The Sign of the Virgin Birth
April 9th, 1963 @ 12:00 PM
THE SIGN OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Dr. W.A. Criswell
4-9-63 12:00 p.m.
The title of the series of five messages this year is “The Signs of God.” Yesterday morning, Monday at noonday, it was The Signs of the Times. Tomorrow, Wednesday, it will be The Sign of the Prophet Jonah. Thursday, it will be The Sign of the Second Coming of Christ. Friday, some call it Good Friday, the day of the cross, the title of the message will be The Sign of the Cross. And today, Tuesday, the message is entitled The Sign of the Virgin Birth. It is an exposition of the seventh, the eighth, and the ninth chapters of the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 7, 8, 9]. And I read as a passage from the tenth through the fourteenth verses in the seventh chapter:
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.
And Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.
And Isaiah replied, Hear ye now, O house of David; Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will ye weary my God also?
Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Emmanuel, Immanuel.
God with us; immanu, with us; el, God. Ahaz, the son of Jotham, the son of good King Uzziah [Isaiah 7:1], ascended the throne of David in a critical time, and I suppose Judah never had a weaker or a more vacillating, or spineless, or spiritless king than Ahaz. His first kingly act was idolatrous, and he continued those abominations and those blasphemies before God throughout his life. He passed among the people molten and graven images. He reestablished the worship of Molech in the Valley of Hinnom. He burned his own children in the fire. And at this critical juncture in the life of Judah, this weak and spiritless king ascends the throne.
You see Rezin, king of Damascus, and Pekah, king of Samaria, are besieging Judah and Jerusalem in war [Isaiah 7:1; 2 Kings 16:5]. And in the midst of that conflict, this man Ahaz, turning away from trust in Jehovah God, makes appeal to Tiglath-pileser, that merciless and ruthless monarch of the Assyrian empire [2 Kings 16:7].
In those days of perturbation and distress, about the only man in Jerusalem with great quiet, and trust, and calm is this prophet Isaiah. Almost single handed, it seems, he assigned himself unto God to turn the spineless king and the fearful people of Jerusalem away from trusting in Assyria to trusting in the Lord God.
So with a message from Jehovah, Isaiah appears before Ahaz as Ahaz stands at the end of the conduit of the upper pool. Apparently in the paucity of water, which always made Jerusalem vulnerable, Ahaz had gone to inspect, to inspect the city’s water supply. And as Ahaz stands there by the upper pool, Isaiah appears before him and pleads the cause of Jehovah. “These kings, Rezin and Pekah,” he says under God, “are but smoking firebrands of a burned charred stick. There’s no need to tremble before them. Look in faith and encouragement to the Lord God” [Isaiah 7:3-4]. But Ahaz had already resolved in his heart to deliver Judah to the iron hand of Assyria [2 Kings 16:5-9]. So Isaiah broods over the decision of the king and over the winged man-headed bull of Asshur.
Tiglath-pileser reigned in the world famous city of Nineveh. And he looked over the vast provinces of the East as his almost illimitable, immeasurable domain. He called himself the king of kings, and he reigned in oriental splendor. He numbered his hosts by the millions. His horses and his chariots covered the earth like the locusts, and when they broke out upon a nation, they devastated them like the on-sweep of a vast ocean. They were a veritable ogre to Judah. And yet if was in the hands of that king that Ahaz was delivering the people of God.
In his trial and in his agony, as a spokesman of the Lord, God sent him again to Ahaz and this time with a sublime and heavenly sign. “As a token,” said Isaiah to the king, “that God will keep His word, that He will defend this nation and deliver this city, ask Him a sign, any sign. Ask it in heaven above. Ask it in the depths below. Ask any sign of God that the word I deliver unto you is the truth” [Isaiah 7:10-11]
And Ahaz hypocritically replies, “No. I wll not ask. I will not tempt the Lord” [Isaiah 7:12]. You see in 2 Kings16:7 and in 2 Chronicles 28:21, we are told that Ahaz had already sent emissaries to Nineveh with tribute—he had robbed the temple of its silver and its gold—to buy the favor of Tiglath-pileser.
