THE NAME OF JESUS
A Sermon preached
St. James United
One of the most precious names of Jesus is Emmanuel. Among the more than 700 names in the Bible for Jesus, Emmanuel is the most beautiful. It is precious because Emmanuel means “God with us.” Literally, the name means “the strong God with us.” The meaning is clear: Yahweh incarnate, the Word become flesh, God with us! We do well to ponder the significance of the little word “with.” We all recognize when someone to whom we are speaking is not truly “with” us. On one occasion I had the privilege of meeting a very prominent man in our state. I was excited about getting to know him, and to have him know that my name was Walter. When I shook his hand, he was turned away, speaking to someone else. I realized with keen disappointment that he was not “with” me. The eternal God, on the other hand, decided to enter the world as a little baby so He give us the joy of knowing that He was truly “with” us!
The name Emmanuel first appears in the prophecy of the prophet Isaiah. He was the first to announce that God would come as a baby.
1. THE PROPHECY OF ISAIAH
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)
2. THE PROPHECY FULFILLED
Centuries later the gospel writer Matthew declares Isaiah’s prophecy to be fulfilled in the birth of Jesus:
“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 1:23)
Commentators cannot agree what the call the woman who gave birth to Jesus. Some say the Hebrew word does not mean virgin but “a maiden” or “a young woman.” Matthew has no problem with this matter. He calls Mary a virgin. If that was good enough for Matthew, it is good enough for me.
Matthew makes it clear: Jesus is Immanuel. Matthew was a Jew. The Jews believed the Holy Spirit brought God’s truth to men. Matthew wants us to see not only that Jesus was born of a virgin but that his birth was the work of the Holy Spirit. Matthew had pondered the birth of Jesus, his life and ministry, his crucifixion and resurrection, and concluded that the prophecy of Isaiah had been fulfilled. Emmanuel had come!
3. THE ESSENTIAL CLAIM OF CHRISTIANITY
Of all the major religions of the world, only Christianity tells of a God who has come to earth to deliver us from our sins. Buddhism offers us no God to answer our prayers and live within our hearts. Buddhism invites us to seek a way out of suffering by walking the 8-fold path of morality and meditation. Islam, which considers Jesus a great prophet second only to Mohammed, offers us a radically different and unacceptable view of our Savior. Muslims believe in neither the crucifixion nor the resurrection of Jesus, and for Muslims there is no Trinity but one God. As Christians who consider the Bible to be God’s revealed truth, we believe that God has come to rescue us from our sins.
Many suggest that in these days we must be tolerant of the religion of other people, and well we should. We should offer a hand of friendship to anyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. However, as Christians we can never say to a Buddhist or a Muslim, your truth has as much merit as our own. If the gospel is true, and we believe it is, then what other religions teach is false. Archbishop William Temple said it best: “If the gospel is true for any man anywhere, then it is true for all men everywhere.”
The angel tells Joseph that he must call Mary’s baby Jesus – “because he will save his people from their sins.” Emmanuel is his nature, while his proper name is Jesus, or Yeshua. How do we know this? Because God is not willing to remain silent and unknown. God speaks! The universe is not silent. God has spoken! He spoke and the earth was formed. He spoke and human beings were formed. The writer of Hebrews says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son….” (Hebrews 1:1-2)
God not only made Himself known, He made His will known. Our sin has separated us from God. He comes so we can be reconciled, so our communion can be restored. Here is the absolute beauty of the gospel – that despite our sins, God wants us to have a relationship of joy with Him! Through our sins we have spit in God’s face. Yet, instead of retaliating, God wipes the spit from his face, and says, “I love you anyway.” To be saved is to know the love of a God who wants to be with us, in spite of our sins!
4. HE SAVES US SO HE CAN WALK WITH US
There is powerful truth in the beloved hymn, “In the Garden.” The hymn writer offers us a view of Christ as One who comes to us, walks and talks with us, and shares our common life. Liberals sometimes ridicule this song, and many joke about it being the “Andy Gump” song. (God’s name is Andy. Why? Because the song says “Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me….) Yet all of us need this rich experience of knowing Christ as one who comes to us and shares our daily life, guiding, correcting, teaching, and comforting us. We need the sheer joy of feeling what the song writer felt:
“And He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”
When I was a boy, I feared nothing so long as my father was with me. When lightning sometimes knocked the power out of our pump, he would let me go with him in the storm, and hold the flashlight. I never saw him flinch, and I was amazed but unafraid. Later I learned to trust my heavenly Father and realized that in His presence my fears are overcome.
