Bethel CRC Lacombe

December 25, 2023 The Names of Jesus: Immanuel Matthew 1:18-25

December 27, 2023 Pastor Jake Boer Season 8 Episode 6
Bethel CRC Lacombe
December 25, 2023 The Names of Jesus: Immanuel Matthew 1:18-25
Show Notes Transcript

Today we come together to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. We will focus on Matthew 1:18-25, Immanuel. In Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, Joseph is told to give Mary’s baby the name Jesus, which means “he saves.”  Matthew goes on to remind his readers that the prophets told the people that the virgin will have a child and his name will be “Immanuel,” which means God is with us. This is a message of hope and comfort in a troubled world, a message that holds the same hope and comfort in our day!


Matthew 1:18–25


What’s in a name? Our names are important; they reveal to the world who we are. Names are not neutral; they also carry our reputation. When I left home, my dad took me aside and told me to protect our name by not doing anything stupid to hurt it. He told me that he handed down a name filled with respect and honour, the most precious thing he could give us. This has made me always conscious on how my actions and attitudes affect how people see and judge, not so much myself, but my family. God sends an angel to talk to Joseph about the baby Mary is going to have, and the name Joseph is to give this baby boy, but Matthew also points us back to how the prophets referred to this coming baby.

Matthew shares with us some of the details surrounding Jesus’ birth. Mary’s engaged to Joseph, a good man who tries to follow God in the ways he’s been taught. Then something goes horribly wrong. Joseph discovers that Mary’s pregnant and it’s not his child! This is serious enough for the village to get together and stone Mary to death if they find out. Today we’re used to couples having babies before they get married, if they even get married, so many of us don’t feel Joseph’s anguish and sense of betrayal. We read this story and it’s become so familiar to us that we aren’t even shocked anymore. Jesus is a child of shame; his story is filled with embarrassment and tears. Jesus is born into a family with real issues, with real hurts, confusion and still his parents have a trust in God that will shape Jesus’ life later on. But his mother’s reputation will also follow him around during his life, making him more sensitive to those who might find themselves with similar reputations. 

Joseph’s a righteous man and a kind man. While Joseph isn’t Jesus’ biological father, he has an influence on shaping the kind of man Jesus later becomes. Because of Joseph’s kind heart, he decides that he’s not going to expose Mary to the judgment and punishment of the community, instead he plans to quietly divorce her. Now it’s time for God to get involved, so he sends an angel to encourage Joseph to stay married to Mary because the baby is going to need a father with skin and bones. The angel tells Joseph that the baby’s from God and that Mary’s innocent of what Joseph is thinking. Joseph has a tough decision to make, does he trust this vision as coming from God, or does he do the smart thing and divorce Mary. Joseph decides to accept the burden of Mary’s shame and the responsibility of being Jesus’ father. Joseph is a good model of what it means to obey God and do God’s will instead of his own, even if it’s hard. Jesus learns from Joseph that it’s not easy to carry someone else’s burden when you’re innocent, as Joseph carries Mary’s reputation on his shoulders. Jesus later takes on our shame when he goes to the cross.

Jesus is shaped by who his parents are. His parents make sure that all the religious ceremonies are followed, so Jesus is circumcised, dedicated in the temple; a sacrifice is made for him as the oldest son, and Jesus goes through a Bar Mitzvah just like any other Jewish boy would. Mary tells Jesus the story of his birth and the stories of Israel and God. Jesus learns trust in God from Mary, even when you don’t understand what God’s doing. He learns a trade from Joseph and works at it the first few years of his adult life. He probably got yelled at by his bosses when they had a bad day and Jesus needed to learn how to get along with his co-workers and work with them. This is all part of making sure your name is respected and honoured, part of growing up. From Joeseph, Jesus learned what righteousness looked like lived out in relationships and real life, he learned kindness and compassion, he learned what it looks like to protect the vulnerable and scorned. The role of Joseph in Jesus’ life as his father was key in Jesus learning faith-living. 

