20 Dec 2022
Isaiah 7:14 is a popular verse during Christmas. And it should be! It promises the birth of Jesus, our Immanuel! And it is also important to know the context of why and how the promise was given. The promise was given in the midst of sin, rebellion & impending war. In spite of Judah's unfaithfulness, God remains faithful. He will not forsake His own, even if they should stray. He promises a sign of "Immanuel" (God with us) to His people in spite of their sins. This is our God- His love is so strong nothing shall separate us from His love in Christ Jesus. The virgin birth of Jesus Christ is a most unique event in human history. There is simply no other example of this. It is one of the many proofs that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Jesus is the one who will crush the serpent's head, who will be the everlasting Davidic King, and who is the mighty God. Today, you can find peace with God through Jesus. And dear brethren, your God is with you and for you, and not against you.
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Let's come to the sermon today, it's on a passage in Isaiah as you have just read.
I was in US for the past three weeks, and I had to take long drives. It's, it's very big country and to travel from place to place, you will be driving long distances.
And so we tuned in to their radio stations there and we found one radio station that was very interesting. The radio station only plays Christmas songs.
I'm sure like myself, you must be thinking - hah, got so many songs meh? Huh...huh... I mean, there are many Christmas songs. Last Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, there are many Christmas songs but are there enough songs to last one whole day? But that was what I was curious to find out.
So our family tuned in to the station, it's nice. Christmasy, some snow, it's a nice feeling. We don't get that here in Singapore. But after a while I realized, that they had to recycle the songs. And maybe it's the same song but a different singer or a different version, that's all. That's how they have a Christmas station.
Well, I think about that for the sermons. Every Christmas, churches across the globe will preach a Christmas sermon. In a way, it will be the same passages. Matthew, Luke, Isaiah, but I hope you will not be bored today because it's like a new singer, huh, a new preacher. So I like us today to consider Christmas in the book of Isaiah. I'm going to do just a mini-series, two part mini-series looking at two passages in Isaiah that people regularly refer to for Christmas.
The passage before us is found in Isaiah Chapter 7. We read three quarters of the chapter and really we want to get to the bottom of this understanding of Isaiah 7 and verse 14.
On the surface, this is a straightforward passage. You would see these words printed in Christmas cards or even in shopping malls. And everybody can say, Ah, this is about Mary, the virgin who'll give birth to Jesus and He will be called Emmanuel - this is the Christmas passage.
But it is not without its controversy because there are people today, actually, for a period of time, who say that really, this is not about a virgin, it's about a young woman. That's how they take that Hebrew word in Isaiah 7 to mean. So they are saying this is not about a virgin, it's about a young woman, that's all.
And you know, in our English Bibles, there are many kinds of versions, right? You have many, like King James Version, ESV, you have NASB, these are just acronyms for Bible versions. And there's one particular version called RSV, Revised Standard Version, that translates the word virgin to be exactly young woman in 1952. So this becomes a little bit tricky.
Spurgeon, he's one of the most well known preachers in time past, preached many sermons across many passages. And Spurgeon himself says, with regards to Isaiah 7:14, this is one of the most difficult in all the Word of God. It may be so;
I certainly did not think it was until I saw what the commentators had to say about it, and I rose up from reading them perfectly confused.
Huh, I felt a little like that; I thought it's a straightforward passage, Isaiah 7, so familiar. But when you dig deeper and you read other commentators, they throw up this controversy - is this virgin really a virgin or is this simply a young woman? And there are other things to consider.
So this morning, I just want to spend our time looking at this promise of the virgin birth. Let me say it from the outset, it is the virgin birth. But how do we get to that understanding? What are the controversies involved? What does it mean for you and me? Well, that's what we're going to spend the next 25, 30 minutes on, alright?
So let's understand Isaiah Chapter 7 - the promise of the virgin birth.
The first thing I'd like us to consider is the context. Very important when we read the Bible, not just to take a verse in isolation and speak of it out of its context. That's not the right way to read the Bible.
So, we understand, we need to understand the background. What's the reason? What's the story? What's the setting? What's the context that this promise of the virgin birth is given in?
