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Friday 9 February 2024

Immanuel, God is With Us

You can watch the video of this sermon here.


Last week we looked at the importance of family from Matthew chapter one. We saw how  God chose a good mother and a good father to be central to his redemption plan. We saw how Joseph was a just man, and he shows this by being dedicated to maintaining his righteousness, upholding the law, and showing mercy to Mary when he thinks she is guilty. We saw how Mary is the greatest woman in history, because she was the one who was blessed to have Jesus in her womb. And we noted how through most of Christian history European women would have been encouraged to see her as the ultimate role model, the ultimate example of what it means to be a righteous woman. Yes, the Catholics go too far, but we should still not forget her powerful stand out example.

Today we are going to look at the same passage again, but we are going to focus on a different aspect.

Talking about family is important. We live in a day and age where there are so many pressures and attacks on family, that it isn’t funny. There are external pressures from the way our society forces us to have both men and women work just to pay the bills. There are also internal pressures from the expectations that we place on ourselves in our own families. And there are a whole bunch of issues in between. The predominant way that we all live is in families. This is God’s intention and gift for mankind. David tells us this, “5 A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation. 6 God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains: but the rebellious dwell in a dry land” (Psalm 68:5-6, KJV). God wants people to be surrounded by those that love them and cherish them. He wants what is best for us, and so advocating for biblical family is important. The more our culture rejects these truths, the more the Church should double down on them.   

But, as true as that may be, the most important thing we read about in Matthew One is not about Mary and Joseph. There is a much more profound truth in these verses and I want to focus on it today: the immanence of God. The coming of Jesus Christ, the incarnation as it is called by theologians, is THE MOST important event in this passage and in all of history, outside of creation itself. It is the cornerstone of everything before and after it. It is the most important thing we can ever hear about and will ever be made to consider. And if it is not the anchor of your life, then you are in danger of having your entire life shipwrecked, no matter how well put together you appear to be to others. How your eternal destiny goes depends on how you respond to this truth. So, let’s consider what the Apostle Matthew wants us to take from our passage this morning.

Fulfilment (Matthew 1:18-23) – We looked at these verses last week and noted how they vindicated Mary and showed to Joseph how she was actually innocent. But far more is going on in this passage than just a vindication of the most blessed woman. The angel tells Joseph,

“18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. 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. 21 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” which means, God with us).”

Within these few short verses we see the fulfilment of a long line of promises and blessings from the Lord himself. So, what I want to do this morning, is examine what this passage is fulfilling, so that we can have a fuller understanding of the importance of what the angel is saying.  

I noted a few weeks ago that Matthew is more focused on the way that Jesus’ ministry fulfills the Old Testament than other Apostles. They all have this in their gospels to a degree, but none more than Matthew. Again and again he emphasizes “fulfill”, or “fulfilled”.

This is important to establish, because there are some Christians out there which don’t see how the New Testament connects thoroughly to the Old, and some who think of the Church as secondary in importance to Israel, and some even go so far to say that it is a backup plan, or that God has two different peoples, Israel and the Church.  

The argument goes like this: That Israel are the people of God, but God came to his people and rejected him, so God went to plan B, which was to make the Church, and he will one day save all of Israel and finish plan A. This position hits on some important truths, but they are incomplete.

Many Jews did reject Jesus. But not all did. The entire early Church was originally Jewish remember. So how can the Church replace Israel when it was made up of ‘faithful Israel’? How can the Church be different to Israel if it was made up of faithful Israel?

Israel is God’s people, but he did not reject his people, all he did was cut out dead branches. Israel and the Church are different names for God’s people. Remember the church just means gathering or assembly. And this was a common name for God’s people in the Old Testament.  

It is true that one day a large percentage of Jews, that is Israelites will be saved. But they will do so by trusting in Jesus and re-joining the Church. Because all who believe in Jesus, Jew or Gentile, are made part of the church, which is the body of Christ. “All are one in Christ Jesus,” as Paul told us.

