PREPARATION: lighting the candle and readying myself to listen.
He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
1 Peter 2:24-25
Parents usually give lots of thought to what they name their children. But in Bible times the name given a child carried great significance. A person’s name was regarded as far more than a label or tag, but a name “captures the essence of a person.” (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, edited, Leland Ryken, James Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III) A person’s name was understood to signify a person’s character and nature. One snippet of Scripture sums up the Bible’s understanding of the significance of a name: “as his name, so is he” (1 Samuel 25:25). The name given a person represented what the person was to God, the community, and family.
The focus of this Advent devotional has been on the profound meaning of the name given God’s incarnate Son: “’and they shall call him Emmanuel’, which means, ‘God is with us’” (Matthew 1:23; c.f. Isaiah 7:14). In the birth of Jesus, God has really come to be “with” us. We have seen how the Hebrew preposition im, translated “with”, as in “God is with us”, has rich, multilayered meanings such as, “fellowship and companionship”, “a common lot”, “equality or resemblance”, “the custody or care”, “friendly with” and “in one’s consciousness.” (Francis Brown, Samuel Driver, Charles Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament)
Today’s scripture reveals yet more of the profound meaning of Immanuel, as He is God with and God for us, and we with Him. In this scripture the apostle Peter has in mind the ancient prophecy of Isaiah 53 about Jesus as the Lord’s Suffering Servant. Note the intensely personal relationship of Jesus “with” us in this passage: “He himself bore our sins.” The pronoun is emphatic in the original Hebrew text: “He bore our sins himself.” The sins were not His own, they were ours; but He alone bore them as none other could bear such judgement and disgrace. Jesus Immanuel was treated as if He were the sinner so that God might treat us as if we had not sinned and were righteous. He suffered the death that was due us. To borrow Karl Barth’s words about Jesus: “He is the Judge judged in our place.” (Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, IV/1)
Fourth century theologian Gregory of Nazianzus, wrote expressively about Immanuel as God with us:
“In the character of the form of a servant, He condescends to His fellow servants, nay, to His servants, and assumes a form that is not His own, bearing all me and mine in Himself, so that in Himself He may consume the bad, as fire does, or as the sun does the mist of the earth, and that I may partake of what is His through His being conjoined to me.” (Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 30)
Having so joined Himself to us, Peter then adds, “by his wounds you have been healed.” Reformed theologian Thomas Torrance writes about the miraculous way in which Jesus heals us:
“Christ does not heal us by standing over against us, diagnosing our sickness prescribing medicine for us to take, and then going away, to leave us to get better by observing his instruction – as an ordinary doctor might. No, He becomes the patient! He as- sumes that very humanity which is in need of redemption, and by being anointed by the Spirit in our humanity, by a life of per- fect obedience, by dying and rising again, for us, our humanity is healed in him.” (Thomas Torrance, “Preaching Jesus Christ”, A Vision That Ignites Ministry, edited, Gerit Dawson, Jock Stein)
Peter points to Jesus having taken our sins to Himself, “so that free from sins, we might live for righteousness.” The Greek word apoginomai, translated “free”, as in “free from sins”, is a rare word not found anywhere else in the New Testament; it has the meaning of “to be away from”, “unconnected with”, and “to be absent from.” Through the Son of God becoming flesh, Jesus Immanuel so joined Himself to us that He actually took our sins as His own. Jesus is truly “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:21).
Immanuel! Isn’t His name glorious! Such an apt name for God who made Himself one with us and we with Him. Forever!
CONVERSATION: I talk with God about the thoughts and feelings stirring within.
REST: I take time to be present to Immanuel who is present to me.