Adapted from a sermon by Pastor Dave Strem
by Mike Stine
As we begin the Christmas season, we enter a time when we as Christians reflect on the birth of our Savior. We say that Jesus is the reason for the season. We hear sermons about Mary and Joseph and Jesus being born in a manger.
When we go home, we watch 101 different Christmas specials on TV that have little if nothing to do with the birth of Christ. Everyone is supposed to be filled with peace and love and goodwill toward men. These have become catch phrases for, “let’s just be nice to everyone this time of year.” Certainly Jesus came into the world to bring peace. He was a gift of love from our heavenly father. But in the midst of trying to feel good about the season we often miss out on the real point behind it.
I’m not saying that there is anything wrong with Christmas specials and certainly there is nothing wrong with peace, love and goodwill. Often though, we miss the point. The Israelites missed the point as well, as they so often seem to do. While they were looking for a mighty conquering Messiah to overthrow their Roman oppressors, a miraculous baby was born. That baby grew to become a man who performed many miracles and taught the Israelites about who he was.
In Matthew 23 Jesus calls the Pharisees and Scribes hypocrites. Pharisees and Scribes were the religious elite who based their religiosity on memorizing and teaching the law. If anyone should have known about the Messiah Isaiah wrote about, it should have been them. But their unbelief prevented them from accepting the obvious interpretations that pointed to a divine savior, a divine rescuer. Passages such as Isaiah 9:6, where the Messiah is called “mighty God,” or Isaiah 53:11b-12, where His work is described as “bearing the sins of many” and suffering “death,” are clear. They accepted neither implication. They rejected Jesus because He claimed to be God’s literal Son, equal with the Father, and because He predicted that He would die for the sins of Jew and Gentile. To them, both claims were blasphemous. Instead of seeking God’s grace through His provision, they were committed to earning God’s favor through keeping the law. Jesus called them hypocrites because they overlooked their own violations of the law. They overvalued themselves and their efforts at self-righteousness and undervalued God’s holiness. They wanted God to honor their efforts instead of honoring Him for His.
The Jewish leaders of the day were stuck in their old ways. They had years of tradition that they had built upon. They took the laws of Moses and added to them. They took old traditions and added new ones on top. By the time Jesus arrived on the scene, they no longer understood why they did what they did, only that this was the only way they new how to do things. When Jesus suggested that there was a better way of doing things, they rejected it. Instead, they could have evaluated what Jesus said with scripture. The book of Isaiah tells us a lot of who Jesus is and the Jews of Jesus day could have held Jesus up in comparison to their own scriptures. Instead, even today Jews do not understand much of what Isaiah wrote, especially chapter 53.
“Who has believed our message? To whom will the Lord reveal his saving power? My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, sprouting from a root in dry and sterile ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with bitterest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way when he went by. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God for his own sins! But he was wounded and crushed for our sins. He was beaten that we might have peace. He was whipped, and we were healed! All of us have strayed away like sheep. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the guilt and sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. From prison and trial they led him away to his death. But who among the people realized that he was dying for their sins—that he was suffering their punishment? He had done no wrong, and he never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and fill him with grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have a multitude of children, many heirs…. And because of what he has experienced, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins…. He bore the sins of many and interceded for sinners.”
Combined with Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 clearly describes a savior who will literally suffer and die for the sins of people, Jew and Gentile.
The coming of Christ was a work of God. To convince the world that the cross was actually a work of God, God declared exactly how it would happen. Seven hundred years before that star would rise in Bethlehem, 500 years before Rome would even become a world power, God instructs Isaiah to describe in detail the key events of the cross, to prophesy about the mission and future work of Christ. A prophecy is the future told in advance by God through a prophet. God does this to validate what is happening. Isaiah 48:3-5: “I foretold the former things long ago, my mouth announced them and I made them known; then suddenly I acted, and they came to pass. For I knew how stubborn you were; the sinews of your neck were iron, your forehead was bronze. Therefore I told you these things long ago; before they happened I announced them to you so that you could not say, ‘My idols did them; my wooden image and metal god ordained them.’”