So, the context is certainly not falling snow, warm Christmas music and people roasting chestnuts over an open fire. But it's actually a time of tremendous insecurity and fear because there is impending war.
Two countries are ganging up together against its, against Judah, against the city of Jerusalem in particular. Ahaz is the king of Judah at this point of time, and he must be feeling really nervous about it. It's a two v one, not fair, and he is likely to fail.
The bigger context, however, is that these two countries Syria and Israel wanted to fight Judah because they felt threatened by another megapower called Assyria. They knew that they had very little chance to stand up against this megapower Assyria so they wanted Judah to partner them to form this three nation coalition to stand up against Assyria. But Ahaz didn't want to do it. Ahaz didn't want to partner with Syria and Israel.
So Syria and Israel says we need to attack Jerusalem, so that we can change the king and install Tabeel as king. So that's their intent.
Hearing Syria and Israel's impending invasion, Ahaz and all of Judah were shaken. They shook like the trees of the forests would shake before the wind.
And then we are told that God said to Isaiah, now go and meet Ahaz together with your son. And in fact, in effect, tell Ahaz that whatever Syria and Israel is trying to do will not succeed. That's the summary of verse 4 to verse 9. Syria and Israel will not be able to defeat you.
And then God said to Ahaz, Ahaz, just to make this very sure and clear for you, you can ask a sign of me anything at all. Let it be as deep as Sheol, let it be from the depths of the earth to the heights of heaven. You can ask anything you want, that it may be a sign to confirm, Syria and Israel will certainly not succeed. It's a great offer.
But look at the response Ahaz gave. I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test. Ahaz says, I don't want to ask God. Now it sounds very pious, sounds very good and godly of Ahaz. He doesn't want to trouble God. But the reality is, Ahaz was not a godly man, Ahaz was a wicked man. If you read the background of Ahaz in Second Chronicles and Second Kings, you'll realize that he was an idolatrous man. He would set up altars to worship idols in the temple. He would worship false gods and he would even sacrifice his own sons to these idol gods.
So he was not saying this because he was a pious man. He was saying this because he despised God. He says, I won't want to ask God, I don't need to ask God. This is just a deceitful way of excusing himself.
Isaiah was sent to Ahaz so that he may turn to God, repent of his sin but Ahaz refused to do so and said, no, I don't want to trust, I don't want to test God.
Isaiah saw through it all and in verse 13 says, Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? He exposes Ahaz's hypocrisy and wickedness. And he also, Isaiah also says that this rejection, this despising of God, this refusal to submit to God is typical, is emblematic of the nation of Israel, the house of David. So Isaiah confronts Ahaz and also now confronts the nation of Judah and say, you guys are a sinful bunch.
And that's the context to verse 14 where the Bible says, Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. So the context here is not falling snow and warm Christmas music and people roasting chestnuts over an open fire. But it's a time of fear and anxiety of impending invasion and a time where people are confronted about their sin.
Oh, it doesn't feel warm like Christmas. But let me say it's actually warmer than Christmas. Because what God is saying here is that in spite of your rejection of Me, in spite of your unfaithfulness to Me, in spite of your sins towards Me, I will not give up on you, I will show you a sign, I will give you a Son born of a virgin, and you will know He is Immanuel, God with us.
So even though you're sinful against Me, even though you're unfaithful to Me, I will not give up on you. That's the context! That's the richness of this promise that if you take it out of isolation and put it on a Christmas card or on the walls of the mall, people may not understand that this is God's unswerving, loving, unconditional favor, His loving kindness to the people of Israel when they least deserved it. So that I think has to be deeply appreciated.
The love of a parent, the love of a parent, the love of a father, the love of a mother, it's not just seen in the way they provide for their children, cook for them, wash their clothes, fetch them here and there, provide for their needs. That's wonderful! But in a way like none other, the love of a mother and a father is seen when a child turns rebellious, but they are still waiting for him to come back with open arms.
The love of a spouse is deeply tested when the other has failed him or her. And the love of God is wonderfully, supremely shown in how He is still for them, God with us when they have been unfaithful to Him.
