Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Flipside of a God With Us

Immanuel.  God with us.  Of all the names given to Jesus throughout Scripture, this one has always given me most pause, striking chords deep within me of utter amazement and humility.

It makes perfect sense to me that the Son of God would bear names such as "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace" (Is. 9:6).  I readily see him as the Lion of Judah, Alpha and Omega, Bright and Morning Star.  But God with us?  

The thought of this all-powerful, all-knowing God leaving His heavenly throne to come and dwell in flesh here on earth with lowly, sinful man is, well, mind blowing at the very least.  To this day, I simply can't wrap my mind around it.

Interestingly enough, though, Scripture only uses the name Immanuel three times.

The prophet Isaiah first gives the name as a sign sent from the Lord to King Ahaz, all in a futile attempt to show the evil king his only hope of saving his throne and his nation was to trust in the Lord, not Egypt, for protection from his enemies.

Isaiah says, "Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel" (Is. 7:14).  This dual prophecy had its fulfillment in Isaiah's day with the birth of his second son and then over 700 years later with the birth of Jesus.

Matthew makes clear this prophecy's connection to Jesus, saying, "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"--which means, 'God with us'" (Matthew 1:22-23).

This name of Jesus is a name of hope of salvation for mankind.

However, Isaiah's second use of the name Immanuel shows the other side of the coin--the reverential fear one should feel at the thought of this God residing with sinful man.

The prophet warns, "Now therefore, behold, the Lord is about to bring on them [Israel] the strong and abundant waters of the Euphrates, Even the king of Assyria and all his glory; And it will rise up over all its channels and go over all its banks. Then it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass through, It will reach even to the neck; And the spread of its wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel" (Is. 8:7-8).

Here, Isaiah is saying something akin to "Fear, O Israel! For the Lord your God is here with you this very moment!  He has seen your sin firsthand, and His wrath is about to sweep over you like an inescapable flood."  The warning is clear--God is with us first in judgment before He can be God with us in salvation.  Yet, even in the judgment of God's presence rests the seed of salvation.  Isaiah reminds that the judgment will only reach "to the neck," implying that the head of Israel will remain--a remnant will survive God's wrath.

With this very remnant in mind, Isaiah reminds those who come against Israel, "Be broken, O peoples, and be shattered; And give ear, all remote places of the earth....Devise a plan, but it will be thwarted; State a proposal, but it will not stand, for God is with us" (Is. 8:9-10).

In essence, God is with the remnant of Israel no matter how many nations devise plans for its utter extermination.  The plans of our very present God cannot be thwarted.

God with us.

It is still a name that brings hope and comfort.  And yet, it should also strike us with reverential fear as well.  This God who is with us in times of trouble, who offers His presence to comfort, guide, and bring us to salvation in Him...He is also a God who is with us in our times of greatest sin, those moments when we are our very worst selves.

It is this knowledge that makes His offer of salvation and His choosing to reside with mankind that much more amazing.  It is this knowledge that makes Him that much more worth of our praise and devotion.

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