The Coming King - A Virgin Birth
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
“The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
Prophets rarely spoke when all was well. Isaiah was called to speak during a time of great division and strife among God’s people. They were fighting amongst themselves and had made bad alliances with ungodly neighbors to bolster their individual sides. In Isaiah 7 in particular, we are seeing a dialogue between Isaiah and King Ahaz.
There isn’t a lot of good things to be said about Ahaz as a king. He worshipped other gods, sacrificed his son the pagan god Molech (2 Kings 16) and was known to be cowardly, superstitions and hypocritical. Ultimately, Ahaz serves as a powerful example of what can happen with someone enters into an ungodly alliance for “good” reasons only to become thoroughly corrupted and compromised. It is this king God sends Isaiah to talk to.
The words Isaiah brings are words of a great promise to Azah. If Azah will only choose to trust God, he will be greatly blessed. The upcoming battle, God tells Azah, will be won but the long term outcome will be determined by his faith. And then Azah is invited by God to ask for a sign. This is a big thing because it forces Azah to ultimately put his money where his mouth is. If Azah asks for a sign and God follows through, he will have no reason to not believe and trust in God. And so he, in a very pious sounding way, declines saying, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord.” (Isaiah 7:12)
Sounds wonderfully holy and humble, doesn’t it? But Azah’s heart isn’t in the right place. Azah wants a reason to continue on in his sinful ways. Or, at the very least, he doesn’t want to be given a good reason to stop being who he is. So he passes on God’s offer to give him a sign. It is from this moment where Isaiah and God both seem to be rather frustrated with Azah we get this prophecy about the birth of Jesus. We learn that Jesus will be born of a virgin and, by the time of his birth, both Azah’s kingdom and the kingdom he feared would be no more. King Azah would not be a great conqueror, he would not even leave behind a kingdom his descendants would rule over. He will be part of bringing an end of the people of God having one of their people rule over them as king.
When Jesus was born of the virgin, we know there is not a Jewish king on the throne. Instead, they are occupied and ruled by the Roman Empire. Israel is no longer an independent nation but an occupied territory. They are free to worship God up to a point but ultimately it is demanded that they recognize Caesar, the Roman Emperor, as their ultimate king and ruler.
I have to wonder if Mary was aware of Isaiah’s prophecy on the night the angel Gabriel came to visit. I have no doubt she was a woman of faith but we have to remember that women were generally not educated at this time. Their experience of God and worship was different from that of their male counterparts. Given that she is pledged to marry Joseph, a carpenter, a member of the working class, it is also very likely Mary’s family was a working class family. At best, a basic level of education would have been given to her brothers. Enough to learn a trade and be able to understand basic documents related to that trade and property ownership. Mary’s upbringing would have focused on learning how to keep house, cook, clean, make clothing, perhaps buy food at the local market and care for children. Jesus’ eventual inclusion of women as worthy to be taught by him is a huge diversion from the custom and traditions of the first century.
So while Mary likely wasn’t able to read or write, while she likely hadn’t spent a lot of time studying the words of the prophets, she did know how babies came to be. She was promised to Joseph and so was preparing to be married. When the angel Gabriel greets Mary with the news that she is to conceive and give birth to a son, she has some questions. She knows Gabriel has skipped over a few steps between her current situation and giving birth to a baby. And so she asks, “How can this be since I am a virgin?”
Unlike Azah, her heart isn’t trying to find a loop hole. She is just trying to understand something that goes against every biological reality she has been taught up to this point in her life. Gabriel’s response tells her, and us, how a baby will be born of a virgin and therefore fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah spoken so many years before. Once Mary receives the answer to her question, she agrees and consents to the role she has been asked to play in the salvation of mankind.
There are a couple of great lessons to be learned from this prophecy and its fulfillment. The first of which is that the condition of one’s heart matters. Azah’s heart was set on doing his own thing regardless of what God was calling him to do. He had no interest in giving God any credit for anything good which happened in his life. As a result, he ultimately leaves behind a legacy of defeat and failure. Mary’s heart desired to follow God to the best of her understanding and ability. Her question came from a place of wanting to be sure she was being faithful to God. Mary, therefore, is remembered for her faith and willingness to say yes to God.
The other important lesson to take away from the fulfillment of the Isaiah’s prophecy is that is OK to ask questions. Again, Mary wasn’t looking for a loophole. She was trying to wrap her head around a reality which had never happened in the history of all of mankind. Questions which come from a place of truly trying to understand and be faithful to what God is calling to are always welcome. There is no judgement when they are asked by Mary or by us today.
So if God offers you a sign, say yes. I wonder what God’s sign to Azah would have been if he would have said yes. We will never know. Don’t pass up on the chance for God to give you a sign of his love and faithfulness. And if you are truly confused, don’t be afraid to ask a question or two. It’s better to ask an honest question seeking faithful understanding than to blindly follow someone who is leading you astray.
- Have you ever felt that you received a sign from God about how He is planning on working in the world? How did you know it was from God?
- Mary said yes to a very big request from God. What was the biggest request God has made of you and how hard or easy was it to say yes?
- When you ask questions of God, where is your heart at? Are you looking for loopholes, or are you doing your best to faithful and trying to understand God’s great mysteries?
Helpful Resource Used:
Enduring Word Commentary by Pastor David Guzik