Immanuel -God with Us

Isa. 7:10-16; Matt.1:18-25.

There are times when we find it hard to trust God to look after us. Especially today as we look back over the past year with the ravages of Covid 19 pandemic bringing fear, pain and heartache and economic disaster to us individually and to our way of life. There are times when we think our situation is so bad there seems to be no way out. There are other times when we think we know the best solution to our problems so we don’t bother to ask God for help.

All three of those statements were true for Ahaz, as Jerusalem lay surrounded
by the armies of Israel and Syria. It looked like Jerusalem was doomed. The
people were starving and there didn’t seem to be much hope unless they were
rescued by another nation. In fact Ahaz had it in his mind to form an alliance
with Egypt or Assyria. Maybe that would solve their problems.

Unfortunately, too often when we make these sorts of short term decisions we
overlook the long term consequences. If they formed an alliance with, say,
Assyria, they’d lose their independence, The nation of Judea would be handed
over to a pagan king. Jerusalem would become a secular city just like any
other city in the world.

I wonder what you do when you’re faced with some impending disaster? Do
you use your own political savvy, your own applied logic, to find a way out by
yourself or do you ask God to intervene? It’s difficult isn’t it, because either
may be appropriate. God promises to help us, but he also tells us to act to help

In the case of Ahaz, God decides to help him out. He sends Isaiah to speak to
him and say “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart
because of these two smouldering stubs of firewood.”
Ahaz could relax in the
face of this threat, because God was with him. This was God’s city and he
wasn’t going to let these almost burnt out enemies take it captive. In fact he
tells him that Israel will be gone within 65 years. That’s what happens when
you play politics with a greater military power. But in the meantime Ahaz
should trust in the Lord and ask for his help.

That sounds good doesn’t it? What is there to worry about? Just get down on
your knees and pray. God has already sent his prophet to assure him of his
help. He tells him to ask for a sign. That’s what Gideon did when he wasn’t
sure. And God gave him a sign – twice. It’s OK to ask for a sign. God
understands our lack of confidence at times like this.

But did you see how Ahaz responds? He doesn’t want to put the Lord to the
test! God has gone out of his way to help his people and their king doesn’t
want to bother God. Perhaps he thinks this is a trap that Isaiah is setting for
him. Or perhaps he’s just too scared to step out of his comfort zone and trust
God rather than his own political maneuvering.

Well, Isaiah isn’t going to let him get away with that. He may be the king but
this is God’s city, God’s people. So he gives him a sign anyway. He speaks a
word of prophecy: “A young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and
shall name him Immanuel.”
The naming of a child is a common technique in
the prophets to bring a message to God’s people. Hosea uses it to warn them
of God’s judgement, then to promise his restoration. Here the child is to be
named Immanuel, that is, “God is with us”, to assure them that God is ready to
stand with them against their enemies. And if God is with us who can stand
against us.

In the end the words Isaiah spoke came true. Both Israel and Syria were taken
over by Assyria. Even Jerusalem was threatened, but it wasn’t defeated
because God protected them. That would happen later.

But of course the history of Israel isn’t actually our focus today. Today we’re
interested in the way that prophecy had its outworking in the birth of Jesus.
we read in the passage from Matthew 1, Matthew identifies this child with that
prophecy of Isaiah 7: “They shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, ’God is
with us.’”

So what does it mean that with Jesus birth God is with us? Is this just to do
with the incarnation. God has come in human form to live among us? Here is a
child who is both human and divine at the same time? Well that’s certainly
true. This is a unique event in human history. The word of God has become
flesh and dwelt among us. But it’s clearly more than that. Matthew certainly
thinks so. He tells us that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
A lot
of water has passed under the bridge since Isaiah’s day. Jerusalem is no
longer under attack from Syria, now it’s in the hands of the Romans. So things
are even worse than they were then. If ever the people needed to know that
God was with them, it was now.
And they needed to know not just that he was
with them but that he’d protect them, save them.

