December 24, 2000 / No. 3025

Dear radio friends,

     The kingdom of Judah stood in imminent danger of destruction.  Two kingdoms had leagued themselves against her:  Syria and Israel.  And these kingdoms were intent to come up against Jerusalem, burn it to the ground, and destroy the monarchy of Judah.  The king of Judah’s heart was moved, and the heart of his people, as trees of the wood are moved with the wind.

     Ahaz, the wicked king of Judah at that time, had exerted all of his ingenuity to save the city.  Among his contrivances, he thought he would cut off the conduit of the upper pool.  He thought that he would divert the water, to cut off this water supply from the besieging armies.  He goes out, no doubt with his generals and engineers, intending to stop the stream of water and render it useless to his foes.

     It was then that Isaiah, the prophet of God, confronted him.  Isaiah told him, “Fear not, neither be fainthearted.  For the fierce anger of Resin with Syria, and the son of Remaliah of Israel, their evil counsel shall not stand or come to pass.  If ye believe not, surely ye shall not be established.”

     But Ahaz, though hearing the word of God, looks at God’s prophet with an eye of unbelief.  “I put no stock in your words.”  He trusted in the arm of the flesh.  He wanted nothing to do with help from God in this matter.

     Isaiah persists.  “Ask for a sign, either in the depths or in the height above.  Ask any sign you wish — either in the earth or in the seas or in all the starry heavens.  Something from the depths of the sea or something in the heavens — ask whatever you will.”

     But Ahaz will not.  He pretends humility.  Ahaz says, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord God.”  That fake humility was a mask for his unbelief.  He was the king who had set up idols in the temple.  He was a self-made man who trusted in his own wit and strength to save him.

     So Isaiah is instructed to give him a sign.  And what a sign he gives, a sign which declares that salvation is a wonder of God’s grace; that God, without the use of man at all, will bring forth a Son — named Immanuel (God with us).  The words we find in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (God with us).

     For many this passage in holy Scripture possesses problems.  There are translations of the Bible, perhaps you are acquainted with them, in which the word “virgin” is changed to “young woman.”  But what kind of sign would that be?  A young woman would conceive and bear a son?  That happens in the history of man repeatedly.  Others say, “Isaiah is talking about his own son, who would be born of his wife.”  Still others say that if this verse refers to the birth of Jesus Christ, then what kind of sign could that be to Ahaz, who lived eight hundred years before Christ was born?  So it cannot refer to Christ.

     To all of these objections, the answer is very plain and simple.  Isaiah gives to Ahaz the sign of all signs, that God alone will save His people in Jesus Christ — a virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son, and the son shall be Immanuel (God with us).  This is Scripture’s testimony, eight hundred years before Jesus was born, of the birth of Jesus Christ, the God-man in our flesh.  The reason why anybody would have problems interpreting this passage and failing to see that it speaks to us of the son of Mary, our Lord Jesus Christ, is unbelief.  The reason is opposition to the gospel of grace.  The virgin birth of Jesus Christ proclaims that God, without the aid of man or the worthiness of man, earns salvation.  This is God’s sign to us today — God’s undoubted assurance to us today — who, by grace, believe what was said by the prophet Isaiah:  “Be quiet, fear not, neither be fainthearted.  Believe and you shall be established.”

     God says to you and me today, “Humble yourself.  Forsake your own way and your own strength.  Repent and believe this wonder of all wonders.”  God has given to us a Son, Immanuel (God with us).  In Him and through Him is salvation.

     Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.  Those words were fulfilled when Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem.

     We marvel over the truth of the incarnation.  That word means the infleshment of God, God come in the flesh.  We come today before the manger, where Mary brought forth her firstborn son.  We confess that, at that moment, a wonder took place.  God, without ceasing to be God, took upon Himself our body in a body that was prepared for Him.  The second person of the holy Trinity now is born a man among men.  At that moment, the God-man was born, when Mary brought forth her firstborn son.  The eternal Son of the Father became an infant in our human body, an infant of certain length, weight, color of hair and eyes — the wonder of wonders.

     Of no other woman, and of no other child, can it be said that a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.  The words here are very expressive of the true virginity of Mary.  She had not had sexual intercourse with any man.  Jesus was born of a woman, for sure.  But the woman was a virgin, the virgin Mary.  He who has redeemed us to God was, therefore, not born by the will or power or instrumentality of man.  Salvation is not accomplished, nor does it come, of man, lest any man should boast.

