The trappings aside, Isaiah is fulfilled. A sign given by the weary God. Isaiah 7 is incredibly in-depth about the sign of joy and the woe pronounced upon the house of David that accompanied it and cannot be divorced from it if the full account of Scripture is to be upheld. Very much like the woes pronounced by Jesus over Jerusalem, Isaiah is prophesying doom along with blessings upon his covenant people.
But, then, the sign is the child, a precious stone, and he is God, Isaiah proclaimed:
But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken…
The child Jesus, set for the falling and rising of many.
That’s right. Peter said it and also Paul places this prophecy in the Messianic Kingdom Age. The annunciation of the angels marks the beginning of the end and portends a rough future for Jerusalem, Judea and the furthest reaches of the world. Wherever the Gospel was intended to go is wherever the curse is found. For Israel herself is set as a sign for the nations, a lesson that all must heed. Her rising and falling is a portent for the nations. For what happens to her happens to all.
All… because they refuse the waters of Shiloah:
Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel.
This prophecy is not restricted to just Israel as can be seen.
Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand.
Immanuel’s land is the whole earth. For his kingdom knows no end.
Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered; give ear, all you far countries; strap on your armor and be shattered; strap on your armor and be shattered. Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us.
The comfort that God gives is meted with the solemn warning that the world is the enemy of the church. It will attack her and try to kill the bride of Christ, pursuing her throughout the world for the rest of history as Revelation tells us. We might want to remember that Jesus was fond of quoting Isaiah and telling his disciples that the words that he had were for them to understand and not all could hear what was being said. However, all are subject to them. The somber warnings extend to the ends of the earth. The words are a heavy burden to bear:
Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.
Yet, who believes this report? What is wanted is a Christmas without a crucifixion.
We hear refrains of Christ’s words reflected in Isaiah 6. How long will this message be bound up among the disciples? Until the end, until the only thing that remains is the holy seed:
Then I said, “How long, O Lord?” And he said: “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is a desolate waste, and the Lord removes people far away, and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land. And though a tenth remain in it, it will be burned again, like a terebinth or an oak, whose stump remains when it is felled.” The holy seed is its stump.
We hear Jesus’ words of John 17:
Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs
with hints of the Resurrection and the sanctification by the word of the testimony. And there are the dire warnings against those disobedient to it, that they will be cast into utter darkness.
So goes the foreboding witness of the great sign of Immanuel, born in a manger, in Bethlehem to a virgin. We read further in Isaiah 9 about this little one who stepped down from glory and took on the form of a servant:
But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
How wonderous this message of great peace and joy on earth to all upon whom God’s favor rests. It is indeed a time to be recognized with songs and feasts and gatherings of the family of God.
We must remember that the joy of the annunciation came at great cost. For the child that was born, the one in whom all the hopes and fears were met came not merely as a babe, but as the Judge of all mankind. He came himself to bear the judgement of God against many so it was written, the judgement began with the household of God and cost the life of the babe born in Bethlehem. But woe was pronounced upon all those who reject the invitation to suffer along with him:
The Lord has sent a word against Jacob, and it will fall on Israel; and all the people will know, Ephraim and the inhabitants of Samaria, who say in pride and in arrogance of heart: “The bricks have fallen, but we will build with dressed stones; the sycamores have been cut down, but we will put cedars in their place.”
But the Lord raises the adversaries of Rezin against him, and stirs up his enemies. The Syrians on the east and the Philistines on the west devour Israel with open mouth. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. The people did not turn to him who struck them, nor inquire of the Lord of hosts. So the Lord cut off from Israel head and tail, palm branch and reed in one day— the elder and honored man is the head, and the prophet who teaches lies is the tail; for those who guide this people have been leading them astray, and those who are guided by them are swallowed up. Therefore the Lord does not rejoice over their young men, and has no compassion on their fatherless and widows; for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. For wickedness burns like a fire; it consumes briers and thorns; it kindles the thickets of the forest, and they roll upward in a column of smoke. Through the wrath of the Lord of hosts the land is scorched, and the people are like fuel for the fire; no one spares another. They slice meat on the right, but are still hungry, and they devour on the left, but are not satisfied; each devours the flesh of his own arm, Manasseh devours Ephraim, and Ephraim devours Manasseh; together they are against Judah. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.
Isaiah 9 flows naturally into Isaiah 10 with this:
Woe to those who decree iniquitous decrees, and the writers who keep writing oppression, to turn aside the needy from justice and to rob the poor of my people of their right, that widows may be their spoil, and that they may make the fatherless their prey! What will you do on the day of punishment, in the ruin that will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help, and where will you leave your wealth? Nothing remains but to crouch among the prisoners or fall among the slain. For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.
Who are the writers? Are they those who promise blessing and not cursing. Are they those who do not tell the whole story. Is that how they defraud the widow and the fatherless- by keeping them in the dark concerning the great and terrible day of the Lord?
Listen, the fast that the Lord requires is to set the record straight. That is how the captives are set free, this is how the widow is defended, the orphan given a home and the hungry fed. As Jesus remarked the only way to escape the woes pronounced against Israel and the world is to lay down your life. You cannot rebuild, you cannot replant. The only true relief from sorrow is the cross. There is only one way, and all disciples must take up their cross and follow him. Judgement will fall on all men. Just as he was under the yoke so must we all be. The poor you will have with you always, but who is he who is poor? The other side of the cross, for those who believe, is the resurrection to life and that rich and fat, abundance of peace and joy that passes man’s understanding. But for those who love their celebrations, the bright lights of the holy days without the recognition of the one true light who was born a babe in a manger, for them the only expectation at Christmas is as the writer to the Hebrews says:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.
Joyfully accepting the plundering of possessions in hopes of that one true possession, is to be possessed by Jesus Christ our Lord. Jesus wept over Jerusalem for their sin was to keep from her children the pronouncements of judgement for rejecting the Holy One of God. Just as they had done numerous times before, they had not announced the zeal of the Lord whose vengeance accomplishes salvation for his people through captivity and judgement. The teachers withheld the vital information about the suffering messianic path. As Jesus would command his followers that they must surely follow him, he commanded that they take up the very same cross upon which he was crucified. He asked if his disciples were willing to go through the baptism which he was to be baptized in, and even though he knew they were unable he promised that indeed they would eat and drink of the same cup. Our God is a Jealous God. Zealous is the same word. He is jealous for his people, his jealousy burns so much so that the very warnings of pending doom for his enemies are the very waters of deliverance for his people. As the waters of doom for the Egyptians were the waters of baptism for the people of Israel, this little child, the King of kings born in such humble circumstance was the portent of falling and rising of many people.
This Christmas do not neglect the entire story. For this is the wise prophecy of Simeon and of all the saints who await his appearance:
“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”