MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
KJV Isaiah 7:10 Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD. 13 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? 14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
This prophecy of the Virgin Birth of Christ reveals how God planned for our salvation, giving additional details about the Messiah first promised in Genesis 3:15.
This prophecy is so important that we should consider other information to realize how remarkable the prediction is. Secondly, we should also look at attacks upon this passage as proof of how significant it is for the entire Bible.
Before we consider the passage itself, it is worthwhile to think about the problems of complexity. For instance, people marvel that computers talk to each other across wires or even without wires. In a local area network (LAN), several computers are connected in one home or small office. For the LAN to work, the computers must recognize each other and talk to each other in the same language. It is easy for one thing to go wrong and the entire system to crash. And yet to make it work, everything must be operating correctly.
That seems fairly complex, but compared to the human nervous system, it is nothing. Just to stand and walk requires a host of electronic messages so our brain recognizes our legs and moves both legs according to our plans. We can see how complex this is when a child first walks. He looks like a beginner on a high-wire. Tap him and he loses his balances and falls down. If you say a child is a “toddler,” everyone knows what age that is.
We turn into toddlers when we sit in one position too long and a leg falls asleep. If the entire leg is asleep, we simply cannot walk. It is far more complicated than that. The brain must recognize the leg as a leg. The brilliant neurologist (who also wrote Sleepers) described people whose brains no longer see the rest of the LAN correctly. In “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat,” the doctor told about a man who could not recognize his leg and threw it out of his bed as a foreign object. The result was that he landed on the floor with his leg. It sounds funny but it is tragic when there is no cure for such a malady.
The more man designs things, the more he should realize that he lives in a world filled with a harmony of complexities. Even if we confined ourselves to the human body, we would never exhaust the number of complexities which must work together at the same time to give us a fairly ordinary life. For instance, the pumps in the eyes which keep the eyes clear must run all the time or our eyes become opaque. The focusing mechanism in the eyes looks just like piano wire strung artfully in the eyeball to make it change shape upon command. The human eye is such a masterpiece of design that a doctor could spend several hours talking about the basics of the eye and how it works as the seeing portion of the brain.
But if we turn to the animal world, we will find even more examples of complex design. Farley Mowatt wrote (The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be – the best animal book ever written) that his pet owls would wake from sleep and spot a bird in the sky. Farley would get out his binoculars and search the sky and make out a faint dot moving around. How could the owl hear that bird and then see it? The correct design of the eyes and ears make it possible. Of course, the nervous system of the owl exactly matches the hunting requirements of an owl. This seems too obvious, but put the nervous system of a rabbit in an owl and the owl will have a heart attack at the first sign of danger. (Rabbits actually die of fright. One study of rabbits showed that predators do not control rabbits. Rabbits control predators. If rabbit meat is scarce, predators become scarce. The rabbit is small, puny, but powerful in its impact upon the great beasts of prey.)
Dogs are good examples of a specialized nervous system. Their noses are 100 times more sensitive than ours. Their hearing is also extremely acute. When I stop at a fast food drive through and open the window, the blast of meat smell gets our dog so riled up that she howls in excitement, making it difficult to order over the speaker system. But dogs cannot see very well. When I walk the dog, I look all around and compare how people design their yards. Precious sniffs every inch of territory. I am thinking “Cat’s claw on the fence,” and she is thinking, “A beagle lives here.”
Not only do we see an infinity of complexity in each of God’s creations (all plants, all animals, the solar system, the universe) but even more amazing – all these complexities work together. At the natural level, everything is managed perfectly without our help and normally works better without man than with man. The Cuyahoga River in Cleveland, Ohio caught fire when the steel mills were working full time, but when the steel workers went on strike, the river cleaned itself and fish returned to the areas where it was predicted that it would never happen again.
If you have ever been engaged in a minor project with others, you know that humans do not work very well together, even when being ordered about by a strict boss. Stray cats often seem more organized.
Therefore, when we look at God’s created world working together in perfect harmony—animals, plants, bacteria, molds—we should always consider that this order cries out “Creation.” Not surprisingly, at this end of the ages, the environmentalists worship the Creation and not the Creator, as Paul predicted in Romans 1.
KJV Romans 1:22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
Taking this into consideration, it is even more marvelous that all of the prophecies of the Messiah were fulfilled, exactly as God foretold. This is yet another level of complexity, far beyond the normal workings of the natural world, which are miraculous enough when considered singly or in complex relationships. For one single Old Testament prophecy to come true, God had to see into the future and declare through His prophets what would take place.
One LAN administrator told me that his nickname for Windows NT was “No Telling,” because he could design a network the same way each time but there was “No Telling” what would happen. We cannot even make our computers act in a predictable way. But God, in contrast, foretold what would happen at the beginning and fulfilled every single promise.
We will all agree that large numbers of human will create all kinds of variations. God does not make us robots, but He still knows the future. We know a hint of that. We can look at children playing and predict what will happen given the characters involved and the weapons or instruments at their disposal. For instance, when a boy known for his ability to open locks was playing with a can of paint in the chapel and he had a pan can lid opener in his hand, it did not require too much brainpower to realize we would soon have a colorful child and a new paint scheme on our hands in a minute or two.