     Because He is born of a virgin, His Father, the one who conceives Him, is the eternal God.  Therefore, Jesus comes among men as the sinless Son of God.  Christ our Savior was born sinless.  If our Savior Jesus Christ was born as we are, with a human father and mother, that is, if there was no virgin birth, then Jesus Christ would have been conceived in sin and shapen in iniquity even as you and I.  He would not have been able to save us because He Himself, then, would have inherited all the frailties, sins, and infirmities of men.  He would have inherited Adam’s guilt before God.  And He would have inherited from Joseph (if Joseph were His father) a sinful nature, so that it might be spoken of Him, then, as He was in the manager as it was spoken of you when you were born:  Guilty in Adam, fallen sinner, depraved, outcast from God.

     But the virgin conceived and brought forth a son.  He is God’s Son in the flesh and, therefore, He is holy, undefiled, and without spot.  The angel had said to Mary, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.  Therefore, that holy child shall be called the Son of God.”  God impregnated Mary.  God united Himself with human flesh.  Therefore Jesus could say, “I am pure.”  “Which one of you,” He would say later on to the Jews, “accuses Me of sin?”  Peter will say of Him in his first epistle, chapter 2, “There was no guile found in his mouth.”  He is separate from sinners.  He is sinless.

     That does not mean that Jesus Christ, as He is in the manger, is less human.  Sin does not make us human.  To be truly human does not mean that we have to have sin.  Sin is a corruption and a spoiling of humanity.  But it is not the essence of humanity.  God is in the flesh.  The infinite and the almighty Maker of all things, the unbounded One, whom heaven cannot contain, of grace has united Himself with our flesh and is in His mother’s arms.  The One who fastened the pillars of the universe and holds the creation now in His own hands is nourished on Mary’s breast.

     We have a marvel — the marvel of the grace of God — the marvel of the humiliation, the humbling, of the Son of God.  The word that Isaiah spoke was not, “Behold, a princess shall conceive, an heiress.”  No, a virgin!  The highest honor that can be paid to Mary was that she was a virgin.  As a single girl, she was chaste.  She did not know Joseph until she had brought forth her firstborn son, as we read in Matthew 1.   Mary, we read there, was of the royal line of David.  She was a descendent of David, of the house of David.  She had the king’s blood in her.  Flowing in the veins of Jesus Christ was the blood of the ancient monarchy of Judah and thus the fulfillment of the promise made to David, “Thy throne is an everlasting dominion.”  And Mary is highly favored among women.  For of all the women, she is chosen, only of grace, to be the mother of our Lord Jesus Christ.

     Therefore, the angel says to her, “From henceforth all generations shall call you blessed.”  Now, Mary is no queen in heaven.  Mary is no mediatrix.  Mary was a sinner.  Mary was a guilty sinner of herself.  Mary needed a Savior.  Jesus did not receive His sinlessness from Mary.  He received His sinlessness from God.  He came to save Mary, a sinner, and to save her the same way we are saved — by grace alone.

     The birth of the Lord was a humble birth.  It was a humble birth because this sinless Son of God now in our flesh has come to take upon Himself the poverty of our sins, the sins of all of God’s children that God has chosen from all eternity.  Therefore He is born in a stable in Bethlehem.  He is not born in a governor’s house or mansion.  He is not even born in the inn that was in Bethlehem.  That would have been humble, but it would have had some earthly comforts.  But He is born in a stable.  He is laid in a place where oxen sleep and eat.  Because He would stoop low, He would condescend.  Heaven’s beautiful Son stoops low under the guilt and awfulness of our sins.  Whose sins?  The sins of all those who are written by His Father upon His heart and for whom God has given Him.  The Lord did great things for us.  How marvelous!

     Let us bow in worship!

     The wonder of the birth of Jesus Christ surpasses the wonder of the Red Sea, when that sea was parted by the hands of God.  The wonder of the birth of Jesus Christ surpasses the destruction of Jericho’s walls when they fell over.  It surpasses the standing still of the sun and moon in the days of Joshua.  It surpasses even the framing of the worlds by the Word of God in the beginning, when God spoke and it was, and He brought forth the creation that now is.  This wonder surpasses them all.  For this Child is truly God, God of gods, and truly Man, Man of men.  All that can be said of God can be said of Him.  And all that may be said of man may be said of Him.  Yet He is without sin.  He is the Savior.

