“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,and they shall call his name Immanuel”(which means, God with us).
– Matthew 1:23 –
At Christmas, we remember the Eternal Son of God took on human likeness, so that the people made in his image might be reunited with their Maker. Most often when we consider the birth of Christ, we focus on the historical details—and rightly so. But it is equally appropriate to consider what the Incarnation teaches us about the Trinity and how the Trinity (God’s one-in-threeness) teaches us to reject self-centered individualism in order to live in new covenant community.
In the Beginning
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Genesis 1 says God created his Imago Dei male and female (Gen 1:27). Genesis 2 tells the story of the sixth day, where God made from Adam’s rib a woman who would be his helper and partner in subduing the earth (Gen 2:18ff.). In this beautiful beginning, God established a pattern of community-building when he told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28). The pattern would bring men and women together in marriage (2:24), and from the fruit of their union, the whole earth would be covered with his glory—countless image-bearers reflecting the Father who made them male and female.
So important was the procreative element to creation that when God created humanity, he said it was “not good” for man to be alone (Gen 2:18). Why? Because when God made individuals in his image, he intended them to be in community with one another.
Only after God created man and woman, could he say “it is very good” (1:31). (Nota Bene: chronologically, Genesis 1:31 comes after Genesis 2). Only in community, when men and women entered into a covenant with one another, could the three-in-one be rightly represented on the earth. The basic covenant was marriage, but by implication covenantal relations would also include families and later nations.
Indeed, in the beginning God created humanity to be a covenant-making and covenant-keeping family.
The Trinity: One-in-Three
Before God spoke a word (Gen 1:3), the Word was God and was with God (John 1:1–3). In the beginning, the Eternal Son—the logos of John’s Gospel—was already in eternal union with the Father. In one divine essence, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit dwelled eternal in unity, harmony, and personal relation. Sharing all attributes—glory, love, knowledge, power, etc.—the Triune God infinitely enjoyed their spiritual union.
Together, the Father, Son, and Spirit enjoyed their infinite, uncreated perfection. They lacked nothing, and creation would add nothing to them. But from God’s infinite and effusive essence, he desired to create image-bearers who would receive and reflect his love in community. The triune God did not create individuals as mere individuals; he created a human race that would reflect his unity and immensity through the covenantal relations they would have.
The Family: The Two Become One, the One Become Many
By way of analogy, like the Son is fully God and yet only one of three persons in the Godhead; so every man or woman is fully an image-bearer and yet he or she is only one in the community of humanity.
Amazingly, each level of society reflects something of the Godhead. Genesis 2:24 says when a man and woman marry, the two become one. This mystery reveals something of Christ and the church (Eph 5:31–33), which in turn illumines God’s plan to unite all things in Christ (Eph 1:10). Likewise, a family—a father, mother, and children—images something in creation of God. So too, a family of families (i.e, a nation) adds to the picture, as the “infinite” sea of people reflect the infinitude of the triune God. Though he is only three persons, his immensity transcends all of the creation—in space, time, knowledge, and strength. Therefore, it takes billions of people over many millennia to properly reflect him.
Make no mistake, I am speaking of things too high for humans to fully comprehend. But because God has revealed himself in Scripture, we can begin to see traces of our Triune God throughout. God created marriage and the family, in particular, to orient his imago Dei to the reality of God’s unity-in-diversity and to prepare them to be a part of his spiritual household.
The Incarnation: The One in Two
With the community-oriented shape of creation in view, we approach the Incarnation. In Matthew’s Gospel, the Evangelist quotes from Isaiah 7:14, “‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).”
God (the triune, eternal deity) with us (a people purchased by the blood of Jesus).
Notice the plurality of both words—the subject (God) and the object (us). Yes, theos is grammatically singular, just as the Trinity is one, undivided spirit. But implicit in his divine nature is the fact that Jesus—the Eternal Son—came on behalf of the Trinity. The Father was not Incarnate, nor the Spirit. The Father sent the Son and gave the Spirit to conceive (Luke 1:35), anoint and empower (Acts 10:38; cf. Matthew 3:16; Luke 4:18), and remember his Son (John 14:26; 15:26). In short, the three persons of the Trinity worked in seamless harmony to bring salvation to his new covenant community—the “us.”
