Day 10: Jesus is Immanuel
Si Jesus ang Immanuel (Filipino)
“The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”) – Matthew 1:23
Laboring for every breath, totally exhausted, pale complexioned, coughing severely, tears of excruciating pain in her eyes. That’s the last image I saw of my niece Jenjen as she was taken away by the ambulance. “Laban, Jenjen! Kasama mo si Lord!” (“Hang tough, Jenjen; fight on! The Lord is with you!”), I exclaimed. At the time of writing this reflection, Jenjen is still in the ICU battling Covid-19. It’s a painful picture of human suffering, made more painful by the reality that there are many “Jenjens” still languishing helplessly in hospitals around the world.
Speaking metaphorically about the “involvedness” of the Good Shepherd in the affairs of his sheep, Jesus said: “…the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3). He then declared, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:10-11).
But why was Jesus willing to lay down His life for his sheep? The answer lies in His own revelation: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me—just as the Father knows me and I know the Father…” (John 10:14-15). It is this intimacy between Jesus and His Father that cemented the way Jesus ministered sympathetically and mercifully to His people who were distressed, marginalised, and alone.
It is noteworthy that the assurance of provision (“life…to the full”) and protection (“lays down his life for the sheep”) is predicated on the fact that the Good Shepherd calls His sheep by their names. We hear echoes of Isaiah 43:1 where God Himself declared: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” God does not only know the number of our hair strands, He also calls us by our “name”—the very legal and public representation of our identity!
When God gave the name to the child who is “to save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), Matthew explained that the name would be the paramount expression of the “Immanuelity” of God—the God who is with us! While John was interested in the “incarnation” of God (John 1:14), Matthew was more interested in God’s “Immanuelity”—the God who is not only among us, but more importantly with us and for us. God is in solidarity with us.
In the same fashion that Matthew began his Gospel with the disclosure of God’s “Immanuelity”, he also concluded with the ever-abiding presence of God—“I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20)!
The language of Immanuel communicates the wonder that the human and the divine are interacting in shared time and space. But in Jesus, who is Immanuel, the wonder expands exponentially for He is God participating not only as the divine, supreme being, but as a true human being, equally liable to painful sufferings, morbidity, and mortality in daily human affairs. Therefore, God understands fully well the reality of human fragility and frailness.
When the author of Hebrews admonished his readers to “Look unto Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1), he was in effect reminding us of a God who is distant yet very much “with us.” Jesus is the God of “with-us-ness”! What a comfort this is to those of us in places like the Philippines, a place seemingly plagued by natural disasters, challenging poverty, and corruption. Our God is with us in our victories, in our joys, in our laughter, and in our successes! But our God is all the more with us in our defeats, in our pains, in our losses, in our cries, in our struggles, in our mourning, in our quest for seemingly elusive justice, and even in a global pandemic! In the highs and the lows of life, we are not unaided and alone. I do not know what the end of Jenjen’s present ordeal will be, but He’s the one who said, “Do not be afraid … for I have called you by name!” Jesus is in solidarity with us because He is Immanuel!
During this Advent season, may you draw closer to Immanuel, the One who has drawn close and is forever with us.
Rev. Dr Edgar Battad Ebojo lives in Manila, Philippines, and is a Langham Scholar whose PhD studies were supported by Langham. He is the Global Translation Adviser of the United Bible Societies (UBS) assigned to the Asia-Pacific region and responsible for the translation requirements of eight Bible Societies in the area. He is also the permanent UBS Member to the Editorial Committee of the UBS Greek New Testament 6th edition.