Immanuel, God With Us

immanuel-god-with-us

This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet:

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child!
She will give birth to a son,
and they will call him Immanuel,
which means ‘God is with us.’” (Matt 1:18–23, NLT)

I don’t know about you, but for me, the Sunday between Christmas and New Year’s is a bit awkward. It’s kind of a twilight zone, sandwiched between the excitement and stress of the Christmas season and the anticipation and trepidation of the New Year with all of the hopes, dreams, and possibilities that go along with turning the page from one year to the next.

For me, Christmas is a time to look back on the previous year, asking the Lord to show me when and how He was working in my life. It brings to a close the season of thanksgiving that for many of us began on that fourth Thursday in November. New Year’s is a time when I look forward, asking the Lord for direction and wisdom to show me when and how He wants me to follow Him. It sets in motion many of the experiences I will have throughout the new year, or at least, through the first three-to-six weeks. But this in-between week is a bit of a let-down. There’s leftovers and gifts to enjoy but it’s time to take down the decorations, go back to work, and settle back into the daily grind of life.

Matthew records how the angel told Joseph that the child’s name is Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). As we look back at the last year, let’s not miss all that God’s done for us. In fact, let’s look back a little further, say, nearly 2000 years. Let’s look back and remember how God the Son added a human nature to Himself, became a human baby named Jesus, and entered the world with all the pomp and circumstance of a poor, humble peasant child. And let’s remember that world-changing, earth-shattering, veil-tearing moment 33 years later when Jesus the Son fulfilled his eternal calling by taking the sins of all people, who ever did and ever would live, as his own, enduring the excruciating pain of crucifixion, and the even more agonizing wrath of the Father toward sin, so that His blood sacrifice could provide an eternal, once-for-all sin-offering for everyone who trusts in Him. And let’s not forget that moment in our own lives, maybe only a few days or weeks or years in recent past, when the joy of His salvation entered our hearts for the first time in that moment we trusted in Him as Savior and Lord.

Matthew also tells us that Jesus’ birth fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, that this babe is called “Immanuel, which means God with us” (Matt 1:23). It doesn’t say, “God who was with us.” It says, “God with us.” Salvation isn’t a one-time event. Jesus doesn’t say, “hey, trust me just this once, now here’s your get-into-heaven-free card.” Salvation has a moment of beginning but it has everlasting results. Think about it—salvation from what? From sin, from death, from hell. But I’m still a sinner! And I’m still gonna die! Exactly! Which means salvation isn’t complete this side of heaven. It’s not complete until we escape the final judgment and enter the eternal state, abiding in the presence of our triune God.

As we look forward to a New Year, I want to encourage you with this: The Father is looking forward to spending more time with you this New Year. The Father is looking forward to wrapping his arms around you, just like the father in the parable of the Prodigal Son did when his wayward child returned home. The Father is looking forward to answering your prayers, changing your heart, and transforming your mind. The Father is calling to you, inviting you to fellowship with Him. But, you say, “I’m a sinner, a wretch, a nobody, how can this happen?” It happens when we, covered by the blood of Christ, carried by the power of the Spirit, receive the invitation of God Almighty to commune with Him in prayer. It happens when we abide in His eternal presence. And when we mess up, we go to Him, humble ourselves, confess our sins, ask for forgiveness, and let our loving heavenly Father restore us back to full fellowship with Himself.

Christmas has come and gone this year. A New Year begins tonight. Whatever your goals, hopes, dreams, and resolutions, the Father is calling to You—to all of us—inviting us to dwell in His presence, ask Him for guidance, confess our hurts and fears and pains, and even vent our frustrations to Him. Our loving heavenly Father is continually inviting us to live every moment with Him. So, in this New Year, let’s embrace our spiritual adoption as children of the Almighty God and draw near to our loving Father, carried by the power of the Spirit, and entering His presence through Jesus the Son—God with us.

Rivers of Living Water

living-water

On the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive; for the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37–39, NKJV)

Verse 37 begins, “on the last day, that great day of the feast.” Chapter 7 describes a series of interactions Jesus had with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. Verse 2 tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.

The Old Covenant instructed the Jews to celebrate several festivals throughout the year. The Feast of Tabernacles (Booths, Shelters) was the third of the three major yearly festivals (the first was Passover and Unleavened Bread, the second was Pentecost). It was called the Feast of Tabernacles because on the first day of the feast every household constructed a very simple shelter from tree branches which they lived in for the rest of the eight-day festival.[1]

The first day of the Feast of Tabernacles was a Sabbath day and no secular work was permitted. Every day a series of sacrifices was required including bulls, rams, lambs, and goats, as well as grain and drink offerings. Also, by New Testament times, a tradition developed where each of the seven days of the Feast a priest led a parade of people making joyful music to the Pool of Siloam, where he drew water using a golden pitcher and brought it back to the temple.[2]

On the eighth day, a Sabbath day, each household took down its shelter and there was a great community feast, but the priest didn’t go down to the Pool of Siloam. This is the day and the great feast when Jesus stood up and said, “He who believes in Me, … out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38).

So on the eighth day, the priest stopped going to get water at the Pool of Siloam. And on the eighth day, Jesus stood up and claimed to offer Living Water. John tells us plainly in verse 39 that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit. So here, Jesus used the symbolism of the Jewish Feast of Tabernacles and the water from the Pool of Siloam to share the promise of the Holy Spirit for all who believe with everyone at the Feast.

But the timing of Jesus’ statement about himself being the source of Living Water—the Holy Spirit—has additional significance. The Feast of Tabernacles was instructed as a festival of remembrance for the time the Israelites spent wandering in the wilderness.

It might seem like the shelters were a form of fasting—depriving them of the comforts of living in their own homes. And in a literal sense they were, but spiritually, something else was going on. The shelters were a physical reminder of how God delivered the Hebrew people from bondage in the house of Egypt and into freedom that comes through trusting God for everything they need.

In Exodus 16, the Israelites complain to Moses about not having food and the LORD provided Bread from Heaven for their daily sustenance. In Exodus 17, the Israelites complain to Moses about not having any water and we see how the LORD provides water for Israel. Water that flows from the rock, the rock which was stricken, in the wilderness, so that the Israelites might live. That rock is a picture of Jesus Christ, and the water is a picture of the Holy Spirit.

When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob in John 4, he said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

On the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles—the Jewish festival that celebrates God’s provision for the Israelites in the wilderness—Jesus stood up, quoted Isaiah 55:1, and proclaimed, “If anyone thirsts, let Him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, … out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

Christ is the Rock of our salvation. And for all who are willing to come to him and ask, He gives us eternal life. But God didn’t intend for our eternal inheritance to be characterized by a dry, arid wasteland of legalistic intellectualism. Nor did He intend it to be a wild-eyed, unrestrained exhibition of unbridled emotionalism. God intends for his gift of eternal life to be characterized by the outpouring and overflowing of His life-giving Spirit, Who nourishes us daily, fill us with God’s love, grace and mercy, leads us in all truth, empowers us to serve His Kingdom, and comforts and strengthens us even in our darkest times of grief, frustration, and heartache.

But such a vibrant life in the Spirit has one recurring condition. We can’t do it on our own power and He won’t force it on us. To experience the life-transforming power of the Spirit in our lives, day-by-day and moment-by-moment, we have to humble ourselves and draw near to our Lord Jesus Christ. As the Scriptures say, we must go to Him to drink.

[1] R. K. Harrison, “Booths, Feast of,” in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Rev. ed., ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979–1988), 535. Logos Bible Software.

[2] Merrill F. Unger, “Festivals,” in The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, ed. R.K. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1988). Logos Bible Software.