Here’s the interesting bit though. In Isaiah’s day the prophecy meant that God
would save Jerusalem from it’s enemies who were camped outside the gates.
But this saviour who appears in Bethlehem isn’t coming to save the nation or
the city from its enemies.
In fact in a mere 70 years time Jerusalem would be
destroyed and the Jews driven out of it almost for good. He’s coming to save
his people from their sins. The angel gives him the name Jesus for that

Can you see what the name Immanuel has to do with that?

This child, as God with us, is a sign that the separation we experience from
God is coming to an end
. What separates us from God? It’s our sin isn’t it?
Jesus has come to deal with our sin; to save us from it and to enable us to be
restored to full communion with God. God is with us, not to make us feel safer,
but because he’s about to save us from the reality of the judgement we
God is with us in a new way, a way that allows us to be with God.

It’s a complex idea isn’t it? Jesus is both a sign of God’s protection and the
means of that protection. Jesus both assures us that God is fulfilling his
promise to restore the creation and is the means by which God brings about
that restoration.

And what about right now? We look back on the events of the first century and
we know them well. We know that God has brought about the salvation he
promised in this young child. We know Jesus grew up and chose 12 disciples
and in the end was killed but then rose again. And that might be all we get out
of a passage like this. But that would be to miss, again, the deeper
significance of this name, Immanuel. Because this baby Jesus continues to be
a sign for us, doesn’t he? He continues to act as a reminder, as a token of
God’s ongoing love and protection.
When we look back to the birth of Jesus,
and to his death and resurrection, we’re reminded again and again and again,
that God is mighty to save.

We read about Ahaz hearing about the alliance of Syria and Israel and being
afraid that they might come and defeat him and it all seems such a long time
ago. But really, his situation isn’t that much different from what many of us
experience from time to time. There are times when it seems like everything is
stacked against us; when it feels like the weight of the world is on us. And as
Christians we often feel like we’re on our own; pitted against forces beyond
our ability to resist, let alone overcome. Each year around this time we see the
forces of political correctness trying to limit the celebration of Christ’s birth
and turn it into the holiday season instead. In various places Nativity scenes
are banned, as are Christmas carols; carols by candlelight is turned into a
festival of popular culture. Santa Clause is the focus of Christmas celebrations
rather than Jesus, and I could go on.

Of course most people would wonder what’s the issue. It’s only us, a small
minority of the population, who actually care. The rest of the world couldn’t
care less. We’re just a small part of an increasingly secular world.

But here’s the good news of Christmas. We’re not alone. We’re not facing
insurmountable opposition. God is with us. He came in the form of the baby
Jesus. He lived as one of us. He died and rose again. And in his last few hours
with the disciples before his death he promised them this:
“I will ask the
Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him
nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in
you. 18’I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’”

Then before he ascended to the Father he gave this promise: “Remember, I am
with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus is still with us. His Holy Spirit dwells within each and every
Christian. He is with us so we need never be afraid.

Paul puts it like this in Rom 8: “What then are we to say about these things? If
God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but
gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”
God promises to remain with us. He’s given up his only Son for us. What more
could we ask for that he wouldn’t give if that’s the level of his generosity
towards us?

So let me encourage you today to have confidence, not in your own ability to
overcome those who oppose the gospel, but in the God who sent his only Son
as both a sign of his love for us and as the means by which that love could
bring about its purpose for his people. Have confidence in the God who
continues to be with us through all the trials of lif


Have Yourself a Mary Christmas

LUKE 1;26-38

There are three 3 lessons we can learn from the life of Mary,
the mother of Jesus Christ, which are found in Luke 1:26-38.