     So the apostle will say without controversy, “Great is the mystery of godliness.  God was manifest in the flesh.”  Why?  Why would the eternal God come and join Himself to a human body, a body in development from the moment of conception to birth to adulthood?  Why would He do that?  Grace!

     The Lord Himself shall give you a sign, says Isaiah to Ahaz, because only in this way can you, a fallen, rebellious sinner, be brought to God.  Only in this way, the way of Immanuel — God with us.

     As we remember the birth of Jesus Christ this night, think about this:  Have we ever said to God in our prayers, “Show me a sign that Thou dost love me”?  Have we ever asked, “Where are Thy mercies, Lord?”  Have we ever asked, “Why doesn’t God help me?”  Shame upon us.

     He shall be called Immanuel — God with us.  The cornerstone of our faith is found in these words:  “A virgin shall conceive and bear a son.”  We will not give up one word.  Yes, the shadow of the cross is cast over the manger, for this Child has come in the wonder of the virgin birth to die upon Calvary’s cross.  Mary’s womb shines upon the cross of Calvary to tell us the value of the cross of Calvary.  The One who will bleed upon the cross, pierced and wounded, was very man, brought forth of a woman for sure, but very God, Immanuel — God with us — God’s Son come to redeem.  He whose cry pierced the night in Bethlehem as a little babe is the One who spoke the worlds into being.  Have you ever wondered about that?  Have you ever simply marveled over the Christmas message?  God’s grace!

     We miserable sinners who deserve wrath and cannot earn a way out — God gave His Son to be born of a woman in order that we might live with Him forever.  The sinless One took the place of sinners.  God gave His Son that we might live forever in Him.

     Do you believe this gospel?

     “And shall call His name Immanuel.”  The name Immanuel means God with us.  That is who He is.  He is God with us.  He is man and God in one.  A virgin conceived because very God of God united Himself to human flesh in her womb.  A Child was born, very man, God with us.

     Our souls, today, must ring with these words.  When we read the Bible, we hear of the wonder of Romans 8:   “If God be for us, who can be against us?”  God is for us, God favors us of His grace.  God is disposed in all of His divine power and resources to do us good, says the apostle.  This is my comfort.  This is what I take up to my soul in my time of need:  God is for us, who can be against us?

     But this is even more.  For it is not only God for us, but God with us.  God made one with us.  God united to us.  God now come near in order that we might be brought near to Him.  God with us in order that we might be with Him and see His glory and behold Him face to face and live with Him as forgiven sinners.  That is the wonder of His grace.  It is all found in His name, Immanuel.  By His incarnation, the almighty, everlasting God, the Son of God walked upon the earth.  He who made ten thousand galaxies, each more vast than the one that we know around the earth; and He who is able to say they are all in the palm of His hand — He became an inhabitant of the earth.  The everlasting came into time to save us.

     And He has not lost that name.  He is still called Immanuel.  He has it now in heaven.  The Child born of Mary is God with us at the right hand of God to protect us.  So, even if we are cast away in a desert or ocean, if we are placed upon a bed of pain or death, and if in the last days, out of faithfulness to Jesus Christ, we are beaten and cast out or cast into prison, and if in the will of God we come upon trouble and sorrow today, nevertheless, He is God with us.  He is the One who has brought us to God.

     Do you know that?  Do you rejoice in that today and every day?  The wonder of God’s grace — God with us in our tribulations.  God with us in the moments of conviction of the reality of our sins.  God with us in our sorrows.  God with us in our fears.  The person who knows this can say, “All is well.”

     The wonder of God’s grace.  Our minds and our reason cannot bring it all into their scope today.  We have to bow down and worship.  The angels peered down from heaven, for the angels desired to look into the things of salvation.  On that night in which Jesus was born, the angels came to worship.

     Satan trembles at the sound of the name Immanuel.  His black legions tremble and they shake at the mention of His name, Immanuel.  Whisper this word, Immanuel, and the devil and lust and sin falls back and is confounded.

     This is our strength!  The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.  And so we bend upon our knees before Him and we go about our earthly calling — whether we do that in sunshine or darkness, God with us.  This is our comfort.  This is our soul’s courage.  And in this name we rest.  For we confess that our salvation is all of grace in Jesus Christ.  And one day, in eternity, we will shout with all the glorified, and we shall join the angels in the great oratorio:  Immanuel, God with us.

     Let us pray.

     Father, we thank Thee for Thy word and ask that Thou wilt bless it unto our souls.  We praise Thee for the wonder of Thy love in the gift of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of a virgin, born that we might live with Thee forever.  Amen.