SIGN OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-20-75 10:50 a.m.
We welcome you who are listening on radio and now watching on television this service in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message entitled the Sign of Immanuel, The Sign of the Virgin Birth, God With Us. Embedded in the prophecy of Isaiah is what is called the Book of Immanuel. That is chapters 7 and 8 and 9 [Isaiah 7-9], and the message is an exposition of those three chapters. It begins:
And it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin the king of Syria, and Pekah the son of Remaliah, the king of Israel, went to Jerusalem to make war against it.
And that is the background of this Book of Immanuel. Ahaz was the son of a noble and gifted father, who himself was the son of a great and mighty king. There was no greater administrator than Uzziah, the king of Judah, and his son Jotham. But how such a sorry son could be born to so noble a father and grandfather, I do not know. But there was no sorrier spectacle of a pusillanimous king to sit on a throne than you find in Ahaz. His first act and continuing acts were idolatrous. He filled the city with graven images. He revived the worship of Molech in the Valley of Hinnom, and there did he burn his own sons in the fire [2 Kings 16:2-4].
At one of the most critical junctures in the history of Judah, this toad is on the throne of the kingdom. In the face of the threat of Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Samaria, who have resolved in confederation they are going to remove Ahaz and set a puppet amenable to their will on the throne, in the face of that awesome threat to the house of David and to the people of Judah, he, Ahaz, is king [Isaiah 7:1].
Instead of turning to Jehovah God for help, and strength, and wisdom to know how to do, this Ahaz has privately and secretly turned over his kingdom and his people to Tiglath-Pileser—the cruel and merciless king of the Assyrian Empire [2 Kings 16:7-9]. It is upon this occasion that God sent Isaiah to confront Ahaz and to plead that he not find refuge in the Assyrian, but that he find strength and hope and help in Almighty God [Isaiah 7:3-16].
So beginning at verse 3 in chapter 7, we have the first confrontation of Isaiah before Ahaz. “And the Lord said unto Isaiah, Go, and say now to Ahaz.” And he found the king at the conduit of the upper pool in the highway that goes down to the fuller’s field [Isaiah 7:3]. In preparation for war, Ahaz, the king, was looking at the water supply. Paucity of water had always—always is—a problem in Jerusalem.
So Ahaz was looking over the water supply, and Isaiah says to him by the word of the Lord, “Do not be afraid. These two tails of smoking firebrands will burn themselves out in no day and in no time [Isaiah 7:4]. Look to God and God will deliver you” [Isaiah 7:4]. But Ahaz had already made in his mind that he was going to offer his kingdom and his people to the hand of Tiglath-Pileser [2 Kings 16:7-9]. Such an awesome thing for a man of God to do!
Nineveh was the site of the Oriental, magnificent palace of Tiglath-Pileser. There he reigned—as he described himself—as the “king of kings.” His hosts were numbered by the myriads. His horses and chariots covered the earth like locusts. And when they overran a nation, it was like the overflowing tides of an ocean. The winged bull of Asshur was a veritable scourge and ogre of the whole world, and now was to be so to Judah and the people of God.
When Isaiah stood before him and made this appeal, we learn from 2 Kings [2 Kings 16:7-9] and 2 Chronicles [2 Chronicles 28:16-21] that he had already given himself and his people to Tiglath-Pileser. He had sent an ambassador to the Assyrian king saying, “I am your slave.”
Can you imagine a man doing that? A man of God? “I am your slave.” And having closed the temple of the Lord and substituted graven worship in its place, Ahaz plundered the temple of its silver and its gold and sent it to Tiglath-Pileser in tribute [2 Kings 16:7-9; 2 Chronicles 28:16-21].
The second time God sent Isaiah to stand before Ahaz is in the eleventh verse. He confronts the king a second time, but this instance with a glorious offer to confirm from heaven that God will deliver the city. And standing before Ahaz the king, Isaiah says, “Thus saith the Lord, Ask a sign from the Lord God; ask it either in the heavens above or in the depths below,” anything [Isaiah 7:10-11].
Would you like for a star to fall out of the sky? Would you like for the sun to be commanded back below the horizon? Would you like for the earth to open up beneath you? Would you like for a mountain to rise out of the deep? Ask it. Anything in heaven above or in the earth beneath, ask it. Ask a sign of God that He will deliver His people” [Isaiah 7:10-11]. And Ahaz, having already secretly delivered the kingdom to the Assyrians [2 Kings 16:7-9], says piously, hypocritically, “I will not ask; neither will I tempt the Lord” [Isaiah 7:12].