And in the lifetime of Isaiah the prophet, four different times did Assyria ravage and waste the people of the Lord. In 722 in the lifetime of Isaiah, the hosts of Assyria destroyed forever the northern ten tribes and its capital city of Samaria [2 Kings 17:5-6]. And this king Ahaz, having already sent those ambassadors with tribute money, had already committed the life of his people to the strength and the might of Tiglath-pileser [2 Kings 16:7-9].
And in the sorrow of that realization, Isaiah lifts up his face and sees beyond that weak and spineless and spiritless king, an unworthy successor to the throne of David, and sees another Prince and another King. “God Himself shall give us a sign; Behold, behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name God, God, the Lord God is with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23]. And when Isaiah utters that prophecy of the sign of the deity of the Prince that shall come, seemingly his soul is flooded with the message of Jehovah.
First, and in these sentences that follow, first the prophecies are dark. He prophesies the coming of Assyria [Isaiah 7:17-20]. He prophesies the destruction and waste of the nation [Isaiah 7:23-25]. He prophesies the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem [Isaiah 8:14-22]. He prophesies the awful captivity of the people of God [Isaiah 8:14-15]. And then, and then in the midst of that dark and terrible and dire prediction, once again his soul rises to the heavens, and he sees once and again beyond that spiritless king and beyond that unworthy son of David. He sees in a burst of light and inspiration the coming of the great King, the Lord Jehovah. “The land of Zebulun, the land of Naphtali, beyond the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles, the people that sat in darkness saw a great light . . . and upon them who sat in the valley of the shadow of death hath the light shined” [Isaiah 9:1-2]. And he continues:
For unto us that Child is born, unto us that Son is given: and the government shall rest upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of His government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon His kingdom, to order it, and to establish it in justice and in peace for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do it.
That passage is one of the most incomparable in all of the Word of God. How shall we receive it? What shall we think of it? And how shall we understand it? Literally, literally, “A virgin shall conceive, a virgin shall bear a Son. His name shall be called God is with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23]. “And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6], His virgin birth a sign of His deity [Matthew 1:23], the incarnation of the Lord God of glory [John 1:1, 14]. How shall we accept it? How shall we understand it? How shall we receive it?
Shall we receive it literally? Shall we take these words as God has written them here in His Book? “No. No,” says the cynic, and the unbeliever, and the agnostic, and the infidel, and the atheist, “No. No.”
“No,” says the Christian liberal, and the Christian humanist.
“No,” says the higher critic. “This is poetic fancy and Oriental hyperbole. No. No,” he says, “that’s not literal. No.”
“No,” says the humanist.
And, “No,” says the materialist. “No. No.”
“He may be a wonderful leader, but He is not the Everlasting Father. He may be a great counselor, but He is not the Mighty God. He may be a great humanitarian, but He is not Immanuel, God with us. No,” they say, “No.”
“Yes,” says Matthew, “these things came to pass that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet when he said, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and they shall call His name God is with us’ ” [Matthew 1:22-23].
“Yes,” says John, “for the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth” [John 1:14].
“Yes,” says Paul the apostle, “for He is the image of the invisible God” [Colossians 1:15].
But the cynic replies, “Now listen. Now listen. If an unwed young mother, a girl were to come to you with a baby, and she were to say, ‘This Child I hold in my arms has no human father. His father is God.’ Would you believe it? Would you believe it?”
