Matthew 1:23, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name ‘Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
This passage informs the Christmas story as much as any other in the Bible. During this time of year, we are accustomed to reading it. Though you encounter it regularly—look at it again. It is full of jaw-dropping, overwhelming, breathtaking, and stunning power. Let me point out just three things.
The Virgin Birth
First, a virgin conceives and bears a son. Wow! We read this at least yearly and are accustomed to it. Be careful, and don’t let familiarity numb you to the amazing power on display here. There is only one way for a woman to get pregnant, and you know what it is. You get pregnant when you do what married people do, and you can’t get pregnant when you don’t do that. Talk of a virginal conception and birth sounds as possible as taking blood from turnips, bureaucratic efficiency, and other such oxymoronic things. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen. It can’t happen. But then God intervenes with his power. By an omnipotent display of sovereignty, he causes a woman to become pregnant even though she has never been with a man. Stupefying. Incredible. Awe-inspiring.
Second, we find that the child this woman has conceived is God incarnate. Seriously? Again, don’t allow your prior awareness of this concept to fail to take your breath away. The God of the entire universe left his heavenly glory and became a zygote, entered a uterus, and ultimately was birthed as a crying infant. Michael Card sang of this in his song To the Mystery, A fiction as fantastic and wild. A mother made by her own child. A hopeless babe who cried was God incarnate and man deified. Think about that for half a minute. The eternally preexistent and self-sufficient God—infinite in all perfections—became a human being with eyelashes and a beating heart. It is truly astounding.
Immanuel, God with Us
Third, God came to be with us. It may be harder to be overwhelmed with this one. We tend to think we’re pretty good—wonderful even. Why wouldn’t God want to come to be with us? The problem is that we’re not wonderful. We’re not good. We’re not even ok. We’re bad. God could have killed every one of us and been perfectly just in doing so. Instead, he came to be with us. If—by a miracle of grace—you’re able to see yourself as the sinner you are, then this just might move you to tears. God came to be with you. Sinful, disobedient, rebellious you. Amazing.
Christmas, Counseling, and Hope
Do you see the hope available in these verses? Perhaps you, or someone you’re helping, is in despair, confronting some difficulty. Maybe you’re broken by the weight of terrible pain in your life, and you’re tempted to think things can never get better. You need to look to the virgin birth and have hope. We serve a God who opens the wombs of virgins. That powerful God is able to defy expectations in your life and overwhelm you with that same power when you trust him. Maybe you, or one you’re ministering to, is like the person I spoke with just a few minutes ago. You think God has given up on you.
You need to look to the Christ—called Immanuel—and have hope. Yes, it’s true. You are more sinful than you could bear if you had eyes to see all your guilt. Here’s the thing: God has eyes to see all that sin and sent his son to draw near you and be near you. What hope to know God loves to draw near and be with sinners. As people, we need hope. As counselors, we need to give hope. Christmas reminds us that one way we can find it is by looking into a manger to see a little baby with a virgin mother who, though wrapped in rags and sucking his thumb, is the awesome God come to be with sinners like us.
7. Heath Lambert (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors and the Co-Pastor at First Baptist Church Jacksonville, FL. Lambert is also a visiting faculty member at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Crossway, 2011), co-editor of Counseling the Hard Cases: True Stories Illustrating the Sufficiency of God’s Resources in Scripture (B&H, 2012), and co-author of Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change (P&R, 2015), and author of A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundation of Counseling Ministry (Zondervan, 2016).