Matthew’s focus on fulfilment, which we will see as we go through his gospel, highlights how thoroughly Israelite and Christian at the same time, the gospel message is. The gospel message fulfils the hopes of Israel, and our hope is in that. All who believe are the children of Abraham. There is only one message for Jews and Gentiles, and only one hope; Jesus.  

The Apostle begins by showing how the coming of Jesus fulfills one of the most ancient promises of God to his people: that he would dwell with us. So, let’s explore this today, by beginning with our original purpose.  

Our Original Purpose (Genesis) – What is our purpose in life? Many people wonder at this. There is an entire snake oil industry out there to take advantage of this and to give human answers to this question. Many people will be told to seek inside themselves, to seek the wisdom of ancient spirits, to read the Bhagavat Gita, or the Kabbalah, or the Gnostic Gospels or some modern spiritualists re-writing of these things. They may be told to seek it through education or career, or social engagement. Or some other way. Gordan Gecko once told people purpose was found in greed, making big money in business, that “Greed is good”. Others will promise that you will find your purpose in life if you find “the one” you are supposed to be with. This is as pagan an idea as you can get, but still many Christians believe this. The Bible shows us something very different about our purpose.  

We were created to reflect God and enjoy him. We read in Genesis 1:26-28 –

“26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

Out of all the creatures on the plant, there is only one that is created in the image of God, and that is humanity. To be made in the image of God means to have his stamp, to be valuable, to be able to participate in the divine nature and have both the privilege and responsibility to choose good or evil.

So free will.

It is clear that God gave us this gift so that we can have fellowship with him: Genesis 2:8-9,

“8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

Adam and Eve were created with the likeness of God in lesser measure, so that he could walk with them, talk with them, and have fellowship with them. So that we could choose to do this.

God did not have to do this for himself. The scriptures never indicate that God is lonely, or alone, or in need of human fellowship. Jesus shows us how God the Father and Son existed in eternal fellowship before the foundation of creation, “4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed” (John 17:4-5).

God is not alone. He exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He does not need humans for companionship. We are not like puppies to him either. We are not pets. We are not amusements.

Creation does not exist for any need God has. But for the benefit and good of the creation to get the chance to enjoy God. He did not do this for himself, but for us, Psalm 16:11, “11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” He created us to enjoy him. To experience his glory and greatness. Creation is a gift, for our benefit.

Adam and Eve got to experience this in its full perfection. How long they were alive before the fall we do not know. It is one of the questions only they and God will be able to answer one day. But we see God’s intention for mankind in the fact that Adam and Eve were given access to the private garden of the king of the universe, and that God decided to walk with the man and his wife.  

This shows us how God desired to share himself, and everything good that he could create, with the man and the woman.

And they rejected this. It was not enough for them.  

Sometimes atheists and skeptics will ask, “If God loves us, why did he not create for us a perfect world?” Well, the answer is very simple, he did. We rejected it. We ruined it by allowing sin to destroy it. God gave the man and woman everything they needed, everything they could ever want or need or enjoy, including each other, and they chose to follow the deceiver instead. This caused a cataclysm, a sundering, that is still felt to this day.

Cataclysm (Genesis 3) – Have you heard of PTSD? This is a pretty well-known psychological disorder, originally referred to as shell shock and applied to the struggles soldiers face after intense battles, it has developed into a commonly referenced psychological disorder, generally witnessed in people who have gone through some intense trauma. It is accompanied by nightmares, night sweats, and hypertension and all sorts of other health issues. When some people experience intense shock and trauma, this leaves psychological scars on their minds and souls. It breaks them. All of humanity in some way is still reeling from the shock of having been sundered from the presence of God and the Garden of God. We have spiritual PTSD.

We were supposed to live in a garden, where everything was provided for us, and it is peaceful, perfect and filled with the presence of God. We were supposed to live in the shelter of the arms of God.

We were not created for this sinful world we now inhabit, it feels wrong, because it is wrong. This is why even when you have achieved everything you want in this life, your soul will still feel ill at ease, as Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it's not the answer.”[1] We feel this longing, this sense that something is not quite right with this world, because we have been exiled from our true and proper home.

Genesis 3:22-24 tells us this,

“22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.”

