Remembering the Awesomeness of Immanuel
Two Promises Fulfilled in Jesus
Marvin Rosenthal, a Jewish convert to Christianity, once shared how the genealogy in Matthew's Gospel was one of the proofs that persuaded him that Jesus is the Messiah. One reason that he found this to be true is the genealogy makes it clear that Jesus is from the right bloodline. Jesus is “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (v. 1). Abraham and David are two key names in this genealogy. If you miss seeing them (at the top and tail, in v. 1 and v. 17, and also in v. 2 and v. 6), you miss everything.
Now, what’s so important about these two men? Two promises! God gave each a specific promise. In Genesis 12:1–3 God says to Abraham:
Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
Through Abraham and his offspring God will raise up a people (Israel) who will be a blessing to the entire world (the Gentiles). This is the beginning of the Abrahamic Covenant. Paul also called it, in a broad sense, “the gospel” (Galatians 3:8).
This “gospel” is further specified by the Davidic Covenant, the promise made in 2 Samuel 7:12, 13 (cf. 1 Chronicles 17), where David is promised that one of his descendants would establish a forever kingdom:
When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.
Throughout his Gospel, Matthew brings these promises together in the person of Christ, with what Jesus calls “the gospel of the kingdom” (4:23; 9:35; 24:14—this phrase is only used in Matthew). However, this is not the point of the genealogy. Here, the Evangelist is simply showing how Jesus is a descendant of both Abraham and David. Jesus comes from the right line. The Messiah must be a Jew (a son of Abraham, v. 2), but he also must be from the tribe of Judah (vv. 2, 3; cf. Genesis 49:8–10), and from one specific member of that tribe (David, v. 6). Jesus has all of this going for him.
God With Us
In Matthew 1:18–25 an angel appears to Joseph and tells him what is happening with Mary, his betrothed. He is told about this son who is to come, whom he is to name, “Jesus,” which means “Yahweh saves.” After he is told the details of the divine plan, we read in verses 22, 23:
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet [Isaiah]: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).
Jesus is Immanuel. The man Jesus is “God with us.” Now, while “Immanuel” can refer merely to God’s presence through Jesus, I believe an additional complementary truth can be embraced, which in no way diminishes Matthew’s emphasis. That truth is that the one who brings to humankind the divine presence (Jesus) is also fully divine. Matthew stresses equally that Jesus is the presence of God in the world (cf. 18:20; 28:20), while being the fleshly embodiment of the deity. Thus I say that what Paul said in Colossians 2:9 is a fitting summary of Matthew 1:23: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”
Douglas Sean O'Donnell
Deftly guiding us through the Gospel of Matthew, O’Donnell shows us how Jesus’ kingly authority is central to the book and has profound implications for how we live in God’s kingdom.
That’s so easy to forget, isn’t it?
I forgot the awesomeness of it until I opened Charles Spurgeon’s commentary on Matthew and saw how he pauses in his second paragraph on the genealogy. He ceases making observations and for a time simply engages in pure adoration. “Marvelous condescension,” he writes, “that [God] should be a man, and have a genealogy, even He who ‘was in the beginning with God,’ and ‘thought it not robbery to be equal to God’!"
We think it is such a wonderful thing when a queen from another country comes to visit and offers her greetings and love. We think it is such a wonderful thing when a rich businessman volunteers for a night to help at a homeless shelter, providing food and comfort to the poor. We think it is such a wonderful thing when a professional athlete gives of her time to conduct a free clinic for inner-city kids. Such are wonderful things, all of which we recognize, appreciate, and applaud—the humility and condescension.
But what marvelous, unfathomable humility and condescension it was when God became man. When you read 1:1, “the book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ” alongside 1:23, “and they shall call his name Immanuel,” it ought to be enough for us to stop and think, to pause and praise, and to join in the angelic chorus, singing,
Veiled in flesh, the Godhead see, Hail th’ incarnate Deity!
Pleased as man with men to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark! The herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn King."
This article is adapted from Matthew: All Authority in Heaven and on Earth by Douglas Sean O'Donnell.