The Wonderful Child
December 21st, 1975 @ 8:15 AM
THE WONDERFUL CHILD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-21-75 8:15 a.m.
We welcome you who are listening to our service of praise and glory to God on the radio of the city of Dallas: WRR. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Wonderful Child. Because we are preaching through the Book of Isaiah, I am expounding a text, a glorious one.
In the ninth chapter of Isaiah and the sixth verse and seventh:
For unto us a Child is born, and unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be 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 judgment and with justice from henceforth even for ever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it.
“For unto us a Child is born,” that refers to His humanity. “And unto us a Son is given,” that refers to His deity, for He was a Son before He was born, the eternal Son of God. So the glorious prophecy begins in humility, in humanity, in the birth of the Child in Bethlehem. And it rises in great crescendo to the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and the deity of our Christ. Even His name is called the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. His humanity, “For unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6]. So much of the prophecy of Isaiah refers to the days of His flesh and of His humility. There is no more glorious description of the suffering and humility of our Lord in the Bible than the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah.
He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, as a root out of a dry ground: He hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him.
For He is despised and rejected of men; a Man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . .
– and on the prophecy continues, depicting the humanity and the humility and the suffering of our Lord.
“Unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6]. In the passage, the prophecy, the prophet takes us to Bethlehem. There were no trumpets blown in the palaces of the Caesars when the Child was born; but this is the greatest birthday in human history. He was born in a stable; He was born among the lowly. There wasn’t any king in the earth that would deign even to take cognizance of His coming into the earth. Even Herod the Great, to whom it was told the Child was born just five miles away, did not even bother nor any of the scribes or Pharisees nor any in the court, even to go there and look at the wondrous site. The Child was born in a stable and laid in cheap swaddling clothes in a manger [Luke 2:10-16].
“For unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6]; this is the prophecy that takes us to the carpenter shop with its daily toil [Mark 6:3]. It’s the prophecy that takes us to the Jordan River and His baptismal service at the hands of John [Matthew 3:13-17]. It’s the prophecy that takes us to the wilderness with its hunger [Matthew 25:35] and to the well with its thirst [John 4:6-7]. It’s the prophecy that takes us to the Galilean sea with its midnight storm [Luke 8:22-25]. It’s the prophecy that takes us to Gethsemane with its prayer and agony and bloody sweat [Luke 22:44]. It’s the prophecy that takes us to the cross where He died for the sins of the world [Matthew 27:32-50; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. “For unto us a Child is born.” This is the prophecy that outlines His life from His birth in a manger to His suffering on the cross. This is the humanity of our Lord. “Unto us a Child is born.” Then He rises to the pre-existency of that Child; “Unto us a Child is born,” His humanity. “And Unto us a Son is given.” This is the eternal Prince of Glory; the Son of God [Isaiah 9:6].
Without exception the prophecies and the New Testament Scriptures always present the preexistent Christ. Never is it suggested that He began His life in His birth in Bethlehem. He is always presented, delineated, described as the co-equal and co-present Son of God. He came from the Father, and He returned to the Father [John 17:28], and His life in this world, according to the Scriptures, is a valley between those two great peaks that ascend up into the heavens.
We are so inclined to live in the valley, to follow the life of our Lord in the valley that we forget those two mighty peaks that ascend into glory. For our Lord was from the beginning [John 17:5], and His coming into the world as the eternal Son of God was but an incarnation of the preexistent Prince of Glory [Matthew 1:23].
You know there is a poetic fancy that lies in a preexistence that comes even down to us. Do you remember the famous poem of William Wordsworth? He expresses the poetic fancy that all of us came into this earthly life passing through the birth of our days from a pre-existent state of heavenly glory. This is one of the greatest poems of all literature:
Our birth – he says – is but a sleep and a forgetting
The soul that rises with us, our life’s star
Hath had elsewhere its setting
And cometh from afar.
Not in entire forgetfulness
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God who is our home.
[“Trailing Clouds of Glory”]
That of course is just beautiful poetic fancy. Is there a possibility that we were before our birth and have come into this world? Just something of a poet to write about.
But with our Lord, without exception the Scripture always present Him as being eternal. He was pre-existent, and His birth in Bethlehem was an incarnation. For example, John, the sainted John, will begin his Gospel without that vowel. “In the beginning was the Logos“ [John 1:1]. And I’d like to translate that, “In the beginning was the active God, the doing God, the moving God, the One that makes, that creates, that is in being known to us, manifested in all the works of His hand. The Word, Logos; “In the beginning was the Word,” the Logos, and the Word–the moving, acting God–was with God; and that acting God ‘is’ God. “All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made” [John 1:1-3]. And that active, moving, doing God became flesh, “And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of God; full of grace and beauty and glory” [John 1:14]. This is the attitude and revelation of the New Testament about Christ: always preexistent and now incarnate before our eyes.
