Jack Graham - Immanuel
Take your Bibles and turn with me to Matthew's Gospel and the very first chapter, Matthew's Gospel. And today the title is "Immanuel". Christmas is a wonderful time of the year for so many people. And yet others find this season to be sad and stressful. For many it is filled with loneliness. And this loneliness seems to be exasperated by the season itself, by all the activities and responsibilities and families together and there’s so much that people miss because of the emptiness and the loneliness of their heart. They just feel empty. Thirty-one percent of Americans according to a recent study by Harvard University, 31 percent of Americans experience loneliness every single day. I see it as a pastor; we see it as a pastoral team here. People who are struggling with loneliness. This same study suggests that 36% said that they feel loneliness almost all of the time.
So it's chronic and it's continual for a third of the American population. Loneliness is quote "the feeling of being alone regardless of the amount of social contact, feeling along regardless of the amount of social contact". You can feel alone in church; some of you do right now. Some of you are watching online and you feel very lonely and very separated. Maybe you even want to be in your church. But for some reason you cannot seem to get here, you can't get here, and you feel isolated and separated. And that's loneliness. The loneliness for many, it is an emotional vacuum, a desire for emotional intimacy. Loneliness is the destress that someone feels when they're social connections do not meet their needs for emotional intimacy.
God made us for relationship. First, to know Him, to have a relationship with Him. He loves you and He wants you to love Him back. But also, that we would love one another. Live in these relationships. But because so often we are separated and so many feel separated from God and separated from others, that it just chips away, even at your health and your happiness. Loneliness happens to senior adults. Some of you have had the experience of saying goodbye to your husband and your wife, and with them you bury half your heart. And you're lonely. But not just older adults are lonely, but young adults. And that young mom in a marriage that is struggling or that businessman whose career may be failing and you're struggling. And students in the age bracket from 18 to 25, 61% of the 18- to 25-year-old group reports substantial degrees of loneliness.
Loneliness. Social Media can actually disconnect a person from genuine relationships and fellowship. One person described it "There are big holes in our social fabric," and that's because we have big holes in our hearts often. That emptiness, that alienation, that loneliness. And these levels of loneliness in the world in America, these are heartbreaking. And one gentleman said, "We need to mobilize strategically to assure that fewer Americans are stranded and disconnected". So this message is about God's answer to your loneliness. A deep desire to have a relationship with God, a longing for God. You were made by Him to know Him. Even Christians often express this loneliness. Certainly, people that are going through struggles in their lives.
I was talking to my friend, Dr. David Jeremiah, this past week and their church in the San Diago area has a wonderful ministry with prisoners. They actually have their members write Christmas cards for men and women in prison and in jail. And the reason is because prisoners will tell you that the worst time to be in prison is at Christmas. Can you imagine? Being separated, being penned up, being kept from family and friends. And then there's broken families. I think of our military. There are so many of the Christmas songs of yesteryear like "I'll be Home for Christmas" came out of the war and out of the military.
So people need to know that they are loved, that someone cares. We’re made to know God intimately. God is transcendent; that means He is above and beyond anything in humanity, anything that we have known. But we need a God who is knowable. We need a God who understands us. We need a God who can be actually with us. Not a God out there somewhere beyond the stars in eternity, but we need to know that God is now here. Some people say God is nowhere; we say God is now here. And the reason is because He is our Immanuel. Chapter one is the story of the birth of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.
Let’s start reading in verse 19: "And her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.' All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has spoken by the prophet", and now he quotes, the angel quotes Isaiah 7:14, "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel", which means, God with us.
This longing, this sincere desire to know God is spoken of by the prophets and through the centuries, before Christ came, the Israelis were crying out for the Messiah to come. And there's a song, a famed Christmas song that picks up on this emotion. "O Come, O come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel". And that is the heart cry of all of us. Come, O come Immanuel. God, be with us. The prophet did, indeed, in Isaiah 7:14 speak of that One who was to come who would be born of a virgin and be God with us. Joseph discovers that Mary is pregnant, and assuming the worst, suspecting the possibility that she had been unfaithful to him, rather than put her to open shame, he decided, this good and godly man decided to quietly divorce her rather than expose her in some way. What a good man. And imagine how lonely he must have felt. And how Mary must have felt in this time of separation and potential conflict in their lives. And they loved one another; now it's being torn apart.
