Good morning! My name is Brennan Graham, and I am a senior at UK double majoring in computer science and economics. Around the BCM, I help to manage all of our (frequent) tech-related problems and co-lead a family group which is studying Deuteronomy. All quotations of Scripture are from ESV.
If you’ve spent much time around church (or listening to the radio after Thanksgiving), then you’ve almost certainly heard Jesus referred to as Immanuel. Matthew first introduces this title after the angel tells Joseph that his fiancé Mary truly is pregnant through the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and that this child is the promised redeemer of the sins of the world. In case this isn’t clear enough for his audience, Matthew adds that “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).” (Matthew 1:22-23)
Over time, the word “Immanuel” has picked up the vague cheer of egg nog, presents under the tree, and driving to Grandma’s house. But, if we want to understand how urgently Matthew’s reference to this prophecy would make every Israelite sit up in their seat, we must turn back a few hundred pages to Isaiah 7-9. Settling into the text, we discover that it occurs during the reign of the wicked King Ahaz as the southern tribes of Judah are facing an imminent invasion from the combined forces of the northern tribes of Israel and the Syrians. When Ahaz learned of this threat, “the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). Knowing the fear of His people, God sent Isaiah to Ahaz and told him to “be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands … thus says the Lord God ‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass” (Isaiah 7:4, 7). Immediately after declaring that He will be faithful to defend His people, God challenges Ahaz to “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven” (Isaiah 7:10-11) and Ahaz … refuses. Trapped in his lack of faith, Ahaz is unable to see past the immediate danger to accept God’s declaration that the forces arrayed against him are all smoke with no fire and will not prevail. Recognizing Ahaz’s lack of faith, God even offers to provide any sign that he desires to confirm His absolute power and authority. But Ahaz rejected God’s deliverance and “sent messengers to Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son. Come up and rescue me from the hand of the King of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.’ Ahaz also took the silver and gold that was found in the house of the Lord and in the treasures of the king’s house and sent a present to the king of Assyria” (2 Kings 16:7-8). In the midst of this utter rejection, betrayal, and theft - as the king of God’s people pledges himself as the servant and son of a pagan king instead of the Almighty God - God met this wicked man with a promise, saying through Isaiah “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary God also? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted” (Isaiah 7:13-16). Despite the wickedness of Ahaz, God was faithful to destroy the enemies of His people. But God gave them over to the consequences of their sin (as in Romans 1:24-27) by promising that the Assyrians who they had trusted for deliverance would enslave them in utter darkness. And yet, God assures His children “There will be no gloom for her who was in anguish … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:1, 6).
So, who is Immanuel? He is our Wonderful Counselor who leads us down paths of righteousness. He is the Mighty God who sweeps away any who dare to march against His people. He is the Everlasting Father who is faithful to save His children and discipline their wandering hearts. He is the Prince of Peace on the throne of David. The Son of God who looked down on our rebellion and “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).
How does Ahaz’s rejection of God resemble the rebellion in your own life?
Why does it matter that God is with us in a real and personal way?
How does the gift of the Holy Spirit shape a Christian understanding of Immanuel as “God with us”? (see John 14:15-31)
Why do you think Ahaz rejected God’s promise of deliverance and offer of a sign? (see Isaiah 7:10-12)
Why does Matthew specifically bring up the prophecy of Immanuel where he does? What would his original audience have thought of this claim? (see Matthew 1)