Saturday, December 24, 2011

Greater Fulfillment and God With Us


The Gospel According to Matthew makes it clear that the child Mary carried was conceived, not of any man, but by the Spirit of God. “Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 1:18). The angel of the Lord told Joseph, “Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (v. 20). Matthew sees in this the fulfillment of a prophetic word spoken by Isaiah some 700 years earlier.
So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the LORD through the prophet, saying: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:22-23, quoting Isaiah 7:14)
This word from Isaiah is something of a mystery. It was given in response to a particular historical moment within Isaiah’s own day. Many Bible scholars agree that it had a meaning pertaining to that time. But as with many of the signs and events of the Old Testament, it also seemed to have significance larger than its own time. Alfred Edersheim comments on how Jews tended to view the Old Testament writings.
Perhaps the most valuable element in Rabbinic commentation on Messianic times is that in which, as so frequently, it is explained, that all the miracles and deliverances of Israel’s past would be re-enacted, only in a much wider manner, in the days of the Messiah. Thus the whole past was symbolic, and typical of the future. It is in this sense that we would understand the two sayings of the Talmud: “All the prophets prophesied only the days of the Messiah” (Sanh. 99a), and “The world was created only for the Messiah” (Sanh. 98b). (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, cited here)
On the day Jesus was raised from the dead, He encountered two disciples who were on their way to Emmaus. They had not recognized Him and He had not revealed His identity to them, but He spoke to them about the meaning of Messiah. “And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27). This was not merely a matter of citing an explicit prophecy here and there about Messiah — no, the whole of the Old Testament continually pushes toward the coming of the messianic age, the coming of God’s rule and reign over Israel and the nations, the coming of God’s King.

Isaiah’s prophesy about the virgin, whatever else it may mean, does appear to speak beyond its own time and with a greater meaning. In the immediate context, Isaiah gives the word to King Ahaz, but he addresses it to the “house of David” (Isaiah 7:13), thus enlarging the word with messianic significance. This would be quite in line with the messianic theme that is woven throughout the rest of the book.

However, saying that this prophecy had a greater messianic meaning does not explain how it would actually work out in history. There does not appear to have been any expectation among the Jews that their Messiah would be conceived by the Holy Spirit — they probably would not have been able to imagine such a thing. Some things are better grasped in retrospect, not ahead of time.

And isn’t that how God works so very often. He is able to do “exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). God comes and arranges things and answers prayers in ways that may be very different, and much better, than we might have expected or could have even imagined.

So here is how the Messiah came into the world, conceived not by any man but by God Himself, through the Holy Spirit, and born of the Virgin Mary. Now that it had happened in that way, Matthew could readily see how it fulfilled the ancient prophecy, unexpectedly and in a way much greater than could have been imagined. It also gave greater significance to the prophetic statement, “They shall call His name Immanuel.”

Immanuel means “God with us.” In Isaiah’s day, they could easily have understood that as God watching over, hearing and delivering His people with mighty acts of divine providence. God is certainly with us in that sense. But to see that what actually happened, that the Messiah was conceived by the Spirit of God, that He was actually divine as well as human … well, that raises the meaning of Immanuel to new and unexpected heights: God is really with us — in Person!

Now, the name actually given to this child was Jesus, not Immanuel. But He is called Immanuel, “God with us,” because it is actually what He is. John, in his telling of the gospel, brings this out in a different way. He speaks of Jesus as the Word and identifies Him as God, in John 1:1. Then, in verse 14, he declares “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The God of heaven making His abode with humanity on earth.

In Jesus the Messiah, God is truly with us. This I believe with all my heart. I have known the Lord Jesus for about 50 years now, ever since I was a little child. Over the years, I have come to recognize His presence more and more. It is a very real relationship and a very deep presence that I have experienced. More real and deeper than I can say.

On the other hand, there is a man in the Bible study I teach who has come to know the Lord late in life, in just the last couple of years. He is in his sixties and regrets that he did not come sooner. But he is very aware of the presence of God in his life and he rejoices in the great change the Lord Jesus has made in his heart. He knows very well that God is with him, dwelling with him.

My hope for you in this Christmas season is that you may experience God with you through Jesus the Messiah. That you may know the joyful expectation of that to which He has called you, that you may know the riches of the wonderful inheritance He has for you, and that you may know the mighty working of His great power on your behalf, the same power by which He raised Jesus from the dead and seated Him as King over all.



Let Earth Receive Her King
Let Earth Receive Her King
Advent, Christmas and the Kingdom of God
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.