It’s Christmas Eve. Little ones are so anxious they won’t be able to sleep tonight. They’ve been dreaming, longing, anxiously awaiting the moment when their wildest dreams will be fulfilled on Christmas morning. We want those we love to know how much we love them so we try to find them the perfect gift, the gift that will leave them breathless the moment it is unwrapped. I’ve heard some stories about some pretty extravagant gifts that have been given during past Christmases. For those of you who are still searching for that one perfect gift, the one gift that will be a heart stopper, a breath taker on Christmas morning, I’ve come to help.
First, let’s focus on the little ones. I’ve heard that miniature cars and trucks are all the rage this Christmas. I’ve got just the deal for your little cherub. It’s a replica of the Blanc Chateau 1936 BMW. It’s handmade in France and guaranteed to earn you brownie points with your son or daughter. It’ll set you back $19,650.00, but you do want to lavish your love on your little ones don’t you?!
Next, let’s focus on the woman of the house. There’s nothing that says, “I love you” like a gorgeous pair of Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses. Not just any Dolce and Gabbana sunglasses, but the DG2027B with its solid gold frame and diamond studded pieces. The only shade you’ll get from wearing these sunglasses will be from the sun. Guys, you might consider them a little pricey at $383,609.00, but look at her. Go ahead, turn and look at your lovely lady. Now, isn’t she worth every penny?!
We don’t want to leave the man of the house off the Christmas list this year do we? Ladies, I’ve got just the deal for you. It’s the ultramodern G-1 Glass Pool Table with 15 millimeter shatter-proof glass that’ll make his buddies fall on their jealous knees. It’ll only set you back $73,000.00 You might grab one for the mancave as well as the living room.
Last, but not least, you’ll want to lavish your love on the four legged members of your family. How could Connie and I forget Maggie and Bella when they’ve done so much for us? If you feel the same way then I’ve got a deal for you! The Amour Amour dog collar, a gorgeous 52 carat, 1,600 diamond creation with a 7 carat center stone set in black alligator leather. It’s just the gift to let your little furry friend know how much you love her. Forbes Magazine calls it “the Bugatti of dog collars,” but your dog’s friends will call her the Queen of the dog park. A little pricey at $3.2 million, but heads will turn at the dog park…I guarantee it!
The truth of the matter is this: You could buy all of the gifts I’ve mentioned, give them to one person, and the sum total of all of those gifts wouldn’t even come close to the most lavish gift ever given. Turn with me to Matthew 1:18-25 and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel”– which means, “God with us.” 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he had no union with her until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus. (Matthew 1:18-25 NIVO)
I only want us to focus on one phrase this morning, the phrase, “…and they will call him Immanuel–which means, ‘God with us.’” “Immanuel.” Oh what a name! He’s the King of Heaven. He’s the Glorious One. The Savior who saves His people from their sins. He’s the Prince of Peace. The Mighty God. The Everlasting Father. The Wonderful Counselor. He’s the Lily of the Valley. The Fairest of Ten Thousand. He’s the Bright and Morning Star. The Rock of Ages. He’s the Bread of Heaven. The Living Water. He is the Stone the builders rejected and He is the Chief Cornerstone. He is the Alpha and Omega. The Great Physician. He’s our Blessed Hope. He’s the Lord of Grace. The Merciful Savior. The Resurrection and the Life. The Rose of Sharon. The Author and Finisher of our faith. He is our Mighty Fortress and our Shelter. He’s a Friend of Sinners and the Healer of Broken Hearts. If you were to go through God’s Word line-by-line and verse-by-verse you would find that He is all of these and more, but the sweetest, most all-encompassing name of the Babe born at Bethlehem must be Immanuel–God is with us!
Some people have asked the question why did Joseph give Him the name Jesus instead of Immanuel? The angel of the Lord said, “…and they will call him Immanuel–which means, ‘God with us.’” R.C. Sproul gives us a great explanation for those who ask this question. He writes,
The term Immanuel describes what Christ does. It describes the event of Incarnation. He will be called Immanuel because He will be the incarnate presence of God with us, but His proper Jewish name will be Jesus, because ‘He will save His people from their sins.’ (R.C. Sproul)
He is “God with us,” the One who came to “save His people from their sins.” We see throughout God’s Word, in the time before Jesus was born, that God was with His people. He was with Moses when He confronted Pharaoh and said, “Let my people go!” He was with those freed Hebrew slaves as He led them in a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night during the forty years they made their way to the Promised Land. He was with Abraham and Sarah as he blessed them with a promised child named Isaac. He is the God who saw Hagar in her desperate situation as she sat a distance from her boy Ishmael and waited for the two of them to die. He was with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace. It was His presence that caused King Nebuchadnezzar to marvel and say,
25 He said, “Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:25 NIVO)
I could go on and on describing for you the many ways God was with His people before the time of Jesus’ birth, but in Jesus, God drew nearer than ever before, He became one of us–God with us. Paul wrote to the people in Colosse and reminded them of Jesus’ unique nature and mission.
