doctrine that Jesus is Fully God and Fully Man) which is foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews, but to the called, Christ Jesus is both the wisdom of God and the power of God.  What makes Jesus different from all other figures of history (philosophers, educators, statesmen, “religious” figures, builders, etc.) is that he claimed to be the self-existent, uncreated Creator who upholds all of creation by the word of his power.  That’s who Emmanuel is.

The mystery of the babe in the manger who became a real human being without relinquishing his divine nature is the mystery being proclaimed through Christmas Carols, Children’s Choirs and this Holiday season.  Does Emmanuel mean that Jesus is in my heart?  Yes, but in this shallow theological era which we are presently experiencing in the history of the church, opportunities come once a year where the wonder of Emmanuel can be explained in a way that brings out the nuances explained above.

Why “go so deep” one may opine.  Keep it simple stupid.  I think there’s a place for that, but when we keep it so simple that we help people remain stupid about our amazing Savior, I don’t see Jesus honored, but belittled.  May Emmanuel, God with us, never become dull, but may the wonder of the Incarnation (Jesus Fully God/Man) ever be the hope of the church, and the rescue for clueless rebels who are a vapor away from eternity.

Summary From CHAPTER SEVEN: THE GOD WHO BECAME A HUMAN BEING [Pages 101-119]

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Carson begins this chapter by first pointing out that before Jesus was born, the prophet Jeremiah promised a new covenant.  What this promise implicitly says about the old (Mosaic) covenant is that in some sense, it is becoming obsolete (Jer. 31:31-34):

31 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.33 “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Secondly, Carson explains how in Jesus God became human.  For starters, “Jesus’” name means “Yahweh saves.”  This is the covenant name of God given to Moses at Sinai.  The importance of this name in Mathew’s gospel is that it sets forth the entire theme of the book; namely that Yahweh has come to save his people from their sins (in Christ).

He then explains the doctrine of the Trinity to mean that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are God.  Not three Gods, only one.  One way of explaining this, is that the Word shares one substance with the Father, but is distinguishable from Him.  That is, there are three distinct persons within the Godhead who are equally the One God, co-existing, co-equal, and co-eternal.

In John’s prologue (John 1:1-18) it’s clear that the “Word” is simultaneously God’s own peer and God’s own self?  In verse 1 this is emphatic: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  God reveals, himself to the prophets through his word; God creates through the spoken word in (Gen.1; Ps.33:6); God transforms his people through the word (Ps. 107:20), and Jesus is God’s self-revelation, self-expression; God’s own agent in creation; and he comes to save and transform his people.

Thirdly, Carson explains what the incarnation means.  It means that the Word becomes a human being (i.e., the infleshing). God becomes something that previously before the incarnation, he was not.  What John does not say is that the Word merely clothed himself in animal humanity, pretended to be human, coexisted with a man called Jesus, nor is all of God exhausted in Jesus.  But John does say that the Word (God’s own peer) became a human being.  Jesus is the “God/Man.  God in his divinity cannot change, but in Christ’s humanity there’s a distinct addition: a human nature.  This is mind baffling.

Fourthly, Carson makes the connection between the Old Testament Tabernacle and New Testament incarnation.  He does this by thematically connecting John 1:14-18 on the one hand and Exodus 32-34 on the other hand.  He explains that the Tabernacle and Temple, point to the fact that Jesus is the ultimate meeting place between a holy God and rebellious sinners.  He is said to have “tabernacled among us”.  This is where the meeting place of peace with God can be found in Jesus Christ.

Glory is what Moses wanted to see of God on Sinai, but when Jesus tabernacled among us the wonder of his glory, God’s glory, is seen in the miracles and ultimately on Calvary’s tortuous bloody cross.   Grace and Truth (Love and Faithfulness) God reveals himself not only as the One who punishes evil doers but is also kind and forgiving.  Full of grace and truth is that which brought him to the cross to pay for our sins.  Here is where justice and love kiss!

Grace and Law means that we have received grace in place of grace already given.  The gracious gift of the Law was superseded by the ultimate revelatory expression of God in the 2nd person of the Triune God who through his sacrificial death on Calvary’s bloody cross purchased the redemption price required for wrath doomed sinners to be rescued and thus adopted into God’s family.  It’s found in the new covenant, which replaces the old covenant.

Seeing God can only be accomplished through seeing Jesus. We cannot look directly on God, according to John 1:18.  What is at present, the closest we can come?  Presently, we can see the character, holiness, wrath, forgiveness and glory of God in Jesus.  He is the ultimate revelation of God the Father—he is the incarnate son of God.

And as such, Jesus most spectacularly showed that he is full of grace and truth on the cross.  Both God’s justice and love are fully expressed there.  This field will forever be marveled on by the redeemed age without end.