Paul will write it like this in the first chapter of Colossians: “He is the image of the invisible God” [Colossians 1:15]. What is God like? That is He. If you would know God, know Christ. See God, see Christ. Love God, love Christ. Worship God, worship Christ. Follow God, follow Christ.
The Word is identified with the living God. “He is the image of the living God: the first-born of all creation: for by Him and for Him were all things made. And He is before all things, and in Him all things sunistēmi. And in Him all things sunistēmi,” literally “stand together” [Colossians 1:15-17]. We say cohere; we say hold together; we say subsistence and substance and essence. All things in heaven and in the earth find their coherence in Christ. And that’s what Paul says. The author of Hebrews begins it like this:
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto our fathers by the prophets,
Hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son. . .who is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person.
It is a remarkable thing, an awesome thing, how the Bible presents the living Christ, the preexistent God who has become bone and flesh in the cradle of Bethlehem. And our Lord also had that same delineation regarding His life. Never will you find our Lord referring to His birth as being born, but He will always say things like this: “I am come into the world” [Luke 19:10]: or “I am sent” [Luke 4:43], or as He said one time, “Before Abraham was, I Am” [John 8:58]. In the fifth verse of the seventeenth chapter of John in the High Priestly prayer, the Lord says, “O My Father, glorify Me with Thine own self with the glory which I shared with Thee – knew with Thee – before the world was” [John 17:5]. This is the pre-existent Christ; this is the incarnation of God in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23].
Now I have three things to say of it. They are addendum, they are concomitants, they are conclusions. Number one: the incarnation of this preexistent God in Bethlehem argues for, that at the heart of the universe, there is the love of God. Sometimes it is difficult for us to believe in a world that is so full of darkness, and violence, and heartache, and sin, and death, that beyond it there is the love and care of God. But the incarnation of the preexistent Christ argues for that glorious and redeeming fact; that at the heart of the universe is the love and care of God. As Paul again would express it in the fifth chapter of 2 Corinthians, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing our sins unto us” [2 Corinthians 5:19].
Is God full of love for us? Does God care? Well, ask nature. “Is God love?” And nature replies, “In a terrible way.” Nature replies with storms, and with fury, and with cyclone, and with hurricane, and with wind, and with water, and with ocean tidal waves. Nature can reply fiercely and terribly. Ask history, “Is God love,” and nature replies with page after page of man’s inhumanity to man. The whole story of human history is filled with human blood, and war, and violence, and crime. “Is God love?” History would say, “No!” Well, ask ‘life,’ “Is God love?” And life replies in a likewise, terrible way, “Life is filled with disease, and sin, and heartache, and tears. Life is filled with age and senility and death.”
The first thing I was greeted with this morning when I came to church was this: “Pastor, in the morning, in the morning they are asking that you hold a memorial service for one of our men who has been a member of the church here for fifty-two years.” I live in that kind of a world; a world of sickness, and sorrow, and age, and death.
Well, ask the human experience in the days of His flesh of the Lord Jesus, “Is God love?” And look at the life of our Lord and see an inevitable answer. He was despised and rejected; “He came into His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11].
And finally He was crucified, nailed to a tree by the hands of merciless and ruthless and cruel men. And in His agony He cried saying “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46]. My sweet people, it is only in the revelation of the Almighty that you will ever have an answer that at the heart of this universe is a loving God; and you’ll find it no other place. Only as the Holy Scriptures revealed to us the purpose of Christ coming into the world do you ever find an answer that God might be love.
As Paul would say it in the fifth chapter of the Book of Romans:
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
You’ll find an answer in no other way except in the revelation of God, that in Christ, that in Christ, God was reaching out for us who live in this sin-cursed world.
And yet what an infinite preciousness is the story of the incarnation of God in Bethlehem who came down to bring us hope and forgiveness and salvation [Matthew 1:21-23]. Do you remember this poem? Nobody knows who wrote it, but it’s one of the sweetest poems that I have ever read. And it concerns the birth of our Lord in Bethlehem.
That night when in Judean skies
The mystic star dispensed its light,
A blind man moved in his sleep –
And dreamed that he had sight!
That night when shepherds heard the song
Of hosts angelic choiring near,
A deaf man stirred in slumber still –
And dreamed that he could hear!
That night when in the cattle stall
Slept Child and mother cheek by jowl,
A cripple turned his twisted limbs –
And dreamed that he was whole!
That night when o’er the newborn Babe,
The tender Mary rose to lean,
A lonesome leper smiled in sleep –
And dreamed that he was clean!
That night when to the mother’s breast
The little King was held secure,
A harlot slept a happy sleep –
And dreamed that she was pure!
