Christmas with Isaiah
“Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall
conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” Isa 7:14
We are in Australia at present to enjoy Christmas with our children and grandchildren. It is a rich treasure in our lives to see them and to engage—for an all-too-brief time—in their lives and activities. However, we also wanted to send Christmas greetings to each and every one of you who are a vital part of our spiritual family and ministry.
I could think of no better way than to give a preview of our 2016 Northern Virginia conference theme, coming up the first weekend in April, “The Gospel According to Isaiah.” At that time, we will examine the rich prophecies given in the eighth century before the birth of Christ, and see an astounding array of passages that portray the virgin birth, the unique hypostatic union of God and man, the proclamation of John the Baptizer, and then the life of Jesus—His ministry and substitutionary death, followed by His resurrection and future glory. We will even find hints of the call and formation of the Church—the Body of Christ—and our own purpose in the story of the ages.
For now, consider the glorious Christmas proclamations of the prophet Isaiah.
The Virgin Birth
Amazingly, the enemies of Christ have actually used the text above to deny the virgin birth. The basis of this denial is that the Hebrew word for “virgin” is alma, and could actually be translated “girl” or “young woman.” Since there is a word that could only mean “virgin,” they assume some conflict with a true virgin birth. However, the Word of God is the only flawless thing in this broken world and will always stand the test of time.
Like many prophecies, this one has both a near and a far fulfillment. Remember that the prophets spoke specifically to the people of their own time and, at the same time, to those yet future. The near fulfillment of this prophecy is a sign to King Ahaz, assuring him of the certainty of God’s Word: that of the invasion by Syria and that the Northern Kingdom would surely fail (Isa 7:1–13, examine the context). Here, the “child” to be born was a sign of the defeat of Syria and the captivity of the ten tribes of the Northern Kingdom by Assyria (see Isa 7:15–16 with Isa 8:3–4). The “young woman” was none other than the “prophetess,” Isaiah’s wife (Isa 8:3), and the child was their son! This is why the inspired Word uses a term that could include either a young woman or a virgin.
When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Greek version (the Septuagint), the translators used the word parthenos, which can only mean “virgin,” as found in the quote of Mat 1:23—the ultimate fulfillment in the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Hypostatic Union
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government
will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isa 9:6
The words spoken here by Isaiah can refer to only one Person—the Lord Jesus Christ, the God-man. The uniting of the two natures of deity and humanity in one person is theologically called the Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union. It comes from the Greek word hupostasis, which is translated “substance” in Heb 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for …” The joining of two distinct natures (divine and human) together in one unique Person makes up the “substance” of what the Messiah—or Christ—must be. Thus, to say that one believes that Jesus is the Christ is, by the biblical definition, to say that we believe in His deity, as well as His humanity. In Him, we find “undiminished deity and perfect humanity united forever in One unique Person.”
How astounding it is that this truth was revealed to the prophet Isaiah! He declares that “a Child is born” and, thus, the humanity of Jesus comes into the world by virgin conception and birth. But also, “a Son is given”—the eternal Son of God comes in that human form. It is critical to understand that Christ did not become the Son at this birth, but “Son” is His designation within the Godhead (see Psa 2:7, Psa 2:12; Pro 30:4; and Heb 1:8). It is this unique union of the divine and human natures that qualifies Jesus for the title of “the Christ,” and this is what John has in mind when he writes:
“… these [signs] are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that believing you may have life in His name.” Joh 20:31
We will take time to analyze the seven titles given in the above passage of Isaiah 9 during our upcoming conference.
The Ministry of Jesus
“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights!
I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles.
He will not cry out, nor raise His voice, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street.
A bruised reed He will not break, and smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth
justice for truth. He will not fail nor be discouraged, till He has established justice
in the earth; and the coastlands shall wait for His law.” Isa 42:1–4
For this post, I will bring out just three things from this amazing verse.
First, the Doctrine of Election is fully defined here by three qualifiers:
- All election is in relation to Jesus Christ, the Elect One.
- Election is to service. Both Israel and the Church have a purpose, which is accomplished through service to God.
- The evidences of election are brought about through the Spirit of God. Again, much more on this at the conference.