And it was then in the face of that supercilious, pious, hypocritical reply, having already delivered God’s people into the hand of the bitter and merciless Assyrian [2 Kings 16:7-9], that the great prophet replies, “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name God is here with us. Butter and honey shall He eat . . . and before the Child shall know to refuse the evil, and choose the good, the land thou abhorrest shall be forsaken by both her kings” [Isaiah 7:14-16]. They will be dead.
Now, there are two things in that word of the Lord to Ahaz, one of which I plainly understand, the other of which I had to study to understand. The second part of the sign I can easily understand: “Ahaz, there is going to be born a Child, and before that Child is old enough to eat butter and honey, and before the Child is old enough to know good from evil, those two kings that you are terrified before will be dead” [Isaiah 7:16].
I can understand that. It’s the same thing as if Isaiah had said to Ahaz, “Ahaz, there will be born a little baby. It will be conceived now, and within two or three years, before that child eats butter and honey, before the child is weaned to eat, before the child knows left hand from right hand, those two kings that you are afraid of will be dead. No need to fear them. They’re fag ends, tag ends, of burned-out sticks.”
Did that come to pass? Within three years, Rezin, king of Syria, had been slain by Tiglath-Pileser [2 Kings 16:9], and within that same period of time, Pekah, king of Samaria, had been slain by Hoshea, his successor and the last king of the Northern Kingdom [2 Kings 15:30].
I can understand that part of the sign easily. The first part is a little different. “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel; God with us” [Isaiah 7:14].
How is it that a sign that came to pass 750 years later could be a sign to Ahaz? I had to look at that, study that, and it became very apparent to me as I studied. What the prophet Isaiah was saying to Ahaz was this: “You are afraid that these two tails of a fag end burned-out log—Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Samaria [Isaiah 7:4]—that they’re coming down to destroy the people of God and to destroy the house of David. But listen to the word of the Lord” [Isaiah 7:7].
Now my first intimation of what Isaiah is saying is his change of pronouns. When he says, “Ask thee a sign of the Lord in heaven or in earth” [Isaiah 7:10-11], that’s singular. That is addressed to Ahaz. “You, Ahaz. God says ask anything.”
And when Ahaz piously and hypocritically refused [Isaiah 7:12], then Isaiah changes the pronoun. The “you” is plural. He is addressing the house of David [Isaiah 7:13], He is addressing Judah and the people of God, and He is addressing all who shall ever call upon the name of the Lord: “Hear ye now the word of the Lord. God Himself shall give you a sign [Isaiah 7:14], and this is the sign. You are afraid that God will allow Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Samaria to destroy the house of David and to destroy his throne and to destroy the people of God. Listen to the word of the Lord and listen to the sign that God shall give”
God remembers the covenant promise that he made to David in 2 Samuel 7:13, “Thou shalt have a Son, and He will sit upon the throne, and He will reign forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end” [2 Samuel 7:12-16]. God remembers that Davidic covenant.
There shall be no kings who are able to destroy the throne God has promised to that Son. And that Son, the Son that shall reign, that shall be seated upon the throne of His father, David—that Son is in God’s remembrance of His promise in Genesis 3:15, “A woman, a woman, shall bear a Son and shall crush Satan’s head”; the Seed of a woman.
And Isaiah says God is remembering His covenant that He made with Judah when, through Jacob, in Genesis 49:10, God said, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come.”
And that throne that you think totters before the onslaughts of these two fag ends, that throne is established forever and forever in the covenant promise of God. And the King, and the King that shall sit upon that throne shall be called “God, God is with us” [Isaiah 7:14], born of a virgin: the sign, the meaning, of the virgin birth. That’s what God said, and that’s what God did [Matthew 1:20-25].
Now, we continue through the prophecy. After he delivered this Immanuel prophecy, seemingly Isaiah was filled with a floodtide of holy words from heaven. And the first, beginning at verse 17 in the seventh chapter, through verse 22, the last verse, in the eighth chapter, all of that prophecy in there is a terror [Isaiah 7:17-8:22]. It is an awesome judgment:
The Lord shall bring upon thee, and upon thy people…the king of Assyria. . . .
All the land shall become briers and thorns.