With that context, we now enter into the content itself. What does this promise speak about, what is this verse about? On the surface it's very simple. It's about the virgin birth. But like I said, we've got to deal with the elephant in the room that I've introduced, and the elephant in the room is - are you sure it is really virgin? Or, like what RSV or other people have said, it could just be a young woman.
The difficulty here is this, as far as we know, during the time of Isaiah, during the time of Ahaz, there is no record of any virgin giving birth to a son. There's none! So commentators and preachers struggle to say, this is the sign given to Ahaz - a virgin shall be with child, because we don't read of someone like that.
In their own desperation, they try to find some possibilities. One possibility, they say is Hezekiah. But you know, Hezekiah is another king that will come along. But as far as commentators could tell, Hezekiah was already born before this promise is given.
Then some other people say, Oh maybe is some unknown child born of some unknown woman; she is a virgin and nobody knows who he is but it was something that happened. But the contention is, if the child and the woman or the mother is truly unknown, then it would not be a good sign. It's useless! It has to be publicly perceived.
And then some would say, oh, it could be Isaiah's wife who gave birth to a son. But it could not be because I purposely showed you verse 3 in Chapter 7, Isaiah was told to confront Ahaz with his son. So there is no satisfactory answer to: Is there someone who was born of a virgin during that time, and certainly I would say none was called Immanuel. Heavy name, God with us, during those days.
So let's look at what this really is. The word in contention is the word virgin. And the word in Hebrew is ʿalmâ. It's in its original form, a word that can mean virgin, someone who has never had any intimacy with another. Or it could really mean also young maiden, young woman; that's why there are people who argue for the translation of young woman, we can understand that.
But to determine whether it is specifically virgin or just a young woman, it will need the context, the surrounding background to tell us.
I suppose it's like the word guru, you know, guru - propertyguru. I think when I say propertyguru, everybody wakes up. A guru - what, what does the word guru mean? Well, the guru word can mean something very general, like you are an expert, you are a master of the field so you are a guru. Or in a more specific sense, the word guru refers to a Hindu spiritual leader.
So when I look at you and say, eh you are a guru. You have to ask me, What do you mean ah? Do you mean I'm a Hindu spiritual leader or do you mean I'm an expert in my field. The context will lead you.
So here, the Bible says, Behold, the ʿalmâ shall conceive. Is this context about a young woman or a virgin? My straightforward understanding is, of course, it refers to virgin. Because if you say, Behold, the young woman shall conceive and bear a son, I say, what's so special?
Everyday young woman is giving birth, giving birth what. You just follow me later, I bring you to KK, you see, sure one. Aaaaaahh... one birth come out. What's so special about that? It has been done for thousands of years. And why would you say 'Behold'? The reason why you 'Behold' is because it's extraordinary. Nothing's like this has been done before, a virgin shall bring forth a son. And you shall call His name Immanuel.
The context, I think, is clear. Another reason why I think this is overwhelmingly virgin and not just young woman is found in the Septuagint. Wah, simi si Septuagint, you say? Especially for our guests, friends who are here for the baptism. Wah.. what is this preacher talking about? What Septuagint? I know Eugene but I don't know Septuagint.
Well, just a kind of background, Septuagint is just a Greek translation of the Old Testament. When we read the Bible today, it's in English. Actually, when you read the first half of the Bible, it was never written in English. There wasn't English in those days. It was written in Hebrew. But for us to understand the Hebrew Scriptures, someone got to do some translation for us, so we have the English version. And the Septuagint is the Greek translation.
You say, why did they translate it in Greek? Well, that's because hundreds of years ago, Israel, they spoke Hebrew, but after a while, they got captured by the Babylons. They stayed there for 70 years and slowly their language is being changed from Hebrew to the language the Babylonians would speak.
And after the Babylonians came, the Greeks under Alexander the Great - he conquered great lands and so being under the Greek Empire, they went through a mass conversion of language to Greek. So by the time about BC200, 200-300 years before Jesus was born, the Jews, by and large, have lost their Hebrew language. Very few people could speak it.
