The Promise of His Birth
Topic: Christmas Passage: Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2, Isaiah 9:6–9:7
“THE PROMISE OF HIS BIRTH”
Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2, Isaiah 9:6-7
I don’t suppose there is anything that brings greater joy to a family than the birth of a child. Over the past few years we have had the pleasure of welcoming several new lives into our extended church family. Lord willing, by the end of this month two more will be added to that number.
Every new birth should call to mind the arrival of that One who came into the world two thousand years ago. Never did a birth bring greater joy to more people than did the birth of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 2:10). And never was a gift so graciously given to mankind (cf. 2 Corinthians 9:15).
There were times when, in writing his letters to young churches, the Apostle Paul seemed to suddenly burst forth in praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of the One who would become our Savior. In 2 Corinthians 9:15, for example, he exclaims, “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift.” That gift is described in words that many of us learned from childhood: “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
God has given to us in a selfless way. And because He has given Himself through the birth of His Son, it is altogether fitting for us to ask at this time of the year if you have welcomed and received His gift. Jesus has been given for the purpose of redeeming us from the curse our sin has incurred, and by so doing He has brought great glory to His Heavenly Father. Jesus has become God’s gracious gift to us, and the manner in which He has been given provides the subject of the Christmas season.
The coming of Christ was prophesied centuries before His arrival. Last week we considered how the Old Testament prophets foretold God’s promise to send One who would reverse the curse of sin and reconcile men and women to their Creator. Over these recent weeks, we are attempting to narrow the scope related to the coming of Christ.
Today we are focusing on the promise of His birth. It is, after all, the nativity of our Lord Jesus that provides the backdrop to our Christmas celebrations. Although the circumstances of that birth were unusual, they were not unnatural. In fact, the act by which His mother brought Him forth probably differed little any other birth. Its significance rested in how it originated and what it all meant.
It is my hope, as result of our gathering this morning and our reflection on these thoughts together, that we will approach this Christmas season with a more complete understanding of and appreciation for God’s “inexpressible gift.” So let’s pray to the end.
We’re going to be looking at three passages of Scripture taken from God’s prophetic Old Testament Word, and we will be considering the sign, the site, and the significance of our Savior’s birth. So, let’s begin by looking in our Bibles at the 7th chapter of Isaiah’s prophecy, for it is here that we find...
The sign of Jesus’ birth (Isaiah 7:14).
We read in verse 14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
More frequently than not, whenever the Lord saw fit to reveal an aspect of the promised Redeemer’s coming, He inserted it in almost parenthetical fashion within the record regarding contemporary events of the day. Shortly after Isaiah had been commissioned by the Lord as a prophet in Isaiah 6, he was sent by God with a message to Ahaz, the newly installed king of Judah. He was to warn him, despite imminent threats against him personally as well as his nation, that he was not to rely upon alliances with heathen kings to provide the security that God alone could give.
Through Isaiah, the Lord assured Ahaz that those who plotted against him would not succeed. He was told to ask for a “sign” by which the Lord would confirm His promise. But in a display of false humility, Ahaz refused to take God up on His offer. The Lord, however, offered a sign just the same. We can read about it in verses 10 through 17. That “sign” centered on a son who would be born to a young unmarried woman of unblemished reputation (“almah”). Before that child would be old enough to tell right from wrong, the enemies that Ahaz so feared would be soundly defeated.
As we know from our reading and study of the New Testament, Isaiah’s message contained both a near and far fulfillment. While what was declared to Ahaz came to pass in remarkable fashion, its greater realization awaited more than seven centuries.
It isn’t until we get to the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew, that this prophecy from Isaiah 7:14 resurfaces. There we read regarding the birth of Jesus Christ, that “All this took place (now notice) to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they call his name Immanuel’” (Matthew 1:22-23).
The purpose of Matthew’s Gospel was to demonstrate that Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies related to the promised Messiah. It is indeed the central theme of all that Matthew has weritten. Within this one book there are more than fifty direct citations and at least 250 additional allusions and verbal parallels from the Old Testament. Thus, when Jesus said that the Scriptures “bear witness” to Him (cf. John 5:39), He was not exaggerating or overstating the case.
What concerns us here is the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14 and its stated fulfillment in Matthew 1:23. While it may be true—and Hebrew scholars differ on this point—that the word for “virgin” (“almah”) that Isaiah used may or may not refer to a young maiden who had not had sexual relations, Matthew’s quotation removes any doubt with regard to what the Lord meant to convey with regard to its distant fulfillment. That is because the New Testament Greek term (“παρθενοs”) is far more precise and specific in its meaning. It can only mean “virgin,” one who has not had intimate physical relations.
His mother Mary carried her first Child for nine months, and she labored to bring Him forth, just as billions of other mothers have done throughout the centuries. What was “miraculous” about Jesus’ arrival was not the manner of His birth, per se, but rather His conception. Jesus’ physical life came into being apart from the normal process of conceiving through the seed of man. Although Jesus entered the world as we all do, His “journey” began unlike any before or since. He was conceived and delivered by a virgin mother!
