In this lesson we consider the miraculous nature of “Immanuel”—the very presence of God in human form, incarnated as a Baby in Bethlehem.
The real story of Christmas is God becoming a man so that He could reveal Himself and reveal His love to all mankind. It is the very essence of the Gospel. It is the glad tidings of great joy which the angels spoke about on the hillside outside of Bethlehem.
- The Mystery of Immanuel
- The Meaning of Immanuel
- We Have the Confidence to Face the Challenges of Life
- We Are Certain that Our Prayers Are Heard and Understood
- We Have the Courage to Serve Him in Difficult Places
Seldom is this truth ever discussed at Christmastime. Yet it is one of the central doctrines of the Word of God. John the Apostle wrote in John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.”
In what some consider to be a hymn from the early church, we read of this great mystery in the Book of Philippians: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bond-servant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:5–8).
And writing in more formal tones in the Book of Galatians, Paul put it this way: “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law” (Galatians 4:4).
The Prophet Isaiah predicted that the day would come when God would visit His people just like this; that the Son of God would come and confine Himself to a human body; and that His sacrificial love in doing that would forever remind them of His great compassion for their lost estate. Isaiah prophesied, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
And Matthew, in his gospel narrative of the birth of Christ, picked up what Isaiah had prophesied, and used it in application to the Lord Jesus. Listen to his words: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us’ ” (Matthew 1:23).
There is an old poet who has presented the Son of God as having the stars for His crown, and the sky for His mantle, and the clouds for His bow, and the fire for His spear. And he rode forth in His majestic robes of glory, but one day He resolved in conference with His Father that He would come to earth, and He shed all of His clothes on the way. The stars were gone, the sky was gone, the clouds were divested. When He was asked what He would wear when He got to the earth, He replied with a smile that He had new clothes in the making down below, and those clothes were the clothes of humanity, the robes of flesh and blood. And with this new wardrobe He was given a new name, and that name was Immanuel.
The Mystery of Immanuel
Of all the names of the Lord Jesus that were given to Him for His time on this earth, this one is my favorite. His name is Immanuel, which being translated is “God with us.”
As Christians, we sometimes feel that in order to really appreciate our faith, we need to understand everything about it. But the more I study the Gospel, the more I become aware of the vastness of truth that I do not comprehend. The one thing I will never comprehend is God becoming a man. But I must not put myself in a corner and say that in order for me to appreciate and believe it, I must completely comprehend it. There always must be something mysterious about the God who created the heavens and the earth. Paul seemed almost overcome by the thought of it when writing to his young friend Timothy. In 1 Timothy 3:16 he wrote, “And without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifested in the flesh.” Paul was saying to young Timothy, “I can’t explain this. But let me just tell you this. There is no controversy at all about it. Without controversy, great is the mystery.”
Isn’t it wonderful to be able to pause for a moment and reflect on the mystery and the wonder of our God? Wondering at the Christ Child. Wondering at Immanuel. Wondering at God manifested in the flesh. God became a man—like your neighbor, like you, like me.
Writer after writer has tried to help us understand the majestic mystery of God manifested in the flesh. For instance, C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, wrote these words: “The second person in God, the Son, became human Himself: was born into the world as an actual man—a real man of a particular height, with hair of a particular color, speaking a particular language, weighing so many pounds. The Eternal Being, who knows everything and who created the whole universe, became not only a man but (before that) a baby, and before that a fetus inside a woman’s body.”
- W. Tozer, the great Alliance preacher, was also overwhelmed by this thought. He wrote: “The coming of Jesus Christ into this world represents a truth more profound than any philosophy. All of the great thinkers of the world together could never have produced anything even remotely approaching the wonder and profundity disclosed in the message of these words … He came … The words are wiser than all learning. Understood in their high spiritual context, they are more eloquent than all oratory, more lyric and moving than all music. They tell us that all of mankind, sitting in darkness, has been visited by the Light of the World!”
Finally, Frederick Buechner adds, “The claim that Christianity makes for Christmas is that at a particular time and place God came to be with us Himself. When Quirinius was governor of Syria, in a town called Bethlehem, a child was born who, beyond the power of anyone to account for, was the high and lofty One made low and helpless. The One who inhabits eternity comes to dwell in time. The One whom none can look upon and live—is delivered in a stable under the soft, indifferent gaze of cattle. The Father of all mercies puts Himself at our mercy.”
If one of us were God, is that the way we would have done it? Would we have made that plan to rescue lost mankind? Would we have sent the Redeemer in a manger, wrapped in strips of swaddling cloth? Would we have had Him born in a stable built for animals? Would we have had His first visitors be the hated shepherds of the hillside? It is a mystery beyond mysteries, a story written by the finger of God, and one that we will never comprehend. But it is also one that we should always appreciate.
The Meaning of Immanuel
The reason why Immanuel is such a precious name to all of us who know Him is that we understand the meaning of it. We may never comprehend the mystery of it, but we understand the meaning of it. God with us.
God is not distant. He is here, with us. He is not unapproachable, unreachable. He has reached down to us through His Son, the Lord Jesus. He has revealed Himself to us in the only kind of persons we know—human persons. He became one of us so that we could know Him, so that we could know how much He loves us.
What Christmas reveals to us is that we have a God who has condescended in the midst of our suffering, and He has come to help us and share with us and enable us to face it and conquer it. The Christmas name of our Lord reminds us of this wonderful truth: His name shall be called Immanuel. God with us.
We Have the Confidence to Face the Challenges of Life
We all face challenges in life, and we are so wonderfully blessed to be able to open the Bible and read there of a Savior who has come to be one of us. And because He is with us, He is able to encourage us in every manner of test and challenge we may ever face. Consider:
- Hebrews 13:5–6: “Let your conduct be without covetousness; and be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ ”
- Psalm 27:1: “The Lord is my light and my salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid?”
