Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
One of the wonders of the Christmas story is the virgin birth. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was a virgin, which means she was not married and had never engaged in sexual intercourse. But she became pregnant as one of her eggs was miraculously fertilized by the Holy Spirit. And we know this from Luke 2 and the passage we just read in Matthew 1. It is one of the cornerstone doctrines of Christianity. It is how Jesus could be both fully human and fully God, which is what He needed to be in order to be our Saviour.
And the virgin birth is spoken about in Matthew 1:23 where we read, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” And that verse has become a part of many well-known Christmas carols, it is found on lots of Christmas cards, and I expect that many of you could recite it from memory. But it is actually a quote from Isaiah 7:14. And as we heard last week, Isaiah lived around 700 years before the birth of Jesus. So today we want to look at Isaiah 7:14 as Isaiah’s Second Christmas prophecy. We want to look at the historical background of that verse and we want to see what the words would have meant to the people at that time.
Now, we are greatly helped in doing this by some words that Matthew adds after his quote from Isaiah. For Matthew explains that Immanuel means God with us. So that is the great comfort and promise of this prophecy. Clearly, it is a good thing to have God with us. But what did this mean for the people of Isaiah’s day and what does this mean for us today?
Well, as chapter 7 opens, we learn that this prophecy took place when Ahaz was king of Judah.
- And Judah, you will remember from last week, was the Southern Kingdom, which was ruled by the sons of David, and had Jerusalem as its capital.
- We are told about Ahaz in 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chron. 28. He was a very wicked king who led the people into idolatry.
- And at this precise moment, the people of Judah and Jerusalem are under siege. Two kings, Pekah, who is King of Israel in the North, and Rezin, who is King of Syria, had joined forces to attack Jerusalem. But so far they had not been able to break in.
As you can imagine though, the King and the people of Jerusalem were terrified. We read in v2 that “the heart of Ahaz and the heart of the people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” Have you known fear like that? I am sure we all have. I felt it when we had the earthquakes in Christchurch. The first one occurred during the middle of the night. Our bedroom was upstairs. As I walked down the hallway, I was thrown from one side of the hallway to the other! It was pretty terrifying. Well, if you live in a city and there are two armies outside trying to get it, and you know that if they get in there will be injury and rape and death, that would be terrifying.
And it is right at this time that the Lord sends Isaiah to the king. He is told to take his son with him and to meet Ahaz and to speak with him. And in summary, his message from vv4-9 is ‘Stop fretting about these kings and armies hanging around your front gate. In a little while they will be footnotes on the pages of history. Ahaz, you need to be firm in faith; you need to put away your fear and trust in the Lord.’ And we know from history that the siege ended very soon after this and that 13 years after this episode, Israel and Syria had both been conquered by Assyria.
So Ahaz had been given a clear word of promise and comfort from the Lord. But we learn from 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28 that Ahaz did not calm down and trust in the Lord. Instead, he entered into an alliance with the King of Assyria against his foes. But that alliance proved costly, financially and spiritually, with Assyria eventually attacking Judah.
And so, as we come to vv10-17, Isaiah comes again to Ahaz with another word from the Lord. And you know, there is already some wonderful application here. Ahaz was a very wicked king. We are told that he “sacrificed his sons in the fire.” Can you imagine that? To please the idol gods, Ahaz sacrificed his sons as a burnt offering! Not just one son but many sons. It is just too awful to imagine, isn’t it. But Ahaz was so deep into idolatry, he thought that this was a good thing. And as the king, so the people. The whole nation was a nation of idolatry.
And yet, despite all of this evil and wickedness, the Lord sends a prophet. What an amazing example of God’s patience and grace.
And that is really good news for New Zealand today, isn’t it. In NZ, around 15,000 unborn children are being murdered by abortion every year. This week there has been a focus on how many women and children are being killed or assaulted by men through domestic violence; it is terrible. It probably wouldn’t surprise any of us if our national anthem was changed to Mother Nature, at Thy feet, in the bonds of love we meet, because New Zealand’s chief god today is the environment. Blasphemy is everywhere. A couple of years ago, St Matthew’s in the City, a downtown Auckland church, unveiled its annual Christmas billboard, which had a picture of a baby in a manger with a rainbow halo, and the words – Christmas, time for Jesus to come out. And yet, there are still churches where the word of God is being faithfully preached. God has not completely abandoned New Zealand. We ought to thank God that He is slow to anger and patient and gracious. And we ought to beg Him to reform the church and do a great work of revival in this land!
Well, as we come to verses 10-14, we come to the specific Christmas prophecy that we want to look at closely. And we want to briefly consider the three aspects of this prophecy, which are that the Lord promises a sign, and secondly that the sign is the virgin birth, and thirdly the sign in the child’s name.
- So we begin with vv10-14a where the Lord promises a sign.
- Isaiah says to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God.”
- Now, a sign is a miracle that God performs to prove His word. And probably the most famous person to ask for a sign was Gideon. Maybe you boys and girls remember that when the angel of the Lord called Gideon to lead Israel’s armies, Gideon was not totally convinced that this was from the Lord. So he asked for a sign and the angel agreed. So first of all, Gideon made a meal and put it on a rock and fire came out of the rock and consumed the meal. But Gideon was still not convinced. So he asked if he could put out a fleece over night, and if the fleece was covered in dew but the ground was dry, he would believe. And that is what happened. But Gideon then asked if he could do this again and this time have the fleece dry while the ground was covered in dew. And this is what happened. And only then was Gideon convinced that this was from the Lord.
