FIRST-PERSON: An incredible name

by Dean Sieberhagen, posted Thursday, October 25, 2018 (20 days ago)

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP) -- One of the most interesting discussions you can have with Muslims has to do with their 99 names for God. They are supposed to continually think about these names as a way to worship and also understand how magnificent God is.

I like to ask them to explain some of the names and to tell me which are their favorites. This opens a door to discuss my names for God, and so I go directly to a very specific and special name for God found in Matthew 1:23: "'Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,' which translated means, 'God with us.'"

I then ask them if this is one of their 99 names and if they have ever heard of this name. The answer is always negative to both questions, which then allows me to explain what this name means and why it is so special.

Immanuel -- God with us. We often take the incarnation for granted, but what an amazing truth we have in our Christian faith.

A popular idea in the tolerant world in which we live is to conceive of God sitting on top of a mountain for which there are many roads that lead to the top, one for each religion. We are quick to respond that there is only one road up the mountain -- one way. But Immanuel blows this analogy away. God is not sitting on a mountain waiting for us to climb up to Him. He has come to us.

Through the incarnation, Jesus came and, as fully God and fully man, He dwelt with us. My purpose is not to climb the mountain as best I can in the hope that I will find Him. I need to recognize Him as having come to us and that His death, burial and resurrection have given me a relationship with God.

An essential principle in all other religions is that a person must make a lifetime of continual effort in order to get to God. These religions may have many different names for God (or many gods), but without exception, the name "Immanuel" will be absent. What a great tragedy! How is it that this most special name for God is unheard of?

Immanuel is a name that is full of so much good news for all peoples of the world. Think how this name even connects all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sin, they hide from God. Instead of them going to God, He goes to them. He seeks them out while they are in sinful rebellion.

Sadly, this name has lost its awe and wonder even where it has been heard. We reduce it to a line in a Christmas carol and then pack it away until next Christmas. It is good news at all times even where it has been heard. Do not ever get over the wonder that God came to us and, by the Holy Spirit, continues to be with us.

Do you wonder about how to start a witnessing conversation with people from another religion? Try asking them about the names of their god and then tell them about Immanuel.

Make it personal by explaining how God with us became God with you.

Dean Sieberhagen is assistant professor of missions and Islamic studies in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions. This column first appeared at the seminary's Theological Matters website, www.theologicalmatters.com.
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