“Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.” (Matthew 1:23)
Long the road that lies before them, bleak the hills that distant rise, cold the whistling winds around them, chill the stars in the quiet skies.
Strange the town to the lonely wanderers, ‘No room in the inn, we have guests tonight.’
Quiet the ass and the oxen lying in the lonely cave in the pale moonlight. Sweet that music from out of the heavens.
The wondering shepherds are mute and still — ‘Glory to God who reigns in the highest, Peace on earth, and to men good will. (Thomas Foy, adapted)
The birth of Jesus is surrounded with mystery and surprise. Who would have thought that the mother of the promised Messiah would be forced to travel so far during the height of her pregnancy?
Who would have thought that the prince of glory would be born in such humble surroundings? Truly, He became poor that we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Our text focuses on the conception and birth of Jesus. According to the angel Gabriel, Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14.
Although there is much we could say about the contextual setting of this passage, we shall limit our thoughts to the miracle of Emmanuel’s conception, the manner of Emmanuel’s birth, and conclude with the meaning of Emmanuel’s name.
The Miracle of Emmanuel’s Conception
“Behold, a virgin shall be with child.”
Attempts to prove the virgin birth of Jesus usually focus on the meaning of the Hebrew word (‘almah) translated “virgin” in Isaiah 7:14 and the Greek word (parthenos) translated “virgin” in Matthew 1:23.
The result of such word studies has not settled the issue for many scholars and is, perhaps, not the best approach.
THE PROOF THAT MARY WAS A VIRGIN (LUKE 1:34)
The proof that Mary was morally pure at the time of her conception of Jesus is found in her response to the angel’s message. Gabriel had just announced that she would conceive and bear a son whose name was to be Jesus (Luke 1:31). Her puzzled response is illuminating: “Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34).
The phrase “I know not a man” is the normal expression to express sexual purity. Gabriel does not question the truthfulness of her statement.
Indeed, the fact that he had just announced her favored status with God confirms her statement (Luke 1:28, 30). Mary, according to her own testimony, was a virgin at the time of Jesus’ conception.
THE PROCLAMATION CONCERNING THE CONCEPTION (LUKE 1:35)
Gabriel answered Mary’s question with the proclamation that the child would be conceived by means of divine power: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
By means of a miraculous conception, the deity of the child is guaranteed. Jesus will truly be the Son of God. The depravity of the human race, caused by Adam’s fall (Romans 5:12) and passed on to all human descendants through the father (Psalm 51:5), is by-passed in Christ’s birth.
Jesus does not partake of inherited depravity. He is born without sin.
However, because Mary is the mother, the humanity of Jesus is guaranteed. Jesus is man of very man (cf. Luke 2:7, “And she brought forth her firstborn son.”)
The Manner of Emmanuel’s Birth
“and shall bring forth a son”
THE WONDER SURROUNDING HIS BIRTH
1. The announcement of the angels to the shepherds (Luke 2:9-14). At first, the shepherds saw only one angel. The glory of the angel was so magnificent and so illuminated the night around them, that they were very frightened. The angel said, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
Then, suddenly, there appeared with the angel a multitude of other angels praising God. They added a threefold statement about the birth of Jesus.
- First, they praise God for His exalted position and sovereignty over all (“Glory to God in the highest”).
- Second, they announce that in the birth of Jesus, the means of bringing peace on earth, had arrived (“and on earth peace”).
- Third, they proclaim that Jesus’ birth demonstrates God’s gracious character and His desire to bless mankind with ultimate good (“good will toward men”).
2. The testimony of the shepherds to Mary and Joseph (Luke 2:16-20).
As soon as the angels had disappeared into the night, the shepherds ran eagerly to Bethlehem to see the child. When they found him, they told Mary and Joseph everything that had happened to them.
Mary treasured up all that they said and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).
THE WORK HE WAS BORN TO DO
Scripture reveals at least four aspects of the work Jesus came to accomplish.
1. Jesus came to reveal the Father. As the “Word,” Jesus is the divinely appointed communicator to explain to mankind what God is like (John 1:18). Jesus said to Philip, “He that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:8-9). If you want to know what the Father is like, study the life of Jesus.
2. Jesus came to redeem the lost. The name “Jesus” means “salvation.” He was so named because he would “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). And in the words of Jesus Himself, “the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).
3. Jesus came to reconcile the world to God. “To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
4. Jesus came to ready a bride. Jesus came to prepare His bride, the Church, for the exalted privilege of reigning with Him as priests and kings (Rev. 5:10; 19:6-9; Ephesians 5:25-27).
The Meaning of the Name Emmanuel
“And they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
The name Emmanuel means “God is with us.” Such a name brings with it great comfort and consolation to many a troubled saint. Wherever you go and whatever happens to you, always remember that God is with you.
GOD IS WITH US IN OUR BATTLES
1. He is “with us” to strengthen us and uphold us. “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).
2. He is “with us” through the floods and fires of life. “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee” (Isaiah 43:2).
GOD IS WITH US IN OUR BROKENNESS
1. He cares about the bruised person. “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth” (Isaiah 42:3).
2. He has come to heal the broken hearted. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18).
Thank God for His unspeakable gift! Born to the winter’s cold embrace came Emmanuel, the light of the human race.
Tiny babe in a bed of straw, your birth has left the world in awe.
Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.