    Do you remember the last time you filled out a job application?
    You have to give them all your vital statistics, summarize your
    background, your education, your experience. Many of them
    now ask that all important question: what is it that makes you
    uniquely qualified for this position? How do you answer that
    question without coming off as a snob? Employers assume
    your availability, but what they really want to discover is your
    liabilities (things that would make you unsuited for the job)
    and your usability- what skills, talents will help you do the job.
    But God doesn’t operate this way. Mary teaches us God is not
    as interested as your abilities as He is in your availability. No
    matter who you are, God can use you. Vs. 26-27. Look at Mary
    – she was an ordinary girl with some serious liabilities:
    • She was young. Mary was pledged to be married. At that
    time, it was customary for girls to be engaged at 12-13 years
    of age (around the time of reaching puberty). One reason was
    to ensure girls maintained their virginity until marriage. It’s
    very possible that Mary could have been as young as 12-13, or
    as old as 16 when Gabriel visited her. You and I might think
    this girl is too young for God to use her, but apparently God
    didn’t think so. But also
    She was poor. We read Luke 2:22-24 that Mary and Joseph
    took baby Jesus to the temple to be circumcised. They were
    required to bring one of two offerings: either a lamb for a burnt
    offering and a dove or a pigeon for a sin offering.
    If a lamb was too expensive, the parents could bring a second
    dove or pigeon instead. Mary and Joseph brought the two
    doves, because they couldn’t afford a lamb. You and I might
    have thought this family is too poor to provide for Jesus but
    apparently God didn’t think so. Mary was young, and poor, but
    She was from Nazareth. Apparently, Mary was a young girl
    from the wrong side of the tracks. Nazareth was a town with a
    bad reputation. Remember what Nathanael said when He
    learned Jesus from Nazareth?
    John 1:46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good
    come out of Nazareth?” …

    You and I might have thought No way. No telling what this girl
    grew up seeing and hearing and doing in a bad town like that.
    Apparently, God didn’t take this into consideration in choosing
    Mary to be mother to His Son.
    Mary was young, poor, and from Nazareth—all characteristics
    make her seem unusable by God. But God chose Mary for one
    of the most important jobs He ever asked anyone to do.
    Through God’s choice of Mary, He teaches us: no matter who
    you are, the Lord can use you.

    You might think you are too young, that you don’t have enough
    money or talent for God to use you. You might think your
    background or past mistakes might make it impossible for God
    to use you. Don’t limit God. He can use you if you trust Him.
    Out of all the queens, princesses, daughters of the wealthy
    and influential, God chose a poor teenager from a town with a
    bad reputation to be the mother of Jesus. She had two vital
    characteristics God looks for: humility and faith. She knew she
    wasn’t worthy of the honour God offered her. Yet she still
    believed God could use her, if she trusted Him. Do you believe
    God can use you? Or do you think you’re too small—too young,
    too poor, too weak to be used by Him?

    If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never
    been in bed with a mosquito.
    Do you think you are useless to God? Think again. God is
    searching for humble people to take part in His amazing plans.
    Will you be one of those people in 2022?
    Mary teaches us no
    matter who you are, God can use you. She also teaches us
    WITH YOU. (v. 28-33)

    There are some things you just don’t want to go through alone;
    Christmas, for instance. I don’t know of anybody who likes to
    spend Christmas all by themselves. I’m sure there are some,
    but most of us want to be share the celebration with people
    near and dear to us. Let’s pray that we will be free to do
    But we don’t like to go through trouble alone, either. If we get
    sick with nobody to sit up with us or comfort us, we’ll probably
    be more miserable. When we lose our job, or our spouse or our
    child, we need somebody with us to help you make it through.
    Of course, the One Person we need more than anybody else
    when we face problems is the Lord. Mary teaches us that no
    matter what problems we face, the Lord is with us.
    The angel says in vs. 30, “Do not be afraid.” But we wouldn’t
    blame Mary if she were afraid. Imagine the fears she might
    experience as a result of her pregnancy:

    Possible divorce by Joseph. Joseph at first assumes that
    Mary has been unfaithful to him. What else would he have
    thought? He decided to divorce her (which, according to their
    law, was necessary to end the engagement) before he was
    told in a dream that Mary’s baby was, in fact, conceived by the
    Holy Spirit.
    But right now, Mary doesn’t know how all of that will work out.
    But she does know God will be with her, whatever Joseph
    • Possible rejection by her family. Did Mary’s family believe her
    story that the baby growing inside her was the Son of God?
    Would you believe that if your daughter told you that story? We
    are never told anything about Mary’s parents’ reaction to her
    pregnancy. But it’s very possible that they didn’t believe her
    story. But Mary believes God is with her, no matter how her
    parents may react.
    • Certain rejection by her community Imagine the gossip that
    must have circulated Nazareth. The people have Nazareth
    would have accused her of adultery—a sin that was not looked
    on lightly as it is today. It’s likely that Mary was shunned by
    those who had once been her friends. But Mary believes God is
    with her, even if her friends abandon her.
    Possible death by stoning
    According to the law, this was the penalty for adultery. By
    New Testament times stoning was rare, but it was still a
    The message from the angel totally changed Mary’s life. She
    was getting ready to be married and live a normal life. But now
    her life would be anything but normal. How could she be calm
    and courageous as she faced all of the problems that her
    pregnancy might cause? She would cling to the words the
    angel spoke in vs. 28: “The Lord is with you.” The Lord would
    be with her. He would help her. He would give her the strength
    and courage to face anything.
    The same Lord makes that same promise to you and to me.
    Psalm 118:6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can
    man do to me?
    Hebrews 13:5 …For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you
    nor forsake you.”

    Mary’s story teaches us that no matter what problems you and I
    face, the Lord is with us.. Mary faced the possibility of
    rejection from Joseph, her family, and her community and even
    the possibility of being stoned, but she knew that the Lord
    would never abandon her.
    One of the titles given to Jesus was “Immanuel,” which means
    “God with us.” One of the great themes of the Old Testament is
    the concept of God living with His people. Jesus is our
    Immanuel. He is “God with us.”

    Human life was meant to be dramatic. We are meant to be
    . Our religion is not organized around keeping
    God at a distance. It allows us to go see him when we want. If
    we really want God to be with us, then our lives will be
    different from ordinary human life – we will be peculiar people!

    We are meant to be God-inhabited. Jesus came to make God’s
    presence a conscious, living reality in our lives. Whatever
    problems you are facing right now–whatever worries and fears
    are harassing your heart–don’t let them discourage you. No
    matter what your problems, the Lord is with you. Bring those
    problems to Him and trust Him to work them out, and He will,
    just as surely as He worked them all out for Mary.
    Two lessons from Mary: no matter who you are, God can use
    you. No matter what problems you face, God is with you. Look
    at one more:

    A little boy asked his mother where he came from, and also
    where she had come from as a baby. His mother gave him a
    tall tale about a beautiful white-feathered bird. The boy ran
    into the next room and asked his grandmother the same
    question and received a variation on the bird story. He then
    scampered outside to his playmate with the comment, “You
    know, there hasn’t been a normal birth in our family for three
    The Bible records several instances where there was not a
    “normal birth.” God sent a son to Abraham and Sarah long after
    they thought having a baby was possible. In Judges 13, an
    angel of the Lord told Manoah and his barren wife, Hannah,
    twould have a special son they would name Samson. John the
    Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, was in her sixties or seventies
    when she gave birth to the prophet. But none of those special
    births was as amazing as the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth
    was a virgin birth conceived by the miraculous work of the
    Holy Spirit.
    Now that sounds even more abnormal today than possibly it
    did then. But look at Mary’s reaction in vs. 38 (read.) Even
    though the angel’s news was unbelievable, she believed it.
    Mary didn’t understand it, but she also didn’t doubt it. She
    believed that no matter what He has promised, the Lord CAN
    DO IT.
    Jesus’ miraculous conception remains impossible to
    understand by human reason alone.
    God chose not to explain
    the details of it to us. The real issue is not whether a virgin
    can conceive; the real issue is whether anything is impossible
    for God.

