Sign of the Virgin Birth
March 21st, 1978 @ 12:00 PM
THE SIGN OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-21-78 12:00 p.m.
We are happy to welcome a great throng of people who listen to this service over KCBI, the station of our Bible Institute, and of course, are so glad to welcome so many of you who come to these annual noon-day Easter Services. It is your busy lunch hour; many of you work downtown. And anytime you have to leave you feel free to go. You will not bother me at all, and all the rest of us will understand. If you can come and just stay a moment, it is worth it. And you are welcome.
The series this week is built around the theme, “The Signs of God: The Signs of Heaven”: yesterday, the first message was The Signs of the Times; tomorrow, as Doug Beggs announced, The Sign of the Prophet Jonah; on Thursday, The Signs of the Second Coming of Christ; on Friday, The Sign of the Cross; and today: The Sign of the Virgin Birth.
The text I will read—the message though will be an exposition of the context of the word of the prophet, the promise to the prophet Isaiah:
The Lord spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth—anything below—ask it in the height—anything above.
Ahaz said, I will not ask, I will not tempt the Lord.
And he said, 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 Immanuel, With us God. Immanuel, God is with us.
Now for an exposition of its context, without which the real meaning of that marvelous prophecy, that sign, is lost to us. Among the kings of Judah there was hardly one more able than Uzziah. And it was in his days that Isaiah was called to be a messenger of God. Uzziah had a worthy son, Jotham, a magnificent administrator [2 Chronicles 26:21]. But in one of those unusual things that to us is inexplicable, Jotham had a son named Ahaz [2 Chronicles 27:9] who was as weak, and contemptible, and contemptuous, and vile, and unworthy, unable as any ruler who ever lived [2 Chronicles 28:1-4]. Strange again, he had a son who was a remarkable king, Hezekiah; good King Hezekiah [2 Chronicles 28:27].
Then in one of those providences of life that again we cannot understand, this weak and contemptible Ahaz is on the throne at one of the great critical crisis and junctures of Judean history [2 Kings 15:38]. There is a combine, a conspiracy, a confederation on the part of Rezin who is king of Syria, king of Damascus, and Pekah, who is the king of Samaria, king of Israel. There is a conspiracy, a confederacy on their part to destroy Judah and to set up a puppet king in place of Ahaz [2 Kings 16:5].
And the Scriptures say that they were terrified, both Ahaz and the people of Judah, as the trees of the woods are moved by the wind [Isaiah 7:1-2]. Their hearts were moved in terror, like wind blowing through the trees, at the prospect of what this conspiracy would do to Ahaz and to the kingdom of Judah.
So what Ahaz did secretly, surreptitiously, furtively, Ahaz stripped the temple of its gold and its silver and brought it to Tiglath-pileser, the cruel and merciless king of Assyria, whose capital is in Nineveh on the Tigris River. And there Ahaz made confederates with Assyria, that Tiglath-pileser would come down and, helping him of course, destroy Pekah and Rezin [2 Kings 16:7-9].
It was then that God sent Isaiah to deliver a message to Ahaz. And the Scriptures say that Ahaz is standing at the end of the conduit of the upper pool [Isaiah 7:3]. The tremendous weakness of Jerusalem would lie in its paucity of water. So the king is up there surveying, looking at, the supply of water for the city. And Isaiah confronts him, and he says to him, “You have no cause to be afraid. God is with us and God will battle for us. And these two tails of smoking firebrands, these fagots of burning sticks—namely Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Samaria—do not be afraid of them [Isaiah 7:4]. The battle is the Lord’s and God will protect us. Thus saith the Lord God, What they purpose shall not stand, neither shall it come to pass” [Isaiah 7:7]. Apparently Isaiah was the only one in the city who believed in the mighty, delivering hand of the omnipotent God.
Remember, Ahaz has already made this secret treaty with Tiglath-pileser to come down and to be confederate with him against Syria and Samaria [2 Kings 16:7-9]. So Ahaz refuses the proffered strength, and blessing, and presence, and delivering power of the Lord God [2 Kings 16:2]. Isn’t that a strange thing how iniquity will destroy the foundation of a man’s faith in God? This Ahaz closed the temple and set up graven images for the people idolatrously to worship in the Holy City. He reinstituted the worship of Molech in the Valley of Hinnom, and burned his own sons in the fire [2 Samuel 10-18]. And without God and great faith in the Lord, he thus was weak in this hour of great national crisis [Isaiah 7:3-13].
And Isaiah broods over that, what Ahaz has done in making treaty with Tiglath-pileser [2 Kings 16:7-9]. Tiglath-pileser sits; he calls himself the king of kings and the lord of all the earth. He sits on his throne in Nineveh, that colossus on the Tigris River. His armies are like myriads; his horses and his chariots are like locusts that cover the earth. And an invasion on the part of Assyria was like the overflowing tides of an onrushing ocean. Assyria was invincible for centuries. And Tiglath-pileser was its greatest army leader, strategist, and architect.