In Jesus, the inseparable deity of God took on humanity, so that Jesus could be both God and man, simultaneously, without confusion, combination, or competition. In one person, there were two natures, and through this hypostatic union God made a way to come to man and to reconcile humanity–as a race–to himself. Of course, Jesus came to save individuals, but to save individuals communally through the new covenant he was making with his church, his bride, his flock, his body–corporate images that express “God with us.”
The “Us”: God with US, not ME with God
In the Old Testament (Isaiah 7:14), the “us” would have been God’s nation Israel. In the New Testament, when Matthew applies Isaiah’s words to Jesus’s birth (Matthew 1:23), the “us” would be the nation of Israel and all the people from the nations who have made Jesus their king (see Matthew 28:19).
Under the new covenant, Jesus becomes the servant who bled (Matthew 20:28) and the Lord who reigns (Matthew 28:18). Unlike the mediators of the old covenant, his death effectively purchased individuals from death; but like the old covenant, his mediation created a new community—the church of the new covenant comprised of believing Jews and Gentiles (Matthew 16:18; 26:28).
Like the creation of Adam and Eve (community at the family level) and Israel (community at the national level) the gathering of disciples around Jesus, otherwise known as Christ’s ekklesia (= gathering) is comprised of living stones who find their life and meaning in his community. To say it differently, every believer is defined by their identification with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in salvation and their identification with fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters in God’s household. The whole framework of creation (men, women, and children) and covenants (God’s stipulated relationship with men and their families) points to this reality. Therefore, for us who celebrate the birth of Immanuel, we must remember his Incarnation brings salvation to a people, not just persons.
The One and the Many
When Christ came to earth, he was born into a community. He had parents and siblings too. As he began to declare God’s new covenant plans, he spoke of his followers as his family (Matthew 12:48–50). While every individual is responsible for their own sin (Ezek 18:20), it doesn’t hold that Jesus saves individuals.
Mark 20:28 says he gave his life as a ransom for many—a reference to the community of disciples saved by his death. Therefore, on the basis of God’s created order—a world where people are born in relationship to one another—and God’s new covenant, we ought to see our salvation in terms of community, not individualism. Immanuel announces “God with us,” not “me with God.”
No one is saved without attachment to a local community of believers. As the metaphors of salvation suggest, he came to gather sheep of different flocks into one new fold (John 10:11–16), unite Jews and Gentiles into one new temple (Ephesians 2:11–22), and assemble idolaters into one new congregation of spiritual worshipers (John 4:23).
In our culture today, unchecked autonomy is the norm. People often defines themselves by themselves, rather than in the families they are born into or the communities they inherit. Consequently, when hyper-individualistic people come to Christ, they often fail to see how such individualism militates against God’s created order and God’s design in salvation.
Hence, such autonomous individuals pick for themselves a cornucopia of ministries, books, services they like when they choose for themselves to follow Jesus. The Incarnation, however, teaches a different principle—Immanuel is the truth that God sent his Son to become one of us, so that in him the many could be united to God (see John 17:22–25) and the household God is creating in Christ.
For some the difference between “God with us” and “God with me” is only a change in pronouns: “It’s merely semantics,” they say. But in a world created by the Word, semantics matter. They give shape to the way we see things—everything. And there is a world of difference between a Savior who comes to save me, and Lord who became a child to save us.
The former keeps me at the center of God’s story and justifies my ungodly individualism; the latter makes me humble myself before God, so that I might not continue to live for self, but to love and serve others. For those who have eyes to see, the difference between “me” and “us” has massive communal, social, and ethical implications.
This Christmas, let us consider how Christ came to save “us,” not me. May we in his church be empowered by the Spirit to give ourselves to one another, rejecting our inveterate individualism and receiving the family God has given to us. May we glorify our father in heaven, as we give ourselves to one another, just as Jesus gave himself for us.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds