“See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated ‘God is with us.’”—Matthew 1:23 (HCSB)
What’s the first thing you learn about someone when you’re introduced to them? Their name! Why? Because names help us remember people, to identify them, to know who we’re communicating with or referring to.
Back in the day, names used to mean something. Nowadays, many people seem to name their kids based on what name they think is pretty or cool or popular, rarely looking deeper at the origins and etymology of the name or its cultural significance and heritage. In ancient times, names were given for special reasons. Isaac (“he laughs”) was named because of the laughter of Abraham and Sarah when God told them they’d have a son in their old age. Jacob (“he grasps the heel”) was given his name because he was born “with his hand grasping Esau’s heel” (Genesis 25:26 NIV).
Names in the Bible were truly significant because they often told us something about the person. And I can tell you with confidence that no name in the Bible, no name in the history of the universe carries more significance or tells us more about a person than the name mentioned in Matthew 1:23!
A little context: Joseph and Mary were betrothed, engaged to be married. But somehow Mary became pregnant before the wedding, and not by Joseph. Not exactly the picture-perfect wedding, right? So, after finding out Mary was pregnant, Joseph decided to call off the engagement.
Now, he could have gone about this very differently than he did. He could have publicly humiliated her and had her stoned to death. Why? Because as his betrothed, it was essentially like already being married, and getting pregnant by someone other than him would constitute being caught in adultery. He was well within his legal rights to go this route, but Matthew 1:19 tell us that he decided to break off the engagement quietly because he was a righteous man.
But before he went through with the breakup, he was visited in a dream by the angel Gabriel, who confirmed to him that Mary’s story was true! In Matthew 1:20–21 (HCSB), he says, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to name Him Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” And then he proceeds to quote the prophet Isaiah, who said, “The virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 HCSB). He then goes on to say that Immanuel means “God is with us.”
I love this passage. I love this name. It is the perfect name for the perfect gift of God! There is so much power, comfort, and beauty in it. For me, it makes a definitive statement that says this child Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah, the seed of Abraham, the eternal heir to David’s throne.
This also brings to mind another passage in the Gospels that speaks of the eternal Word who “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14 NIV). But before we get there, John 1:1–2 (NIV) tells us that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” Here, the apostle John tells us that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the living embodiment of the Word of God. He is God in the flesh; the One who spoke the will of the Lord into being in the beginning (Genesis 1:1–2:3; Psalm 33:9; Hebrews 11:3). He is the character, heart, will, and mind of God the Father as revealed to the world.
As you get ready to celebrate Christmas with family and friends, remember that Immanuel came to make a way for all to know God deeply and intimately, to save us from our sins, to transform our hearts, to renew our minds, and to bring our spirits to life (John 1:4–5). The Son of God left heaven so we would have “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 NIV). He made His dwelling among us, died for us, and now makes His dwelling within us. Oh, what a beautiful name this is!