“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.”
Normally, at this time of the year, the church of Christ desires and looks forward to hearing and meditating on the Christmas story. Old as that story may be, and so oft repeated as the story is, the believing church and her believing children want to reflect on the central mystery of the incarnation, the coming of the Son of God in the flesh.
Whether that reflection be on the annunciation to the virgin, the message of angels to the shepherds as they watched their flocks by night on the hills of Judea, or the visit of the Magi to the Christ-child; or even the sign of a pregnant virgin given to an apparently pious, but very wicked king Ahaz—it makes no difference. Believers look to the church to tell the story.
And this is entirely proper. Our sympathies are not with those who would spoil the custom because there is some discrepancy regarding the time when the story should be told; or who would rob us of the celebration of Christ’s birth, simply because such a celebration is not mandated in the Holy Scriptures; or because the world with its vulgar commercialism has distorted the story. There can be nothing wrong with telling the story, provided that it is told according to the Scriptures. When this is so done, it is as it should be.
Nor is it abnormal at such a time as this to call attention to the wonder of this historical event. To tell the story, without anything more, is only half the story. To relate only the history, and not the purpose of God, Who realizes history, would be a failure to relate the whole counsel of God. It must also be seen that back of all history, also that pertaining to the Advent, is the eternal, covenant God, realizing His eternal purpose. And the heart of that eternal purpose is His covenant. We should see that in the birth of Christ is the central realization of God’s eternal covenant which He establishes first with Himself, and then with the believer and his believing seed.
It is this truth which lies basic in the Word of God upon which we now focus our attention.
That Word of God speaks of the virgin birth as a sign.
We should see, first of all, that it is a divine sign!
And signs are for the believers!
This cannot mean that signs have no significance for the unbelievers. Jesus once said: “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) Paul also wrote: “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom.” (I Cor. 1:22) From this it is plain that the wicked not only desire signs, but that signs are given unto them. Even wicked king Ahaz, who, according to the context, appears so pious that he will not tempt the Lord by asking for a sign, nevertheless has a sign given unto him, namely, the sign of a pregnant virgin.
However, the ungodly cannot discern the signs concerning the kingdom of heaven. Jesus intimated that when He said, “O, ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky: but can ye discern the signs of the times?” (Matt. 16:3) As with the preaching of the gospel, so with the multiplication of signs, the unbelievers reject them to their own condemnation.
Indeed, signs are only for the believers. To them the signs confirm the Word of God which accompanies them. Signs are divinely intended to strengthen their faith. Very evident this is in the signs of the Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. And this is true also with all other signs God has given; e.g., the sign of the rainbow to Noah, the sign of the dew on the fleece to Gideon, the signs of Pentecost to the church in the upper room. And so is the intention of the sign, given first to Ahaz; and later to Joseph, espoused to the pregnant virgin, whose name was Mary.
The Lord Himself shall give you a sign.
Ahaz, king of Judah, was threatened by a powerful union of Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Syria. These had united to lay siege against Jerusalem. They had connived to slay Ahaz, and to set a man of their choice on the throne in his stead. Ahaz was sorely afraid for his life and for the future of his kingdom. His troubled thoughts, however, did not bring him to seek the Lord as His help. Rather, he planned to find help in an arm of flesh, and he called to the king of Assyria for help.
In this situation the Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to him to inform him that the threat of Israel and Syria would not succeed, and therefore he need not seek the help of Assyria. It was then the Lord through the prophet demanded that he ask a sign of the Lord. But Ahaz refused, on the pretense that he would not tempt the Lord. But the Lord would make His sign to be given anyway.
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son; and shall call his name Immanuel.”
Jehovah God remembers His covenant with the house of David. He will preserve the seed of David forever. He will not fail to keep that which He had sworn to David. Nothing is too hard for Him when it comes to keeping His Word. He will even do the impossible!
Imagine, a virgin, not a married woman who has co-habited with man, shall conceive and bear a Son. And this Son shall be called Immanuel—God with us!
It is the fulfillment of this prophetic Word that is revealed to Joseph who was espoused to Mary, a virgin, of the house and lineage of David.
A divine Son!
But God’s Only Begotten!
Indeed, she was espoused to Joseph, but before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. (Matt. 1:18)
Joseph was troubled, for he imagined that his virgin was no longer a virgin, but that she had had illicit relations with another man. According to the law he must expose her. But while he thought on these things, and even in his thoughts was planning to hide her for shame, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream commanding him not to fear to take to himself Mary for his wife, for that which was conceived in her was of the Holy Ghost.