“He drove out the man…” God cast us from his presence, because of our sin. Sin cannot be accepted in the presence of the Holy God. He is a consuming fire, a terror to evil. And by rejecting him we became evil. That is what it means to be fallen, as Jesus said, “You, though you are evil” (Matt. 7:11).

This reality is so true and still such a sensitive spot for human beings, that many people get angry, offended and annoyed at hearing the truth about our spiritual standing before God, and the truth about our reality in the world. One thing the person who has been traumatized fears the most, is the truth of what has happened to them, and what this has done to them.

They want to shut it out, hide from it, pretend it never happened.

This is why so many men refused to “talk about the war.”

This is why most people hardly mention what happened during the covid years, because it was too traumatic for far too many people.

But God’s intention was never to leave us in that situation of being exiles. As we saw last week, from the very beginning he promised to correct the results of evil, Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” And so we read through the rest of the Bible that God is making a way for him to dwell amongst his people again, even though we have been given over to evil.

The Promise – God promised to be God amongst us.

A Great People, With A Great Land. First God begins by promising the childless man, Abram, that he will have many children, and he will give these children a great land, Genesis 15:5, 18-20,

“5 And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”…18 On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates, 19 the land of the Kenites, the Kenizzites, the Kadmonites, 20 the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Rephaim, 21 the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Girgashites and the Jebusites.”

Their God. God promised him this land so God could be with his people and over them as their God, Genesis 17:6-7,

“6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you. 7 And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”

This is why during Jacob’s life God comes to him and tells him he will bless him, at a place that Jacob renames Bethel, which means “house of God.” God is revealing to his people that he is going to make them a people, and he is going to give them a place, and he is going to live in that place, as their God.

God’s intention is to live amongst his people again. He will not abandon us, even though we deserve that.  

The Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34-38) – This is why when God brings his people out of Egypt, he does not just stay in the cloud. He commands them to take their best craftsmen and their most skilled workers, and some of their precious materials, and build him a dwelling, a tabernacle, a tent, and an Ark, “8 And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. 9 Exactly as I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it” (Exodus 25:8-9).

And then he places his presence with them, Exodus 40:34-38 –

“34 Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. 36 Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.”

What made the Ark and the tabernacle holy, was not the materials it was built from, it was not the hands that built it, it was not the fine detail of the craftsmanship. It was the presence of God within its midst. God’s presence sanctified it, made it holy, sacred, and a place of wonder.

Wherever the Ark went, there they stood on holy ground. Remember what happened when the Philistines captured the Ark? Their God Dagon fell down before it, and many of their people got sick. Because God’s presence was with the ark.

The Ark was both a promise and a warning. It was a promise that God would be with his people, in their midst, living with them. But it was also a warning that he was watching them, making sure they lived as his people.

God’s presence cannot tolerate sin. If they do not deal with their sin, if they allow their sin to grow, he will withdraw his presence. So, it was a promise and a warning.

The tabernacle was part of God’s plan to bring humanity back closer to their original purpose. God’s intention was always to dwell amongst his people. But the sin of humanity made this a big problem. So, God produced a plan to restore the holiness of humanity.

To some degree God’s presence in the tabernacle, sanctified the land of Canaan, Israel, as Holy. It was made the Holy Land by God’s presence. But this was only one stage in the plan. There is much more.

The Temple (2 Samuel 12:12-17) – The temple solidifies God’s presence among his people. From the time of Moses till David, God was content to dwell in the tent which could be moved, in the midst of Israel. To God what really is the difference between a tent and a building of stone? They are both temporary compared to him. But David decides he wants to build a house of God and God tells him this,

“12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.”

The Israelites would have seen the presence of God’s temple in their midst as a sure sign that they were invincible. They knew what the ark of the covenant did to Israel’s enemies. They knew that God could not be defeated. They knew that God was all powerful.

This went to their heads. God had actually told them that he would dwell among them forever in the land if they obeyed him. If they did not, he said this would happen: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 –

“15 See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you today, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. You shall not live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, 20 loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days, that you may dwell in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.”

