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Dear friends in Christ,
In the early 1960s a district inSan Francisco's called Haight-Ashburywas the place where hippies lived. By the late 60’s it became a very expensive part of town. A lot of hippies moved towardSanta Cruzon the coast. That presented the city of Santa Cruz with a problem. Many had children; some even got married. But the school system was flooded with children. Many had unusual names. They weren’t named Heather or James; they gave their children names like Time Warp or Spring Fever or Moonbeam or Precious or Love.
On the first day of school in Kindergarten the teachers met a little boy by the name of Fruit Stand. As the children were getting on the bus, parents were asked to put name tags on their children. The parents wrote the names of their children on a tag, kissed them and off they were to school. So it was for Fruit Stand.
The teachers thought the boy's name was odd, but they tried to make the best of it. "Would you like to play with the blocks, Fruit Stand?" And later, "Fruit Stand, how about a snack?" He hesitated but accepted the invitation. By the end of the day, his name didn't seem any more peculiar than Sun Ray or Moon Beam.
At dismissal time, the teachers led the children out to the buses. "Fruit Stand, do you know which one is your bus?" He didn't answer, but then he hadn't answered his teacher all day. Kindergarteners are shy and don’t always respond. But the teachers had instructed the parents not only to write their names on the name tag, but on the back side for the bus drivers they asked for their child’s bus stop. The teacher finally turned his name tag over and neatly printed was the word "Anthony.” Fruit Stand?
That story about Anthony’s mistaken name brings a smile to our faces, but what we learn about Jesus’ name does even more. Jesus’ name of Wondrous Love is Immanuel – God with Us! 1) We see the proof; 2) We see the promise.
The prophet Isaiah predicted the birth of the Messiah and his name in the very famous passage in 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel – God with us.” Many paintings and murals done by artists have pictured Jesus with a halo on top of his head. My parents had a print of “Jesus in theGarden ofGethsemane” that was hung over the living room sofa all the years I can remember. Jesus’ hair was perfect. There was the halo. It was one of those things that as a kid that gave some thought about. How would anyone know who Jesus was? I had it figured out – the halo.
But there was no halo, although he deserved one. There were really no identifying physical features that Jesus had that separated him from anyone else. There was nothing to make people say by looking at him that he was the Messiah. Isaiah readied the world for that reality. “He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” Yet he was Immanuel! His name meant “God with us.” He left plenty of evidence, even in the darkness ofGethsemane.
Jesus prayed in the Garden. He was also betrayed in the Garden. “So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.” Even here there was no doubt that he was Immanuel – God with us. “Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”
Yes, he knew what was coming. He was “God with us.” He knew the cruel punches of sadistic soldiers that would be directed toward him. He knew he would be jeered and rejected. He knew there would be thorns to rip his scalp. He knew the pain of a relentless whip that would tear his flesh was coming and the agony of the spikes tearing holes in his flesh. He knew the fires of hell that would be all his when his Heavenly Father turned his back and hell came at him full force as he suffered punishment for everyone.
Yet there is a paradox! He could have done anything to save himself in a big way. He could have called a million angels to come to his defense. He could have walked way just like he did in his hometown of Nazareth. In fact, he did show who he was. He knocked them all to the ground. “Who is it you want? “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.) When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.” You know why they all fell down? Because he was Immanuel! He was “God with us.”
That wasn’t the only proof he left with them that evening. A quick-tempered and rash disciple lost his cool and started to flail away. “Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)” I would think that there is nothing unfamiliar with this story. We also know that Jesus proved himself to be the Great Physician of both body and soul and healed the servant’s ear. It doesn’t state that here in John’s Gospel but it does so in the Gospel of Luke. John’s Gospel, on the other hand, is the only one to record the servant’s name. Look how the different Gospels add details.
Malchus, and there must have been others who witnessed that miracle, had to wonder, “Just who is this man? Where did he get such power?” But nothing is said. No thank you is given. No repentance is done. We see it so often when a number of people align themselves against Jesus, mob madness takes over. It is hard to speak up. It is hard to stand up for Jesus.
During his years as premier of theSoviet Union, Nikita Khrushchev denounced many of the policies and atrocities of Joseph Stalin. Once, as he censured Stalin in a public meeting, Khrushchev was interrupted by a shout from a heckler in the audience. "You were one of Stalin's colleagues. Why didn't you stop him?" "Who said that?" roared Khrushchev. An agonizing silence followed as nobody in the room dared move a muscle. Then Khrushchev replied quietly, "Now you know why."
The sinful flesh wants to remain comfortable. The sinful flesh is afraid. The sinful flesh does not want to swim upstream when everyone else is going downstream. What a shame when we see how God with us stood up for us, undeterred from carrying out his mission.
While we have often failed him, Immanuel doesn’t fail us. He has given proof his name fits. That means so much for us.
Rest assured that he is still “God with us.” He lives. Even though this is only the second Lenten service, that’s the blessing of knowing we have a Savior who was crucified, died and was buried but arose on the third day. We worship “God is with us” because he is. The stone was rolled away; the grave was empty. That’s his promise. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” is his promise. “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”
Our God is not far off in the heavens somewhere. He is not a God who makes his rounds now and then like some night watchman. God is with us.
With our sins forgiven, we don’t have to be afraid like Adam and Eve were in the Garden. We don’t have to think that he is looking over our shoulders ready to come down on for every one of our screw-ups. God is with us.
He is with us in our troubles and trials. He suffered many of them himself. He knows what it means to weep. He wept at the grave of his good friend Lazarus. He knows what it is like to face the relentless attacks of Satan and his evil army. He was tempted in every way just as we are, but was without sin. He knows what is like to have friends betray and not be faithful. Look at Peter. Look at Judas. Jesus understands. He is with us.
We remember our Baptism when we were united with Jesus, when we were crucified with him, buried with him and we arose with him. We know he is with us as he gives us himself in the bread and wine of Lord’s Supper and individualizes his forgiveness of sins to each partaker. Yes he is with us.
He is with us in our last moments. While we don’t know when it will be, he does. He promises to be at our side. “Even though I walk
through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.” Yes, Jesus is with us.
Our Savior has many names. Immanuel – is very special. He is God with us! That’s another name of wondrous love.