December 24, 2022 | Brian Bill
Sometimes we forget how the words of Christmas carols sound to kids. Here are some examples.
- We three kings of porridge and tar.
- He rules the world with truth and grace and makes the nations prudes.
- Olive, the other reindeer, used to laugh, and call him names.
- Oh, what fun it is to ride with one horse, soap, and hay.
- Sleep in heavenly peas.
- Bells on Bob’s tail ring, making spareribs bright.
- You’ll go down in Listerine.
That reminds me of the little boy who drew a picture of baby Jesus and his family in Sunday School. The dad looked at it and said, “I see Mary, and Joseph, and the baby in the cradle. But who is this large man standing off to one side?” The boy answered confidently, “Oh, that’s Round John Virgin!”
On this Christmas Eve, we’re going to look at how a 700-year-old promise found in Isaiah 7:14 was fulfilled with pinpoint precision when a virgin named Mary gave birth to Jesus on a Silent Night in Bethlehem.
In Isaiah 7, we’re introduced to an evil king named Ahaz. He was the most ungodly ruler to date, building a pagan altar in the Temple area and sacrificing his own children to the god Molech. The prophets Micah, Hosea and Isaiah called Ahaz to repentance, to no avail. Because he had deliberately disobeyed God, his kingdom came under attack from all quarters.
With that as context, we come to the text of one of God’s most remarkable Christmas promises. Apart from God’s intervention, this promise is beautifully incomprehensible and biologically impossible. Listen to verse 14: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
This prophecy looks ahead to an ultimate fulfillment 700 years later when a son would be born to a specific virgin in Bethlehem.
Let’s look at this powerful promise phrase by phrase…
- “Therefore…” Whenever we see the word “therefore” we should ask what it’s there for. In this case, it’s a word of contrast to show what God will do despite Ahaz’s disobedience.
- “the Lord Himself…” This is the name Adonai, which speaks of God’s sovereignty. The reflexive pronoun “Himself” tells us this promise comes from God and He is the One who will fulfill it.
- “will give you…” The word “you” is in the plural, showing God’s desire for everyone to respond to the gift He will give.
- “a sign…” The word “sign” is used 183 times in the Bible to convey a mark or a miracle. A sign often brought a message of wonder, a signal most often used to describe awe-inspiring events and is designed to communicate certainty as in Isaiah 38:7: “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do this thing that He has promised.”
- “Behold…” The word “Behold” is used to arrest our attention, to indicate the importance of what is about to be said. It could be translated as, “Lo and behold” or “Look now!” What God is about to do is intended to be shocking, startling, and surprising. When used in Isaiah, “behold” always relates to something that will happen in the future.
- “the virgin…” The definite article means God is referring to a particular woman who is a virgin. The word for “virgin” was used of a young, never-married, morally pure woman. God had in mind one specific teenager, a virgin named Mary, whom He had chosen to become pregnant by the Holy Spirit.
- “shall conceive…” This was to be no ordinary pregnancy and no ordinary birth. A virgin with child would certainly stand out as a miraculous sign! Incidentally, in some medieval works of art, Mary is often pictured reading Isaiah 7:14 when Gabriel arrives to announce this news.
- “and bear a son…” This was an unplanned pregnancy for Mary, but it was planned by God. She chose life because the Lord is the one who put that little life in her womb – as He still does today. Here’s a thought: Ahaz sacrificed his own son to the god Molech while Mary gave birth to God’s Son who sacrificed His own life in our place.
- “and shall call his name Immanuel.” The name “Immanuel” means, “The strong God with us.” In Hebrew, the word order emphasizes God’s presence: “With us is God.”
Another popular Christmas carol asks this question, “What Child is This?” My guess is Joseph’s first question was not, “What child is this?” but rather, “Whose child is this?” That’s why he needed an explanation from an angel. We see the answer to that question in Matthew 1:21-23.
Note: Some of the insights in this section come from an article by Jeremy McKeen.
