“Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
“Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Prediction and fulfillment!
In these words is described quite adequately the relation of the two texts cited above, which contain the Word of God respecting the virgin birth of Christ.
In the one we have the prophecy of Isaiah as delivered to wicked king Ahaz, that must serve as a sign. In the other, Matthew informs us that the prophecy is realized in the virgin Mary, who was espoused to Joseph, and who was great with child. In the first, the predictive Word of God comes as a sign to Judah’s king, who in the day of trouble sought his help in the arm of flesh, refusing to look to the God of Judah for his aid, and refusing to bow the knee before the God of the Wonder. In the second, we see the fulfillment of the prophetic sign as it is interpreted to a troubled Israelite, who saw his espoused virgin great with child, while he knew he was not responsible for her conception, and was mindful to put her away privily, in order that she might not become a public example.
Together, these passages of Scripture reveal to us the mystery of the incarnation, the virgin birth of Christ, Whose birth the church again celebrates in this season of the year.
As we prepare to contemplate this central event in the scheme of our salvation, it is urgent that we consider this Wonder of Wonders with profound reverence.
As we meditate on the virgin birth of Christ as described in the passages cited above, it is necessary that we observe, first of all, that the virgin birth was intended as a sign.
A divine sign!
In general it may be said of signs that they are visible realities which are intended to portray hidden, invisible truths. In our world there is a vast number of them, and in Scripture the Word of God abounds with them. In a sense one may say all things are signs. And the reason is that God with design made all things visible in the creation that they might speak of the eternal and heavenly realities. Thus the sun in the heavens, which gives light, heat, and life to the creation, is a sign of the Son of righteousness Who comes with healing in His wings. The stars, which appear in vast numbers in the firmament, speak of the host innumerable that constitutes Abraham’s seed. Bread and water, the lowly vine, the lamb and the lion . . . all utter speech, all point us to the Word of God concerning His Son, the Savior of His people.
In Scripture, signs are generally intended for the believers. They accompany the Word of God to them, to confirm that Word, and to strengthen their faith.
This cannot mean, however, that signs are not given to unbelievers, or that they have no significance for them.
Jesus said on more than one occasion, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign, and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas” (Matt. 12:39; Matt. 16:4). The apostle Paul wrote, “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom” (I Cor. 1:22). In the context of the latter passage it is plain that both Jew and Greek categorically belong to the wicked and adulterous of whom the Lord was speaking. Accordingly, therefore, the wicked unbelievers seek after the sign, and signs are given to them.
But notably the wicked cannot, nor will they receive the signs relative to the kingdom of heaven. As it is with the preaching of God’s Word, so it is also with the multiplication of signs, they always reject them to their own condemnation. Such was also the case with wicked Ahaz, as we shall see in a moment. Jesus also said to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “O, ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky; but can ye discern the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16:3). The answer, of course, to this question is negative.
In Scripture, signs accompany the Word of God, and always with a twofold purpose. In respect to the wicked, it is that they may, with better knowledge, sin to their own condemnation. And in respect to the righteous, it is that they may be confirmed in their faith in the God of their salvation. As we said, in Scripture the divine intention is positively for the believers. This is true not only of the signs which are sacraments, such as baptism and the Lord’s Supper, but also of the multitude of signs which have no sacramental significance, such as, the sign of the rainbow to Noah, the sign of the dew on the fleece to Gideon, the signs which accompanied the out-pouring of the Spirit on Pentecost to the disciples; and, according to the text, the sign of the pregnant virgin to Joseph and the believing church.
Always the sign is from the Lord!
This truth is very emphatic in the case of Ahaz, as recorded in Isaiah’s prophecy, “Moreover the Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God, ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord” (Isa. 7:10-12).
Ahaz, so it appears in the context, had been threatened by a powerful union of Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Damascus (Syria). They had united with the intent to besiege Jerusalem, to slay Ahaz, and to set on the throne in his stead another king, even the son of Tabeal. Ahaz was sore afraid, not only for his own life, but also for the future of his kingdom. Did all this move the king to seek the God of Judah for His help? Nay, rather, he planned to call to the king of Assyria for his aid. It was in this situation that the Lord sent Isaiah to him, to inform him that the threat of Israel and Syria would not succeed, but also to ask for a sign of Jehovah God. Ahaz refused to believe the Word of the Lord, and to ask for a sign. He did not want the Lord to help him, choosing rather to place his hope on an arm of-flesh. And with apparent piety, but also in wicked unbelief he refuses to ask for a sign. Consequently Isaiah is instructed to say unto him, “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign. . . .”
Jehovah God, Who remembers His covenant with the house of David, and Who will preserve the seed of David forever, He will give the sign. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call His name, Immanuel.”
Nothing is too hard for the Lord when it comes to keeping His Word. He will do the impossible!
Behold, a virgin, not a married woman, shall conceive and bear a son. And this Son shall be called Immanuel, God with us.
That prophetic sign will be fulfilled in the birth of the Son of God from the virgin Mary, of the seed of David.
There are those who admit that the sign given to Ahaz points ultimately to the conception of the Son of God in the womb of the virgin Mary, but who further state that the sign, in order to have significance to Ahaz, must have had reference to an historic fact to be realized in the days in which Ahaz lived. With this latter explanation we cannot agree. They contend that, as far as Ahaz was concerned, the sign found its historic fulfillment according to Isaiah 8:1, 3 in the son Mahershalalhashbaz, conceived and born of a prophetess. They also point to Isaiah 8:8 where Immanuel is addressed; and to Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a child is born. . . .”
