St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Christmas Eve, 2023
Text: Isaiah 7:10–14
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
Next to the resurrection of Jesus, the virgin birth is one of the most attacked articles of the Christian faith by unbelievers. Throughout history, both Jews and Gentiles have cast doubt on the connections between today’s Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading, which is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy by Jesus of Nazareth eight hundred years later. The Gospel of Matthew says that after the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 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,) The last verse is exactly what today’s old testament reading, Isaiah 7:14.
We believe the Virgin birth of Jesus is the fulfillment of what the prophet Isaiah is prophesying here. But some doubters want to soften the miraculous nature of Virgin Birth by pointing out that the Hebrew word here is actually “almah,” which means unmarried “young woman,” not “virgin”. However, “Almah” can mean “virgin,” as young unmarried women in ancient Hebrew culture were assumed to be virgins. Moreover, it’s interesting, not a coincidence in my opinion that in the 3rd century Before Christ, when 70 Hebrew scholars and Jewish rabbis began the process of translating the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, they used the specific Greek word for virgin, “parthenos,” not the more generic Greek word for “young woman.” The Septuagint translators, more than 200 years before the birth of Christ, by the moving of the Holy Spirit, translated “almah” in Isaiah 7:14 as “virgin,” not “young woman.” Some people also want to downplay the miraculous nature and the future fulfillment of this prophecy by saying that the birth of the child Immanuel was immediately fulfilled by Isaiah’s wife in chapter 8. Or some people say it was fulfilled by some unknown young woman contemporary of Isaiah. The problem with this is that Isaiah’s wife was already not a young woman, not to mention no longer a virgin; and it’s totally speculation to say something that the Bible doesn’t say. Actually, the real problem they have, however, is the same as that of king Ahaz when the prophet Isaiah made this prophecy. It’s exactly their unbelief that makes them clueless and fail the test before the Lord. In another word, it’s the faith of believing the impossible that God through the prophet Isaiah is making a point of here. The sign that God gives here is a sign of impossibility defying human logic. The Lord already promised Ahaz that he could ask Anything for a sign, be it “deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz did not trust the Lord’s promise and answered with unbelief in a veil of superficial piety, saying, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Unbelief was the problem. That’s why immediately before our text, the last sentence of verse 9 is God’s warning to Ahaz and today to everyone of us, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’”
Everyone who is familiar with the Bible knows that unbelief was exactly the problem of the people of Israel during the time of the prophets. They would not listen to the Lord God, they did all kinds of evil things, and their offering was obnoxious in the eyes of God. When Isaiah met Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field, Ahaz was worrying about human defense against the two kings from the North, namely the northern kingdom and Syria. He was thinking and working on the alliance with Assyria for political expedience. In this context, the Lord sent the prophet Isaiah to speak to Ahaz. So, it’s the faith that God requires, not just encourages, but requires Ahaz, the people of Israel and all of us to have, not political expedience or any human scheme when facing life and death decision. “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” Fast forward to the year 2023, our situation and spiritual condition are not much different than that of Ahaz and the people of Israel. As God’s people, in churches in America and around the world, some of us have already given in to the whims and fancies of this world and to selfish sinful desires, and compromised our Faith and Christian values to political ideologies of the day, like homosexuality, LGBTQ plus, sex changes… etc. Instead of standing firm and fighting the evil, we seek after political expedience and an easy way out. Actually, it all started within the church, unbelief in the veil of higher critics slowly but surely chipped away the foundation of our faith in God’s Word and the sound doctrine in favor of modern interpretation that agrees with human logic, downplaying the miraculous nature of all the prophecies and miracles, especially in their fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
But thanks be to God! Throughout the Bible, and throughout history, God has testified to us again and again that He is exactly the God of the impossible for to God everything is possible. He is God that made everything out of nothing and the dead people alive. And whatever the old testament’s prophecies concerning Messiah the Christ, they were fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. So, the virgin birth to be fulfilled in Christ Jesus was exactly what God through the prophet Isaiah meant. As a matter of fact, if a sinful human being could have imagined it possible, God would not have mentioned it here as a sign. Facing two kings attacking Judah, the king Ahaz and his people already feared. Their heart had already fainted as the Bible describes, “the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” So, God says, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” After Ahaz failed the test, the Lord had given up on him, with Isaiah saying, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?” After this point, the sign that Ahaz did Not ask became a judgment for him and for the kingdom of Judah as shown in the books of the prophets and in history. So, the prophecy Here is Not about Judah anymore, but about something bigger than Judah. Since the problem of unbelief is about everyone, thus, this prophecy is about All humanity.
If you think about it, there are many impossible things mentioned throughout the book of Isaiah and in the old testament that could Only be fulfilled by the coming Christ, not by the immediate history. For example, when Isaiah says in chapter 9, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. … His kingdom will establish and uphold … from this time forth and forevermore.” Was this fulfilled at that time or in any time? No, except in Christ Jesus. In chapter 49, the Lord says of His servant, “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Was this fulfilled at that time? No, except in Christ Jesus, when Christians bring the light of Christ for the nations around the world and reaching to the end of the earth with the Good News of God’s salvation. Most importantly in chapter 53, when God says concerning the Suffering Servant, “he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed … by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” Was this fulfilled at that time or at any time in any person except in Christ Jesus, who saves us from our sin when he was pierced by the nails and the spear on the cross for our transgressions and was crushed for our iniquities? He makes many including you and me to be accounted righteous on account of His blood by His grace and through faith in Him.
Therefore, rejoice! Merry Christmas! And give thanks to God the Father who sent his Son to be born in this way, the way of virgin birth that fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah. It’s the faith of trusting in Jesus, the miracle birth from the virgin Mother, Emmanuel, God with us, that God requires of us and at the same time benefits and blesses us with His salvation. May the Lord grant each and every one of us this faith in this Christmas and forevermore.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!