Not only did Assyria destroy Samaria forever [2 Kings 17:5-6], but Assyria, in the lifetime of Isaiah alone, overran Judah four different times [1 Chronicles 5:26; 2 Kings 17:5-6, 18-23, 18:13-17]. Assyria, the winged, man-headed bull of Asshur, was a veritable ogre to the Jew, to Judah. And Isaiah is brooding over what weak, vacillating Ahaz has done.
So God sends the prophet to Ahaz once again with a message of faith and assurance in God: “And the Lord spake to Isaiah and says, tell Ahaz as a sign—as a sign that My strong arm will deliver, that I am mighty to save—ask any sign, ask it. Ask it in heaven above; ask it in the earth beneath, any sign” [Isaiah 7:11]. But Ahaz, already having made that secret treaty with Tiglath-pileser [2 Kings 16:7-9], piously, hypocritically answers, “I will not ask. I will not dare tempt the Lord” [Isaiah 7:12]. So Isaiah replies, “Then the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Hear now, O house of David” [Isaiah 7:13-14].
Now this prophecy that he makes is an unusual one. When he uses “thee” in verse 11, “Ask thee a sign of the Lord God,” the thee is singular [Isaiah 7:11]. It is addressed to Ahaz. But when he delivers the promise of the sign of God, he changes the pronoun from singular to plural, and he addresses it to the whole house of David, and the whole kingdom of Judah, and the whole company of the people of God [Isaiah 7:13]. “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you”—plural—“a sign” [Isaiah 7:14].
The reason for that was, you see, Ahaz was persuaded that in the coming of Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Samaria [2 Kings 16:5-6], that the house of David would be destroyed, that the kingdom would be forever obliterated, and that the succession in David’s line would be forever taken away. That’s what he thought. That’s what he thought, that the whole collapse of the house of David and of Judah would immediately follow the conquest under Rezin and Pekah [2 Kings 16:5-6].
And so the second part of this is addressed plurally to all peoples of all time. “Therefore the Lord Himself shall give you”—plural—“a sign” [Isaiah 7:14]. “Behold, the”—and in Hebrew, the article is definite—not a virgin, the—“Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name God is with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23].
Now the prophecy carries two things. First to Ahaz: The sign to Ahaz is, there is a young bride, a virgin, who shall conceive and bear a son, and before the child is old enough to eat butter and honey, and before the child is old enough to refuse evil and choose good, these two men that you abhor shall be absolutely destroyed [Isaiah 7:14-16].
Rezin, in a year or two was slain by Tiglath-pileser [2 Kings 16:9], and Pekah—whom he feared, the king of Samaria—was assassinated by Hoshea the last king of Israel [2 Kings 15:30]. Now that to Ahaz, but to the people of all time, “God shall give you a sign, namely the virgin shall bear a Son, and His name will be God is with us” [Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23].
Well, upon that there seems to have come upon Isaiah an indescribable burst of prophecy, and it follows in two categories. The first is terrible; it is awesome. It is a judgment of God upon “thee” and upon the people [Isaiah 7:17]: the land shall become as briers and thorns. And that long prophecy of terror is from Isaiah 7:17 through the last verse of the eighth chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 7:17-8:22].
Then that is followed by an incomparably burst of glory as the prophet sees with the eyes of God:
The dimness and the darkness will not continue forever.
Though the land of Zebulun and Naphtali shall have been under the judgment of God, yet these very lands, Galilee of the Gentiles, the land beyond the Jordan shall be filled with glory, light.
For unto us a Child is born, a Son is given: 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. . .
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform it.
[Isaiah 9:1-2, 6-7]
It is almost unbelievable for a human mind to see what God here has promised.
Well, immediately we have a right to ask is that literal? “Behold, the virgin shall conceive, and her Son shall be called God is with us [Isaiah 7:14]. His name: Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Is that literal? Is that factual? Or is that Oriental hyperbole?
Well, immediately every liberal and higher critic in the land would say, “That is not literal. That’s fancy. That’s poetry. That’s imagination.” Every infidel and atheist in the land would say that is anything but literal. No child born of a virgin. No child, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father. And of course all the humanists—these who bow at the shrine of the ableness of mankind—they scoff and sneer and laugh. “That is not literal. That’s not true.
But Matthew said it was. Matthew said all of this came to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, “A virgin, parthenos, virgin shall be with child, and the name the Child shall be God is with us” [Matthew 1:22-23].
John says it is literal and true: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God, face to face with God” [John 1:1-2]. “And the Word was made flesh . . . and we saw His glory,” the glory as of God Himself [John 1:14].