The miracle of Christmas isn’t in the birth of a baby in a stall full of animals. It isn’t even a virgin giving birth to a child. The miracle is that it happened just as God said it would. Not only was Jesus birth in accordance with God’s word, his entire life and death had already been prophesied hundreds of years before.
God comes to earth as a man
Isaiah 9:6-7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
John 1:14 “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of he One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
Born of a virgin
Isaiah 7:14: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Matthew 1:20-23: “But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ –which means, “God with us.”
From the House of Judah
Isaiah 37:31: “Once more a remnant of the house of Judah will take root below and bear fruit above.”
Matthew 1:1-2, 16: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers…. and [a later] Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
From the root and stump of Jesse
Isaiah 11:1-5: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD– and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.”
Isaiah 11:10: “In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.”
Romans 15:12: “And again, Isaiah says, ‘The Root of Jesse will spring up, one who will arise to rule over the nations; the Gentiles will hope in him.’”
Matthew 1:1-2a, 5-6, 16: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac, … Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David…. and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
From the house of David
Isaiah 16:5: “In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it–one from the house of David–one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.”
Matthew 1:1-2A, 6, 16: “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham: Abraham was the father of Isaac,… and Jesse the father of King David…. and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.”
Be from Nazareth of Galilee
Isaiah 9:1-2 : “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan — The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”
Matthew 2:22-23: “But when he heard that Archelaus was reigning in Judea in place of his father Herod, he was afraid to go there. Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’”
Matthew 4:13-16: “Leaving Nazareth, he [Jesus] went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali– to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles — the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’”
Mission would include the gentiles
Isaiah 49:6: “He [the Lord] says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’”
Isaiah 42:1-4, 6: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out. In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope. I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles.”
Matthew 12:14-21: “But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus. Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, warning them not to tell who he was. This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love, in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will proclaim justice to the nations. He will not quarrel or cry out; no one will hear his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he leads justice to victory. In his name the nations will put their hope.’”
Ministry would include miraculous healings
Isaiah 29:18: “In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll, and out of gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.”
Isaiah 35:5-6a: “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.”
Luke 7:20-22: “When the men came to Jesus, they said, ‘John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.’”
Ministry would deliver spiritual captives
Isaiah 61:1-2: “The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn.”
Luke 4:16-21: “He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’”
Despised and rejected by men
Isaiah 53:3: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”
Isaiah 49:7: “This is what the LORD says—the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel– to him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: ‘Kings will see you and rise up, princes will see and bow down, because of the LORD, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.’”
John 7:48-49: “Has any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law–there is a curse on them.”
John 15:24-25: “If I had not done among them what no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin. But now they have seen these miracles, and yet they have hated both me and my Father. But this is to fulfill what is written in their Law: ‘They hated me without reason.’”
At Christmas time we celebrate. We go to parties. We visit friends and neighbors and family. We give gifts. We reminisce about Christmases past. We make new Christmas memories. It is a time of celebration. We have taken a day set aside to remember the birth of our savior and have turned it into a month long celebration. Celebration is great. We should be able to celebrate Jesus every day of the year and be as enthusiastic about it as we are at Christmas time.
When we celebrate, I encourage you to remember that we celebrate more than just a little child. People have children all the time, and they are cause for celebration. But we know that Jesus became more than just a child. We know that he became a man and that he bore our iniquities on the cross. We know that he dead and rose again from the grave. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God waiting to return one day.
The Jews weren’t wrong in their expectation of a Messiah. Jesus will one day rule on earth and conquer his enemies. Jesus will sit on the throne of David, just as the Israelites expected him to do. However, they were so focused on this one thing that they missed his coming and his purpose of conquering sin first. This Christmas, let us not make the same mistake as that.
As we look back to the birth of a savior and his life and death, we can also take time at Christmas to look forward to the future and long for his coming. Many people believe that the song Joy to the World is a Christmas song. In fact it is speaking of Christ’s return in his second advent. Pay attention to the words and reflect on what a wonderful day that will be this Christmas.