Immanuel: God With Us In Our Sin

Names mean something. This was especially true in the world of Christ. Names were carefully chosen and would often set the trajectory of a child’s life. In the Matthew narrative we learn that the naming of Jesus was no different. The text says that Mary and Joseph received divine guidance regarding what they would call Jesus. “You shall call his name Jesus for He will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).

The name Jesus has Hebrew roots, it literally means “God saves.” God the Father makes clear what the saving work of Jesus is focused on…sin. His name indicated the reason for his coming. His name was a constant reminder of why he was born. Jesus came to deal with sin, this is absolutely central to his purpose. In the context it is very interesting to see that the author moves on to state that his name will be called Immanuel, which means “God is with us” (Matt 1:23).

Placing these two names side by side is instructive, something the context also seems to require. God is with us and God saves us from sin. Jesus is the God-man who enters the fray, he comes alongside and is present with us even in our sin. To save us from our sin he must walk with us as we struggle and falter. The saving work of God is not accomplished at a distance. He is uncomfortably present…so much so that “he who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).

When we speak of the God who is with us, we mean to say that he is with us in our darkest moments, our greatest sins, our desperation, our brokenness, our weakness, our pain, our grief, our suffering…he is with us in the places where we need him most. Luther was right, God is “with us in the muck and in the work that makes his skin steam.”

The Lord’s Supper: Broken Bread for Broken People

In the gospel of Matthew the story of the Last Supper is sandwiched by two narratives of betrayal. The text that precedes the Last Supper is the story of Judas selling out Jesus (Matt 26:14-25). The text that follows portrays the certainty that all the disciples will fall away and betray Jesus (Matt 26:30-35). It is striking that Jesus knows exactly what is coming and still, he invites his disciples to the table. This is a powerful and intentional demonstration of grace. Jesus is showing us exactly who he wants at his table: broken and needy people.

The only way for the disciples to sit at table with God is through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus—there is no other way. At this meal, we see the heart of God. We behold his embrace of rebels and sinners. In Christ, he has provided all that is necessary to dine with him! The Last Supper for Jesus leads the way to the sinner’s first supper with God. Gilbert Ostdiek is intrigued by this idea as he reads the Last Supper narrative. He states this:

“Why would the early communities for which the gospels were written have chosen to include this less than flattering portrait of the first disciples in their accounts of the supper? Exegetes commonly hold that the four gospels were written not simply as transcriptions of historical events, but as faith accounts told in such a way as to help the different communities reflect on the meaning of these events for their lives. Francis Moloney has argued that admission of broken and weak disciples to the table of the Lord is a thread that runs through each of the biblical accounts of the last supper, though altered to fit the circumstances of each community. These memories are enshrined precisely because the later disciples experienced themselves as did the first, prone to fail and in need of the strength and forgiveness this holy meal provides. From his study of New Testament materials Moloney concludes: ‘the Eucharist celebrates and proclaims the presence of Jesus to the broken.’”

John Calvin makes a similar point when he states, “let us remember that this sacred banquet is medicine to the sick, comfort to the sinner, alms to the poor.” A broken body for a broken people—this is how God makes us whole.