Born, He would be, of a woman, a virgin; not by the will of man, but by the will of God!
Not of any virgin would He be born, so that it did not make any difference in which nation the virgin would reside; but a particular virgin, who represented the very last of the long line of David. That line ended in a virgin. She was all that, was left of the royal and elect line of David. It was this truth that also brought consternation to Mary herself; for when the angel appeared to her with the announcement that she was to have a Son, she asked: “How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” (Luke 1:34) She understood that there was no man that could fulfill God’s promise to David. God in His providence had made it impossible for man to fulfill His promise. He alone would fulfill it by performing the impossible. So, too, Mary’s first-born Son would at the same time be God’s only begotten.
They shall call His name Emmanuel—God with us!
Surely, Mary’s first-born was not her only begotten. When the Lord opened her womb to conceive and bring forth her first-born, He opened it to conceive and bring forth others, though this must be understood as being possible by the will of man. That Mary had other children who are even called by name, is evident from all the gospels. (Matt. 12:46, 47; Matt. 13:55, 56; Mark 3:31, 32; Mark 6:3; Luke 8:19, 20; John 7:3-5, 10) We must have nothing of the doctrine that would make Mary’s first-born her only begotten. Joseph would indeed be the father of her other children. But Mary’s first-born would be God’s only begotten.
Emmanuel! God with us!
God uniting the human and the divine natures in the Person of His only begotten Son! “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son . . .” (John 3:16) “When the fulness of time was come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman . . .” (Gal. 4:4) “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, in Whom resides all the divine nature and all the perfections of the Godhead, is united to the human nature, so perfectly that He is like unto us in all things, sin excepted. As the fathers of Chalcedon expressed it (an expression which has been denied, but never changed): “In the incarnation the unity of Person in two natures existed, which is unmixed, unchanged, undivided, and inseparable.” Such is the miracle of the incarnation, the coming of the Son of God into the flesh!
Of this truth the pregnant virgin was the sign!
The sign was given by the prophet to wicked king Ahaz, and rejected by him. Now the sign is revealed by the holy angel to Joseph, who by faith is enabled to appropriate it. And it is revealed to and accepted by faith by the believers and their believing seed, as the rock upon which all of their salvation rests.
Central is this truth in the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise. Possibly this statement may be disputed, in favor of other wonders which may be considered central, 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 the believing church. But it should become abundantly clear that none of these wonders could ever be possible without the wonder of the incarnation. Without the virgin birth, there is no cross or resurrection thinkable. Without the mystery of Bethlehem, there can be no other wonders. And the converse is also true—all other wonders find their center and significance only in the mystery of God coming into the flesh.
A covenant promise, a promise that was reiterated and symbolized in sacrifices and ceremonies, was given at the very dawn of history in the so-called Mother promise. (Gen. 3:15) It was the central message of all the prophets, informing the believers not only with general references, but even in detail the facts concerning its fulfillment, when they spoke of the manner (Isa. 7:14; Isa. 9:6,7) but also the place (Micah 5:2) where the promise would be fulfilled.
Our text from Matthew’s gospel makes it very clear that with the birth of Jesus from the virgin we have the beginning of the fulfillment of the covenant promise. This is certainly implied in the very name of the virgin’s Son—Emmanuel, that is, God dwelling with His people.
God purposed eternally to dwell with a people whom He had chosen and would form, who would forever show forth His praise, a people who historically had fallen into the depths of sin and death, but whom He purposed to redeem through His saving grace. With that people He came to unite Himself when He appeared in the form of a man-child, conceived and born by the Holy Ghost from the Virgin Mary, whom the fathers called the Mother of God. And having united Himself to that people, He saves them, lifts them up into heavenly heights, where He will dwell with them in the house of His covenant forever.
Of all this, the sign of the pregnant virgin is the beginning of fulfillment.
This is the story that must be told in this Christmas season.
The believing church ought to eschew as a satanic evil the mythical fantasy of a jolly old Saint Nick. Nor should she prefer to read to her children Dickens’ ghost story of Christmas, intriguing as the story may be. All the tinsel and the sound of jingling bells can only serve to blot out of sense and reason the true story of Christmas.
With believing hearts the church and her children will want to hear only the good news of the gospel—God manifested in the flesh, as the God of our salvation, revealed in the sign of the pregnant virgin.