The second major point of this text is that the work of the Messiah would focus on the Gentiles. In this, we see an anticipation of the calling and formation of the Church. Earlier, in Isa 9:1b–2, we read:
“… in Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt
in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light has shined.” (see Mat 4:15 and Luk 2:32)
Furthermore, even the ministry of the predominantly Gentile Church is anticipated in Isa 52:7:
”How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who proclaims peace,
who brings glad tidings of good things, who proclaims salvation …”
This text is quoted by the Apostle Paul in Rom 10:15 in a context that shows the rejection of Jesus Christ by Israel and His reception by the Gentiles.
The third thing worthy of note is the manner of Jesus’ ministry. It would be a ministry of quiet conviction and patient labor, seeking and saving those who would believe. Nothing is more frail than a bruised reed, nor more faint than a smoking flax. So gentle and tender would the Savior’s labor over the souls of men be, that even the weakest in spirit and the frailest of faith would be received and strengthened. Every line of the Gospels confirms this prophecy. It is no wonder that the common people flocked to be near Him! An additional aspect of the earthly ministry of our Lord and Savior is given in Isa 61:1–3, the “beauty for ashes” passage, which Jesus read in part in Luk 4:18–19 in the Synagogue of Nazareth at the inauguration of His public ministry.
Isaiah adds that, in spite of the rejection and persecution He would face, Jesus would not fail in His mission nor give in to discouragement. What an amazing Savior we have!
The Crucifixion and Resurrection
“Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our
iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed …
Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul
an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the
LORD shall prosper in His hand …” Isa 53:4–5, Isa 53:10
The Christmas story is incomplete without the Easter story. The virgin birth in a manger had the cross of Calvary in view. The uniqueness of the Person of the Christ was crucial to the work He came to accomplish. No other ever came untainted by the sin of Adam, who could offer Himself as a substitutionary sacrifice on behalf of all mankind. Paul reminds us that just as there is only one true God, so there can be only one Mediator between God and men (1Ti 2:5). His great act of condescension to take on human flesh and further humiliation to go to the cross, looked to the joy of the resurrection and eternal salvation of all who would believe in Him (Phi 2:5–11; Heb 2:9–11; Heb 12:1–3). It was this joy, grounded in the making of peace between God and men, which moved the angel hosts to sing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (Luk 2:14, NASB).
It was the prophet Isaiah who had made clear the point that God’s pleasure rested on those who would place their faith in the work of His Son. The great Doctrine of Propitiation—that God the Father was both pleased and satisfied with all who claim Christ as Savior by faith—was declared over seven hundred years before He came (compare Isa 53:10–11 with Rom 3:23–26). Truly, the Christmas story, and the Gospel according to Isaiah, is a most astounding treasure. Add to this the fact that in 68 or 69 A.D.—about a year before Jerusalem fell to the Romans—the scroll of Isaiah was placed in an earthen jar and hidden in a cave near the Qumran community of the Essenes. Then in 1947, one year before Israel became a nation again, that scroll was recovered. Surely the message of Isaiah is of utmost importance in the eyes of God and should be a source of wonder and rejoicing for all who trust in Jesus Christ!
No doubt the prophet Isaiah is included in the words of Peter when he writes:
“Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace
that would come to you, searching what [means], or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ
who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ
and the glories that would follow.” 1Pe 1:10–11
We can just imagine the prophet pouring over his own writings, pondering and meditating on the meaning of what had been revealed to him. How perplexing some things must have been, but how filled with hope and wonder! And in this spirit, the prophet celebrated the Christmas story in the firm expectation of some future fulfillment—not to come for over seven hundred years.
It is my prayer that we, like Isaiah, cannot only enter into the joy and wonder of the story again, but have the faith to also see the end of the story as it has been revealed to us. We long for the soon return of our Lord (providing we have not become too attached to this present evil world). The day will surely come when …
“… the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel,
and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we
who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet
the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” 1Th 4:16–17
In the meantime, let us wait in eager expectation, but also live in faithful execution of the plan of God for our lives.
“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Gal 6:9
We send you greetings from all the saints in Australia, as well as our immediate family. May your Christmas be filled with the joy and blessing of our glorious Savior, Jesus Christ. And always remember that the best gift you can give—every day that you live—is to treat those around you with the love of Christ.
Please pray for us: Shortly after the first of the year, we set out from Australia to even more remote parts of the globe to share this blessed hope with souls for whom Christ died. We pray the offering of our lives will be acceptable in His service.
His servants together with you,
Gene and Nan