Put yourself in the Scripture there. But the angel appears to Joseph as the angel had appeared to Mary, and assures this godly man that the Baby in the womb of Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit, overshadowing the womb of Mary. Not because she had been unfaithful to him; because she had been faithful to God and a miraculous conception took place. And a virgin birth would take place. And the angel instructs Joseph as to the name of the Messiah. "Jesus, for he will save his people from their sin".
The very name Jesus means God our Savior. Jesus, sweetest name I know. But the name above all names, perhaps in my estimation the most important name of the names of our Lord on earth is Immanuel. Because it means that God is now with us. The name Immanuel means everything! Everything is included in this truth. It means that God has come down from the throne of heaven, that God has visited us, that He walked among us. Born as a Baby, the Creator in a cradle, majesty in a manger, born in a barn. The Son of God in a stable. God with us. The theologians describe this as Incarnation which means God in the flesh. The Incarnate nation. It's spoken of often in the Scripture.
John 1:14 says: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory of the Father in heaven". One paraphrase of John 1:14 "He came and dwelt among us" is that "He moved into our neighborhood". It's true. God is among us now. This wonderful Savior. And the greatest gift was not something that God sent, but He gave Himself because God was in that manger. Christ Himself is the Lord of all. He is the virgin-born Son of God. The prophet Isaiah said, "A child is born; a son is given". What a message! What a miracle that God would send His Son, the incarnation of God. First Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16 says: "Great is the mystery of godliness, that God was manifest in the flesh, that God was revealed in the flesh".
This is core-Christianity. This is the cardinal doctrine of our faith. And without the incarnation, without God with us, without Immanuel, nothing else is possible! Without the supernatural birth of the Savior, the miraculous conception and virgin birth of Jesus, there is no sinless life, there is no sacrificial death on the cross, the pure and perfect Lamb of God. There is no sensational saving glorious resurrection! There is no exaltation of Christ apart from what God did when He became one of us. God with us! Pure and perfect deity and pure and perfect humanity. Not half man and half God; all God, no man; all man, no God. No! The God-Man! You cannot be a Christian and deny the deity of Jesus Christ and the humanity of Jesus. Because without the virgin birth, the deity of Christ, born, demonstrated in Christ, then there is no salvation.
You cannot be a Christian if you do not believe in who Jesus says He is, and who the Bible tells us He is. Some people want to doubt the virgin birth, others want to deny it, others want to dismiss it and not talk about it, but we declare it! We declare it because it is the truth of God’s Word. And without it, again, nothing else is possible! None of the rest of it. All that God has done is possible apart from this miraculous birth, supernatural Savior who came to earth. Jesus in Matthew 22 and verse 42, asked a question; it is the question of all questions. “What do you think of Christ? Who’s Son is He?” And every person has to answer that question. “What do you think of Christ? Who’s Son is He?”
Larry King, a popular interviewer and probably interviewed more people on television than anyone in history. I'm sure it's true. From statesmen to politicians to celebrities and all the rest. Larry King, being a Jewish man was once asked, "If he could ask God one question, what would it be"? And Larry King said, "God, do you have a Son"? That is the question. Is Jesus God's Son, the Savior of the world? Is He truly Immanuel? "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing". We sing it in services and many will lift their voices to sing this great carol of Christmas.
Listen to the words: "Christ by highest heaven adored, Christ the everlasting Lord! Late in time behold Him come, offspring of a Virgin's womb. Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, hail the Incarnate Deity. Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hark! The herald angels sing, 'Glory to the newborn King!'" What a great song! But don’t sing it if you don’t believe it. “Hail Incarnate Deity!” “Jesus, our Emmanuel.” God with us!
If you deny the Lord, you say, "Well, I'm one of those progressive Christians. I don't believe in the supernatural. I don't believe in the virgin birth. I don't believe in a lot of things. I'm a progressive". Well, you're going to progress right into hell if you don't trust Christ as your Savior and your Lord! And confess Him as who He is. And there are a lot of churches that have abandoned the truth of the Gospel, and Jesus saturates those places with His absence. It is Jesus that brings us together. Why else would we get together like this? On Sundays or any other time? Well, we like each other and we're friends and we're neighbors, but what really brings us together is Jesus! He's the one! Because we believe and trust in Him. We have received Him and He is in our lives. God the Son!