[Isaiah 7:17, 19]
They shall look unto the earth; and behold trouble and darkness, dimness of anguish; and they shall be driven to darkness.
The whole prophecy is one of darkness. That came to pass just as Isaiah said. This Ahaz delivered his people into the hands of Tiglath-Pileser, the Assyrian king [2 Kings 16:7-9]. The Assyrian came and he not only destroyed the Northern Kingdom, Samaria, and carried away forever into dispersion and captivity the ten tribes [2 Kings 17:5-23]—you say the lost ten tribes—not only did the Assyrian destroy the Northern Kingdom, but in the lifetime of Isaiah alone, four different times did the bitter, merciless Assyrian overrun Judah. And had it not been for the intervention of God, when the Assyrian king Sennacherib held Jerusalem in a vise, the whole nation would have been utterly destroyed [Isaiah 37:36]. That is the darkness of the prophecy of Isaiah 7:17 through Isaiah 8:22, a prophecy of darkness, of midnight gloom, of merciless cruelty, of loss, of the overrunning of the nation [Isaiah 7:17-8:22].
Then in the ninth chapter, in the ninth chapter, Isaiah suddenly bursts into one of the most glorious prophecies in human speech and one of most marvelous passages to be found in the inspired Word of God: “Nevertheless . . . Nevertheless.” Though the whole earth is plunged into darkness and the whole earth is filled with trouble and anguish:
Nevertheless the dimness shall not last forever.
Though the land of Zebulun and Naphtali has been made the judgment of God, yet these very lands, Galilee of the Gentiles and the country beyond Jordan, shall be filled with glory.
And the people that walked in darkness shall see a great light: and they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them shall the light shine . . .
For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a 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 with justice and with judgment from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it.
[Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7]
What do you think about that? Do you believe that? “Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and shall call His name, God is with us” [Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14]. “And the Child shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace” [Isaiah 9:6]. Do you believe that?
With great unanimity, the infidel, and the atheist, and the critic, and the skeptic say, “No, such a thing is unthinkable! Impossible that God should be born of a woman!” What do you think?
The liberal and the higher critic, these who follow the strange sophistries of modern theology, they say this is nothing but oriental hyperbole and poetic imagery. “No,” they say, “impossible!”
“No, impossible!” says the humanist, and the materialist, and the secularist, “No such thing could ever be. He might be a wonderful man, but He is not the Wonderful Counselor. He might be a glorious prophet, but He is not the Mighty God, He might be a marvelous leader, but He is not the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace!” That’s what, with great unanimity, the whole modern, skeptical, and liberal world avows. “No! No! No!”
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” says Matthew, for all of this came to pass “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and they will call His name God is with us” [Matthew 1:23].
“Yes!” says John, “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word was God, and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father…” [John 1:1, 14]
“Yes,” says Paul, “for He is the express image of the invisible God!” [Colossians 1:15]
But one of those caustic critics comes up to you and he says, “Tell me honestly, tell me: if a seventeen year old girl were to come up to you, being pregnant, and she told you, ‘My child has no earthly father, my child is conceived by God.’ Would you believe it? Would you believe it?”
Just wait, just wait…I might if…no, I certainly would if: one, the birth of that child had been predicted since the dawn of creation [Isaiah 53:1-12]; if every prophet that ever lived foretold His glorious coming [Luke 2:10-16]; if when He died, the third day He was raised from the dead [Jonah 1:17-2:10; Matthew 12:40; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4]; and if, upon His ascension into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], there were millions, and millions, and millions, and millions who have laid down their lives in His name. If that is the Child, of whose birth the whole heavens turn to majesty and fire; and the angels sang announcing His coming [Luke 2:13-14]—if it were that Child, yes, yes, yes!
For you see this is the intervention, the intrusion of God in human history and in human life [Matthew 1:20-25; Luke 1:26-38]. God came down, and the story of the glorious entrance of our Lord into this earth [Luke 2:10-16] is of a piece of the same kind, in harmony, in symphonic beauty with His glorious exit from the earth [Acts 1:9-10]. The virgin birth, at the beginning of the life of our Lord [Matthew 1:20-25], is of a piece, it’s of the same kind as the resurrection of our Lord at the end of His life [Matthew 28:1-10]; it’s all of the same.
