Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:22-23)
As we contemplate together what it means for God to be with us, let’s first turn our attention to the prophet Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was taken captive to Babylon in about 597 BC. That was 600 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. It wasn’t until after Ezekiel was exiled that God called him to the ministry of a prophet. So, he prophesied to God’s people in captivity, a capacity in which he served for 23 years.
Ezekiel had a unique and unusual ministry. But that is a story for another time.
You see, Ezekiel’s prophecies are not usually thought of in connection with the Christmas story. But Ezekiel had an experience I want you to think about, because Ezekiel was one of the few people in the Bible who was given a glimpse into heaven.
As you read these words Ezekiel wrote about his experience, don’t try to figure out all the details. Honestly, Ezekiel seems to be trying to describe something that he himself has difficulty explaining. Just try to imagine what it was like to be in Ezekiel’s sandals – try to imagine the experience of peering into the heavenly throne room:
Ezek. 1:1 Now it came about in the thirtieth year, on the fifth day of the fourth month, while I was by the river Chebar among the exiles, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God…
Ezek. 1:4 As I looked, behold, a storm wind was coming from the north, a great cloud with fire flashing forth continually and a bright light around it, and in its midst something like glowing metal in the midst of the fire. 5 Within it there were figures resembling four living beings. And this was their appearance: they had human form. 6 Each of them had four faces and four wings. 7 Their legs were straight and their feet were like a calf’s hoof, and they gleamed like burnished bronze. 8 Under their wings on their four sides were human hands. As for the faces and wings of the four of them, 9 their wings touched one another; their faces did not turn when they moved, each went straight forward. 10 As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man; all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. 11 Such were their faces. Their wings were spread out above; each had two touching another being, and two covering their bodies. 12 And each went straight forward; wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go, without turning as they went. 13 In the midst of the living beings there was something that looked like burning coals of fire, like torches darting back and forth among the living beings. The fire was bright, and lightning was flashing from the fire. 14 And the living beings ran to and fro like bolts of lightning.
Ezek. 1:15 Now as I looked at the living beings, behold, there was one wheel on the earth beside the living beings, for each of the four of them. 16 The appearance of the wheels and their workmanship was like sparkling beryl, and all four of them had the same form, their appearance and workmanship being as if one wheel were within another. 17 Whenever they moved, they moved in any of their four directions without turning as they moved. 18 As for their rims they were lofty and awesome, and the rims of all four of them were full of eyes round about. 19 Whenever the living beings moved, the wheels moved with them. And whenever the living beings rose from the earth, the wheels rose also. 20 Wherever the spirit was about to go, they would go in that direction. And the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. 21 Whenever those went, these went; and whenever those stood still, these stood still. And whenever those rose from the earth, the wheels rose close beside them; for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels.
Ezek. 1:22 Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads. 23 Under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward the other; each one also had two wings covering its body on the one side and on the other. 24 I also heard the sound of their wings like the sound of abundant waters as they went, like the voice of the Almighty, a sound of tumult like the sound of an army camp; whenever they stood still, they dropped their wings. 25 And there came a voice from above the expanse that was over their heads; whenever they stood still, they dropped their wings.
Ezek. 1:26 Now above the expanse that was over their heads there was something resembling a throne, like lapis lazuli in appearance; and on that which resembled a throne, high up, was a figure with the appearance of a man. 27 Then I noticed from the appearance of His loins and upward something like glowing metal that looked like fire all around within it, and from the appearance of His loins and downward I saw something like fire; and there was a radiance around Him. 28 As the appearance of the rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the appearance of the surrounding radiance. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face and heard a voice speaking.
Ezek. 2:1 Then He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet that I may speak with you!” (NASB)
Ezekiel’s account is awesome! Glorious! Beautiful beyond description!
Try to imagine what it was like for Ezekiel when, from the midst of that incredible glory, the voice of God spoke to him, a mere man… Such is the heart of God that extends grace to mankind!
This is a picture of the glory that Jesus laid aside to become a man. Jesus traded the glory of heaven for the life of a humble man, even of a servant to men.
Immanuel. God with us. God became flesh and dwelt among us.
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I think sometimes we have become too familiar with Jesus, or with the idea of Jesus.
He draws us near to Him and we gladly come. To be near to Him is good!
We use a word – incarnation. It’s one of those words that is not found in the Bible, but that we use to describe a Biblical concept. It literally means “in flesh.” Jesus, the Son of God, laid aside His divine privileges, the glory of heaven, and took on human flesh. He experienced life as a human being with all its stresses and pains and pleasures. He lived life just as you and I do, but with one exception: He lived without sin.
Jesus knows what it is to be tired, and hungry, and lonely; to experience joy and grief; to love friends and family; to enjoy friendship and to experience betrayal. Jesus knows what it is to be tempted and to trust in the power of God’s Word to overcome temptation.
Jesus was fully human. Incarnate. He lived life in the flesh. He can fully sympathize with our weaknesses because He lived among us.
That’s why He came as the babe in the manger. That’s why He left the glory of heaven behind to take on human form.
Only as one of us could He offer to take our place.
Only as a man without sin, who owed no debt of His own, could He pay our debts.
Jesus was both incarnate and Immanuel. And I wonder whether we sometimes forget.
I wonder whether we have become so familiar with Jesus that we forget He was incarnate–that He was fully human. We forget that He knows and understands us intimately with the understanding of One who has experienced what we have experienced.
We forget that He is Immanuel, that He is God with us. When He came to live among us as Man, He emptied Himself of divine power and glory (Phil. 2:5-8, John 14:10), but His nature remained unchanged, eternally the perfect image of the unseen Father (Col. 1:15).
When He ascended, He once again took up the glory and power of heaven and He now sits at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf (Rom. 8:33-34). We forget that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given into His hand (Matt. 18:18-20). We forget that He is for us, and not against us, and that nothing can separate us from His love (Rom. 8:31-39).
Jesus, Incarnate and Immanuel. Fully man. Fully God.
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As you celebrate the birth of the babe in the manger, take a moment to think about the glory and power of heaven that Jesus laid aside for you. Think about what it meant for Him to become God with us, God in flesh. Incarnate. Immanuel.
Lord Jesus, help us to see you more clearly.
In our frailty, we forget. We conceive of You as so much less than Who You are. Have mercy on us.
We become so caught up in our issues, we forget that You not only understand, but that You will set us free from the bondage of sin and shame and anger and selfishness, if only we will bring them to You and allow You to bring true forgiveness and healing into our lives.
May we receive the gift the Father has given: You, Jesus, God with us.
And may we in turn give to You the only gift we can truly give: our very selves – heart, mind, soul and strength.