As the calendar ticks closer to Christmas, one of the first carols we sing at church is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” It always gives me goosebumps, not only because the tune is so beautiful, but because I’m reminded that this name (also spelled Immanuel), assigned to Jesus about 700 years before his birth (Isaiah 7:14), means “God with us.” Some people mistake the meaning as “God is with us” (which is also true) but it is important to note that it’s actually “God with us.” The distinction matters: Though God had been with humans since the beginning, for the first time in history, God became a human. When Isaiah called this human “God-with-us,” he was hinting at the mystery of what the church calls the incarnation: Jesus Christ was God in flesh (John 1:14). God’s great sacrifice began thirty-three years before Jesus ever died on the cross, when God left the glory of heaven to walk this earth as a human being and live a life of humility, simplicity, and selflessness.
Consider using this article as an aid to understanding the incarnation better through Scripture. Pause over the Scripture references and reflect on what they are teaching you about Jesus, God with us.
Jesus’s deity—the fact that he is God—is paramount to our Christian faith. Many skeptics stumble over the claim that Jesus and God are one and the same. The Gospel writer John, one of Jesus’s closest friends, claimed that Jesus was with God at the beginning of time, and that in fact Jesus was God. John said that the whole world was made through Jesus. He called Jesus both “the only Son” of God (John 1:14) and “the only God, who is at the Father’s side” (John 1:18).
If John’s radical claims are true, they change everything. If Jesus was not God in the flesh, he could not have stepped in as the perfect and blameless sacrifice to pay the price for our sins. If he had been merely a human being, his death would have been tragic but fairly insignificant, especially because he would not have risen from the dead three days later. Jesus lived a human life, but he did not have a human father, so he did not inherit the sin nature we are all born with. Jesus lived in a way that perfectly followed all of God’s commands—something no human had ever been able to do. Thus, he was able to overcome death and offer salvation to all who believe in him. The book of Hebrews tells us that “After making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3). (See also Hebrews 9:14-15 and 10:12-14.)
That’s why it matters that Jesus was fully God. But why does it matter that Jesus was also fully human? It matters for three key reasons:
- His humanity reassures us that he understands our humanity. Everything that we go through, Jesus experienced in some way: pain, joy, temptation, sadness, anger, hunger, thirst, compassion, tiredness and, ultimately, death. He is not far removed from our everyday realities but, rather, is able to help us because he’s been where we are. And he not only understands us, but he also mediates on our behalf. (See Hebrews 2:18; 4:15-16; 1 Timothy 2:5.)
- His humanity set an example for us of how we can live. Throughout the four Gospels, we observe how Jesus related to people, how he reacted to injustice, how he was patient in the face of persecution, and how he resolved problems. He showed us, by sometimes choosing not to use his divine powers, that being human does not prevent us from righteous living and obedience toward God. Jesus not only commanded his followers to love one another, explaining that the greatest proof of love is to lay one’s life down for one’s friends (John 15:12-14), but he also demonstrated such love by willingly dying on the cross to take on the punishment for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3).
- Jesus still has a human body. After he was raised from death, he ate and drank and walked and talked with his followers. Finally, they watched him be lifted up to heaven—in his human body. Jesus’s humanity helps us look forward to eternity when we, too, will live forever in glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:42-53; Philippians 3:20-21).
As Christmas approaches, instead of reflecting only on how or where Jesus was born, consider reflecting on why he was born. Get to know the Savior better through his Word, perhaps through one or both of these exercises, always praying before reading to ask for the Holy Spirit to guide you into his truth:
- December can be a busy month. One way to increase your Christmas joy is to set aside some time to reflect and worship through these Scripture passages that affirm that Jesus is Immanuel, God with us: John 8:58; 20:28; Philippians 2:5-8; Colossians 2:9; and 2 Peter 1:1.
- Read as much as you can about Jesus’s divinity as well as his humanity, now and into the new year. Take a small notebook and divide it into two sections or divide the pages into two columns. Label one “Jesus’s Divinity” and the other “Jesus’s Humanity.” Read through the four Gospels at your own pace—perhaps one a month or even one a week—keeping a notebook and a pen handy. Whenever you come across words or actions of Jesus that point to either his divinity or his humanity, make a note of it in the appropriate section.
In a world obsessed with image and achieving status at any cost, it’s hard to comprehend anyone—let alone someone truly important and powerful—downgrading his position voluntarily and for the good of others. “It's easier for us to accept that Jesus was fully God than that he was fully human,” says Mark Batterson, pastor of National Community Church in Washington, D.C., in one of his Christmas sermons. Batterson points out that God is not only the Almighty One, but also Immanuel—"God Most High and God Most Nigh.”
As you acquaint yourself more intimately with the God who reigns on high and dwells most nigh, rejoice! In the words of that Advent carol, “Emmanuel shall come to thee…”
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