The angel tells Joseph to name Mary’s baby boy Jesus. The Hebrew name where Jesus comes from is Joshua and means “The Lord saves.” As the angel tells Joseph, this is because “he will save his people from their sins.” But Matthew, who’s writing to a Jewish audience, now takes them back to the Old Testament prophecies about the coming Messiah. Matthew reminds his readers, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).” The prophet Matthew’s referring to here is Isaiah. In Isaiah 7, the kingdom of Judah is under attack by the northern kingdom of Israel and the allied kingdom of Aram. Isaiah and his eldest son go to the king of Judah and tell him to request a sign from God of his choosing that will show him that things would work out for Judah, but King Ahaz refuses to choose a sign, so God tells him that a specific young woman will soon would conceive and give birth to a child. 

Before the child is old enough to know right from wrong, the cities of the kings that threatened Judah will be in ruins. The woman will call her child Immanuel, which means in Hebrew, “God is with us.” The name is a sign of hope, that even though war and the threat of war is all around them, God will save Judah. As one commentator writes, “The message that “God is with us” would be true when the kingdoms of Aram and Samaria were laid waste and Judah was saved. The message that “God is with us” would be no less true when the Assyrians laid siege to Judah and her citizens were killed and enslaved. God is with us not just in times of deliverance, but in times of devastation.” 

Matthew is writing after the fall of the temple in 70 AD. God’s home on earth has been destroyed. The city of God’s presence in the Promised Land has been destroyed by Roman legions. Thousands of Matthew’s readers’ friends and relatives have been brutally killed, hundreds of them by crucifixion on crosses. The world and the future doesn’t look good for the Jews, or the small but growing church. This is the context of Matthew in telling the story to the people in the early church of the angel’s visit to Joseph. Matthew reminds his readers of a prophecy about a child born hundreds of years earlier whose birth pointed to both deliverance and destruction. Matthew argues that Jesus’ birth fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy even more than in its original context. The temple has been destroyed, but Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection are a shout to the world that God is with us!

Matthew translates Immanuel as simply God with us, pointing us straight to Jesus as God’s son, as God himself. This is more than just a promise of God’s presence. It shows God’s deep desire for closeness with us. God’s not far away, up in heaven watching us from a distance; he’s here with us. God becomes one of us in order to live and experience our world in the same with we do, with flesh on his bones, with a heart that beats blood, a stomach that growls when it’s hungry, with the ability to cry real tears, whether of sorrow or laughter. The theological word for this is “incarnation,” meaning that God takes on human flesh. As one unnamed writer puts it, “This means that everything that makes up the physical world – from our planet to our bodies – is important to God. Spirit and matter are not separate, but are one, and God is to be found within our embodied lives. We can rest in the knowledge that God truly is with us, not just in a once off moment in history, but in every moment and every situation.”

Even how Jesus comes, being born just like we are, is important because Jesus depends on his parents for the basics of life, he learns from Mary and Joseph the stories of God and Israel and how to follow God, he grows up in a family with brothers and sisters and learns how to get along with pesky younger siblings, he grows up in a small village with people who share the struggles and joys of life together, who help each other out when times are tough, and who love and fight. Jesus learns what it means to be human. I’ve often wondered if the image of church as a family comes from Jesus’ growing up in a family and seeing its cracks and beauty, its strengths and weaknesses, but especially how it’s a safe and nurturing place to learn about God and the importance of relationships.

We see this come out in Jesus’ teaching and life as he teaches on what it means to follow God in the day-to-day events of life; focusing on growing a Godly character and living well with God and each other. We see his compassion in his interactions with others, leading with grace and forgiveness while at the same time challenging the people to make sure God is first in their life. This Christmas, take time to give thanks for God as our Father, Jesus as our older brother, the Holy Spirit as our encourager, the church as our faith family, and our personal families as gifts given to us from our loving Father.