O come, O come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Matthew explains to us that the birth of Jesus to a virgin—yes, a virgin woman named Mary, betrothed to Joseph, can be understood by an astonishing claim: Jesus is the fulfillment of the Isaianic promise:
“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive, and shall bear a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which means God is with us.’” Matt 1:22-23; citing Isa 7:14
Scholarship claims that Matthew illegitimately read the idea of a miraculous birth into the prophecy from Isaiah. This is not the place to show why Matthew was correct and did not mislead us or take liberties with the text. A canonical approach to Isaiah, beginning with the contextual boundaries of Isaiah 2-12, shows that first century Matthew was correct and that his 20-21st-century detractors are incorrect. But I digress.
Matthew’s claim is that Jesus is the embodiment of God’s divine presence in time-space. This is why a male infant was conceived in a woman’s womb without the involvement of an earthly father. God didn’t require the normal recipe of male and female for making baby humans. Matthew’s claim is nothing less than astonishing. It’s a first. And his claim requires some supporting evidence to back it up. After all, when was the last time a virgin gave birth to an infant?
Matthew’s Unsupported Claim?
But does Matthew back up his claim? Does he offer supporting evidence? If we approach Matthew from a non-canonical perspective, he offers no evidence.
No one calls Jesus “Emmanuel.” His mother does not call him “Emmanuel.” Joseph does not call him “Emmanuel.” In fact, Joseph calls him “Jesus” (Matt 1:25). Jesus’ disciples fail to call him “Emmanuel.” No one in all of Israel is recorded as addressing Jesus as “Emmanuel.” No one in the New Testament ever calls Jesus “Emmanuel.” In fact, no one in Matthew’s Gospel explicitly calls Jesus “God.” Yet, Matthew clearly writes: “They shall call His name Emmanuel.” But no one calls Him by that name.
So, is Jesus really, “God with us?”
What do we do with Matthew’s bold but apparently unsupported claim about Jesus? Was Jesus really Emmanuel, Israel’s God now present with His people? Or, did Matthew simply make the claim expecting you and me to believe his claim without supporting evidence?
Matthew’s Supporting Evidence
Matthew indeed offers us evidence for his bold claim. But his approach is far different from that of John’s direct approach (John 1:1-3). Matthew’s Gospel must be approached from a canonical perspective. A canonical perspective reveals all the supporting evidence we need to be persuaded that Matthew’s astonishing claim about Jesus was spot on. Matthew wasn’t joking. He didn’t expect us to believe his claim without evidence.
Matthew’s Inductive Method
Matthew’s Gospel is a training manual for male and female teachers, prophets and prophetesses who disciple men and women in Jesus’ church. Matthew is a “How to” handbook for disciplers. So, his approach is life-on-life, a gradual process, one that is designed to foster questions and answers. It allows the disciple to examine one piece of evidence after another. Then, when all of the evidence has been inspected and analyzed, the new disciple can come to her/his own decision about the divine identity of Jesus. Matthew uses an inductive approach to persuade us.
Join us this Sunday, 12/17/17, in worship, as we follow Matthew’s approach to supporting his encouraging claim that Jesus is our Emmanuel, God who has come to be with us.
Christ by highest heavens adored,
Christ the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold him come,
Offspring of a virgin’s womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see;
Hail th’incarnate Deity,
Pleased as man with us to dwell,
Jesus our Emmanuel.
Hark the herald angel sing,
Glory to the newborn king.