13 For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. (Colossians 1:13-15 NIVO)
Jesus is the image of the invisible God. He is the exact expression, the perfect representation of the God of glory. If you will take the time to read about Jesus in God’s Word, what He did, what He said, how He lived His life, then you will come to understand the character, attributes, and heart of God Himself. It is interesting that in John’s Gospel, John records a conversation Jesus had with His disciples. Philip spoke up,
8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” 9 Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9 NIVO)
“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” It is this bit of information that pulls back the veil and shows us most clearly the Father’s love for us. Jesus came to save us from our sin, to offer His sinless life in exchange for our sin-filled lives.
We have a lot of problems. Some of those problems we can solve, some of our problems can be solved with the help of a friend, but the greatest problem you and I face can’t be solved by ourselves or our friends, and that is the problem of our sin. Our sin is more than what we do, it is our very nature. No amount of money can alleviate it. No intellect can solve it. No dashing personality or powers of persuasion can talk our way out of it. We don’t need a New Year’s resolution, we need a Savior. And God has come, Immanuel, God with us!
Stop and marvel at the magnificence of His mercy. Gaze into the glory of His grace. Fix your thoughts on the One who in His sinless perfection and holiness, emptied Himself, wrapped Himself in humanity, and willingly died in your place so that you might have the opportunity to be reconciled to God. Paul put it this way,
21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIVO)
Oh my friend, my heart yearns for you to understand your great need and His great gift. His gift is offered to all who know their sad state. Those who are burdened down by the things they have done. Those whose sins have haunted them. Those who have been cast aside because of their failings. Those who have railed against God, shaken a fist in His face, and spit upon His offer of grace and redeeming love, if you will simply lift up your eyes, recognize your need for His saving touch, and speak that Name, “Immanuel, God, you are with me,” “Jesus, you are the Savior of sinners.” Mercy, grace, love, and salvation–they will wash over you like a flood and all you’ve ever done, all you’ve failed to do, will be cast into the sea of forgetfulness! Oh what a Savior! He is Immanuel!
He has come to save us, reconcile us, redeem us, but let’s never forget that He is also with us…He is with you. He’s promised to never leave us or forsake us. He will be with us until that time that we will draw our last breath, and in that moment He will carry us home. Do you belong to Jesus? Have you surrendered the throne of your heart to Jesus? If you are His then know that He is with you. I was thinking of this truth this past week. I read a story about Dr. King.
It was December 5, 1955, the first day of the Montgomery Bus boycott. Dr. King was only 26 years old, he had been the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery for just over a year when he was selected to lead the Montgomery Improvement Association. On that first night Dr. King stood before the people and said,
Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future, somebody will have to say, ‘There lived a race of people, a black people, fleecy locks and black complexion, but a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and civilization. (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.)
The boycott continued for weeks and Dr. King became more and more aware of the importance of the movement and more and more aware of his own limitations. In January of 1956 word came that the city commissioners had joined the White Citizens Council and had decided to turn up the heat on the protesters. Dr. King was arrested for speeding. When he was released phone calls, threatening calls, came often. Internal conflicts within the black community threatened Dr. King’s leadership. Dr. King was young, inexperienced, threatened by his adversaries, and challenged from among his own people.
The weight of it all was crushing to Martin on Friday night, January 27, 1956. He had come home from another long strategy session. He was nervous and afraid when the phone rang. The voice on the other end said, “Leave Montgomery immediately if you have no wish to die.” Dr. King’s nerves were shot as he hung up the phone. He walked to the kitchen and sank down in a chair at the kitchen table. Dr. King, in his book, Stride Toward Freedom, wrote that he was ready to give up. He tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. Then he writes,
In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. ‘I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before.It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.’ Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. ( King, Martin Luther Jr., Stride Toward Freedom.)
Immanuel–God with us. He was with Dr. King and He is with you and me. He is the Good Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine who are safe to go and look for the one lost sheep. He is the Balm of Gilead to heal and soothe the weary, sin-sick soul. He is close to the broken hearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit. He is Immanuel and He is with us.