So if they were to read or understand the Bible, they got to go to the Greek and therefore they were people who translated the Hebrew Bible into the Greek version; that's what you call the Septuagint.
So in the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation, they look, the scholars, the seventy of them, that's why Septuagint. The seventy of them agreed that the word should be translated parthenos in the Greek, which is a technical specific word for virgin. Now that's remarkable, because this is about 200 plus years before Jesus was born; no one, no one has seen a virgin birth, but they said, No, this should be the right translation. They knew it, they respected the, the value of this prophecy.
But supremely the reason why this should be seen as virgin and not just young maiden, or young woman is in the New Testament. When Matthew wrote about this, he said, Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. Not just Matthew but Luke records for us, Mary said to the angel who told her that there will be a Holy One who'll come from her womb. She says, How can it be possible since I am a virgin, since I have not had any relationship with any man.
So this is, I think, overwhelmingly clear. It's not just a young woman. It should not be translated as young maiden because that absolutely reduces what this prophecy or the extraordinary nature of this prophecy; it should be a virgin.
But this is the question they have. But Jason, if you say that this is a virgin birth and that is only seen, only seen once in human history, and that is in the life of Jesus Christ, then how can this event which is 700 plus years after Ahaz, be a sign to Ahaz? He would have been dead - cannot be a sign to him, so this is not correct, some would say.
Ah... but here, you see, you got to understand, who is this you? The Lord Himself will give you, who is this you, you've got to be clear about who the you is? Who is this you? Most of us think it's Ahaz. But if you read a bit more carefully, you'll realize it's not. Because just before this in verse 13, the reference is made to the house of David.
And what is convincing is that the you here in the Hebrew is in a plural form. In verse 11, it is singular to Ahaz himself. But you see, this is the conversation that is going on. Ahaz asked a sign, anything from the depths of the earth to the heights of heaven. Ahaz say wa mai, I don't want neh, I don't want to ask, I don't believe, I don't want to ask. Alright.
Why are you house of David always like that? You always like that one, you all. Okay, never mind. God will give you a sign. The you here is not to Ahaz; Ahaz is now set aside. He didn't want a sign. The sign is given to the nation of Judah, the people of God, the house of David. That's why it is a relevant sign because the house of David existed hundreds of years later during the time of Jesus as well.
So this is a sign to the house of David saying, although you sinned against Me, and I will soon send the Assyrians and the Egyptians to invade your land; I will do that, I will punish you, but I will not utterly forsake you. Though you sin against me, I will still be with you, and I'll show you so via the virgin birth.
See the depths of this prophecy - it's not just something we can take in isolation. The context is God communicating His unflinching faithfulness and love and commitment to the rebellious house of David. I will be with you and you'll know it through this Special Child, Immanuel. That's the point.
Finally, I've time to wrap up with connection. This is not a promise, a statement that just erupts out of the blue, as if God suddenly thought, orh okay, okay, let Me plan something for you. It's not an afterthought. It's not random, it's not sudden, it is something that is consistent. It is something that has begun thousands of years before Ahaz.
And it's a message that God, that God carries through, through the entire Bible. It's a consistent messaging from God that there is this Special Child, there will be this Special Offspring who'll be the source of blessing to all nations, who would save men from their sins, who would defeat the evil one, and who will rule overall. This is the whole message of the Bible and it is consistent and it is connected.
Let me show you how. Right in the garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve sinned against God, God said to the serpent who is really Satan. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head. He is saying to the serpent, there will be a Special Offspring of the woman and that Offspring will crush your head.
You came and sabotaged my creation. You came and led my jewel, crown jewel of creation, Adam and Eve into sin. Oh, but one day there will be this Special Offspring of a woman; He will come and destroy you, He will crush your head. He will reverse the effects of sin. Her offspring!
Commentators here, looking at Isaiah 7 and Genesis 3 together, highlight an important or interesting observation. When you read the whole Bible, usually when you talk about someone, let's say myself. When you talk about the man, you will say that this is the son of Mr. Lim, my father. Very few would say, this is Jason, the son of Madam Lim. It's always the son of the father, son of the father, son of the father.
