“Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His Name, Immanuel!”
It is the custom of the Church of Jesus Christ to preach and to listen to Advent sermons.
This meditation will be in the nature of such advent preaching. For it will be some ten days before the date fixed for the celebration of Christmas.
Advent! What does is mean? It is a foreign word, meaning: to come towards.
Towards what are we moving? Towards the celebration of the birth of Christ. Towards that which we will commemorate.
What is it?
The most important THING in all history, and the most important THING in all eternity: “And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: GOD MANIFEST IN THE FLESH!”
You might also interpret it it in the phrase: The Wonder of Grace!
And that is my title today.
The revelation of my text came to the people of Israel in a period which was characterized by apostasy and all manner of wickedness.
The true church of God was like a cottage in the vineyard; a lodge in the garden of cucumbers. The historical Israel was full of apostasy and idolatry.
And here comes the prophet Isaiah.
He has a hard task to perform. Listen to him: “Lord, how long?”
How long what?
He must go around about Israel, and preach this: “Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and convert and be healed.”
Then Isaiah says: “Lord, how long?”
And here follows the extent of Isaiah’s preaching: “Until the cities be wasted without inhabitant, and the houses without men, and the land be utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away, and there be a great forsaking in the midst of the land.”
Isaiah must speak in parables to this wicked people, unto hardening. That was his main task. He must go to wicked, reprobate king Ahaz, with a message from the Almighty. And also in a critical time when Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel plot to overthrow Judah. As a result both Ahaz and Judah are moved and perturbed.
Ahaz was very wicked. He had his own altar next to the altar of the Lord.
Now Isaiah must go to. King Ahaz together with his son Shear Jashub, and prophesy.
Note the name Shear Jashub, which means “the remnant will return.” The name of that boy means: a testimony of God’s eternal love to save.
And make no mistake; that testimony means, as it always means, that there is delivery only in the way of repentance, in order to experience the eternal love of God.
King Ahaz, ask a sign of the Lord! In the depths or the heights!
But Ahaz is a hypocrite. He refuses a sign of the Lord.
What does this mean? It means that he wants deliverance by the way of Assyria. See II Kings 16:7.
He does not desire deliverance and salvation in the old-fashioned way of Jehovah. Oh no. But he takes the arm, of flesh to his help.
Ahaz refuses the help of the Lord. Seems pious, but is wicked.
And so the Lord Himself gives a sign nevertheless.
Notice that word: HIMSELF.
‘Twas ever thus.
Salvation is of the Lord. And make no. mistake: from the Lord ALONE!
A sign. Sign and signs. What are they?
The whole kosmos is a sign. You walk in signs. You are signs yourselves.
All things are signs. They are signs of the heavenly, the spiritual, the glorious, the eternal.
But there are special signs to portray particularly salvation, the fulfilling of the promise. In general there are the signs, f.i., the rainbow, the flood and the Red Sea. There are particular signs of the same thing: the Lord’s Holy Supper and Baptism.
But the central sign of all signs is the Incarnation. God manifest in the flesh. Bethlehem’s Miracle.
And that is the message of Isaiah to Ahaz, to Israel, to all the, children of God of all the ages.
But this King refuses the sign.
And you? Do you refuse it also? The sign which says that man cannot do anything to get out of his terrible scrapes? The scrape of eternal death and damnation?
I said there: the sign which says that you cannot do anything!
Well, listen to the sign: A VIRGIN SHALL CONCEIVE AND BEAR A SON!
Be very still now. Bow your head, your body, your, soul and spirit. You are hearing terrible things in righteousness!
Look at that sign and tell me: is it not ludicrous, laughable, utterly insane ? How can a virgin conceive and remain a virgin ? How can such a virgin lie down and bring forth a son?
Don’t you see in this SERMON of God that salvation is exclusively a Divine work?
A child is born without the will of man, but through the conception of the Holy Ghost.
Let me assure you that this work is a little like the creation of the heavens and the earth, only more so.
A virgin conceives, is heavy with child. Forsooth! Who is going to believe that? When Mary walks the streets of Nazareth who will believe that this activity was not the work of some man, any man?
That poor, pious, God-fearing man has deep thoughts. Mary, how could you? I was so sure that you loved me only. What shall I do? Oh yes, he knew the law of the Almighty. But we read that he was minded not to make her a public example, but to put her away privily. The poor man was at the end of his wits. And I can understand him. There was only one answer, and that was: Mary had concourse with another than he.
Do not wonder at the thousands and thousands who refuse to believe God’s work of salvation through Mary’s Son.
The virgin birth is so utterly impossible!
Ask every doctor in every age of the history of mankind. Ask all the renowned scientists, or for that matter, any man in the street. Everybody KNOWS that you cannot bring forth a child from a virgin except by the will of man.
Did not Paul say that the Gospel is foolishness?
Yes, I know that he was speaking of the cross. Well, you can extend that to the beginning of salvation too. The Gospel is foolish when you would save a whole WORLD of men by a worm on the cross, but it is also foolish when that Savior is born of a virgin without the will of man.
But ah, we have here an act of the living God.
The Holy Ghost overshadowed Mary. And the Holy Ghost takes the place of the human father. Was it not the Holy Ghost who brooded upon the face of the deep when the worlds were created?
And again: bare your head, bow your head and soul and spirit: God is at work to work salvation.
And Jesus is born.
His name indicates exactly what I am trying to tell you. Jesus means Jehovah salvation!
That name means salvation for His elect.
At the very beginning the heavenly messenger has indicated the same truth. He told Mary that the name of her Child would have to be Jesus, for, said he, He shall save His people from their sins.
I cannot understand that there are people in Christianity who cannot and will not believe in election and reprobation. The very name of Jesus tells us that. The Arminians can read. It says distinctly and clearly that Jesus saves His people only and exclusively.
Whenever and wherever I hear or read of this unbelief in election and reprobation, I think of the unbelievable report of Isaiah: “Who hath believed our report?”
God’s ways are past finding out. That means that the whole world of the wise and the scientists are baffled as soon as they undertake to follow His footsteps in Holy Writ.
Even we who have the Holy Ghost in our heart and mind have to exclaim in the end: O the depth!
But we do know the NAME!
In that name we taste a salvation which shall outlive time and space and history.
The Isaiah version of the name is IMMANUEL.
God is very close to us, near us.
What does that mean, beloved?
It means that we are saved.
And what is that?
It means that the greatest evil is taken away from you. And the greatest evil is sin with all its consequences, which are, guilt, death and damnation. In hell.
And positively, that you receive the greatest good.
It is Immanuel: God with us. God is very near us. When I am asked to specify salvation in the positive sense, I stammer. I cannot go far beyond what we taste here on earth. And that is sweet beyond compare.
Take one thing: the company of them who with us love the Lord. The gathering in God’s House. The singing of the Psalms of David. The walk in the light.
But the sweetest thing of all is the company of Christ, and through Him, with God. Blessed Christmas!