Paul said that is literally true. He is the express image of the invisible God, and in Him all things hold together, consist, sunestēken [Colossians 1:15, 17]. And that’s our faith. It is literal. So somebody comes and he asks you, “So you believe that that is literal? That a virgin gave birth to a child, and it was God in the flesh? So you believe that? Really? What if a seventeen-year-old girl came to you pregnant, saying, ‘This child in my womb has no earthly father, this child is conceived of God,’ Would you believe it? Would you believe it?” My answer is this: “If that Child, if that Child were prophesied in His coming, thousands and thousands and thousands of years before—in the very beginning, the Seed of a woman shall crush Satan’s head [Genesis 3:15]—if that child was named Shiloh, when Israel spoke of His coming to Judah [Genesis 49:10]; if that child were the Son of the greater David of whom Nathan speaks to the great and mighty king [2 Samuel 7:12]; if when the child was born, the angels sang and all the heaven opened [Luke 2:13-15]; if when that child was crucified and died [Luke 23:26-46], the third day He was raised from the dead [Luke 24:1-8]; if that Child ascended up into heaven [Acts 1:9-10], and is at the right hand of the mighty God who reigns over the earth [Hebrews 1:3]; and if someday He is coming again [Acts 1:11]; if it is that Child, I’d say, yes. Yes! I believe the Child had God for His Father.”
So the Lord is born [Matthew 1:23-25]. The greatest and most stupendous event in human history is the intervention of God in human life, when God came down and was made flesh [Hebrews 10:5-14], and we beheld His glory, and He walked and talked and lived in our midst [John 1:14].
Dear people, let me just leave out so much, but just one thing that I think is one of the most remarkable things in literature; not only did all of history work toward the coming of the Lord, all of it moving toward that one stupendous and miraculous, historical event, but the whole earth at that time was pregnant, was filled, was enlarged with a hope that a great deliverer was coming out of the East. You read it in Suetonius; you read it in Tacitus, Latin historians.
And I want to read to you an eclogue from Virgil. Virgil died nineteen years before Christ was born. You listen to this eclogue from Virgil, one of the greatest poets of all time. Homer, Virgil, Dante, Shakespeare, Milton, these are your greatest poets. Virgil—you listen to this eclogue from Virgil:
Lo, the last stage of the seer has come!
Again, the millennial eon dawns
And from high heaven descends
The firstborn Child of promise
Smile softly on the Babe;
The age of iron in its time shall cease
And golden generations fill the world.
For Thee, fair Child, the lavish Earth shall spread
The earliest play things,
The very cradle blossoming for joy,
Shall with soft buds caress Thy baby face;
The treacherous snake and deadly herbs shall die,
And Syrian spikenard blow on every bank.
Come, dear Child, claim Thine honors
For the time draws nigh Babe of immortal race.
The wondrous seed of God.
Lo, at Thy coming
How the starry spheres
Are moved to trembling
And the earth below.
O if but life would bring me days enough
And breath not all to scant to sing Thy deeds
Come, Child, and greet Thy mother with a smile.
Ten weary months her love has known
Come, little Child.
Nineteen years before Jesus was born, the whole world, the stars above, the poets below, the great political leaders and historians of civilization were expecting at that time a great deliverer from heaven. It’s a miracle. It’s a sign. It’s God in the flesh.
There’s a song in the air!
There’s a star in the sky!
There’s a mother’s deep prayer
And a baby’s low cry!
And the star rains its fire
While the beautiful sing,
For the manger of Bethlehem
Cradles a King!
[from “There’s a Song in the Air,” Josiah G. Holland, 1872]
Dear God, with what assurance has the Lord visited His people in signs and wonders, in confirmations, in deep assurances. And our Lord, if our faith ever trembles and we fall into doubt, may God forgive us. Set our feet on a rock, keep us strong in Thee, and make us mighty, great God, to do Thy work of witnessing in the earth. In Thy saving name, amen.
SIGN OF THE VIRGIN BIRTH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-21-78I. An exposition of the passage (Isaiah 7, 8, 9)
A. Ahaz, son of Jotham, assumes throne
1. First and continuing acts idolatrous
B. Under threat of Syria and Samaria, Ahaz turns to Tiglath Pileser (2 Kings 16:7)
C. The appeals of Isaiah (Isaiah 7:3-4, 7:10-16)
D. Two prophecies
1. Bitter, dark (Isaiah 7:17 – 8:22)
2. Light and life (Isaiah 9:1-7)II. What shall we say of this prophecy?
A. Take it literally
B. Confirmation in history
1. Entrance of Christ into the world miraculous
2. All history a preparation for His coming
3. Earth filled with expectancy of coming Lord