What Child is this? Jesus is God for us, God with us, and God over us.
1. Jesus is God for us.
Because God is for us, He forgives us. Notice verse 21: “She will bear a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” Interestingly, the angel didn’t say to Joseph, like he did to Zechariah, “She will bear you a son…” because Joseph was not the physical father of Jesus.
Those who knew Him best in the Gospels simply referred to Him as “Jesus,” using that name around 600 times, though other titles like “Jesus Christ” and “Lord Jesus” were also used.
Jesus, or “Iesous” (Yay-soos), is the Greek form of a Hebrew name, translated as “Joshua” or “Yeshua” which means, “Jehovah saves.” As Savior, Jesus came to set us free from our depravity, to deliver us from the dominion of the devil, and to release us from the fear of death.
Because we’re sinners, we need a Savior. Sin is basically “missing the mark of God’s standard.” The Bible says all of us have sinned and deserve judgment from God. Jared Wilson writes: “All you have to do to qualify for the gospel is to be a sinner. We are born pre-qualified! The bar is set so low. The only way to miss out, is to think yourself above it.”
The month of December started off in a memorable way for me. Beth and I were in Davenport driving east on Kimberly in separate cars. When I approached an intersection, the light turned yellow, and I decided to speed up and race through it. Just as I entered it, I saw this bright white flash and knew I was busted by a red-light camera. When I got home, I looked up how this all works, and learned I would be getting a ticket in the mail in 10 days.
I thought about this every day, wondering how I could beat the rap, and if not, how much my infraction would cost. I rationalized it because another car also went through the intersection. Maybe the cameras weren’t calibrated correctly, or perhaps I would just get a warning because the light wasn’t red when I went through. Perhaps they had looked at my driving record and noticed no infractions since I lost my license for speeding (twice) in high school.
Well, on December 10, I received my official ticket. I knew I was in trouble when the next page showed a fuzzy picture of my car going through an intersection. I wasn’t sure this was clear enough to bust me, so I scoured a full page of instructions, looking for a loophole. After reading how I could contest this before a judge, I saw this last heading on the page: “View Violation on the Internet.” Thinking this was my ticket to get out of the ticket, I decided to check it out and was horrified to watch a recording of my transgression and saw that indeed I entered the intersection when the light was red. I grabbed my checkbook and quickly paid the fine.
We’re all sinners, we all break the law, and we all fall short of the glory of God. Our infractions may seem small, but they are innumerable. Other times our sins are embarrassing and evident to all. God sent His son Jesus to save us from our sins. If we’re ever going to understand the message and meaning of Christmas, we must first understand the mission of Christ – He came to save us from our sins.
Only in Christianity do we hear how God did everything that was needed to pay our fine for falling short of His glory
Every other religious system teaches we’ve got to pay the price to get to God, either through performance or penance. Only in Christianity do we hear how God did everything that was needed to pay our fine for falling short of His glory. Because He is for us, He forgives us.
2. Jesus is God with us.
Because God is with us, He forbears with us. Listen to verses 22-23: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call His name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” Details surrounding the birth of Jesus were predicted by the prophets, fulfilling prophecies made hundreds of years earlier. This quote from Isaiah 7:14 shows when God makes a promise, He keeps His promise.
The virgin will not only conceive but she will also “bear a son.” This shows the humanity of Jesus. The next phrase shows His deity: “And shall call His name Immanuel” (“Im” means “with,” “anu” means “us,” and “El” means “the mighty creator God”), which translated means, “The strong God with us.”
God is not a distant deity. Growing up, I viewed God as majestic, mighty, and mad at me. It wasn’t until I was 19 that I learned He is also gracious, loving, and near.
Let’s see if I can explain the crux of Christmas. By means of the virgin birth, Jesus entered the world guiltless of the sin of Adam. Since He was born of Mary, He is truly human; because He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, He is free from inherited sin handed down from Adam. Jesus is both the son of Mary and the son of God. Jesus is both ordinary and as Immanuel, He is extraordinary. He is Son and Savior, holy and human, fully God and fully man. He is God with us and God for us. He forbears and He forgives.