- Psalm 118:6: “The Lord is on my side, I will not fear; What can man do to me?”
- Isaiah 43:2–3: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I gave Egypt for your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in your place.”
God with us. Because God is with us, we have the confidence to face the challenges of life.
We Are Certain that Our Prayers are Heard and Understood
Sometimes, if we do not know what the Bible says, we wonder if God really even comprehends what we are praying. Aren’t you glad that when you pray you have someone who hears and understands you and knows what you feel? Why does Christ know that? Because the One to whom you address your prayers is Immanuel, the One who is God with us.
Listen to what the Book of Hebrews says concerning Immanuel: “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15–16).
When you go to the Lord God in prayer through Jesus Christ, and you tell Him your need, He is Immanuel who has been in every place you have been. He knows every need you have. He knows every burden you bear. He knows every sorrow you have felt. And He has borne those burdens and those sorrows to their ultimate. And you can pray with confidence because He is Immanuel.
We Have the Courage to Serve Him in Difficult Places
How do you continue to serve God? Of course, some might say, “What do you mean? I’m not in the ministry.” But the truth is that every Christian is in the ministry. You may not be formally ordained, but if you are a Christian, you are serving God. (And if you are not serving God, why aren’t you?)
Every believer serves God. And some serve God in some very difficult places. The place God has called us to serve is 90 percent pagan. The place where God has called us to serve puts us in an extreme minority. No one else gives any credence to our faith, yet we have been called of God to serve there.
Christianity is not about religion. It is about a relationship. If you have a relationship with Jesus Christ and you are serving Him in a tough place, my friend, you better know Immanuel. Because you can’t do that by yourself. You have to have God with you. It has always been that way.
When God spoke to Moses and told him that he was being commissioned to lead the people out of Egypt, Moses had all kinds of excuses. Remember all of that list of excuses he gave to God. But listen to what God said to him in Exodus 4:12: “Go, and I will be with your mouth, and teach you what you shall say.”
Moses got them out of Egypt, then it was time for Joshua to get them into Canaan. They were going to have to face the giants of the land of Canaan, the most pagan people of that time. Obviously Joshua was frightened. But he got his commission from God in Joshua 1:9: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
He is the Immanuel who goes with you when you have been called to serve in a tough place.
And then there was Jeremiah, commissioned to go to a stubborn people with a message of judgment. Every time I read that book of the Bible, I am encouraged about everything God has ever asked me to do. God told Jeremiah to preach judgment to people who would not only not listen, but would not do one single thing he ever told them to do. God said, “Go preach to them. Tell them what I’ve told you to tell them. But know up front that they are not going to listen, they are not going to do anything about it, and they are going to scoff at you while you preach.”
Jeremiah went into that scenario with that commission—but then God said to him in Jeremiah 1:8, “ ‘Do not be afraid of their faces, for I am with you to deliver you,’ says the Lord.”
All of us have been commissioned as disciples to go into the world and preach the gospel. And what is it that the Lord says to all of us who do that? In Matthew 28:20 He says, “… lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Because God is with us, we have confidence to face the challenges of life; we don’t go alone. We have certainty that our prayers are heard and understood because God has been where we are. And we have the courage to serve Him no matter how difficult the task may be.
- List any famous people (sports stars, media celebrities, politicians, etc.) you have met during your life. How did you act around them?
How would you respond if they dropped by your house?
How many other people did you inform about your meeting or acquaintance?
- Compare your answers to the previous question to your actions, response, and words as someone who has met the God of the universe. Is it a good comparison, or something less?
Is there room for change in light of knowing the “God with us,” Jesus Christ?
- In Exodus 40:34, what was the purpose of the tabernacle (tent) of the Lord, which was set up in the middle of all the tents of Israel?
How does this connect with John 1:14, which says literally that the Word became flesh and dwelled among us?
- If Jesus was the “Seed of woman” promised in Genesis 3:15, who did He come to ultimately defeat?
Why couldn’t this be done by a mortal human being?
When will this conquest be completed?
- What does 1 John 5:19 reveal about the present condition of the world?
Was this true when Christ was born?
Then why couldn’t Satan defeat Him?
What does I John 4:4 reveal about the present condition of each believer, and the similarities to Christ’s entrance into the world?
- Read Daniel 7:9–10, 13–14. What is the eventual position of the Son?
Compare this to Isaiah 9:6–7. Why do you think He was not revealed in this way when He came as a Baby to Bethlehem?
When will He be?
Did You Know?
Christianity is unique among the world’s religions in proposing that there is no way that man can, through anything he does, ever reach God; but that God, in His infinite love and mercy, became man in order to rescue any who would be rescued.
This concept not only is foreign to the world’s religions, but in Islam is considered to be blasphemy. Nowhere is this more vividly displayed than in the Arabic statement emblazoned on the outside of the Dome of the Rock, which stands over the location of the Holy of Holies on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
It reads: “Allah is God, Allah is One. He was not born, nor did He beget.”
Hence the hopelessness of those who do not recognize Immanuel, “God With Us.”
The Hanging of the Greens
The evergreen nature of conifers and hollies has long made them symbols of eternal life through Christ Jesus. Red berries are used as a symbol of Christ’s blood, which was shed for us.
Early in December each year, our congregation participates in readying our sanctuary for a season of celebration.
We usually use pine branch “roping” to make swags, and evergreen wreaths as our focal points.
 Jeremiah, D. (1999). Celebrate his love: Study guide (pp. 62–75). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.