- So, recognizing that Ahaz had little or no faith, the Lord graciously offered him a sign.
- But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Now, Deut 6:16 warns the people of Israel against putting the Lord to the test, so maybe Ahaz was trying to obey God’s law? But that is not the case at all. This is just another demonstration of Ahaz’s unbelief and rebellion. Ahaz was commanded to ask for a sign. Isaiah was the prophet of the Lord; he spoke the word of the Lord. But Ahaz wanted no part of God. He didn’t want to recognize that Isaiah was God’s prophet. His choice was already made. His trust was in Assyria.
- So Isaiah rebuked Ahaz for wearying God, or disobeying God’s command, and said at the beginning of v14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.”
- And this too is another example of God’s patience. You and I are not very good at giving people second or third or eighth chances, are we. We are very quick to write people off and to tell them that they blew their chance. But not God. As Psalm 103:8-10 says, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will He harbour His anger forever; He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.”
- And this is what we see here as the Lord promises to give Ahaz a sign even though Ahaz is disobedient.
- Well, that brings us to v14b where we see that the sign is THE virgin birth, as Isaiah says, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”
- Now, because we have already read Matthew 1:23, you know that the Christian interpretation of this verse is that it was a promise about Jesus. You know that by the power of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah was speaking about the coming of Jesus. And this is so because Mary was a virgin when she became pregnant with Jesus. And this is so because Isaiah speaks about THE virgin; the word THE has someone very specific in view. And this is so because Matthew, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit, quoted this verse in relation to the birth of Jesus.
- But perhaps you are wondering, what do the Jews make of this prophecy? It seems to be so obviously about Jesus. So why do they not believe that Jesus is the Son of God?
- Well, last week we talked about the principle of multiple fulfilment. Many prophecies have not just one fulfilment but two or more. And this is probably another of those types of prophecy. You see, this sign was a sign for Ahaz. It doesn’t really make sense then that it would only about the Lord Jesus, who was born around 700 years later. So it is likely then that this prophecy had a first fulfilment soon after it was given.
- And if you look over at 8:3-4, you read what many people think was its first fulfilment. Isaiah says there, “Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said to me, ‘Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.’ Before the boy knows how to say ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria.” And note also that the words of v4 are very similar to the description of the sign-son back in 7:16 – before the boy knows… etc. . And then if you look down at 3:8, you see another reference to Immanuel and in v10, “For God is with us,” which is what Immanuel means. So, because this prophetess was probably known to the people of that time as ‘the virgin,’ her and Isaiah’s son may well be the first birth sign that fulfilled Isaiah’s 7:14 prophecy.
- Now, I won’t go into all the details of Hebrew word meanings, but ask a Jew about this verse today and he will tell you that the word translated as virgin does not mean a physical virgin but just a previously unmarried woman. So Jews today say that this birth in ch. 8 is the only fulfilment of the 7:14 prophecy.
- But get this! When the Jews translated the Hebrew Bible into Greek, which they did about 150 years before Jesus was born, they used the Greek word that means a physical virgin! They knew what this verse spoke of. But after the record of the virgin birth of Jesus, they stopped using the Greek version in the synagogue and went back to the Hebrew version!
- But make no mistake, even though there probably was a fulfilment of this prophecy in Isaiah’s day, Jesus is THE fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. 700 years before it happened, Isaiah prophesied the virgin birth of Jesus!
- Well, that brings us, thirdly and lastly, to the sign in the child’s name. For we are told in v14c that the virgin would “call his name Immanuel.” And as we read in Matthew 1:23 where this verse is quoted, Immanuel “means God with us.”
- Can you see how this prophecy should have been a great comfort and encouragement to Ahaz? As he looked out beyond the city gates, he could see the armies of Israel and Syria. And the only solution he could see for this problem was the army of Assyria. But what was Ahaz forgetting? He was forgetting all of the wonderful and miraculous deliverances of His people performed by their God. Egypt – Red Sea. Amelekites – Moses arms. Jericho – Joshua. Amorites – Joshua – Sun stood still. Midian – Gideon – 300. Ahaz should have trusted in God and His word.
- But now Jesus has come. And just before He left earth and ascended to heaven, He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations … And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” It may not look and feel like it at times, but Jesus is God with us.
- He is with you, by virtue of the Virgin birth, to redeem you.
- He is with you by his Spirit to protect, guide, and comfort you.
- He is with us here now in this worship service to bless us.
- He is with you to help you grow in holiness.
- He is with you as you suffer illness or any other hardship.
- He is with you as you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
- In 1949, as the Communists were marching into Beijing in the Revolution, a Salvation Army officer refused to leave the church building. When asked why, he said, “I’m sitting in the premises and standing on the promises.” He trusted that in Jesus, God was with him, so that even if he died, he would gain heaven.
- In a few moments, we will sing Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
Christ, by highest heaven adored, Christ, the everlasting Lord,
late in time behold him come, offspring of the Virgin’s womb:
veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail th’incarnate Deity,
pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.
The sad thing about Ahaz was that because he rejected God, God was against him; God was his enemy. And God is against all those who reject Jesus. When they die or if Jesus returns before then, they shall be condemned to an eternity in hell. But to all those who have confessed their sins and believed in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and who follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and King, He is Immanuel, God with us. Which is it for you? Is Jesus your Immanuel? I hope so! Amen.