God With Us

In reading through Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth a few years ago, I noticed what appeared to be an embarrassing mistake he made in applying a verse from Isaiah to Jesus’ birth. Here’s the passage:

As Joseph considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife…. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us). Mt 1:20-23

Did you see the mistake? It’s in the names. The angel says, “You shall call his name Jesus”; but Isaiah’s prophecy says, “They shall call his name Immanuel.” So I pondered and prayed and reread the verses, and then I think I found the answer. It’s in the tiny word “for.” But before I explain how that one word solves the problem, we need to think for just a moment about the two names themselves.

Matthew defines the name “Immanuel” right in the verse: “God with us.” The meaning of “Jesus” isn’t quite as explicit, though it is implied. It means “Yahweh saves.”

When the angel told Joseph to name his son “Jesus,” he was giving a name that declares the exclusive position of Yahweh as the only Savior of His people. Remarkably, however, the angel follows the child’s name with this statement: “FOR he [Mary’s baby] will save his people from their sins.” In effect, the angel says: “Name your son ‘Yahweh saves,’ because he’s going to save you.” Apparently, this baby is going to do something that previously was done by Yahweh Himself: save His people. The point is unmistakable: this baby must be God!

Thus, when Matthew recalled from Isaiah 7:14 that the virgin’s baby was called “Immanuel,” he saw the perfect fulfillment in the angel’s announcement to Joseph. Since only God can save His people, and since this baby is going to be named “Yahweh saves” precisely because he (the baby) will save His people from their sins, this baby must be God. To say that this infant will be our Savior is just another way of saying that this baby is God with us!