The Wonderful Child
December 21st, 1975 @ 10:50 AM
THE WONDERFUL CHILD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-21-75 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television, you are rejoicing with us in the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And the day is coming soon when the whole nation is going to have opportunity to rejoice with us and with you in the services of our dear church, as they are placed in all the population centers of this nation. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Wonderful Child. And the text is Isaiah 9:6. Because I am preaching through the Book of Isaiah at these morning services, the text is taken from that incomparable prophet, Isaiah 9:6-7:
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 establish it in judgment forever and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it.
“Unto us a Child is born” – that is His humanity. “Unto us a Son is given” – that is His deity, for He was a Son before He was born, the eternal Son of God.
The text begins in His incarnation, in His humanity, in His poverty, and it rises with great crescendo to His deity and His everlasting kingdom. He shall reign forever and ever, called by name Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. It begins with His incarnation, His humanity, “Unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6]. So much in Isaiah prophesies the humility and the suffering of our Lord. The fifty-third chapter of the prophecy is written by one, this Isaiah, as though he stood on Mount Calvary and watched Jesus die; as though he stood in one of the hamlets of Judea or Galilee and saw Jesus pass by.
For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and 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.
This is His humanity: “For unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6]. The prophet takes us to the little city of Bethlehem, to a stable and to a manger [Luke 2:10-16], and there we behold the little Child born of the virgin Mary. No trumpet was sounded in any of the palaces of the Caesars, but that birthday was the greatest birthday in the annals of humankind. Even Herod the king, to whom the announcement was made that the Child had been born [Matthew 2:1-8], bothered not even to go see the wonder that was but five miles away; nor did any Pharisee, nor did any scribe, nor did any Sadducee, nor did any religious leader of the people.
This is His humility: “Unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6], and the prophet takes us to the manger in Bethlehem. This is His humanity: “Unto us a Child is born.” The prophet takes us to the workshop and the long, weary hours of the day, for they called Him “the carpenter” [Mark 6:3].
The prophet introduces us in this text to His baptismal service in the Jordan River by John the Baptist [Matthew 3:13-17]. The prophet introduces us in this text, in the humanity of our Lord: to the wilderness and its hunger [Matthew 4:1-2]; to the well and its thirst [John 4:6-7]; to the Sea of Galilee and its midnight storm [Luke 8:22-25]; to Gethsemane with its agony [Luke 22:44]; and to Calvary, where they nailed Him to the tree [Luke 23:33], and He died [Luke 23:34-46]. This is the text that introduces us to the humanity of our Lord from the cradle to the cross, from the manger to His death. “For unto us a Child is born” [Isaiah 9:6].
“And unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6]; this is His deity. Without fail and without exception, all of the Scriptures present the Messiah Christ as being preexistent, and they delineate the work that He did before the foundation of the world [John 17:5]. He is co-equal and co-existent with the Father [John 1:1], and we saw in Him the grace and the glory of God. He came from the Father, and He returned to the Father [John 16:28], and His life in the days of His flesh is but a valley between those two great towering peaks that reach up to the heavens themselves. For the most part we are so involved in the valley, in the days of His flesh, in His life on earth, that we forget those two great towering peaks that enclose it on either side, His descent and condescension from glory [Philippians 2:7] and His return to the right hand of the Majesty on high [Hebrews 1:3]. But our Lord lived before Bethlehem [Hebrews 10:5-14]; He is the incarnate God [Matthew 1:23].
I cannot but read from William Wordsworth a poetic fancy of our own life. He thinks in poetic form, and in fanciful imagination, that maybe we had a previous existence and have come into this world. He writes it like this in beautiful form:
Our birth 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,” W. Wordsworth]
This of course is but a poetic fancy; something that Wordsworth wrote. But in the name of Christ, His life was truly a pre-existent Prince in heaven, and His incarnation was His coming down to this earth from glory [Hebrews 10:5-14].
None of the disciples and none of the Scriptures ever present the life of Jesus as though it began in Bethlehem. Without exception they all speak of the pre-existent glory of the Son of God, the Prince of Peace. For example, John begins his glorious Fourth Gospel like this, “In the beginning was the Logos“ [John 1:1]. And if I could translate that in my own persuasion I’d say it like this, “In the beginning was the active, doing, creative God.”
In the beginning was the Logos – translated in the King James Version, the Word – and the Word – the active, creative, doing – the Word was with God, and that active, creative, ableness, expression of God was God Himself. All things were made by Him – this acting God, the Logos – and without Him was not any thing made that was made.
Then coming down to verse 14 – and the active, creating, moving God “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].
This is a revelation that the Bible presents to us that Christ, the Christ who was born in Bethlehem, is the incarnate, pre-existent God [Micah 5:2]. Paul says it like this in the first chapter of the Book of Colossians: “He is the express image of the invisible God” [Colossians 1:15]. If you would like to know what God is, look at Christ. When you see Christ, you see God. When you worship Christ, you worship God. When you love Christ, you love God. When you obey Christ, you obey God. When you follow Christ, you follow God. If you would want to know what God is like, look at Christ. “He is the image of the invisible 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 sunistemi” [Colossians 1:15-17]. Now what does sunistemi mean? And in Him all things sun – with – istemi – stand. And in Him all things “stand with.” That is, in Him all things cohere, in Him all things exist; in Him all things hold together [Colossians 1:17]. The great center of the whole universe – in heaven, and in earth, and in all creation – is the Son of God, He who was born in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23-2:1].
