Christ, Our Immanuel
The glorious news of righteousness dwelling among sinners.
At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus joined a few would-be disciples in their fishing boats. After a night of unsuccessful fishing, Jesus encouraged them to try tossing the net into the water one more time. This time things were different. The enormous catch was nothing short of a miracle.
When the apostle Peter realized this rabbi was no mere mortal, but a holy man sent from God he fell to his knees and cried out, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord” (Luke 5:8). In the heart of Peter was the understanding that such a miraculous catch must have been by the hand of a righteous man, and Peter was no such person. He knew he was tainted by sin, and sin and righteousness go together about as well as fresh and saltwater.
But so it was that the great prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled in Christ and pronounced in Matthew 1:23: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” The righteous and holy God of all creation became incarnate in the person of Jesus to dwell among sinful men and women.
How could sin and righteousness dwell together was a problem persistent since the Fall. The glory which made Eden a paradise was principally that God walked amidst the Garden with Adam and Eve. After the Exodus and from the reign of Solomon until the exile, it was the Tabernacle and then the Temple that gave God’s people hope. For the Tabernacle, symbolizing God’s presence, dwelt in the middle of the camp, and it was the Temple which housed the Mercy Seat where God could come in sacred space and time.
When the Temple of Solomon was destroyed a second temple was built, but it lacked the glory of the first. By the time of Jesus, the people were living under an oppressive regime. It was perhaps those who felt this reality most acutely who desired Immanuel most deeply. As Jesus himself would say later, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
How could the dilemma of sin and righteousness be resolved? How could Immanuel live forever amidst sinful people? The answer would be given in Jesus himself. By taking our sin and giving us his righteousness in the power of the Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father, the people of God would forever have Immanuel.
By Immanuel we know for certain that God has finally and fully spoken in his Son (Hebrews 1). By Immanuel we know that the need for sacrifice for sin has been accomplished forever in Jesus. By Immanuel we know that Christ rules and reigns as our king. This is a precious and powerful truth to ponder.
Matthew 1:23 evokes both love and fear. Fear because apart from Christ we know that we are unworthy sinners deserving God’s judgment. Love because in Christ we have the hope and joy of God’s presence forever, our Immanuel.
Rev. Will Stockdale is Ministry to State's Director of D.C. ministry.