    Mary knew that a virgin birth is impossible, but she also
    believed that “nothing is impossible with God.” And if he
    considered it necessary for the salvation of mankind, then she
    was obedient to God’s will. Whatever God promises, He
    No matter what He promises, He will do it.
    What promises of God are you tempted to doubt? You’re
    reading the Bible one day, and your eyes light on one of the
    promises of God.
    John 11:26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never
    Do you believe this?”
    1 John 5:14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him,
    that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
    John 10:10 …I have come that they may have life, and that
    they may have it more abundantly.

    Do you ever read promises like these and say, “Yeah, right.
    Like that’s gonna happen. Not for me, not now, not after all I’ve
    been through.”
    But those promises are made by God. It doesn’t
    matter how impossible they seem—there is nothing, nothing
    nothing impossible with God.
    Whatever He promises, He
    always does, without fail. What you have to do is what Mary
    did believe and obediently say, “Let it be to me according to
    Your Word, O Lord.”
    Little faith will bring your soul to heaven, but great faith will
    bring heaven to your soul.—Anonymous
  • ‘That’s the way it worked for Mary. That’s the way it can work
    for you, if you will believe
  • So Mary can teach you and I:
    No matter who you are, the Lord can use you.
    No matter what problems you face, the Lord is with you.
    No matter what He has promised, the Lord can do it.
  • Won’t you take these truths to heart this Christmas? Won’t you
    take them with you as you walk into 2022, into your home,
    your school, your work, and live
    out a Mary Christmas in your life.

The Kingship of Christ- Matthew 25:31-46

A Passport authenticates my citizenship of the United Kingdom. I need it if I am to enter another Kingdom. It tells officials in that Kingdom who I am so that they can check if there is any reason why i should not be allowed to enter and to put their stamp of approval on it. In another sense, since I am a Human Being, I am a citizen of the world.

Sunday November 21st was called stir up Sunday. Traditionally the last Sunday before Advent and also known as Christ the King Sunday.

Although celebrated a couple of weeks ago, as it is Advent and we joyfully wait to celebrate the arrival of Jesus among us I want to say something about the Kingdom of which Jesus is King, the King himself and the implications, as outlined in Matthew 25, for the citizens of this Kingdom.

The Kingdom

Jesus sits at the right hand of God and rules over all creation. His Kingdom is, therefore, not only the whole earth and everything that is in it but all the Universe with billions of suns [stars] in each of billions of galaxies.

Our Lord Jesus Christ made the Kingdom of God His primary teaching focus. He is, of course, the door to His Kingdom, as well as the foundation and the capstone. His Kingdom was and is His Central message. If you research and compile all the major teachings of Jesus you will see clearly that His foremost concern was for His disciples to know as much as possible about His Kingdom.

For example, in the Lord’s Prayer, the concern after honour to His Holy Father was, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Jesus is born as God’s son in absolute oneness with His eternal, loving, holy and almighty Father. His primary concern is for the Kingdom of God to be fully established to give great and worthy honour to His heavenly Father.

This suggests that there is a parallel spiritual kingdom which is eternal. The Kingdom is now, real and physical, as well as spiritual and eternal: a Kingdom of Honour and righteousness.

The Gospels describe Jesus as proclaiming the Kingdom as something that is both “at hand” and a future reality [Mark 1:15]. Jesus Christ, through His incarnation, death, resurrection and exultation, has ushered in the messianic age so that the Kingdom of God, in both its material and spiritual dimensions, may be understood to be present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age following the second coming.

The cross can be seen as a singularity bringing together not only the spiritual and physical creation but the past, present and future work of God in His Kingdom.