The author of Hebrews says 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 . . . by whom He made all things; who is the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” [Hebrews 1:1-3]. This is God, the glory of God, the presence and the being of God, the co-equal, preexistent God: here, come down in human form and in human flesh. “Unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6].
The Lord never refers to Himself as being born, never. But He says it like this – He always refers to Himself as being – “I am sent” [Luke 4:43], or “I am here from heaven with a mission, and with a purpose” [John 18:37]. He would say it like this: “Before Abraham was, I Am” [John 8:58]. In the fifth verse of the seventeenth chapter of John, the high priestly prayer, He prays: “O Father, glorify Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was” [John 17:5]. “Unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6], the pre-existent Christ.
Now there are three things that are concomitants, that are conclusions, that are addenda from that tremendous Scriptural revelation. Number one: this is a revelation that at the heart of the universe is the love of God, the caring of our heavenly Father. Everything argues against it, but this reveals its true nature. At the heart of the universe is the love and the care of God for us, all the measures to which God went to express to us His loving and shepherdly care. As Paul said it: “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto Himself, not imputing our trespasses, our sins, unto us” [2 Corinthians 5:19].
You look at that for a minute, look at it. Ask nature, “Is God love? Is He?” And listen to nature reply in storm, and in hurricane, and in cyclone, and in lightning, and in thunder, and in wind, and fire, and flood, and tidal wave – all the harshness, sometimes the terror, of nature. Ask history that, “Is God love?” Turn the pages of history; it is the story of man’s inhumanity to man; it is the story of bloodshed, of war, of rape, of violence. Ask history if God is love, and history replies with darkening sentences and ominous prophecies. Ask life, “Is God love?” And life replies in awesome and terrible terms. Life is filled with disease, and darkness, and danger, and death. The first thing when I came to church this morning was the announcement that one of our members who had been here for fifty-two years has died, and they asked me to hold the service in the morning. I live in a world like that; of age, and illness, and disease, and sorrow, and sighing, and crying, and death.
Ask the life of our Lord if God is love. “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” [John 1:11]. He lived a life of rejection and repudiation and finally was crucified, nailed to a tree, and in agony and in sorrow cried, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” [Matthew 27:46]. The only answer you will ever find to that question: is God love, is the Lord kind, is He sympathetic and pitiful and understanding, the only answer you’ll ever find to that question lies in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. This is the manifestation of the Lord’s care for us. Paul wrote it like this 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.
At the heart of the universe is the loving care of the Lord for us. And this is God, coming down to earth that He might bring hope, and comfort, and strength, and forgiveness, and life, and resurrection to the sorrows that we know in this life. Hope, and light, and gladness, and grace, forgiveness – all are met in the manger in Bethlehem [Luke 2:10-16]. The author of this is unknown, but how beautiful, how expressive, and how true:
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 spell
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 young born Babe,
The tender Mary rose to lean,
A loathesome 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.
There is no other evidence, and no other hope, and no other revelation that at the heart of this universe there is a love and a care that reaches down to us. We see it only in the gift of God in Christ Jesus; that God came down to be for us hope, and light, and joy, and life, and resurrection, and forgiveness, and heaven.
Number two – these concomitants, these corollaries, these conclusions, these addenda that follow the incarnation of the pre-existent Christ, that God was made flesh. Number two: in that condescension is revealed the true grace and glory of Jesus our Lord. The fact that He was poor did not carry with it necessarily grace and glory. There are many, many great heroes of Christian history who were poor – people like Abraham Lincoln. Oh, how many have risen to great heights who came out of deepest penury, and want, and poverty. That He was poor was not His grace and glory. The grace and glory of Jesus is this: that He was rich, and for our sakes He condescended and became poor, that we through Him might be rich.
The apostle Paul wrote it like this in 2 Corinthians 8:9, eighth chapter and ninth verse. He says, “For you remember, you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich” [2 Corinthians 8:9]. That is the grace and glory of Jesus. Having all, possessing all, this conquering Christ in heaven; He gave it up that He might be for us life, and light, and salvation.
Again, the grace and glory of our Lord is not that He was a servant. There have been many fine men who have served menially. There are many great heroes of Christian history and of secular history who have lived in a narrow and constricting lot. But this is the grace and glory of the Son of God, that being the Mighty God, and the Everlasting Father, and the crown Prince of Glory [Isaiah 9:6] – that He descended, He came down, and down, and down, to the lot of a menial slave for us. Here again, Paul writes it in the second chapter of Philippians:
The mind of Christ, who though He was in the form of God – the morphe of God, whatever the morphe of God, the form of God is – He being in the form of God, thought it not a thing to be grasped, to be held on to, the King James Version translated it robbery – to be equal with God: But emptied Himself, the King James Version – but made Himself of no reputation, and took upon Him the form of a servant, of a slave, 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.