Years later few things meant more to me than for one of my sons to say, “Can I go with you, Dad?” I remember a time when Steve asked to go with me to the hospital. As we walked up the street to the hospital, waiting for a light to change, he took my hand, and said, “We like being together, don’t we, Dad?” That day, for a moment, the heavens parted and I saw clearly the rich meaning of life – not to acquire things but to possess the joy of a relationship with someone you love. The gospel asks you and me to believe that God is even more pleased when one of his children says, “Father, I like so much being with you!” In such a moment we can hear God say, “My child, I like being with you too; that is why I came.”
5. HE HELPS US MAKE SENSE OUT OF LIFE
Some times life makes no sense. There are times when we feel deserted, that God does not care. In those hours we know the pain the Psalmist felt when he cried, (Psalm 142:4 & 7) “I have no refuge; no one cares for my soul.” It is a terrible thing to feel alone, separated from those you love and even from God. It was this loneliness that caused the Psalmist to plead with God, “Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name.” Here we see the connection between God’s deliverance and the desire to praise the name of the Lord. I have been in that cave, alone and afraid, and I know most of you have been in that cave also.
When I was in the first grade, I felt what the Psalmist felt. Playing with my friends, I missed the school bus. It left without me. Panic seized me. I had no one to turn to, and there was no phone at my home in those days. Then Mrs. Melton saw me, came to me, and cared for me. She took me to her home until my parents came for me. I have never forgotten playing football in the front yard with her two sons and the chocolate fudge she fixed for us. That afternoon, Mrs. Melton was Emmanuel to me. That is a picture of God. He sees us in our trouble; he comes to us, and he delivers us so that we may praise his name.
6. HE HELPS US HANDLE HARDSHIPS
Life is not easy for any of us. Throughout our lives we must face cruel circumstances, hard choices, sickness and incurable diseases, even suffering and death. That is when God wants to be Emmanuel to us, to be with us to help us handle our hardships.
remember one of the toughest times in our lives. Dean and I had drifted apart.
Our marriage was failing, and I had to face the fact that I was helpless to fix
it. Then one day, in a small kitchen in
Dean and I learned that unless God was with us, we could not make it. The old song, “Without Him,” expresses what we learned: “Without him I could do nothing; without Him I’d surely fail; without Him I would be drifting like a ship without a sail. Jesus, O Jesus! Do you know Him today? You can’t turn Him away. O Jesus, O Jesus! Without Him how lost I would be.” That is my personal witness. That is our testimony as a family. Without Him, we are miserable! Without Him, we are hopeless! But the Good News is that we do not have to live without Him. We can walk with Him and talk with Him, and He will go with us to share our joy with others.
7. HE GOES WITH US TO HELP OTHERS
He sends us and He goes with us!
During a crisis in our lives, we learned that God not only wants to be with us, he also sometimes sends us to be with others in need. On a day when our two oldest sons were in serious trouble, Dean called me home. I found her crying her heart out. While trying to comfort her, the doorbell rang. I did not want to go to the door but I went, and there stood our friend June Humble. She said, “I have not come to talk, I just want to sit with Dean. I heard about the trouble and I just want to be with her.” She came in and did exactly that – sat with us while we tried to put the pieces back together. That day, June’s name was Emmanuel.
Philip was an Egyptian and a Presbyterian pastor in a small town where we lived. One day I heard that Philip’s mother had died. I went to home to comfort him. His family had gathered to plan the funeral. I offered them my sympathy. They told me that Philip’s mother was a Christian, that she knew she was dying. An hour or so before she died, she asked the family to gather around her hospital bed. She had them to help her sit up in bed and together they sang the Doxology. Before leaving the home that night, I asked the family to hold hands while I prayed. I realized I did not know the father’s name. So before praying, I asked him. It was an electric moment. He said, in a deep, bass voice: “My name is Emmanuel.” I prayed, certain that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ was with them!
As I walked to my car, I heard God saying, “My name is Emmanuel, and I am with you. I go with you when you go in my name to others.”
Some years ago James Weldon Johnson wrote a marvelous play titled “Green Pastures.” Johnson tells biblical stories using the language that was common to African Americans 80 years ago. While the language is no longer politically correct, I want to use it to illustrate the true meaning of Emmanuel. In one scene, Moses feels lonely and afraid. He lifts a poignant question to God, “Is you still wid me, Lawd?” The Lord replies to Moses, “Cos I is, Moses, cos I is.”
This is the bottom line of Emmanuel’s meaning: When we are willing to admit our need of Him, He is willing to put his arm around us, and say to us, “Of course I am with you. I am with you because I love you and I want to be with you today and forever.”
GOD OFFERS US NO GREATER PRIVILEGE
THAN TO WALK IN THE COMPANY OF THE CHRIST!
His comforting presence is all we need!
Listen now and you can hear Jesus say: “Lo, I am with you always.”
Bow your head and tell Him you never want to spend another moment apart from His Presence. Tell Him you want to be with Him, and I believe you will hear Him say what Philip’s father said to me: “My Name is Emmanuel.”
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