I would reply, “Dear sir, if the birth of that Child had been prophesied for thousands and thousands of years [Isaiah 53:1-12; Micah 5:2], and if when the Child was born, all heaven broke out into singing the glory of God [Luke 2:1-14], and if when the life was lived, and the Child was slain [Matthew 27:32-50], He was raised the third day from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7], and if upon His ascension back into glory [Acts 1:8-10], He left in this church, in this world, the church of a believing people who lift up their eyes and expect His glorious and triumphant return [Acts 20:28; Ephesians 5:25], if these things were true of that Child, I would say, ‘Yes, I believe that God is His Father.’”
Ah, the most stupendous miracle of all time is the entrance of God into our human flesh, walking as a man, living our life, breathing our air, speaking our words, dying our death [Hebrews 4:15]. There is no comparable intervention of God in human history like the intervention of God in the incarnation of Jesus Christ [Matthew 1:23; John 1:1, 14]. All of destiny and all of time and all of history were molded and turned toward that great, and mighty, and miraculous, and eventful day. And the miraculous birth of our Lord is one piece with His life, and one piece with His death [Matthew 27:32-40], and one piece with His resurrection [Matthew 28:5-7], and one piece with His ascension and His glory [Acts 1:9-11]. It is as natural at the beginning of our Lord’s life as His resurrection and ascension are at the end of His glorious and incomparable life. All time and all destiny seem to reach out toward the coming of the Prince of Peace, the Lord of glory, Immanuel, God is with us [Matthew 1:23].
I had prepared in this message to be delivered today, I had prepared examples of the world’s expectancy of a great messiah to arise out of the East. I haven’t time to present them. Tacitus and Suetonius, Roman historians, who were contemporaries with Paul and with John, wrote in their Latin histories of the great expectancy of a deliverer out of the East.
I have here written down the fourth Epoch of the fourth Eclogue of Virgil. You would think that Virgil, who died nineteen years before our Lord was born, the greatest poet that Roman people ever produced—you would think as you read this Eclogue that Virgil stood there and saw the Son of God born into this world. It is as beautifully expressed as the incomparable poet and prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 7:14, 9:6].
The wise men, the magi, came from the East saying, “We have seen His star. Where is He born a King?” [Matthew 2:1-2]. And when the heavens turned to fire, the shepherds said to one another, “Awake! Awake!” [Luke 2:8-9]. And the angel announced, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Christ the Lord. And this shall be the sign unto you. Ye shall find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger” [Luke 2:11-12], sweet little Jesus Boy.
What has happened? God has remembered His ancient promise, “The Seed of the woman shall crush the serpent’s head” [Genesis 3:15]. God hath remembered His prophet Micah, “And thou Bethlehem, little though you are among the cities of Judah, yet out of thee shall He come who shall govern My people Israel; whose goings forth are from of old, and from everlasting” [Micah 5:2].
This, this is that Lord Christ:
Who, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped, to be equal with God.
But made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
And being found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.
Wherefore, wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name:
That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, in things above, in things in the earth, in things below;
And that every tongue shall confess that He is Christ the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
All hail the power of Jesus’ name!
Let angels prostrate fall.
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all.
Ye chosen seed of Israel’s race,
Ye ransomed from the fall,
Hail Him who saves you by His grace,
And crown Him Lord of all.
[“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” Edward Perronet, 1779]
“For unto us a Son is born, unto us a Child is given: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. This is the sign of the virgin birth; that He is God incarnate, our Lord and our Savior [Matthew 1:23; John 1:1, 14]. Amen.
Bless us, Lord, as we bow in Thy presence; the Messenger from heaven to deliver us from the woe, and the sin, and the darkness, and the death of this world, and to deliver us someday without spot and without blemish in the glorious presence of the great God of heaven [Ephesians 5:25-27, Jude 1:24]. Ah, that we all might adore, and worship, and love, and sing, and praise, and live as never before in keeping with the unspeakable, the indescribable, the incomparable love of the gift of God in Christ Jesus our Lord; sweet little Jesus Boy, born of a virgin [Matthew 1:23], made in the likeness of men [Philippians 2:7], God with us in the flesh [John 1:14]. In His name, amen.