We find support for this in verses 18 through 25 of Matthew 1. For example...
- in verse 18, we read, “before they came together she was found to be with child,”
- in verse 20, we are told, “that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit,”
- in verse 23, we find the quote from Isaiah: “the virgin (‘παρθενοs’) shall conceive,”
- and in verse 25, it is said that Joseph “knew her not until she had given birth to a son.”
Taken collectively, we see that Matthew went to great lengths to support the Virgin Birth of Christ. This was the greater “sign” to which Isaiah’s prophetic word pointed. A “virgin” bearing a child was not something that was seen everyday! “Signs” exist for the purpose of pointing to or explaining something...something out of the ordinary. Repeatedly in John’s Gospel, the miracles of Jesus are referred to as “signs” (cf. John 2:11) because they confirmed the messianic claims of the man, Jesus. They were intended to get people to ask, “Just who is this One?”
Both Isaiah and Matthew answer that question. His name was called “Immanuel,” which as Matthew parenthetically inserts means “God with us.”
We recall the prologue to the Gospel of John, where we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:1 and 14).
This One who was born was none other than God Incarnate. How else was God to clothe Himself with human flesh other than in a supernatural, miraculous way? Had He been the product of a human father, He would have inherited from Adam the same sin nature that has corrupted us all. That is why this point is so critical to the Christian faith and must not be surrendered to rationalism or liberal theology and ideology. Jesus was like us in every way...every way, that is, except for one. He was without any blemish of sin from the moment of His conception until the sin of the world was violently thrust upon Him when He hung upon the cross.
You may want to think about that when you encounter portrayals of Him peacefully lying in a manger this Christmas season. You see that sinless One was born for the express purpose of dying for sinners like us.
We’ll return to Isaiah momentarily, but for now I ask you to look with me at another of the prophets...one whose record we find nearer to the end of the Old Testament. Please turn to Micah, chapter 5, for it is here that we are first told of...
The site of Jesus’ birth (Micah 5:2).
Micah was a contemporary of Isaiah’s for several years. In typical fashion of the Old Testament prophets, the task fell to him to call the nation to repentance in light of the coming judgment of God for the people’s refusal to repent of sin and return to the Lord. Repeatedly, Micah urges the people to “hear” the Word of the Lord.
It is a common theme throughout the warnings of God’s impending judgment to include promises of hope and deliverances. The Lord will never abandon those with whom He has made covenant. Therefore, as we read through Micah’s prophetic message, we find these words in chapter 5 and verse 2:
But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah,
who are too little to be among the clans of Judah,
from you shall come forth for me
one who is to be ruler in Israel,
whose coming is from old,
from ancient days.
Those of us, who customarily sing “O, Little Town of Bethlehem” at this season of year, are prone to miss the remarkable nature of these words. Bethlehem was an unimpressive and unimportant village at the time the prophet wrote. It was, in fact, still that way in the days of Jesus. For God to bring His Son into the world in such a remote and insignificant place was yet another act of condescension and humility on His part. And what’s more, because “there was no room” for Him, Jesus’ first bed was a feeding trough for animals (cf. Luke 2:7). Three decades later, there would still be “nowhere (for Him) to lay his head” (cf. Luke 9:58).
The name “Ephrathah” seems to have been the district in which this particular “Bethlehem” was located. It is included here so as to distinguish it from other villages by the same name. “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.” That is altogether fitting, because it was here that the One was born who would later be called “the Bread of Life” (cf. John 6:48).
It is noteworthy that “Bethlehem Ephrathah” is the where David grew up. Yes, the same “David” with whom the Lord promised to establish an eternal “house...kingdom ...(and) throne” (2 Samuel 7:14). That pledge is reiterated in this verse in reference to the Child whose birth was being foretold. To Him its is said, “From you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel.”
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, announcing that she would bear the Christ-child, she was informed that her Son would be the fulfillment of that Davidic covenant. “He will be great,” she was told in Luke 1:32 and 33, “and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
It was to this city—“the city of David”— that Mary and Joseph traveled from the north country of Galilee in order register in the latest census being taken, and it was here that she gave birth (cf. Luke 2:1-7). It was here that the shepherds came in response to the angelic announcement of His arrival (cf. Luke 2:8-20), and it was here that the magi came to pay Him homage (cf. Matthew 2:1-11). And very likely, it was from here that His family fled with Him to Egypt so that He would not be among the young children Herod killed (cf. Matthew 2:13-18). This “little town of Bethlehem,” thus turns out to be important after all.
All of these happenings have significance only because of the identity of the One to whom they relate. Isaiah had prophesied that this coming One would be none other than “Immanuel,” the “God (who) is with us.” Now Micah adds his confirmation with these words: “Whose coming is from old, from ancient days.” Literally, that last phrase reads, “His origin is from the days of antiquity.” The reference is to One who is eternal. There is only One who exists eternally, and that is God Himself.
