Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel (which means, God with us).
-- Matthew 1:123
It's been told, and fairly well observed, that the difference between dogs and cats is this: your dog thinks you are god, while your cat thinks it is god.
People come into our world more like cats than dogs. We are trained, intentionally and inadvertently, to believe we are the center of the universe and everything revolves around us. We are led to believe all persons and things exist to glorify and please us.
We stare at babies, veritably worshipfully. We feed them, change them, bathe them, carry them. The Queen of Sheba has nothing on a contemporary toddler being strolled down the aisles of Target wearing sunglasses and designer tennis shoes (and I've got photos of my granddaughter, Evelyn, to prove it!). Then, when they get the keys to their own kingdoms at age 16, they feel they can go wherever they will, with whomever they will, and do whatever they will, which by definition are the prerogatives not of humans but of a sovereign God.
The only thing that can correct the notion that we are our own gods is the new birth. Such spiritual conversion is necessary to convince a person that God was not invented to serve and cater to us, but rather we were created to serve and worship the true and living God. This salvation comes when we accept the promise of "Immanuel." God is with us, if God is above us, and when God is in us.
The original prophecy of "Immanuel" is a double entendre. The first meaning fulfilled in Isaiah's second son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz, who by the time he was grown, would live to see God save Jerusalem and Judea from the hand of the Assyrians.
The second interpretation of "Immanuel," however, makes the promise more permanent. It claims God can be with us in such a way to save us, not from some earthly army like the Assyrians, but from the evils of sin and death and Hell. This is a prophecy about salvation, regeneration, the new birth and new life with God through the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
God is with us, God is for us, God has come to save us! But, God will only be with us if we put God above us (ref. Matthew 6:33).
In the days of Isaiah, northern Israel did not put Yahweh first, and they were destroyed and deported. For a season, southern Judah was faithful, and God was with them, until they, too, became altogether apostate, and God abandoned them to the Babylonians. The point is clear, God is with us, when God is above us.
The same is true of the spiritual side of the promise of "Immanuel." God is with us, to save us, from sin and death and Hell, when God is above us as the true Lord and Savior of our lives.
To put God above us we must surrender to the sovereignty and salvation of God. By sovereignty, I mean it is God, not us, who can do whatever He wills, whenever He wills, to whomever He wills. By salvation, I mean it is God who saves us, not we ourselves, and He does so by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ, "Immanuel," alone.
"Immanuel" is Savior when "Immanuel" is Lord. God is with the one in whom God is above, who rightly worship the Lord in public and private, and who freely and willingly serve the Lord by abiding by His word. God is with us, but only if we put Him above us, and this is when He truly lives in us.
For God to live in us we are told we need to ask Jesus into our hearts. But an emotional relationship with Jesus, which is all most American Christians have, is not sufficient to gain eternal life.
The gospel of Jesus Christ which brings God into us first enters our minds, our intellects, our understanding. This is called repentance, a change of mind that leads to a change of heart, and a change of will. When the heart is engaged, we feel naked and ashamed, convicted of our many sins. Then grace and mercy melts our guilt and forges freedom, forgiveness, hope, and overwhelming love. Finally, our wills are then freed to obey and honor God, to understand and apply the word of God, to rightly worship and serve God in His church.
"Immanuel," God is with us, when He is above us, and when by grace through repentance and faith in Christ He is in us!
Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church, 5963 Central Ave. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected]