God is With Us, Now to Bless!
Seven Hundred years before Joseph was visited by an angel and told that his betrothed had conceived by the Holy Spirit, Isaiah prophesied these amazing words: 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).
In the first chapter of his gospel, Matthew makes sure we do not miss the way Jesus’ birth fulfills this prophecy, “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)” (Matt 1:22).
It is instructive to note that in the preceding verse (21), the angel of the Lord gives Jesus another title, Savior! You shall call His name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins. You shall call His name Yeshua –Yahweh saves! God Himself saves you! So when we put the two names of verses 21 and 22 together, we hear, “you shall call His Name “Jesus” – God Himself saves you from sin! And then vs 22, “you shall call his name “Immanuel” – God Himself is with us. That is, Jesus is God with us to save us by taking away our sin!
To understand the power of this promise as it is fulfilled in the Christ-child, we need to understand a bit of the story behind Isaiah’s prophecy. Isaiah 7:14 was originally heard by an evil king of Judah named Ahaz. His name appears in the genealogy at Matthew 1:9, and Matthew expects us to still have his story in mind 12 verses later when we read the words of prophecy spoken directly (but not only!) to this man.
The context is this: early in Ahaz’ reign, the king of Israel and the king of Syria invaded Judah and were marching on Jerusalem. Isaiah 7:1-2 says the people of Judah shook with fear in the face of these adversaries. Ahaz did not fear the Lord, he did not look to the Lord for help, but in His goodness, God sent Isaiah to the king with an offer of blessing – “do not be afraid, do not let your heart be faint with fear, the evil plan” Isaiah says, “will fail” (7:7) And then he adds in vs 11, “ask a sign of the Lord your God – and He will grant it so you can be sure that he will grant you this deliverance.”
But Ahaz wants nothing to do with Isaiah, and nothing to do with trusting in Isaiah’s God! He has already made plans for his own deliverance by paying Assyria to come in and destroy these two smaller armies. So Ahaz says, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” It is a pious cover-up of his unbelief. What he is really saying is, “I want nothing to do with your God, I don’t trust Him, I don’t want signs of His love, I will care for myself”
So God responds through Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive a bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” And that is typically where we stop thinking about the Immanuel prophecy. But that is not where Isaiah stops! He goes on in chapter 8: because this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently…therefore behold the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria in all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and will sweep on into Judah.
The Lord is saying to king Ahaz, “I offered you a gentle sign of my love. A gentle salvation. But you refused the gentle deliverance because you wanted a mighty warrior. So you will have one! The army of Assyria will sweep away the invaders yes, but then, like a flood, that army will linger and’cover the breadth of your land, O Immanuel!’” (8:8).
So there are two parts to the Immanuel Prophecy. There is the gentle waters: The virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. And there is the mighty river: the flood of Assyria’s military might will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel! The translation in 8:14 makes sure we know that both are from the Lord, The Lord will become a sanctuary, and a rock of stumbling! So here is the full message of Isaiah’s prophecy: God is always with us, either to curse us in our unbelief or to bless us in our faith. If we do not look to God for sanctuary, He doesn’t disappear, He becomes a stone of stumbling. And Israel’s history is a striking record of God’s presence with His people to discipline their disobedience.
Now, this sets us up to see the gospel payoff when Matthew tells us in vs 22, “all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet – behold, the virgin shall conceive a bear a son, and call his name Immanuel! He wants us to see that in the supernatural conception of the Christ-child, the gentle deliverance, the presence of God with us to bless, has now come! The point is deeper and richer than simply: this is the immanuel prophecy from Isaiah 7! The point is: the blessing side of the Immanuel prophecy has now been fulfilled in the birth of Jesus. God is with us, now to bless us! A people walking in the darkness of unbelief have been amazingly blessed by God as He sent the gentle, healing, saving waters of His Son.
And even as you read this – with the rest of the gospel story running through your mind – you know that this amazing gift of God – His very Self, His very Son with us to bless us by taking away our sin – carries a weighty warning, doesn’t it?! It carries an “or else!” Jesus has indeed come as the gently flowing waters of Shiloah. God’s heart in sending His Son, John tells us in chapter 3, is a heart of love, not to condemn the world but so that the world through Him might be saved (Jn 3:16-21). But if you reject Him in your unbelief, if you want nothing to do with Him because you wanted a different looking messiah, a mighty warrior-king, God does not leave. But He does turn from your sanctuary to your stumbling stone. How we relate to God is now determined by how we respond to Jesus. Jesus is God with us, to bless us, by saving us from our sin.
So I invite you to reflect on the goodness and greatness of Jesus. He is great because He is God with us! And He is good because He is God come to save us! And I invite you to respond by welcoming this saving work into your life once again.