EMMANUEL – GOD WITH US
DECEMBER 24, 1999
They are easy to spot at Barnes and Noble—soon-to-be parents perusing the pages of baby books, trying to pick out the perfect name for their upcoming little bundle of joy. When you think about it, it is a pretty complicated and pressurized process, because whenever you choose a name for a child, you know that family members will have frosty feelings because you didn’t name the baby after them. You know that some people will look at you and smile when they hear your child’s name and say things like, “Oh, you are naming her that. How cute. How cute.”
When my wife, Lisa, was pregnant with our twins, I suggested that we name them Monique and Unique, but she wasn’t really buying. Moms and Dads who are facing a new millenium want unique names, one-of-a-kind names, nothing generic. My own mother from Laurel, Mississippi, who pronounces my name Eeeeed, never has anything bad to say about anyone, nothing negative. But she balked at the names of all of our children, except for our oldest, who is named after her. There is something about names.
If you perused a first century baby name book and looked up the name Jesus, you would discover that it means “God Saves.” It is a pretty good name for the savior of the world. The name “Jesus” in biblical times was a common name, and I like that because it shows Christ’s approachability. But God picked out another name for Jesus, a name the prophet Isaiah penned 800 years before the birth of our Lord. An angel repeated this name to Joseph in the gospel of Matthew, Chapter 1, Verse 23. Listen to what the angel said: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and they will call him Emmanuel, which means ‘God With Us.’” Emmanuel, God With Us.
Today, in this talk, we are going to look at the incredible implications of God With Us. I use the word “incredible” because it is a riveting, life-changing occurrence if we apply and incorporate these implications of Emmanuel into our very lives.
Some of you are probably on the front end of your spiritual development cycle. You are sort of kicking tires and testing the waters. You are saying to yourself, “Well, if a virgin did have a baby, and the baby was God with skin on, how does that affect my world?” Some of you are saying that.
Others here have paused during this holiday havoc—during this time when you have been blowing and going at a NASCAR-type pace—just to relax, to recalibrate, to remember the reason for the season and to concentrate on the person who this deal is all about. Some of you are in that boat.
Others here have kind of a low grade of awareness that something is not right. Yeah, you have got all the toys. You have got the stuff, the status that turns heads and raises eyebrows. You have got the right car and the right house and the right position and so on. But you know something is not clicking. Something is misfiring. Pockets of us here are carrying dangerous levels of anxiety or stress or maybe pain. Maybe this is the first Christmas you are facing without a spouse or a loved one. Maybe you look great on the exterior, but you know in your heart of hearts that your marriage is on the rocks. Maybe, just maybe, you received a bad report from the doctor and you are wondering, “Is there an answer, any information for me that can change my life?” The answer is a resounding “Yes.” It all goes back to Emmanuel, God With Us.
Well, they are at it again. We are less than a year away from the elections, and the candidates are hot on the campaign trail, aren’t they? You can see them campaigning 24/7. And I understand this process because it is all part of a deal to secure the votes that will get you ultimately into the White House. But there is one strategy that all candidates use that has always freaked me out. It is called the “identification strategy.” You have seen it. It is where a candidate will make his way to maybe an automotive plant in Detroit, Michigan, and he will coolly remove his Polo blazer before the television lights and toss it aside. He will don a protective hat and goggles, awkwardly pick up some machinery, and begin to bolt some stuff to a car and give the smile to the cameras. Then once the lights are off, he moves from this place to the next. This plays out with tractors in fields in Des Moines, Iowa. This plays out in textile mills in South Carolina. People running for president just give the illusion of identification.
I am not surprised that politicians do it, but I am surprised at the reactions of the people who work in these plants. You would think they would say, “What’s up with that? You can’t identify with me just giving fifteen minutes in a little hard hat, some goggles, and a try with the equipment. Man, that is not what I do.” You would think that they would say that, but they don’t. They settle for the illusion of identification. “Wow,” they say. “Incredible,” they say. “He really understands me,” they say.
I doubt seriously that any of the candidates for President would relinquish their law degrees and their cars and houses and work on one of these assembly lines for a year. I doubt they would eat in their lunchrooms, use their means of transportation. They just settle for—
one more time—an illusion of identification.
