In the Bible, it is often interesting to study the meaning of a character’s name, and to observe how God used them to bring the meaning of their name to life. While Jesus didn’t often go by ‘Immanuel,’ He fulfills the name by being God and dwelling with men. We often call this the Incarnation. The fact that Jesus, being fully God, would come to earth and be fully man, is one of the great marvels of Advent.
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). (Matthew 1:21-23)
One of the great truths of the incarnation is that God would humble Himself and dwell among men in the person of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2, the apostle Paul offers a commentary on this reality. He says that the incarnation means that Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:7-8). If we give the gospel accounts an honest read through, we see that Jesus’ life on earth wasn’t even a glamorous life for a human. He had very little in terms of wealth, if any; He was reviled, constantly in contact with the brokenness of society, and punished to a cruel death. That Christ would leave His rightful place at the Father’s side, and come to earth with a mission that included humiliation, rejection and sacrifice shows the depth to which God will go to redeem His people. This is not only an important truth in the Christmas narrative, but it is vital to the gospel message.
The incarnation is essential to Christ’s sacrifice for the obvious fact that Jesus had to be with us in order to die for us. A remote sacrifice was never the plan for God. In order to make a way of salvation, the sacrifice would have to be done in front of humanity, carried out by mankind, and Jesus Himself would have to die as a man. To change any of these variables would change the structure of the gospel. Jesus’ death on the cross required that he walked among us. It was a true, “You have to be there,” part of the gospel narrative. There was no spiritual back door to get Jesus out of experiencing the crucifixion. This is a humbling truth about Jesus being Immanuel. The same ‘God with us’ that we celebrate at Christmas is the same Jesus that we depend on in the gospel.
The incarnation of Christ is also beautiful because it marks the beginning of God dwelling with man forever. Jesus’ life on earth was God dwelling with mankind in the person of the Son. After Jesus’ life, the Holy Spirit came to dwell inside of believers, just as Jesus promised He would (Jn. 14:15-17). For the last two thousand years, and until the return of Jesus, Christians experience Immanuel in the person of the Spirit.
Then, looking forward to eternity in the new heaven and new earth, we will experience God with us in the person of the Father (Rev. 21:3-4). In fact, heaven will be a time where the redeemed will be able to dwell among all three members of the Trinity. This great privilege is not down to the fact that God will lower His glory, but rather that we will have glorified bodies, free from corruption and fit for dwelling in the presence of God. This should give us great courage since, as believers, we never have and never will be apart from God. The coming of Jesus to earth gives us great joy for many reasons, one of them being the certainty that God can and will dwell amongst His people forevermore.
The Christmas story has always been special for believers. It is so incredible because of the role that it plays in the gospel: Christ humbly coming to earth as a child and living as a human being. He felt the human pains and struggles of life on His way to the cross. And at the cross is where ‘God with us,’ saved His people from their sins.