God’s presence in their midst was always conditional. God cannot abide sin. He made a way for their sin to be dealt with, but if they ignored his laws and his sacrifices, they would become too wicked for him to remain in the land.

Jeremiah tried to tell the leaders of the Jews that God would destroy the temple if they did not repent. They told him he was a heretic. God’s temple could not be destroyed. It was invincible. Once built always built, was their version of once saved always saved.

As sure as the night is darker than the day, they rejected God again, just as Adam and Eve had. And God eventually tired of their rebellion and withdrew his presence from the temple of the Lord. Ezekiel 10:18-19 –

“18 Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house, and stood over the cherubim. 19 And the cherubim lifted up their wings and mounted up from the earth before my eyes as they went out, with the wheels beside them. And they stood at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord, and the glory of the God of Israel was over them.”

This was a monumental event in Israel’s history.

What made Israel great, was not that they were the best of nations, or the most holy of nations, or the most powerful of nations, or the smartest of nations. Because they were none of these things. It was the presence of God in their midst which made them great. That and that alone.

This was God’s greatest blessing to them.

This was what sanctified them.

The loss of God’s presence to Israel, was every bit as devastating as Adam and Eve being kicked out of the Garden. Not long after this happened they were utterly destroyed.

All of their hopes were based around this promise: that God would dwell among them and walk among them. All of our hope in this life, is based on the same thing. Every good gift comes from God above, to dwell in the presence of the Lord, is to dwell in blessing. To be cast from his presence is the definition of hell.

After the Jews were punished in exile and brought back home, they rebuilt the temple, they restarted the sacrifices. But things were different. God told them that one day he would refill their temple with glory. But they knew that things were not right. Israel never became powerful again. They no longer had kings. They were conquered by other nations, turned into slaves.

They were longing for the power of God to be amongst them once again.

The Redemption of Israel – This is what Jesus is. The power of God among them again. We saw this passage last week. When Jesus was born, this woman called Anna, a prophetess, noted this, Luke 2:36-38,

“36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Anna knew that Jesus was the redemption that Israel was waiting for. God amongst them.

When the angel said this, “22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: 23 ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.’ (which means, God with us).” This was not just the fulfilment of a prophecy in Isaiah. It was that, but it is also so much more. It was the fulfilment of God’s intention for Israel, for his people, for humanity.

The Apostle was showing that although we human beings had become lost. God was not going to leave us this way. Although we are cut off from his presence, he was not going to leave us that way. Although we stood condemned, he was going to make a way for us to be saved.

God would not abandon his people. Anna knew this. Mary knew this. Joseph knew this. Jesus proves this. Because he is Immanuel, God with us. God with his people. And who are the people of God? Who are the people this promise is fulfilled for? All who believe.

God wants to dwell with you. God wants to give you the chance to fulfil your original purpose in life; to enjoy his presence forever. This is why Jesus dealt with our sins on the cross.

Remember: sin casts us from the presence of God. Only holiness can restore it. God had to restore this himself because none of us are holy. Which is why he died on the cross for your sins, and my sins, the sins of all who believe.

Application – So how do we apply this sermon today? I really have only one point of application, a simple point and that is this:

If you are seeking to fulfil your purpose in anything other than God, you will fail. You were created by God and for God, and so only in God can you find satisfaction.

Virtually all of the ills we face in our own lives and in this world, come down to this one simple fact: we try to find satisfaction outside of God and his purposes for our life. If we do this, we will fail. Every day this kills marriages, causes depression, creates broken hearts and relationships, creates jealousy, strife, anger, and more. Every day people cause themselves or others pain, by seeking for satisfaction outside of God.

Remember the words of Asaph, Psalm 73:25-26, “25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” This is why you need to believe in God, because there is no hope outside of this.

Conclusion – Matthew shows us how the Lord Jesus is the hope that the Israelites were waiting for, the hope you and I need. Why would you look anywhere else. If you are struggling in your walk with God, or you do not yet believe. Let me encourage you this morning: come back before the God who wants to walk with you. In him you will find forgiveness for sins, and the longing your soul was looking for. Let’s pray.

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