Immanuel, God with us

The story of Christmas is not ordinary. Whether true or not that Jesus was actually born on the 25th December is not the main focus. The main point we celebrate Christmas as Christians is the fact that at a point in time in history Jesus was born. This changed everything.

Jesus’s birth was not ordinary. In fact, his birth was a fulfilment of a prophecy in Isaiah 7:14, presenting an amazing gift so profound it shaped the course of history. Matthew 1:22-23 records the fulfilment of this prophecy: “All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us)’” (emphasis added). What a beautiful name, Immanuel. Our understanding of Jesus as God with us changes everything.

The Gospel of John opens up in an extraordinary way. Unlike the first three Gospels (especially Matthew and Luke) which outline the paternal (legally) and maternal genealogies of Jesus (see Matt. 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38), and in later chapters reveal him as God, John starts before everything began. The Gospel of John opens and closes by identifying Jesus not with his earthly parents, but with God (see John 1:1-18 and John 20:28). In essence, it says that Jesus was not just an ordinary holy man birthed by Mary, rather he was with God and was actually God before everything began (John 1:1).

The Gospel of John and 1 John were authored by the same person, namely, apostle John. In 1 John he starts almost exactly the same way he does in the Gospel of John. What apostle John was doing is elevating Christ in the minds of the readers. He was saying, “You see that man who was crucified? You know him? He wasn’t just a man.” That’s a big theme in the writings of apostle John: Jesus wasn’t just a man. In fact, Jesus himself claimed that he wasn’t just a man.

One of the most remarkable and almost blasphemous statements, yet beautiful and true, is found in Mark 14:62. The high priest asked Jesus, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (v. 61). Then Jesus answered, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (v. 62). Even better, in John 5:18 we read: “This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God” (emphasis added). But there’s no direct statement from someone affirming Jesus as God than John 20:28. There Thomas directly calls Jesus “My Lord and my God!”

Jesus Christ was with God and was God before the universe was created. What makes celebrating his birth worthwhile is that he became a man. As Christians, we celebrate Christmas because God became a man. After birth, he was called Immanuel, God with us. Do you see the implications of this statement? Jesus walking on the earth’s soil, and sweating salty water, was literally God with us.

As Christians, we celebrate Christmas because God became a man. After birth, he was called Immanuel, God with us. tweet

Apostle John doesn’t only affirm Jesus Christ as God, he also fully identifies him as a true human. In 1 John 1:1 he says of him: “… which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands…” (emphasis added). He’s saying Jesus wasn’t a mystical human look-alike being walking on earth. Apostle John and others literally used some of their five human senses from their bodies to look, hear, and touch him. In fact, just like any other human, Jesus got hungry (Matt. 4:2), he got thirsty (John 19:28), he got tired (John 4:6), and he fell asleep (Mark 4:38). It’s a puzzling mystery how Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human yet one person. But one thing is sure, without this truth, he couldn’t be a perfect sacrifice (see Heb. 10:1-18).

This is why we celebrate Christmas. At a moment in history, God took on flesh and became a human for the purpose of offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins. If God didn’t come on earth as Jesus Christ and died for our sins, we would be hopeless and still dead in our sins. But it’s not so. God came on earth and lived among us—Immanuel—then died for us only to resurrect triumphant on the third day for us. This is what Christmas is all about for Christians.

Not only do we celebrate his first coming as a baby laid in a manger, but we look forward to his second coming as King who would eternally rule his Kingdom. O, what joy that would bring to those found ready and waiting for him.

May the fact that Jesus Christ is Immanuel inspire a heart of true worship in you this Christmas. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Lesetja Lekoloane

Lesetja Lekoloane is a BSc graduate from the University of Pretoria. He’s the founder and board chair of Eternal Passion, a Christ-centred Christian organisation which aims to spread a passion for Jesus Christ in Africa. He’s also the author of "Racism – A biblical viewpoint" (2016).