Many people know the first verse of the Bible so well that they could recite it from memory: Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This foundational truth grounds all that follows in Scripture.
But do you know the last verse of the Bible? This one might be a bit more difficult. It’s Revelation 22:21 and it says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.” The Bible begins with a cosmic backdrop: God speaking the world into existence, creating the sun and moon and the heavens and the earth. But the Bible ends with these simple words of hope and promise: May the grace of Jesus be with God’s people.
There is one small word in that sentence, a powerful word that makes all the difference in our lives. It’s the word “with” — the word that connects the grace of God found in Jesus to our lives. It’s as if God has made us this beautiful promise that He doesn’t want us to forget before we put our Bibles down. And it’s a promise that’s predicated on that one little word: “with.” In Jesus, God has made a promise to be with us.
There is no more comforting thought for us, I believe, than the idea of God being with us. When I was a child, I felt this way about my Dad. He could bring me comfort just from his presence. It seemed like my Dad knew a little bit about everything. Maybe you’ve had someone like that in your life: a parent, a grandparent, your spouse, a good friend. There are certain people who bring us comfort and confidence just by their presence alone.
If you’ve had a relationship like that in your life, I think that gives you a window to look through as we read our text for tonight.
This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.
All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” – which means, “God with us.”
Matthew says the birth of Jesus fulfills a prophecy from Isaiah, specifically Isaiah 7:14. 700 years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah makes this prophecy: that a virgin will conceive and give birth to a son and he will be Immanuel, God With Us. Just for a point of reference, this would be like Christopher Columbus’ great-grandfather predicting the winner of this year’s Iron Bowl. It is only through the power of God that Isaiah is able to make this prophecy.
These circumstances all come together in the birth of Jesus. As the text says here, He was born of a virgin. And that leads us to the first point we can make from this text tonight: Christ’s unique birth parallels his unique death. It foreshadows His distinct and unique life. Everything about Jesus is different:
- The way He lives is unique and uncommon: He lived a sinless life. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. The temptations He faced may have been common — He faced every kind of temptation, just like we do — but His response to those temptations was unique. He was without sin.
- The way He teaches is uncommon: He teaches as one with authority. Mark 1:22. His teaching has authority because He is the incarnate Word of God.
- The way He prays is uncommon; the way He views the world is uncommon; His death was uncommon and His resurrection was uncommon.
Everything about Jesus is unique. But most importantly, his death was unique. To this, the Scriptures testify:
- 1 Peter 3:18 (NASB), For Christ died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.
- Romans 6:10 (NASB), For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
In both His unique birth and His unique death, we see Jesus as Immanuel, as God in the flesh, God with us.
So it’s fair to say that the birth of Jesus is a unique event. But for all His uniqueness, the Bible also points to the fact that Jesus can relate to our experience in the flesh. This is our second point for tonight: Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses.
The Hebrew writer makes this especially clear in Hebrews 4:14-16:
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
The Hebrew writer tells us that Jesus knows the human condition well, having been tempted in every way just as we are tempted. Now, His uniqueness is that He remained without sin. But the fact that Jesus faced the same temptations we face makes Him relatable. When we say to Him, “Lord, this is hard,” He replies, “I know. I remember.”
The Hebrew writer says that Jesus can sympathize with out weaknesses. Newer translations use the word “empathize,” which is probably a better fit. Jesus can identify with us. He’s been there. He knows a thing or two about difficult circumstances. He can empathize.
I read an article about an interesting medical school training technique in Germany. In order to help 20-year-old med school students to feel genuine empathy for senior citizens, they make them put on what is known as “The Age Man Suit,” a custom built suit to simulate the physical consequences of old age. The suit, which weighs over 20 pounds, consists of the following:
- Ear-protectors that stifle hearing
- A yellow visor that blurs eyesight and makes it hard to distinguish colors
- Knee and elbow pads which stiffen the joints
- A Kevlar-jacket-style vest which presses uncomfortably against the chest
- And padded gloves to simulate arthritic hands
Dr. Rahel Eckhardt from Berlin, Germany helps strap the suit onto the med students as she tells them, “Welcome to old age.” She says, “My aim is to turn young energetic people into slow, creaking beings, temporarily at least. That way they will develop a feeling for what it’s like to be old.” Eckardt argues that there is a huge disconnect between large sections of the medical profession and their elderly patients, as well as a desperate lack of doctors willing to go into geriatric medicine.
“Rather than a PowerPoint presentation, this is the best way of giving them a real idea of what it’s like to be old,” she says. “Only once we have their empathy can we really begin to win students around to becoming interested in old people as patients.”
This sounds an awful lot like what Jesus went through, putting on flesh so that He could empathize with us. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, in the sense that He can sympathize / empathize with our weakness. He has compassion on us in our weakness.
And that leads us to a final point: His compassion is the source of our confidence. If Jesus, as our Great High Priest, can sympathize with our weaknesses, then this compassion should infuse us with confidence.
And that’s what the Hebrew writer is saying. The Hebrew writer is ultimately encouraging us to be confident in prayer. When we pray, how often do you hear someone say, “Lord, please be with so and so.” We pray this all the time. And I love it. It’s as if these are the best words we have to express what’s in our hearts. When we care for someone, we simply ask God to present with him/her, assuming that if God is with them, then all will be well.
Biblical confidence comes from a belief in the compassionate presence of God. Look at these examples:
- Moses (Exodus 3), the burning bush. God calls Moses to return to Egypt, the site of his greatest moral failure, in order to free the people from slavery and lead them to the Promised Land. But Moses balks and says, “Who am I? They won’t listen! I’m afraid!” But listen to what God says, “I will be with you.” (Ex. 3:17). God says, If you have me on your side, you don’t need to worry.
- Joshua (Joshua 1), the successor to Moses. He has quite a job ahead of him as he stands on the brink of the promise land, about to launch a military strike to reclaim this land for Israel. Joshua’s knees might’ve buckled a bit. But God comes to Joshua and says the same thing: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Josh. 1:9)
The 23rd Psalm is the most beloved chapter in the Bible, primarily because it confidently asserts: Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. This word has brought comfort to an untold number of believers over the years, because it speaks to the deepest desires of our hearts — to know that God is with us.
Are you a believer in the compassionate presence of God? Perhaps there are certain fears that you wrestle with periodically. Maybe you’re like Moses and you’re haunted by the ghosts of a past moral failing. Maybe you’re like Joshua and you’re fearful of the task that’s ahead of you. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever it is, God’s response to His people seems to be consistent: I’m with you.
If we are in need of this reminder, we need look no further than Jesus, the child who confirms once and for all that God is with us.
Followers of Jesus carry this promise around with them – that God has come near to us. In Jesus, God is with us, God is for us, God is on our side. And that should give us confidence.
May we look to Immanuel, God With Us.
And may the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.