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Immanuel Name Domain
January 9, 2005
10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying,
11 Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.
12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.
13 Then Isaiah said: "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also?
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.
15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.
16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.
17 The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah--the king of Assyria."
A mother was looking for a good name for her newborn child. She saw on the door of a building the word “Nosmo.” She liked it. Some time later, passing the same building, she saw the name “King” on another door. She thought the two would sound well together, and so the boy was baptized, “Nosmo King Smith.”
On her way home from the church where the baptism had taken place, she passed the building again. The two doors on which she had seen the names were now closed together, and what she read was not “Nosmo King,” but “No Smoking.” [“Funny Names,” snopes.com, Snopes.com. Retrieved June 18, 2004.]
What is in a name? the popular internet search engine Google was originally named “Googol,” a word for the number represented by 1 followed by 100 zeros. After founders — Stanford grad students Sergey Brin and Larry Page — presented their project to an angel investor, they received a check made out to “Google”! well, as usual, money talks. That check decided the name of the company.
George Eastman liked the letter “K.” He wanted his company name to begin and end with a “K”—hence, we have the Kodak camera.
Nintendo is composed of three Japanese Kanji characters, Nin-ten-do, which can be translated to “Heaven blesses hard work.”
[Derived from “List of company name etymologies,” Fact Index Web Site, Fact-index.com.]
What’s in a name? If you are in business, billions of dollars. A name like “Nike” is thought to be worth about $7 billion and “Coca Cola” 10 times that much.
The Internet has expanded the global marketplace exponentially, and with so much stuff and so many people making it or selling it, the pool of available brand and domain names has apparently dried up. There just are not enough original names to go around. Naming has become so complicated that you can take courses in it in college. The academic study of names is called onomastics. Onomatics tells us that expanding social structures means expanding name systems. In other words, when people lived in a tribe or a village, a single name for each person was enough. But as cities and societies grew and became more complex, so did the complexity and conflict over naming rights.
Choosing the wrong name can cost lots of money. I read in the newspaper recently about a man that named his fast-food place “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” and Jimmy Buffet’s lawyers promptly showed up and laid a lawsuit on him.
When you give a name, you want something original, something unique and identifiable, when you give a name to a company, you want something that provides the ultimate product recognition. You want people to say that name and be reminded instantly of your product.
God is good at giving names. In today’s passage from Isaiah, the prophet tells King Ahaz to ask for a sign to strengthen his faith. Ahaz certainly needed all the strength he could get. Judah was threatened with invasion by powerful armies. Ahaz, however, refuses to ask God what to do. Isaiah replies that God will provide a sign anyway (7:14), “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.”
Biblical names are never accidents. You do not see Abraham and Sarah, for example, sitting around looking at Canaanite baby name books before naming Isaac. Every name is descriptive of its holder. The name Abraham, for example means “father of a multitude.”
In Isaiah’s time, God does the naming of the child who will represent his message of hope to people through a dark time in their history. The boy named “Immanuel,” who the context suggests may have even been Isaiah’s own son (8:3), is God’s logo of love — a sign that God will not leave them to fend for themselves.
King Ahaz faced an uncertain future. The country is in decline and faced powerful enemies. Ahaz needed to know that God was with him, but, incredibly, he did not want to know. Isaiah says to him in v11: “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” You do not get a better invitation than that. But Ahaz replies, “No, I do not think so.” What was he thinking? What are we thinking? Because make no mistake, plenty of us are like Ahaz. We miss God’s blessing because we will not ask.
Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7). But we refuse to ask. Why? Perhaps it is because we doubt God and figure that there is no point in asking. Or, we feel guilty over our sins against God. Surely God will not listen to a sinner such as I. Or we feel that we do not need God. I am Mr. Independent. I do not need anybody. Everyone needs God. That is the way we are made, to be in communion with God. And we are all sinners. Every person we read about in the Bible is a sinner, and God was with them, and God will be with us. As to our doubts, we need to cast them to the wind. God is with us. That is what Immanuel means.
Many centuries later, the gospel of Matthew would pick up Isaiah’s prophetic theme and remind us that Jesus is Immanuel in the fullest sense of the name. Jesus was God with us.
Having said that, however, “Immanuel” is not the name that we immediately associate with the babe of Bethlehem. We use the more common name “Jesus” when we talk about the Savior of the whole world. Jesus is the Greek form of “Joshua.” Joshua, a hero of the Exodus, was a titanic figure in the history of Israel. Thus, Jesus would have been as ordinary a name in first century Palestine as John or Jane is in 21st century America.
