Immanuel – part 2
Matthew 1:18-25 (CSB)
18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.
19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her
25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.
I want to begin with a recap of what we saw in Isaiah 7, the story of Ahaz.
That story contains the prophecy that God gave king Ahaz – the prophecy of an unmarried woman who would give birth to a child whom she would nickname Immanuel.
God had given Ahaz a choice. Ahaz could have obeyed God by refusing to seek help from Assyria, and trusted God to rescue the nation of Judah himself. Ahaz chose to ignore God’s offer of help, and disobey him. God still gave the sign. That sign was the nickname that this young woman gave to her child. The sign – the name Immanuel – became a symbol of God’s plan to rescue his people another way, at a different time.
Now let me restate this. God gave Ahaz a choice to make, and he made his choice, but it was the wrong choice. Then, God intervened again and offered to prove that Ahaz could trust him by granting him a supernatural sign. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, but God gave the sign anyway, not specifically to Ahaz, but to his dynasty – the house of David. So, we have three elements to the story of Isaiah 7: a human choice, divine intervention, and a supernatural sign.
It just so happens that those same three elements are part of today’s story, which takes place seven centuries later.
JOSEPH MAKES THE WRONG CHOICE
Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.
The Christmas story begins with the discovery of an unwanted pregnancy. In this culture today, if someone discovers an unwanted pregnancy, the choice seems to be between letting the child be born, or terminating the pregnancy.
But Joseph’s choice was not to abort the child. He knew that he had been responsible toward Mary, so he concluded that Mary must not have been faithful to him. But since he did not want to shame her, he decided divorce was his only option. In his culture, engagement was legally binding, so he decided to divorce her secretly.
The reason Joseph felt this was his only option was that he did not know the whole story.
Many times in our lives, we are going to be faced with decisions that are crucial and significant, but we will not have all the pertinent information we need to make the right choice. That is why we need to regularly seek God’s guidance through prayer. We also should be careful not to make judgments based on mere appearance.
Now, I am highlighting the fact that there are some major similarities between the stories in Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1, but there are also some glaring differences. Ahaz and Joseph are both prepared to make wrong choices, but that is where there is a change.
GOD INTERVENES, SO THAT HIS WILL IS ACCOMPLISHED.
Matthew 1:20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.
Matthew 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her
Matthew 1:25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.
God had sent a prophet to Ahaz, and Ahaz chose to ignore Isaiah, and make the wrong choice anyway. But God himself appears as an angel to Joseph in a dream. It is vitally important for the history and salvation of humanity that Joseph not make the wrong choice.
This is divine intervention. I find it interesting that the message God gives to Joseph starts out the same way his message to Ahaz did. God had told Isaiah to tell Ahaz:
“Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering sticks, the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and the son of Remaliah” (Isaiah 7:4 CSB).
The Lord tells Joseph in the dream “don’t be afraid.” This is something that God has to keep saying to us when he intervenes in our lives because when stuff happens to us, anxiety is our first response.
God chose to send his Son into a family that was this close to disintegrating before it even began. There was an unwanted pregnancy, a difficult trip to Bethlehem at the worst possible time. There was no place to stay. There was an evil king who wanted to kill the child. All of these things had to weigh heavily on the hearts of Mary and Joseph. They would have been tempted to give up on their marriage, on their faith, and write themselves off as hopeless.
But what I see in this story is that it is just at that point when the anxiety level was the highest that God intervened. He didn’t fix all their problems but he did remind them that they were in his will and encouraged them not to be afraid but to trust in him.
If you have lived any time at all, you have experienced times like that. Some of you are probably going through such times right now. What does it take to get through times like that? We are stronger than we think we are, so it really doesn’t take a miracle to get us through our tough times.
But it does take a message from God, assuring us that he’s got this. God told Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy is not in conflict with his plan; Mary’s pregnancy is God’s plan. Of course, we can understand that today. We have the advantage of 2000 years of hindsight. But for Mary and Joseph, they had to trust God and not give in to fear.
JESUS HIMSELF BECAME THE SUPERNATURAL SIGN TO ISRAEL AND TO US.
Matthew 1:22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
Matthew 1:23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”
There are some similarities and differences between this part of the story and Isaiah 7 as well. I want to draw attention to one of the differences.
In Isaiah’s story, the supernatural sign was the name Immanuel. It was apparently a nickname that this young woman would give her baby boy. It was a sign given not to Ahaz alone, but to his dynasty, the house of David. That sign basically said that Ahaz gave up on his God, but his God has not given upon his family. One day, God was going to rescue Judah, and he’s going to do it through another descendant of David.
We know today that the descendant of David who would rescue his people was Jesus. In fact, in the Matthew passage, it is Jesus himself who is the supernatural sign, not his name.
Matthew declares that Jesus’ virginal conception was the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In Isaiah’s prediction, the birth of the child was to be natural, but the name the mother gave him was the supernatural sign.
When Matthew records the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy, he changes the pronoun.
“a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NASB).
“the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” (Matthew 1:23 NASB).
Immanuel was not going to be his parents’ nickname for Jesus. It was going to be his nation’s title.
Joseph was not told to name the child Immanuel. He was to be named Jesus, because he was God’s chosen savior. But his nation would come to recognize him as the sign of Immanuel – the sign that their God had not deserted them. God was still with them in the person of his Son.
The gospel message to you and me today is that Jesus can also be our Immanuel. This same Jesus who was born supernaturally came to die a death he didn’t deserve so that we can have a chance to live an eternal life that we do not deserve.
Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted that substitutionary death. And Jesus promises to come again and give us eternal life. Until then, Jesus being our Immanuel means this:
Jesus is with us “always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NASB).
This message was preached by Jeff on Sunday, December 15th, at Lone Star Advent Christian Church in Clifton Forge, Virginia.
The video stream of the service can be watched here.