Our God did not settle for an illusion of identification. He didn’t send Christ to earth for a couple of minutes so He could pose for the cameras, flash a smile, and then go back to the heavenlies. Oh, no. Our God is an Emmanuel God. Our God put skin on. John 1:14, “The word,” that is Jesus, “became flesh and dwelt among us”—lived among us, breathed among us. And that is what we celebrate today. Theologians call it the incarnation of Christ. God literally bounded down the staircase of heaven with a baby in His arms. And when the angel told Joseph, “Hey, this boy is going to be called Emmanuel, God With Us,” little did Joseph realize that this baby would identify with us to such an incredible degree.
Well how did Christ identify with us? What are the specific implications of Emmanuel? The first way Christ identified with us would be relationally. Jesus understood and understands relationships. Why? Because He was involved in them. He had an adopted father. He had a mother, brothers, sisters, aunts, and uncles. He had friends like Peter and James and Mary and Martha. Jesus understands what it is like to be an infant, a junior high student, a high school student, a single adult. He has been there. Yet some of you who are going through relational traumas are saying, “No one understands what I am going through. No one can feel what I am feeling.”
A guy that I know in this area left his wife and two young daughters for another woman. As expected, his wife was devastated, so she went out and bought her children a kitten to sort of ease the pain. When she brought it home her youngest said, “Mommy, let’s name it after Daddy.” Then the oldest said, “Don’t do that. The cat will just run away!”
Maybe a spouse has run away on you. Maybe a friend has run away on you. Maybe another relative has just run away on you. You say no one understands? No one can feel your feelings? Add two words. No one understands—like Jesus. No one feels your feelings—
like Jesus. And I have got great news. Jesus will never run away. He told His disciples right before He ascended to the heavenlies, “And, lo, I am with you always.” When you think about relationships, it is an Emmanuel thing.
Christ also identified with us corporately, and this is surprising. Jesus spent more time in the marketplace than He did in public ministry. They called Him “the carpenter.” That is what he did professionally. And back in biblical times, to be a carpenter did not mean that you just hammered nails now and then or did a little bit of finish out work. Oh no, there was no big-time machinery back then. If you were a carpenter that meant you took up the trade. You were responsible for the excavation work, the foundation work, the framing, the masonry, the finish out, the landscaping, whatever. You had to do it all. And Jesus is familiar with pay disputes. He is familiar with people who are disappointed. He is familiar with picky clients and customers. He is familiar with being rained out. He is familiar with what you are going through. Don’t sit there and think that no one knows the pressures you are going through corporately. “No one knows what my boss is like. No one knows what…”—Jesus does. Jesus does because He has been there.
Don’t you see the genius of God? God knew that we would spend more time in the marketplace than in any other area of life. And that is where He had His Son spend the lion’s share of His time. Why don’t you, friend, allow Christ to be your CEO? Say, “Jesus, I give you this situation. Take it. You know it. Take it. I’m yours.” Let me give you one sidebar. Don’t ever think that our Lord looked like some pale, frail, blond-haired image as the artists portray him. He did not look like that. He had dark skin, dark hair. The guy was a stud. And let me tell you why I know that. Not only did you have to be a stud to be a carpenter, but four weeks ago I was in Israel, and we traced the steps that He walked over a 24-hour period. I am in pretty good shape, and I couldn’t do it. So don’t think that Jesus is some kind of figure out there—pale, frail, and blond-haired, who is not in touch with reality. Man, don’t bring that weak stuff to God. That is someone else’s image, not the image of the Bible. Do your homework. Study the text. We serve a God who has been there. Emmanuel, God With Us.
So Jesus connected relationally. He connected corporately. He also connected emotionally. He identified with us emotionally. We are emotional creatures. Just think about the last seven days. We have gone through this emotion, that emotion, this emotion, that emotion, especially during the holiday season. They are very emotional times.