The present aspect of the Kingdom refers to the changed state of heart or mind [metanoia] within Christians [read Luke 17:21]. Jesus emphasises the spiritual nature of His Kingdom by saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within [or among] you.” The reported activity of Jesus in healing diseases, driving out demons, teaching a new ethic for living, and offering a new hope in God to the poor, is understood to be a demonstration of that Kingdom in action in the here and now. The King, as Jesus Christ, has already come in disguise and in humility and through his Holy Spirit wants to exercise His kingship over each and everyone of us.

The Kingdom of God is within the heart of every believer. Is Jesus sitting on the throne of your heart? There is a sense in which the Kingdom of God is not yet complete. There is yet to come a time when God’s perfect will be done on earth. Because God loves us He cannot force us to do His will; but there will come a time when we will all choose to do that. This will be a time when Jesus will return in Glory [v.31]. This return will be sudden, without warning and decisive.

The King Himself

I remember sleeping out in the open in the African bush and waking up in the middle of the night staring up at the night sky. Wow! What a vast array of stars! I realised I was just a spec. upon a spec. of a vast Universe of over 2 trillion galaxies!! I was reminded of Paul’s writing in Collossians 1: 16-17. ‘For by Him all things were created: things in Heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Jesus is therefore first and foremost our creator King, we owe our very existence to him as creator and sustainer of the universe and our own humanity. He made the things that we can see and the things we can’t see (scientists are more and more making visible what was previously invisible to us- however, a vast proportion of the universe exists but may always remain invisible and a mystery to us). He is ruler and creator of kings, kingdoms, rulers and authorities. Everything has been created through him and will ultimately be for his glory.

It is little wonder then that Paul reminds us in Phil.2:9-11 quoting Isa. 52:13, ‘Therefore God exulted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

Jesus, as God of an infinite as well as a finite universe has so many characteristics that his Kingship is almost indefinable. How do you picture Jesus? As the Good Shepherd? As a friend of children? As one who loves unconditionally? As one who stills the storm? The one who heals? The teacher?

He is all these things and more but the passage from Matthew 25 brings us face to face with Jesus the judge. We don’t often picture Jesus as the Judge. Maybe we are reluctant to speak of Jesus this way because Jesus as judge is connected with the Last Judgement: and the last judgement is something that many in our present time find incomprehensible or offensive. That some would find themselves cast into hell seems inconsistent with a loving God. So what does the passage form Matthew tell us about our

Citizenship in God’s Earthly Kingdom

It tells us, as we wait at the Customs Gate of the eternal kingdom that judgement awaits everyone, there will be no exceptions, no favourites, no excuses. It tells us that we are accountable. That Jesus will look into our passport and check us against his list in the book of life. I am free to live my life as I please, but in the end I shall have to give account to the one who gave me my life – Jesus the King. And he will decide whether I wil be allowed to reside in his restored and renewed eternal kingdom.

It tells us that we are not all going in the same direction though by different roads, as many like to believe in this pluralistic age. We will not all end up in the same place. We may not have the right visa in our passport. It is possible to be utterly lost, and Jesus warns us of that possibility here.

It tells us that there will be great surprises on that day. Many who are confident of their condition will be undone and many rate themselves very lowly and unworthy will be surprised at their reception.

It tells us that the heart of Christnity is the relationship with Jesus Himself which shows itself in loving, sacrificial care of others, in particular the poor and needy.

It tells us that people who have never heard the Good News will be judged by their response to what light they had, and in particular to their response to suffering humanity.

Our challenge is to mould our lives according to the Kingdom values upon which Jesus will judge us, and these values are all motivated by self-less love of Jesus and our neighbour spelt out Matth25:35-40. If we live by these values, prompted by love, then as we stand before the judgement seat of the king we will see our name indelibly printed across our passport image and He will see Himself sitting on the throne of our hearts and we will hear the words, “We done my good and faithful servant; come share in my glory.”