But here, it is her offspring, as if to hint that this Offspring has no human father. And perhaps that's why, in Isaiah 7:14, the definitive article 'the' is used and not 'a'. That's the Hebrew language. Behold, the virgin, almost hinting that there is this virgin that is hinted of in the Bible. Whether that is absolutely true, I can't be sure, I'm not convinced myself. Neither am I dissuaded from it myself, I think it's possible.
And if it is so, then clearly Isaiah, under inspiration by God, is hinting that this Offspring of a woman is (sic: of) the virgin, who will bring forth this Son, who you call Immanuel. So this Special Child of a virgin birth is the same, who has been promised back in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3.
But the Bible goes on. Thousands of years later, God then spoke to this man called David. And God said to David, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. So David, I'm telling you, from your line will come an Offspring who will be an Everlasting King.
There has been no king who has ruled forever in this world. None of his descendants ruled a nation forever. But there will come a King from David's line, who will be that Forever King who will have that Forever Kingdom. And if you trace it again and connect it to Isaiah, well, that Child will be born of a virgin.
And then we see Isaiah later on will connect also, I think to Chapter 9 in verse 6. It's a popular Christmas verse shaped in a Christmas tree, but I know some of you will be complaining - so small, can't see. So I make it clear for you. For to us a child is born, unto us a son is given and this Son, this Child, this, if I may add an Immanuel, is the One on whom the government will be upon his shoulder. His Name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
So you see the whole Bible is speaking, is anticipating this Special Someone, the seed of a woman who will crush the serpent's head, the One who will be the Everlasting King, the One who will be born of a virgin, the One who will be the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
So when Jesus was about to be born, that is the message Matthew, in the New Testament, the New Testament is written after the birth of Jesus Christ. So the New Testament now affirms in the birth of Jesus Christ; this is what is being fulfilled. Jesus being born, Christmas - it's about the virgin conceiving and bearing a Son and being named Immanuel.
And just preceding this, recognizing that this Child that is born will save us from our sins, so call Him Jesus which is Jehovah, Hosea, which is God who saves or God saves. How do you know He's the One who saves? Because He's the One spoken off in Genesis Chapter 3, the One who will crush the serpent's head. He's the God, the Mighty God, that Immanuel. He is the Offspring will defeat Satan. He is the Everlasting King.
Matthew writes the book of Matthew to convince people, to show people that Jesus is the promised King. So you see all these threads merge, converge, culminate in the Person of Jesus Christ.
Christmas is something that is deep and profound, because it's the culmination of thousands of years of waiting. It's the culmination of numerous specific prophecies of God. It is a testament of the faithfulness, and the power, and the mercy and the love of God to save.
Not just Matthew. Luke, like I said, Christmas, you talk about Matthew and Luke and Isaiah, and they're all tied together. Luke, he says, of this angel who spoke to Mary, behold, Mary, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. And He will be great, He will be called the Son of the Most High, not a special, not a ordinary kid but the Son of the Most High.
Not only that, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. You see the threads, connecting and merging in the message that the angel is giving to Mary.
And then Mary asked, how can it be, since I am a virgin? Oh, if only Mary remembered Isaiah seven and verse 14. Don't you worry, Mary. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and therefore the child to be born will be called holy - the Son of God.
Therefore, it's her offspring, not his offspring; He will not have a human father. He is born of the Holy Spirit, through the womb of the virgin Mary. He will be truly the Sinless One, born into this world because He is here to be our Savior. If he's born from Adam's line, he cannot save us from our sins, he himself will be a sinner, but because He's born of the Holy Spirit, He is the only one qualified as the Sinless Son of God, truly man truly human, to die and be our substitute and be our sacrifice.
So, this is the culmination of a long, long wait for the people of Israel. So we sing these songs. O come, O come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear. Rejoice! Rejoice! Immanuel shall come to you, O Israel. That is the depth of God's faithfulness, power, mercy to save.