That night when in the manger lay
The Sanctified who came to save,
A man moved in the sleep of death –
And dreamed there was no grave!
[“The Miracle of Dreams” author unknown]
This is the comfort of the presence of God, reaching out to a world that is hurt, and stricken, and sinful, and dying. I repeat: the first conclusion, concomitant, of the incarnation of the preexistent Christ, “Unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6]; first it is a revelation to us that at the heart of the universe is a God who loves and cares.
Number two: a concomitant of the incarnation of the preexistent God; it is in that incarnation of the glorious Prince of heaven that we see the true glory and honor and majesty of our Lord. Look. His glory and His honor is not found particularly in that He was poor. Oh, how many of the great heroes of the world – such as an Abraham Lincoln – how many of the great men of the world have been poor, grew up in poverty, came out of need, penury, want? The glory of Christ is not that He was poor. But the glory and the majesty and the honor of our Lord that has simply struck awe to the hearts of mankind is this: that He who was the Mighty God and the Everlasting Father became poor for us that we might be rich. Paul again states that in 2 Corinthians 8:9 like this, “For you remember the Lord Jesus Christ, who though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich.” That’s the glory of the Lord, that having the possession of all of heaven He willingly placed His garments of glory aside and assumed the garb of a peasant that He might make us rich.
Now look again. The glory of our Lord was not that He was a humble Servant; but the glory and the honor of our Lord is that being the Mighty God, He became our menial slave. That’s what the Bible says, “slave” – we use the word ‘servant.’
Paul, again in the second chapter of Philippians, wrote of that servitude of our Lord like this, “Having the mind of Christ, who, being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be equal with God,” thought it not a thing, thought it not robbery, thought it not a thing to be grasped to, to be held onto, to be equal with God, “but made Himself of no reputation,” emptied Himself, poured Himself out, “and was made in the fashion of a servant and in the likeness of men. And being found in fashion of a man, He humbled Himself, and became obedient until death, even to the death of the cross [Philippians 2:5-8].
That is the picture of our Lord in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John, when He takes off His clothes – and when a man takes off his clothes he’s of all things most humble. If you’ve ever been initiated into the Masonic Lodge you’ll know what I mean. When a man takes off his clothes, he is humbled. I don’t care who he is: a king, a president, a prime minister, or a slave. When he takes off his clothes, he’s humble. “And He girded Himself with a towel, and began to wash the disciple’s feet” [John 13:4-5],
that is the glory of Christ. Being the Mighty Father and the Great God, “He humbles Himself and becomes a servant, a slave of men.” It staggers the imagination that such a thing could be.
I must hasten. A third thing from the incarnation of the preexistent God [Matthew 1:23; John 17:5]; not only does it reveal at the heart of the universe God’s love for us, and not only does it reveal the true grace and glory of Jesus, that He humbled Himself coming down from glory thus to be our menial servant and slave, but it reveals a third thing – It reveals our worth in the sight of God. In the sight of man we may not be much, and especially is that true of the poor and the downtrodden and the outcast. When I see these pictures of people starving to death, the flotsam and jetsam of humanity, I think, “Oh, who cares whether they live or die. They’re like flies. Who knows their names?”
Everything argues for our insignificance. “We don’t amount to anything.” The psalmist cried, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?” [Psalm 8:4]. Just exactly what are we? Well, apparently we are no more than an autumnal leaf falling to the ground. We’re no more than a moth that lives for a moment and dies. We’re no more than a mist or a vapor or an atom in a world that itself is no more than an atom in the vast infinitude of the creation around us. And when we live and when we die, who marks the grave; who remembers and who cares? I’ll tell you who does – God does! He marked the place where the least of His saints did fall, and that dust is precious in His sight [Psalm 116:15]. The whole world and everything in it argues against our significance, our value, our importance. All except the love of God in Christ Jesus. And to God, in His sight, we’re precious, and dear, and loved, and remembered, and forgiven, and resurrected, and gathered like jewels in glory. “Unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6]; the cry of the child is the cry of a human Jesus who sanctified childhood, who glorified motherhood. “Unto us a Son is given,” the cry of the child is the calling to Jesus, lifting us up as sons of God. Oh! we could not say too much, emphasize too much the meaning of the coming of God in human form in Bethlehem; the express image of the invisible God [Hebrews 1:3].
Now we stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, a one somebody you, to give your heart to Jesus, to come into the church, to share God’s grace and fullness and goodness with us, if the Holy Spirit has spoken to your heart this glorious, beautiful Lord’s Day, on the first note of the first stanza, come. In the balcony you, on this lower floor you; make the decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we stand to sing, stand walking down one of those stairways, coming down one of these aisles; and may the angels attend you as you come. With God we stand here to welcome you, while we stand and while we sing.