The most horrible death that mankind has ever invented by which to afflict one another: now, what is the glory of that? There have been many who were crucified; there have been many who were slaves, but oh, this Christ of ours, He was the Mighty God, He was the Everlasting Father [Isaiah 9:6], and that He would condescend – to descend and down, and down, and down – to become a slave, a servant for us [Hebrews 10:5-14].
There’s nothing more moving than to read the story in the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. And they sat at meat and were quarreling over who would be greatest in the kingdom, and the Lord took off His clothing. There’s not anything more humbling to a man than to be naked. He may be a king, he may be a prince, he may be a president, he may be a prime minister, but when he takes off his clothes, he’s just one humble one among all other mankind. If any of you men have ever been inducted, initiated, into the Masonic Lodge, you know what I mean; the humbling of taking off your clothes. He took off His clothes, and He bound Himself with a towel like a slave, and He began to wash the disciples’ feet [John 13:4-5]. That is our Lord. What is the glory of it and the grace of it, that He washed feet? Slaves did that. The glory of it is this: that the great and mighty God should be washing our feet. Oh, no wonder the mind of man has stood in awe for two thousand years now before this Son that is given, this great eternal God who was manifest in the flesh [1 Timothy 3:16]. I must hasten.
The third concomitant – the corollary, the third addendum, the third conclusion that this manger-Child is God born in the flesh [Matthew 1:23; John 17:5]: it reveals that in God’s sight we are something; somebody worth loving, worth dying for, worth caring for, worth saving. Not only does the incarnation of the pre-existent God, “unto us a Son is given” [Isaiah 9:6], not only does it reveal that at the heart of a harsh universe is love, and that the grace and glory of Christ is seen in His condescension, but it also means that for us, we are precious in His sight.
Everything we know in life argues against that, that a man is worth anything. He’s worth nothing. He’s less than an atom, on an atom at the outskirts of the whole created universe! Our world, our earth, is about like an atom compared to the vast infinitude of the created worlds, and sidereal spheres, and Milky Ways beyond us. And on this earth, what is a man? I see these pictures of these emaciated, starving people. They live, they die like flies. What are their names and who cares? And I think of us. What is our life? Everything we know argues against that we amount to anything. Let us live long enough, and we’re strangers in the earth. Even our family is gone and our friends are gone, and nobody knows us or remembers us. And when we die, we turn to dust in the ground.
O God! What did the psalmist say? “What is man, that Thou are mindful of him?” [Psalm 8:4] That you care anything about him? What is he? He’s nothing but a moth that dies in the night. He’s nothing but an atom in the whole vast infinitude of God’s creation. He’s but an autumnal leaf falling to the ground. He’s a mist, he’s a vapor; he’s gone and the whole world forgets. All, all except one: He marked the grave where you fell; He keeps track of the dust that once was you.
In His grace and goodness, He loved you so, that He sent His only begotten Son that we might be redeemed from our sins [John 3:16]. Brought back to the love and heart of a shepherdly God, and in His sight we are somebody wonderful. In the sight of the world we may be nothing. In the sight of all who have lived before and after us we may be absolutely unknown, never heard of, but in God’s sight, we are somebody.
You know there brings in my mind, doctor; just popped into my mind like that, a story I heard in the hospital. They thought the fellow was unconscious and dying, and the doctors were talking. They didn’t know that the man could hear. And one of those surgeons said to the other, “He’s not worth operating on; gone, nothing.” And the man spoke up and said, “Sir, would you call a man worthless; a man for whom Christ died?” [1 Corinthians 15:3]. Isn’t that a wonderful doctrine? Isn’t that the greatest encouragement that you could have in human life? We may be a worthless mass to all the others around us, but to Him we are precious in His sight. He came down from heaven to die for us [John 12:27; Hebrews 10:5-14]. And if there hadn’t been anybody in the world but you, He would have come down and suffered and died for you. This is the meaning of the coming of God in that little Child given us in Bethlehem [Matthew 1:23-2:1].
I must close; time is already past. The cry of the Child in the manger [Luke 2:16] is the cry of His humanity, sanctifying motherhood, glorifying childhood, honoring the home. And the cry of the Child in Bethlehem is the cry of deity, for He calleth unto thee, and God makes appeal for us. O bless His name! Praise His name, that the great God of the universe should love even me; die for even me; open arms for even me; welcome, take care of, love even me.
And that is our invitation in His name as Paul would write it: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto Himself . . . we beseech you in Christ’s stead” – as though the Lord Himself stood here – “be ye reconciled to God” [2 Corinthians 5:19-20]. He is reconciled to us, not imputing our trespasses against us, He has already forgiven us. It is just that I be reconciled to God, that I come to Him, that I respond with my life. Would you today? Would you today?
There is a stairway at the front and the back and on either side; if you are in the balcony, walk down those stairways to Jesus. The press of people on this lower floor, into this aisle and down to the front, “Here I am, pastor; I have made the decision in my heart. I am giving my life to God and here I come. Here I am.” Do it now. Make it now, on the first note of the first stanza, and welcome, while we stand and while we sing.