To me there is something reassuring about that. Jesus comes to us as an ordinary person. Not only did he have an ordinary name, but since no description is given of him in the gospels, we suppose that he had ordinary appearance. He was one of us, a common man. But this common man had a most uncommon mission. It was the cross and resurrection that made Jesus the ultimate name, because it was through the cross and the resurrection that Jesus brought God to us.
Jesus was Immanuel, God with us. That is an astounding concept. We are talking about God, the creator of the universe, the source of all that is, the power behind and in all power. This is the God who is with us. This God has a relationship with us. Considered logically that does not seem likely. It does not seem likely that the creator of the universe would descend from on high to notice a dust mote in the universal scheme of things like a human being.
This brings us to a problem that I often find in Christian apologetics. Christians sometimes write books trying to prove God, but the God they “prove” is not Immanuel.
Most Christian proofs of God are based on the five proofs of Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth century Christian theologian. Here is a summary of Aquinas’ proofs of God.
First, everything in the world changes; therefore, there must be a power that causes the change. This idea is based on Aristotle's argument that things which move must have something that moves them. This something is generally called the Unmoved Mover.
Secondly, you cannot have an effect without a cause, and there cannot be an endless regression of cause and effect. Thus, there must be a first cause, which is God. This is a variation of Aristotle’s argument for an Unmoved Mover.
Thirdly, things exist in the world but they need not exist. There was a time before certain things existed and there will be a time when they no longer exist. There must also have been a time when nothing existed. Objects have contingent existence (they can or cannot exist) but only God has necessary existence (God must exist). Thus if God did not exist nothing else would exist. Therefore since things exist, God must exist. That argument does not make much sense to me, but there it is.
The fourth argument is called the Moral Argument. It goes like this: We can see in the world degrees of goodness. We know there are degrees of goodness because we compare them to the perfection of Goodness. Because human beings have the capacity to be both good and bad, human beings cannot be the source of all goodness, they cannot be the perfection of goodness. Therefore, the perfection of goodness must be God, who is the first cause, or source, of all goodness and perfection.
The fifth argument is the argument from design. Nature points to the notion of order in that things seem to have an innate sense of purpose or design. But we know that nothing has purpose without the aid of a 'guiding hand' (for example, if we see an arrow flying toward a target, we realize that there had to be an archer to shoot the arrow). Thus, everything in nature is directed to its goal by God.
That is in summary how Aquinas proved the existence of God. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) had another interesting argument for God. It goes like this: God is perfect. One of the aspects of perfection is to exist. That is, we would not describe anything as perfect unless it existed. Therefore, God exits. In other words, God is a being no greater than which can be conceived. But obviously it is greater to really exist than not to exist. Therefore God must really exist.
Those are most of the rational arguments for proving the existence of God. There are objections that can be raised to each of these arguments. For example, you could say that Anselm’s argument is just a play on words. But for now let us ignore those objections. Say that we accept these rationalist arguments for God. Have we then proved that the God of the Bible exists? Not at all. Because the God of the Bible is Immanuel. The God of the Bible has a relationship with his people. He is a power in our lives. As Acts 17:28 says, “In him we live and move and have our being.” Logically, rationally, there is no way we can ever prove that kind of God at all. It seems absurd to say that I, as one human being among 6 billion living on one planet of one star among the billions of stars of the universe, that I have a personal relationship with the lord of the universe. That seems absurd, but that is exactly what the Bible says, and that is what we know to be true, not by logic, but by faith. In our heart of hearts, which speaks truer than logic, we know that “in [God] we live and move and have our being.” We know that Jesus was and is Immmanuel, God With US.
In Isaiah 9:6, the prophet reminds us that there’s no shortage of names to describe the Messiah: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. These are just a few. How about some others? Lamb of God, Lion of Judah, Rose of Sharon. The Bible is full of names for Jesus, but perhaps the sweetest name of all is Immanuel, God with me.
Probably during the recent built up for Christmas you saw several different video games advertised on TV. I am not much for playing video games—though back in the late 70s I loved to play Asteroids. Did you know that most video games have codes that you can enter that give you special powers. For example, you can enter a code that will give you infinite lives, so that you cannot lose the game.
Well, we might say that there are special codes in the Bible. One is found in the book of Isaiah, when the prophet gives the message, “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). “Immanuel” is a code name, with a secret meaning. The wonderful secret of that name is that God has come into our lives in the form of Jesus, and he will be with us always, in every situation. That is a message we need to hear. That is a message we need to take home with us. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 03/21/05