immanuel - god is with us
What an assuring thought! To know that God came to be with us through the birth of Jesus 2,000 years ago, which we now celebrate as Christmas Day. What a joyous day! What a joyous sign! What a joyous occasion!
As I reflected on this sign that was given, I was brought back to Isaiah 7:14 where the sign was first promised… on a not-so-joyous day and occasion. As much as this was a sign of promise, it was also an ominous sign of impending judgement for those who did not put their trust in the one true God who alone delivers. The sign of Immanuel was given to a king (King Ahaz of Judah in the Old Testament) when he was not ready to receive the sign! It was a sign given at a time when a faithless people did not want to put their trust in the faithful God who had promised deliverance. The promise of Immanuel was given in a context of unbelief.
Judah’s enemies, a powerful Syro-Ephraimite alliance, were pressing in and King Ahaz wanted to turn to Assyria to form an even more powerful alliance to overcome his enemies; he would prefer the strength of human allies than to put his trust in the chariots of God! His human wisdom overruled his trust in divine intervention. As a result, the sign of Immanuel was given – that while God’s people would be delivered, Assyria would also overrun Judah and the whole land would eventually be ravished because King Ahaz looked to Assyria for deliverance, instead of trusting in Lord God Almighty.
Immanuel – God with us – is not a promise that everything will be alright. It doesn’t mean that there will be no more problems and troubles in our lives. But it does mean that the Almighty God will not abandon us, that He is sovereign and in control over all that happens to us and will walk with us through life’s problems and troubles. God knows our predicaments and He will provide a way out in His time, and on His terms.
God with us! Therefore, we need not live in fear of the unknown because God is with us. We need not live in fear of the “what-ifs” because God is with us. We can live with peace and hope because God is with us!
Oftentimes, when we encounter difficulties, be it a difficult situation or troublesome people, our response is often “Why, Lord?” or “Where are you God?” But Scripture promises – Immanuel, God is with us. Therefore, the question we need to ask is not whether God is with us (because He already is!), but rather, are we with God? Are we willing to submit ourselves to God’s timing and God’s purpose in our lives? Are we willing to turn to God on His terms?
The sign Immanuel doesn’t stop there. In the midst of Judah’s impending destruction because of her faithlessness, there is still hope because God promised He would come to be with them! The prophet Isaiah continues with the prophecy and vision that in the midst of distress, darkness, and anguish, “the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light… 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” (Isa 9: 2, 6). This is who the promised Immanuel truly is! He is the Prince of Peace – Jesus Christ. Only He, as the gospel-writer Matthew rightly points out to us, is the true and ultimate fulfilment of the sign of Immanuel in its fullness: God with us.
Our world today is more technologically advanced, more hygienic and civil than the days of old. Yet in reality, the world is in greater distress and darkness than ever before. The gloom of anguish overshadows us like never before: nations are standing at the edge of a nuclear war; rising sea levels is wrecking climatic havoc; growing national debts are becoming economically unsustainable; there are increased racial and global tensions and widespread secularisation that threaten the very soul of a country and its citizens and rampant abuse of the sanctity of human life. More than ever before, we stand in need of God’s deliverance and divine intervention. God has already shown us the way of salvation through the child who is born to us, Immanuel.
At the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) when the child Immanuel was given, He was received by a king (King Herod in the New Testament) who did not welcome the sign. Immanuel came to a people who did not have true faith, but were as “whitewashed tombs” (Matt 23: 27). It was in the midst of unbelief that Immanuel gave His life for us, so that “whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The sign of Immanuel confronts us with a choice that we must make. Do we accept or reject Immanuel as God’s answer to our human predicament of eternal damnation and separation from the God, our Creator? Do we respond in trusting faith or in apathy to the God who graciously gave us His Son for our justification and deliverance? Do we believe wholeheartedly or simply pay lip-service to the one who says; “if anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For, whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Luke 9:23-24).
Make no mistake, at the next “fullness of time” (Eph 1:10), Immanuel will come again “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”. As He had come 2,000 years ago, so He will come again. As much as He is with us, we will be with Him. Maranatha! Even so, come, Lord Jesus (Rev 22: 20). n
Author: Revd Alvin Toh (Revd Alvin is a deacon, serving at the 8 am and 11:15 am Sunday Services, St Andrew’s Cathedral. He oversees the Christian Education Department. His wife, Felicia, and three children worships at the 8 am Sunday Service.)
First published in The Courier, December 2013.