So again, we are confronted with the claim of Christ’s Deity. You and I cannot wrap our arms around that truth to the extent that we wish we could. And yet how thrilling it is to consider that the Eternal God took on human flesh in order to lead us back to Himself. That is why the passage relating to Jesus’ “kenosis”—His humble condescension—cannot be read and reflected upon often enough. Philippians 2, verses 6 through 8, tells us that we are to...
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
But we know that was not the end of the story, don’t we? God’s Word for the future is backed by the heritage of the past. As Paul proceeds to tell us in this same Philippians 2(:9-11) passage, “Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The eternal God left His heavenly dwelling, entering into the human experience in order to, as the angel of the Lord announced to His virgin mother, “save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
What began with “the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God” (cf. Acts 2:23, NASV) was unveiled in a humble setting. Toward the end of his prophetic record, Isaiah would write poetically—and yet truly—of Him, “He grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:2-3).
Jesus cautioned those who heard Him speak to “not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24). Therefore, when we consider Jesus, we must be willing to look beyond things as they merely appear to be. There is much more than meets the eye.
With that in mind, let’s return to Isaiah’s prophecy. We have considered the sign of Jesus’ birth and the site of Jesus’ birth, but what does it all mean? In the 9th chapter of Isaiah, verses 6 and 7 we are given...
The significance of Jesus’ birth (Isaiah 9:6-7).
The prophet writes,
For unto us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder.
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end.
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Although this passage begins as a “birth announcement,” it quickly becomes clear that it is meant to be more than that. As it unfolds we recognize it as a “coronation hymn.” A king—the King—is being announced and is assuming His rightful reign. But before we can see that clearly, we must walk the path that the prophet has directed us to follow.
The first five verses of chapter 9 present a picture of deliverance and the termination of all conflict and oppression. That is because, as verse 2 declares, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” These words would subsequently be applied to Jesus when He began His public ministry (cf. Matthew 4:16). You see, Jesus came the first time offering peace to those who would receive it. Many did...but most did not. Nevertheless, men’s rejection of Him did not invalidate the Word of the Lord. That which Isaiah describes will indeed find fulfillment when Jesus appears a second time.
But let’s not overlook the fact that the unveiling of God’s redemptive plan began with “the birth of a child, and the giving of a son.” And, as we learned from Isaiah 7:14, that “son” would be none other than “Immanuel,” God incarnate among us. What greater and more important gift could He give to us than the gift of Himself?
The identity of this One is further declared through the employment of four compound names. “His name,” we are told, “shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” In all four of these titles, it is again His Deity—namely His eternality, perpetuity, and duration—that is prominent.
The reference to the “government” in these two verses speaks of the authority this promised One would possess. Its responsibility would rest solely “upon his shoulder.” It would also be a kingdom with “no end.” And that is because, as we have already seen, it is He who will sit enthroned in fulfillment to the promises given to David centuries earlier. He would rule and reign from “the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it from this time forth and forevermore.”
The significance of Christ’s birth rests upon these great truths. As remote as this may now seem to us, its fulfillment is guaranteed by the very Word of the living God. Events were set in motion when the virgin conceived and nine months later “gave birth to her firstborn son” (cf. Luke 2:7) and “called his name Jesus” (cf. Matthew 1:25).
The sign of Jesus’ birth was that He would enter the realm of humanity through the womb of a virgin. The site of His birth testified to God’s condescension toward man by bringing the Redeemer into the world into such a humble way. And the significance of His birth is that the promised One was none other than God Himself clothed in flesh. And all of this was accomplished for our benefit.
Try as we may to take it all in, our minds are simply incapable of comprehending the vastness of God’s gracious love toward us. But try we must or we risk missing the deeper significance in recalling the birth of our Lord.
At times our perspectives need to be broadened and stretched beyond the familiar and what we are accustomed to seeing. Sometimes we need to be both shocked into reality and challenged in terms of its implications to us personally and collectively. One recent writer has given us a vivid depiction of the nativity as we seldom see it. Please listen as I quote him at length...and then let us bow our heads in silence for a few moments before we prepare to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together:
“The specific point here is that the infinite and omniscient and omnipotent creator of heaven did not descend to earth on a golden cloud. He came to us through screaming pain, through the bloody agony of a virgin’s (birth canal) in a cattle stall filthy with and stinking with dung. This is how humans enter the world, and if God would enter the world as a human being, he must enter it that way. It was the only way to reach us where we are and as we are, and because of his love for us he did not shrink from this approach, vile and difficult as it must be...
“God reached down not halfway to meet us in our vileness but all the way down, to the foul dregs of our broken humanity. And this holy and loving God dared to touch our lifeless and rotting essence and in doing so underscored that this is the truth about us. In fact, we are not sick and in need of healing. We are dead and in need of resurrecting. We are not dusty and in need of a good dusting; we are fatally befouled with death and fatally toxic filth and require total redemption. If we do not recognize that we need eternal life from the hand of God, we remain in our sins and are eternally dead. So because God respects us, he can reach us only if we are honest about our condition.”
Let’s bow in silence before Him now.