Jesus came to die in our place as the full and final sacrifice for our sins. Immanuel took on human flesh, lived the perfect life and then died as sacrifice for our sins, facing the full fury of the Father’s righteous wrath in our place. In exchange, when we believe, we receive His righteousness. His substitutionary death demonstrated the Father’s love and satisfied His justice, resulting in the salvation of all who repent and receive Him by faith. This wonderful gift is available free of charge.
As Immanuel, Jesus is fully able to stand in our place and take our punishment. He paid for our sins precisely because He had no guilt or shame of His own. 2 Corinthians 5:21: “For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
I like how Paul David Tripp puts it: “Look into that manger and remember, the one who was born without sin and committed no sin, took the penalty for our sin, so we could stand before God as if we had no sin.”
My sins for His righteousness. That’s the best gift exchange ever.
Jesus is God for us, God with us, and God over us.
3. Jesus is God over us.
Let’s go back to the lyrics from “What Child is This?” for a minute: “The King of kings, salvation brings, let loving hearts enthrone Him…this, this is Christ the King.” We see how Joseph enthroned Christ in verses 24-25: “When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him: he took his wife, but knew her not until she had given birth to a son. And he called His name Jesus.” Joseph didn’t just take notes. Joseph didn’t just say “Ah what a wonderful dream!” No, he treated the Lord as his King even at the cost of his reputation. He publicly identified with Jesus even when he knew that it was going to cost him socially. Here’s the principle: When we know, we must go!
How do we enthrone him? In other words, how do we treat him as King? We do what He says. We take Him at his word even when it’s going to cost us.
I’ve been intrigued by the song, “Mary, Did you Know?” Mary knew a lot, didn’t she? She knew she was a virgin and would conceive. She was troubled, afraid, and uncertain but she also heard these words in Luke 1:32-33: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary, this child that you delivered, will soon deliver you.
Mary had settled the fact that God is sovereign, that nothing is impossible with Him, that she needed saving, and she was His obedient servant
Three times in this passage its stated that she is a virgin. While she didn’t know everything, she knew enough to obey as we see in Luke 1:38: “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord: let it be to me according to your word.” Mary had settled the fact that God is sovereign, that nothing is impossible with Him, that she needed saving, and she was His obedient servant. Likewise, you must get to the point where you can say, “Because you’re God and I’m not, I’ll obey and do what you say.”
My guess is you know enough to obey as well. Someone has said most of us are educated way beyond our level of obedience.
Jesus is none other than God for us, God with us, and God over us!
Jesus came down to lift us up, reversing the curse of Adam’s sin.
- When you feel alone, remember Jesus is with you as one who forbears – He will hang on to you!
- When you feel lost, remember Jesus is for you as one who forgives – He hung on the cross for you!
- When you feel confused, remember Jesus is above you as one who has first place – He calls you to a life of obedience.
At the cradle we see that God is with us, at the cross we see that He is for us, at the resurrection and ascension, we see is above us. For those who are born again, when He returns, He’ll come to get us.
When Jesus was a toddler, the Wise Men showed up bearing gifts. They gave Jesus the three famous gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Let’s consider what these gifts symbolize.
- Myrrh was the spice used for burials, indicating that Jesus was born to die, because He is God for us.
- Frankincense was the incense offered in prayer to God showing that Jesus is God with us.
- Gold was the present given to a king, demonstrating that Jesus is God over us.
Will you give Him yourself right now?
Note: Congregation’s lines are in bold.
Pastor: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. (v1-2)
Congregation: All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. (v3)
Pastor: In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (v4)
Congregation: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (v5)
Pastor: The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. (v9)
Congregation: He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (v10)
Pastor: He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. (v11)
Congregation: But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, … (v12)
Pastor: … who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (v13)
All. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (v14)