I wish Dietrich Bonhoeffer was here this morning so he could let you know what I’m saying is true. Dietrich was a German pastor who became more and more distressed over the way many of Germany’s pastors were giving Adolf Hitler a pass, some even wore swastikas on their pastoral robes. In 1933, Dr. Bonhoeffer’s opposition to Hitler was broadcast over the radio. Ten years later, in 1943, Bonhoeffer was arrested for attempting to assassinate Hitler and taken to a concentration camp. Bonhoeffer was moved from concentration camp to concentration camp until he ended up, on Saturday, April 7, 1945 in Schonberg. On Sunday morning all of the prisoners who were housed with Bonhoeffer asked him to conduct a worship service. Bonhoeffer used two different Scriptures for his sermon. The first was from Isaiah 53:5,
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5 NIVO)
And the second Scripture he used was from 1 Peter 1:3-5.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade– kept in heaven for you, 5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1:3-5 NIVO)
After he shared his thoughts on these passages from God’s Word, Bonhoeffer and the men sang Luther’s hymn, “Ein Feste Burg,” a hymn you know as, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Think of the irony. Locked away in a concentration camp with the threat of death looming around every thought, the men sang, “A mighty fortress is our God. A Bulwark never failing.” A man who survived and lived to tell of the experience, Hugh Falconer, said that “it was an incomparable experience, which carried them all to great heights of spirituality.” They had barely said, “Amen!” when two men appeared and said, “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, get ready and come with us!” Bonhoeffer knew what they meant. He asked another man, Payne Best, to take a message to Bishop Bell of Chichester. Tell him, “This is the end, but for me it is the beginning of life.” How could a man facing Hitler’s gallows face the end with such peace? Immanuel–God was with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and he knew it. These are Dr. Bonhoeffer’s words.
Why are we so afraid when we think about death? …Death is only dreadful for those who live in dread and fear of it. Death is not wild and terrible, if only we can be still and hold fast to God’s Word. Death is not bitter, if we have not become bitter ourselves. Death is grace, the greatest gift of grace that God gives to people who believe in him. Death is mild, death is sweet and gentle; it beckons to us with heavenly power, if only we realize that it is the gateway to our homeland, the tabernacle of joy, the everlasting kingdom of peace. (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Immanuel–God with us. Before we ever gave Him a thought, Immanuel. He’s the One who opened our eyes and made us aware of our great need. He is Immanuel. When the terrors of life are crushing, He is Immanuel. When the nights are so dark that you can’t see your hand in front of your face, He is Immanuel. When you feel alone, isolated, and in the grip of despair, He is Immanuel. When illness comes and the doctor says there is no cure, He is Immanuel. He is Immanuel.
Today, we’ve been robbed by what society has done with the manger. Gentle Jesus meek and mild. The tiny Babe of Bethlehem. Mary’s child. Oh, my friend that manger is much larger than society, and even many Christians can ever understand. In C.S. Lewis’ last book in The Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle, Narnia is coming to an end as it is being overrun by enemy soldiers. Following the last battle for Narnia, the kings, queens, and faithful servants of Narnia are being pressed to the breaking point by foreign invaders and homegrown traitors. The few who are still loyal to Tirian, the last king of Narnia, are forced to hide in a small stable at the top of a hill. When they entered the stable they discovered that it was far more than a small stable, it was another world, an unbelievable world!
Tirian looked round again and could hardly believe his eyes. There was the blue sky overhead, and grassy country spreading as far as he could see in every direction, and his new friends all round him laughing. “It seems, then,” said Tirian, smiling himself, “that the stable seen from within and the stable seen from without are two different places.” “Yes,” said the Lord Digory. “Its inside is bigger than its outside.” “Yes,” said Queen Lucy. “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” It was the first time she had spoken, and from the thrill in her voice, Tirian now knew why. She was drinking everything in even more deeply than the others. (Lewis, C.S. The Last Battle. pg. 102-103).
Lucy, you are so right. What was held in that little stable in Bethlehem was bigger than the whole world, bigger than all of creation. He is Immanuel. I have been praying for you this week my friend. My prayer has been that this Christmas you will receive the most lavish gift ever given, the gift of Immanuel. The One who has come to save you from your sins, reconcile you to the Father, and be with you all of the days of your life. Won’t you turn to Him this morning?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
December 24, 2017
This post is also available in Spanish