Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Born of a Virgin

"Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel." Isa. 7:14
    We are now at that time of year when our thoughts turn to the birth of Christ, the "reason for the season," as we like to say. But what exactly are we celebrating at Christmas? Who was Christ, and what does His birth mean for us today?
    Who was Christ? Even His own disciples weren't exactly sure. It was obvious that He was no ordinary human being. But who was He? Or more to the point, what was He? He claimed to be the Son of God, but what does that mean?
    During the coming month we will examine some of the these issues in order to gain a better understanding of the significance of the birth of Christ. We will look at a number of passages of Scripture that describe the Person and work of Christ. Significantly, many of these texts were employed by George Frederick Handel in his famous oratorio Messiah.
    We begin with the fact of the virgin birth itself. And here at once we encounter the chief difficulty that the modern mind has with Christianity. Modern man finds it difficult to accept the idea of the supernatural. And yet according to the accounts given to us in the gospels of Matthew and Luke Jesus was born of a virgin: He had no earthly biological father. He was born of a virgin; He performed miracles; He rose from the dead. And His miracles and resurrection, at least, were attested by eyewitnesses.
    Jesus could do all of these things because He was God incarnate. The universe is not a closed system with a uniformity of natural causes. It is the creation of an eternal, all-powerful Supreme Being Who retains ultimate control over His creation. And Jesus performed His miracles precisely to assert His deity. He is the Lord of heaven and earth, and His miracles were a vivid demonstration of His divine power.
    The virgin birth was critical to all of this. If Jesus were the natural offspring of two biological parents, then He would have been no different from the rest of us – an ordinary human being. And if that were the case He could not have been the Savior of the world. His death would have been no more significant than that of any other great man in history who was killed in a noble cause – Lincoln, Gandhi, Kennedy or King. But Jesus was no ordinary human being; He was "Immanuel," which in Hebrew means "God with us."
    Some have questioned whether Isaiah 7:14 really predicts a virgin birth. The New Revised Standard Version, for example, translates the verse, "Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." It is true that the Hebrew word used here ('almah) generally refers to any young marriageable woman. Hebrew has a different word (betulah) to refer specifically to a virgin.
    The immediate context calls for a child born in Isaiah's own time. The nation of Israel at that time was divided into two separate kingdoms: the northern kingdom, usually designated as "Israel" or "Samaria," and the southern kingdom which was called Judah. In 735 B.C. the northern kingdom, Israel, along with its neighboring ally Aram (Syria), invaded Judah. The prophet Isaiah approached Ahaz, the king of Judah, and told him not to fear. The Lord would give him a sign: a child would be born, and before the child would be weaned the two invading kingdoms would be destroyed. Isaiah has relations with a prophetess (Isa. 8:3) and a child was born. In 732 the Assyrians under Tiglath-pileser invaded, and Israel and Syria were effectively destroyed.
    But it is evident that there is more to the prophecy than just that. For Isaiah goes on in chapter 9 to describe another child, a child that would become a ruler, whose name "shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6,7). Amid all the chaos and turmoil that beset Israel, Isaiah had a vision of a coming Messiah Who would rule with perfect peace and justice.
    When Matthew, then, in the New Testament describes the birth of Christ, he declares that this was the fulfillment of the prophecy made in Isa. 7:14 (Matth. 1:22,23; the Greek uses the word parthenos, which does mean a "virgin"). What we have, then, is a double fulfillment of the prophecy. The initial fulfillment took place in Isaiah's own time, when a young woman gave birth to a baby boy. But in a much more remarkable way it was fulfilled by the birth of Christ Who was truly "Immanuel," literally "God with us." God had fulfilled His Word in a way that far exceeded even Isaiah's expectation!

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