Again, I repeat it just in case you didn't catch it. If you do not believe Jesus is God in the flesh, you can't be saved. This is the first and ultimate confession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. You say, "Well, I don't know if I can believe that". The Holy Spirit will make it clear to you. When Simon Peter confessed, "You are the Christ, the Son of God", Jesus said, "The Holy Spirit told you that". And if you will pray, and sincerely ask Him, He will show you who He is and you will be inviting Christ into your life as well. God the Son, Immanuel. And God the Savior, our Immanuel. It means that God has come near to us and He therefore, has become dear to us. We have a Savior. Maybe you’ve seen this on some Christmas cards or online somewhere.
I’ve read it many times. It says: "You know if our greatest need was an educator, God would have sent a teacher. If our greatest need was advice, God would have sent a psychiatrist. If our greatest need was money, God would have sent a banker. If our greatest need was entertainment, God would have sent an entertainer. But our greatest need was salvation. Our greatest need was to be forgiven of our sin and our hearts changed and transformed. So God sent a Savior and His name is Immanuel. It is forgiveness that we need, and so Jesus Immanuel—He came to save His people from their sin".
So God is with us I was just imagining all the ways in which God is with us. God is with us in our struggles, when we need strength to go on. God is with us in our sorrows, in our suffering when our hearts are breaking. That God is with us; His Spirit is within us. In our sins and our missteps and our mistakes, when we fail and wonder does God still love me? Does God still care? Immanuel is there for you. And you can repent and return to the Lord. He is all inclusive Immanuel. He is Jesus. When God wanted to save us, He didn’t send an angel; He didn’t say read a book. He said believe in Jesus My Son. You Savior.
Trust in Immanuel and He will live in you! And if you feel lonely, if you feel isolated and separated and you wonder, "Where is God in my life"? His presence is with you! That is a promise. He said, "I will never leave you or forsake you". His presence. You can say it's not about the presences under the tree but the Present on the tree, that Jesus Immanuel went to the cross, went to the tree. "Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree", the cross. And Jesus is the Gift of Christmas. Lonely? What is it to be lonely? It is to feel unloved; it is to feel unwanted; it is to feel unneeded or unnecessary. How many people feel like that: unwanted, unneeded, unnecessary? Wondering if they can keep going like this. The message of Immanuel is that you are loved, that you are wanted, that you are welcome into the presence of God.
When I first began to preach, I was just 16 years of age and my first sermon was taken from John's Gospel, chapter 15. For it says that God, Jesus says, "I will no longer call you My servants, but My friends". And as a young person I was so taken by that. That God could be my friend, that He could be that real to me! I liked my friends, but that God could be a Friend to me, that I could be a friend of God? That blew my mind! So I preached it to my friends. You know, if you know Jesus as a Friend, you have an opportunity to tell your friends about your Friend Jesus, don't you? We hopefully thankful and grateful and even proud of our friends. If you've got good friends, I mean, you you want others to know your friends! I want others to know my Friend Jesus because Jesus is real to me! I don't say that braggingly; I say it honestly and thankfully.
Jesus is real to me. Jesus said he is a "friend that sticks closer than a brother". I had a wonderful brother 13 years my senior. Such a great example for me, a hero to me. It's wonderful to have a good brother like that. Jesus, He was a friend as well as a brother. Jesus is Friend that sticks closer than a brother! You can have a friend like this. Someone who knows you; someone who gets you, someone who likes you, someone who loves you. I'm not talking about your Facebook friends, or your social media acquaintances. I'm talking about Jesus; I'm talking about God our Friend. You're loved, you're wanted, you're welcome. Immanuel. Jesus. He said, "No love is greater than this: that a man would lay down his life for his friends".
And one more thing: the church, God's church, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ is a family of friends. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. And we are the friends of Jesus. And therefore, because we believe Him and we belong to Him, we belong to one another. And if you are a friend of Jesus, you are a friend of mine. We may not be in the same denomination or the same church, but if you know and love Jesus, you are a friend of Jesus, you are my friend. Now we are to love everyone as God loves everyone. Jesus was a friend of sinners. But the fact is that our closest and dearest relationships in life are the friends of God. The friends of Immanuel. Our friends.
And that’s why we need the church and so many people have been separated and out of church and frankly, the loneliness and all the rest, that you feel left out is because you’re just not back where you belong. You’re not in the fellowship and the communion and community of faith. You’re not with your friends in Christ. So let me encourage you to be here, because there is a certain sense in which when we are together in Christ and His Spirit moves in ways that we experience His presence like no other time in our lives. Jesus, Immanuel. You are loved and beloved. He will never leave you or forsake you. In life's sorrows, steps and missteps, failures, foibles, He is with you. Don't ever doubt that.