You know, this is the Good News of the Bible. To the nation of Israel, though they were rebellious and though they were unfaithful and veiled, though they were sinful, God says, I will send a Son and He will be God with us, not God against us. If you would turn from your sin, and look to the Son of God, Jesus Christ, He is God for you and with you, not against you.
Today, this is what we call the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ. We are telling you that the God of the Bible is a God of wrath; He will judge all sin. But He's also the God of love who has sent His Son to die for your sins. And if you today will turn from sin and believe in Jesus Christ, He will be God with you and for you.
Many will be baptized this afternoon, just in a couple of minutes time I think. But I hope many more would join them in following Jesus, and knowing God - this God of the Bible, who you will stand before one day. There's only one way man can be saved - through Jesus Christ - and that's what Christmas is all about.
Let's bow for a word of prayer together. So often we think about Christmas as Santa Claus, Christmas trees, turkeys and ham. Oh but the depth of Christmas is profound. From the beginning of time, in the Garden of Eden, when man blew it and sinned against God, God did not give up on man but promised a Savior from the virgin's womb.
He will be that Everlasting King. He will be the Prince of Peace. He is the Everlasting Father and His Name is Jesus. He came so that God can be with us. And the Bible is calling men and women everywhere to repent of their sin and believe in Jesus Christ, that you might be saved.
This Christmas, I share with you the greatest gift of all, the gift of God's Son, sacrificed to save you from your sins. So my dear friends, guests, I pray this morning, you will consider the real message of Christmas and turn from sin to believe in Jesus.
I pray you will follow along your baptismal candidates; your father, your son, your wife, your neighbour, your friend who is getting baptized. The reason why they asked you here is so that they may tell you they too, have turned from sin and believed in Jesus. And Jesus has changed their lives.
To all my brothers and sisters in Christ, I want to remind you about God's love, about His unflinching, unwavering commitment to His elect - God with us! Maybe today, my brother, my sister, you are living in sin and you're filled with guilt and shame. And you say how can I ever turn back to Him again? How can I face my God? Will He still love me?
Let me tell you something. His love is so deep and profound, that even when we cannot find in ourselves any reason to forgive ourselves, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness if we should come and confess. There is cleansing, there is forgiveness, there is healing, there is full restoration in our magnificent, magnanimous God. Jesus paid it all. Nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So this Christmas is a great time for us to come back in boldness, in confidence, yes, in humility and brokenness; but at the same time with, with boldness and confidence, relishing in His deep love for us, demonstrated on the cross of Calvary.
I pray this morning this will be a day for you to know afresh and anew, God's love for you that you may live a life worthy of His calling. I'm not saying that you live a life of godliness to earn favor with God - no.... but because you know how much He loves you. You say this one thing I can do, to give my life to Jesus.
I'm not asking you to do a little bit more here, a little bit more there. No, that is inadequate. I'm not asking you to sacrifice a little bit here and a little bit there. I say no, that is not adequate. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my heart, my soul, my life, my all - Isaac Watts would say.
So today let's sit at the foot of the cross. Let's place ourselves in a time capsule and follow the storyline of the Bible. Let's go to the Garden of Eden. Let's go to the time Moses led Israel out of Egypt. Let's hear the words that God spoke to David. Let's hear Isaiah speak to the house of David. Let's hear the angel say to Mary, Immanuel will be born of you. And see God's love throughout the ages.
He is a consistent, faithful God. We can serve Him. Let this be a Christmas where we are faithfully telling one and all the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Father, thank You so much again for this time we could pause and look at the familiar passage. I pray that we will plunge new depths and it will fill the deep recesses of our hearts with the love of God. I pray, I know this is not achievable just by human words and human understanding.
So we pray for Your Spirit to establish these truths that we may be grounded and rooted in love, Your love, that we may walk worthy of Your calling. Have mercy too to save souls today. There's some who really need to be saved and so dear God, speak to them. Thank You for Jesus. Thank You for Christmas. Thank You for all that it means to eternal life. We praise You and ask all these in Jesus' Name. Amen.
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