We continue to consider the profound significance of Jesus Christ’s title, Immanuel.
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
As we ponder the miracle of Christ’s birth, we behold His divine nature and human nature coming together in the Incarnation.
The glory of Immanuel
As the apostle John put it, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” (John 1:14a). The word translated “dwelt” is skenoo, meaning “abide (live) in a tabernacle (tent).” This takes us back to the Old Testament Tabernacle–the tent designed by God as symbolic of true, spiritual worship (Exodus 25-27;36-38, 40). Just as the LORD dwelt in the temporary structure of the Tabernacle, even so He came to dwell in the humanity of Jesus. As heavenly glory was revealed by the radiance that rested on the sacred tent over 3000 years ago, even so God glory radiated through His Son during the years of His earthy life: “and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14b).
It has been said that Jesus was the heavenly Son born of an earthly mother; He also was the earthly Son of a heavenly Father. When He was born, Jesus was as old as His Father, yet older than His mother…
The Mission of Immanuel
The Scripture reveals the Son’s humble condescension:
“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross” (Phil. 2:5-8).
Christ’s exaltation is just as awesome. The passage continues,
“Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Since He came to fulfill His mission as our Redeemer, the celebration of Jesus’ birth cannot be separated from the purpose of His coming. His essential mission was to accomplish a perfect atonement at Calvary.
In the nativity account we see glimpses that foreshadow the Cross. For example, when the Christ child was taken by Joseph and Mary into the Temple of Jerusalem (to fulfill the procedures specified in the law of Moses), Simeon blessed them and prophesied. Holding the Baby he prayed:
“‘Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.’ And Joseph and His mother marveled at those things which were spoken of Him. Then Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, ‘Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed'” (Luke 2:25-35).
This sword of sorrow came to pass when Mary witnessed her son’s crucifixion (John 19:25-27).
Another hint that associated Christ’s birth with His eventual death was one of the gifts presented to Him by the wise men. In addition to gold and frankincense, myrrh was given as a tribute to the One whose star was seen in the east (Matt. 2:11). This spice was offered as an oral drug to those sentenced to death (Mark 15:23), and used in the mixture for anointing a body for burial (John 19:39).
The ministry of Immanuel
Because Jesus came as the Son of Man, He is qualified to be an empathetic high priest to whom we can pray:
“For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:15,16; see 2:17).
This poem by Joseph Anstice relates Christ’s divinity and humanity to His birth, atonement, and second coming:
When came in flesh the incarnate Word,
The heedless world slept on,
And only simple shepherds heard
That God had sent His Son.
When comes the Savior at the last,
From east to west shall shine
The awesome pomp, and earth aghast
Shall tremble at the sign.
Then shall the pure of heart be blessed;
As mild He comes to them,
As when upon the virgin’s breast
He lay at Bethlehem.
As mild to meek eyed love and faith,
Only more strong to save;
Strengthened by having bowed to death,
By having burst the grave.
Lord, who could dare see You descend
In state, unless he knew
You are the sorrowing sinner’s Friend,
The gracious and the true?
Dwell in our hearts, O Savior blessed;
So shall Your advent’s dawn
Between us and You, our intimate guest,
Be but the veil withdrawn.
As the Christmas season draws attention to Christ’s birth, may we look past the cultural and traditional trappings and worship Immanuel in spirit and truth.
Part 2 of 2. Copyright 2011 by John B. Woodward. Permission is granted to reprint this article in its entirety for non-commercial use with appropriate credit given. Bible quotations are from the New King James Version (copyright by Thomas Nelson, 1982).
 Hymn: Joseph Anstice (1808-1836) When Came in Flesh The Incarnate Word (with minor editing to update vocabulary)