An explanation of these passages here would take us too far afield in this Meditation, nor is this necessary.
What we must see is the fact that what was said in our text in Isaiah 7:14, relative to the divine sign, should have been and was perfectly clear to Ahaz to whom it was given. That Word of God by the mouth of the prophet was that God would destroy Judah’s enemies, and that Ahaz must believe in the God of the Wonder. And the Wonder is, that a virgin conceives without co-habiting with man. Ahaz must see, and he does, that the God Who will perform such a Wonder, is the God in Whom he ought to put his trust. The fact is, however, that Ahaz will not believe in that God. Rather, he will seek an arm of flesh for his help.
In the second place we must also note in the text concerning that Son.
A divine Son!
Mary’s first-born, but God’s only begotten!
Of Mary, the last of the long line of David. For the generations of the house of David end in a virgin. A virgin, who as yet knew no man by co-habiting with him. Who, before they had come together was found with child of the Holy Ghost (Matt. 1:18, 25). And Joseph, being a just man, and not wishing to make her a public example, was mindful to put her away privily. Indeed, so he opined, if she had committed fornication, as it seemed to him at the moment, she must be exposed publicly before all according to the law. But this he hesitated to do because of his great love to her.
And so it was, as he thought on these things, that the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, informing him that he should not fear to take unto him Mary to be his wife, for that which was conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost. Moreover, the angel revealed to Joseph that she would bear a Son, Whose name should be called Jesus, Who would save His people from their sins.
And Matthew explains how all this came to pass in order that the prophecy of Isaiah might be fulfilled—” Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a Son, and they shall call His name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
Verily, He is Mary’s first-born! Not her only son, as some have concluded, for we know there were other children to be born to her. But her first-born Son, Who opened the womb and prepared the way for others to follow.
But Wonder of wonders!
God’s only begotten!
Emmanuel, God with us!
Through the conception of the Holy Spirit, Mary conceives and brings forth God’s Son, His only begotten. “In the fulness of time God sent His Son, made of a woman” (Gal. 4:4). “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16). “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him” (I John 4:9). The Person of the Son of God united Himself to our flesh in the virgin, and dwelt among us.
Thus the sign, and that which was signified in that sign, was realized, fulfilled in the conception and birth of the virgin Mary, who brings forth the God of our salvation, Who alone is the Savior of His people. This is the truth which Ahaz, and all the wicked, whether they be of Israel or of the world, rejected, and always refuse to embrace, to their condemnation. And this is the truth which Joseph, and all who seek for salvation of the Lord, cling to with faith.
This is the truth we confess with our lips each time we recite the Apostle’s Creed in our churches: “And in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord; Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary.”
Notice lastly, on the basis of our text, that it speaks not only of the divine sign, and of the divine Son, but also of a divine purpose. This is suggested especially in the first part of the text in Matthew, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled. . .” In these words is indicated divine intent.
And that means, first of all, that the wonder of the incarnation, of the virgin birth of Christ, is central in the fulfillment of God’s covenant. This may be disputed in favor of other wonders in ‘the scheme of our redemption, such as, the resurrection of Christ from the dead, or the miracle of Pentecost, when the work of salvation is applied to the hearts of God’s people. Yet we must see that, marvelous as these wonders may be, and indispensable as they are in the realization of our salvation, none of these could ever be possible without the incarnation and the virgin birth of Christ. Though it is true what the apostle Paul later wrote, that if Christ be not raised from the dead, we are yet in our sins, and most miserable; though it is also true that without Pentecost, the dispensation of the Spirit, we also are spiritually dead and hopelessly lost; yet if God had not united Himself to us andbecome Emmanuel, none of the work of salvation could ever be possible. Indeed, in the wonder of the virgin birth, in the marvel of the incarnation, we see the beginning of the realization of God’s covenant with us.
And, secondly, we see in close connection with the foregoing the fulfillment of the promise.
The promise given at the very dawn of history—the so-called mother promise of Genesis 3:15, that, of the seed of the woman, one would rise up to crush the serpent’s head—of that promise, the incarnation, God come in the flesh, is the beginning of its fulfillment.
It is that promise which was foreshadowed all through the old dispensation in sacrifice and ceremony, which was the central message of all the prophets, major and minor, which not only confirmed the promise that salvation would come through the Servant of Jehovah, Who is God Himself in the Person of His Son, but also clearly identifying Him, so clearly, that no doubt could remain, as to what God had in mind for us. Such utterances we find in the text of Isaiah 7:14, which Matthew informs us is fulfilled in the virgin Mary of the house of David; or, that uttered by the same prophet in Isaiah 9:6, 7“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon His shoulder . . . the zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.” Or attend to the prophecy of Micah ( ) where he not only speaks of the tribe of Judah from which the promised Savior must be born, but also gives us in most literal terms the place of His birth. “But thou Bethlehem, Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting.”
Indeed, in the birth of Jesus, Who shall save His people from their sins, is the beginning of the fulfillment of the promise. And that Jesus, Who is Emmanuel—God with us—suffers and dies in our stead, and rises again from the dead as a testimony of our justification; and by His Spirit, the Spirit of Pentecost, sanctifies to our hearts His saving efficacy, and brings us at last into the house of God’s covenant forever. Then the promise will be perfectly fulfilled.
Rejoice then, O believing church, with unspeakable joy!
God come in the flesh!
Born of the virgin!