I remember when I went down to Florida State University my freshman year to play basketball. I thought it would be a pretty easy deal. I did well in high school. I could pretty much score at will. But suddenly, I was playing against guys who were 6’11”, 7’, guys who were All-Americans. And I felt rejected. Not only did they reject my shot every day, the team rejected me. I was the new guy. I was this Christ-follower. And I remember day after day praying in my dorm room, “God, I feel rejected. I feel horrible.” And God began to point me to scripture after scripture after scripture that led me to see how Jesus felt the same feelings, the same emotions that we do when we go through difficult times.
Have you ever felt like someone has turned his or her back on you? Jesus knows. He cares. He understands. Do you know why? At His deepest point of need, His friends just dissed Him. They said, “See ya, don’t want to be ya. I’m outta here.”
Christ lost one of his best friends, Lazarus. Have you ever felt a lot of stress and a lot of pressure, and you think that you can’t take it another day? The night before Christ was arrested and crucified, He sweated drops of blood. Ever felt tempted? We are all tempted. Jesus has been there. Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest….” Remember Jesus is our high priest. We don’t have to go to a priest for confession or for prayer. He is our high priest. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses….” I am glad it says “weaknesses.” I don’t know about you, but I don’t have just one weakness, I have got many weaknesses. “…But we have one who has been tempted in every way just as we are yet without sin.”
Jesus knows the full pull of temptation. Do you know why? Because He resisted it. Only the one who resisted it knows the true pull of it. Christ is like that immovable rock in the surf. That rock is pounded by the surf day in and day out. Jesus was pounded by temptation yet He remained a rock.
Why don’t you do life deeply with the Lord? He has been there. He knows the score. He knows your situation. If you are going to hunt crocodiles, do you call Martha Stewart on the line and ask her about it, or Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter? That is a no-brainer. You call Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter. If you are starting a computer company from scratch, whom do you call? Jesse “The Body” Ventura, or Michael Dell? A no-brainer. Yet people get information from this glassy-eyed guru, from this person, from that help seminar, and they don’t go to Jesus. He is the one who knows. He is the one who cares.
Peter 5:7—I love this verse. I call it the “Bass Pro Shop verse.” It says, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” I love to fish. And to fish, you have got to cast. And to cast, you have got to throw something, toss something. We need to toss and cast everything in our lives at the foot of our Lord. Does He say that our problems will go “POOF,” everything is A-OK, never another problem? No, we live in a sin-stained world, a fallen one. But I will tell you what is going to happen. Our whole perspective will change.
Around the Christmas season, a lot of people kind of get “spiritual.” They like Christmas, and they especially like to press the pause button around Christmas time because they want to keep Christ in the crib. They want to minimize Jesus to the manger because who is afraid of a baby? Goo, goo, ga, ga. Christ in the crib. Jesus, though, never asked us to remember His birth, never. He said only remember my death, burial, and resurrection.
The news of Christmas is that Christ became flesh and dwelt among us, but He left the crib and went to the cross. He was nailed there. He hung suspended between heaven and earth. He died a torturous death for your sins and mine, for your iniquities and mine, for your shortfalls and mine. Jesus did that, something we don’t deserve, yet He did it. And we can talk all day and night about Emmanuel, God With Us, and that is great. But the question is, “Are you with God.” Yes, God is with us, but are you with God? Because to be with God, you have got to know Him. A lot of people know about God, but they don’t know Him.
I mentioned Jessie “The Body” Ventura earlier. I know a good bit about professional wrestling. I know a lot about Jessie “The Body,” but I don’t know him. A lot of us know a lot about Jesus—that He was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died a sacrificial death, rose again. We have read about it. But we don’t know Him. So to be with somebody, you have got to know him.
Also you have got to know where they are. Every time Christ compared Himself to something in the Bible, He compared Himself to penetration. Has Christ infiltrated your life? He is not going to do it naturally. It is a choice you have to make. It is a call that only I can make. We have got to come to a point in our pilgrimage where we admit the obvious before God—that we are sinners. We need to turn from that, and make a manger out of our hearts, and allow the Christ child to be born there. That, friends, is how a person knows Christ. That is Emmanuel. Because Christmas will never be Christmas in any life until we do that deal and understand the incredible implications of Emmanuel, God With Us.