And when I read in God’s Holy Book that He came down and assumed human form, and human flesh, that He might die for our sins [Hebrews 10:5-14; John 1:14], I see no difference in it than I do when I see Him die in love for us on the cross [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3; Galatians 2:20]; and when I see Him raised for our justification [Romans 4:25]; and when I have the experience of praying to Him in heaven [Romans 8:34; Hebrews 7:25]; and the assurance of comfort and strength that He is coming again to be King and Lord over the whole earth [Revelation 19:16]. It’s all of a piece, it’s all of a kind, it’s all of a harmony, and it’s all of God, all of it.
I conclude: all the things that happen in history conspired, worked together, for His coming. And in the fullness of time did He come [Galatians 4:4-7]. The whole earth was filled with expectancy that out of the East should come a great messianic Deliverer.
Tacitus, the Roman historian speaks of it. Suetonius, the Roman historian, speaks of it. These, who came from afar, far, far said to the King Herod in Jerusalem, “We have seen His star in the East. We have seen His star in the East, and we have come to worship Him. Where is He born King?” [Matthew 2:2] The whole earth was filled with the expectancy of a coming Lord. And in the fullness of time, just as the prophet announced 750 years before [Isaiah 7:14], did He come [Galatians 4:4-7].
May I make one little closing theological observation? It is this: if He didn’t be born God in the flesh [John 1:14], if He didn’t be born of a virgin [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23-25; Luke 1:26-38], if He is conceived like all the rest of us, then when He died, He died for His own sins, He is not my Savior. He couldn’t be, He had to die for His own sins, just as all of us died for our sins. He died just one among us.
He may have been a fine man, a good man, a great man, maybe the greatest man. He may have been a brilliant man, maybe the finest philosopher and sage that ever lived. He may have been a glorious personal man, but if He was born like the rest of us, He was born a sinner; a propensity and affinity for sin that we can’t deny; it drags us down. And however a man may say, “I shall be perfect!” yet that drag of sin pulls him down. He is that way, too, if He were born as you and I were born, with an earthly father, conceived in sin and born in iniquity [Psalms 51:5]. He is no Savior.
But God says this was the promise in the garden of Eden:
- “The woman, the Seed of the woman shall bruise, shall crush, Satan’s head” [Genesis 3:15].
- This is the promise: “David shall have a Son who will sit upon his throne forever” [2 Samuel 7:16, Isaiah 9:7].
- This is the promise: “His name is the Mighty God, and the Everlasting Father” [Isaiah 9:6].
- This is the promise: “His name is Immanuel, God with us, [Matthew 1:23] and as God, He is able to bare all our sins in His own body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24].
- “Where sin did abound, grace did much more abound.” [Romans 5:20]
This is our Savior, who vicariously, in our stead, suffered for our sins [2 Corinthians 5:21] that we might find forgiveness in God and life everlasting in His wonderful name [John 3:16, 20:31]. And this is the evangel to be announced, to be heralded, to be preached to the whole world! Christ is come to save men’s souls [Luke 19:10], and that’s why they named Him Jesus—Iesous—Savior, “for He shall save His people from their sins” [Matthew 1:21]; to present us someday without blot or blemish, without fault or failure, in the presence of the great Glory [Ephesians 5:27; Jude 1:124]. This is Christ, our living Lord.
In this moment that we make appeal, that we sing our hymn of invitation, to accept the Lord as yours, to give your life to Him in faith and confession, or to put your life with us in the circle and circumference of this precious church; would you come?
Would you come and stand by me here? “Pastor, I give you my hand; I’ve given my heart to the Lord. This is my wife, these are my children, all of us are coming today.” Or just you, that topmost balcony, in the last seat, there’s time and to spare; come now. Make it now, down one of these stairways, into this isle and into the front, “Here I am, pastor, I’m coming now. I have decided in my heart, and I’m on the way.” Do it, while we stand and while we sing.
THE VIRGIN BIRTH
I. An exposition of the passage (Isaiah 7,
A. Ahaz, son of Jotham,
1. First and
continuing acts idolatrous
threat of Syria and Samaria, Ahaz turns to Tiglath Pileser (2 Kings 16:7)
appeals of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:3-4, 7:10-16)
Bitter, dark (Isaiah 7:17 – 8:22)
Light and life (Isaiah 9:1-7)
II. What shall we say of this prophecy?
A. Take it literally
B. Confirmation in
Entrance of Christ into the world miraculous
All history a preparation for His coming
Earth filled with expectancy of coming Lord