This is the point where the rationalists start to stick. They cannot imagine God understanding and knowing what will happen, sending angels to intervene, listening to prayers and answering them (according to His will), sorting all of this out with Infinite Intelligence. However, these same intellectuals seem to think they are smarter than God and never stop offering Him advice on how He could have written the Bible better.
It is useful to compare the complexity of God’s created world with the rationalism of man in rejecting the Creation and all the implications of Creation (the Holy Trinity, the Genesis Flood, the Incarnation, etc).
Suspend your faith in the Word for a few seconds and look at the Virgin Birth prophecy the way modern rationalists do. I am not talking about the American Atheist Forum, but the pious teaching of so-called conservative Lutherans, including many seminary professors.
In this passage, God speaks to the evil King Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah. “Ask for a miracle and I will give it.” The command from God is quite expansive, because it clearly means any kind of miracle – above or below.
Evil people do not want God’s power on display. They are like criminals who see a police car. A normal citizen says, “The police are here. I am safe.” The criminal says, “The police are here. I must run.” When Ahaz was commanded to ask for a miracle, he made matters worse by pretending to be too pious to need one. (Would we say that we will not tempt the Lord by participating in the miracle of the Lord’s Supper when Christ Himself said, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”?)
KJV 2 Chronicles 28:1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem: but he did not that which was right in the sight of the LORD, like David his father: 2 For he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel, and made also molten images for Baalim. 3 Moreover he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel. 4 He sacrificed also and burnt incense in the high places, and on the hills, and under every green tree. 5 Wherefore the LORD his God delivered him into the hand of the king of Syria; and they smote him, and carried away a great multitude of them captives, and brought them to Damascus. And he was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who smote him with a great slaughter.
16 At that time did king Ahaz send unto the kings of Assyria to help him. [Note that Ahaz sought outside pagan help instead of trusting in God’s Word. King Ahaz was the first Church Growth advocate.]
“No, I will not ask. I will not tempt the Lord.” Many times in human conversation, we take a jab at someone in our response. For instance, if a young mother says her baby cries all the time, her friend says, “What are you doing to him?” If the friend says, “My baby never cries,” the wounded first mother says, “Why? What’s wrong with her?”
When God commands a king to ask for a miracle, it is a jab at God to say, “I will not tempt the Lord.” That is why God responds in anger, saying, “You will get a miracle whether you want it or not.”
This is where so many modern rationalists stick:
14 Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
The rationalists cannot bring themselves to see this as a direct (rectilinear) prediction of the Virgin Birth of Christ. They think, “Ahaz is promised a miracle, so it must happen right away.”
Then the rationalists reduce the miracle to no miracle at all. They say the real prediction from the prophet was that a married woman would give birth to a son. These skeptics say, “This is only the prediction of a prince being born to the House of David. So it is not a rectilinear prophecy.”
There are many mistakes made in this rationalistic approach to Isaiah 7:14, which was the first major passage assaulted by the Revised Standard Version. The RSV “discovered” that all previous translations had been wrong. God really meant “a young woman will conceive.”
Here are a few of the mistakes made by the rationalists:
If we look at the First Gospel, some of the same static surrounds a similar text. For instance, the Calvinists and John Jeske (WELS) deny that this is a promise of the Messiah Himself. (This is discussed in Thy Strong Word).
KJV Genesis 3:14 And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15 And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.
If we want to criticize God’s Word, as people often do, then we have to ask why God would address the distant future in a Gospel promise while cursing the serpent. That violates journalistic rules. God did not stay “on message,” as they say today about a politician who forgets to repeat his talking points verbatim.
Enmity between the serpent and the woman – this phrase is elaborated next. We can see three levels of antagonism in this curse and Promise.
John Jeske and John Calvin try to generalize the third level, as if this were antagonism between Satan and Israel. (See Jeske’s Genesis volume in the WELS People’s Commentary.)
KJV Genesis 4:1 And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
Luther pointed out that Eve seemed to take this Messianic promise as being for the immediate future, reading the passage below as “I have gotten a man, the Lord.” From this perspective, Eve believed in the promised Messiah and thought she had given birth to Him at first.
Looking at Genesis 3:15 and Isaiah 7:14, we can see these things in common.
We also see how one prophecy builds upon another.
The complete picture of all the Messianic prophecies can only be obtained by reading all of the Old Testament. No one has ever shown that a single promise was left unfulfilled by God. Many of the mysterious passages became clear only when Jesus was born, died on the cross, and rose from the dead.
So when we come upon a Messianic promise in the Old Testament, we should not pass it by and say, “Oh, I know that one.” We should stop and consider the almost infinite complexities which came together when Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary.
As I mentioned in the mid-weed Advent sermons, the birth of Christ is important for two reasons.
First of all, it is important to teach that the Savior was born of a woman. In the early days of the Church, many people could not accept God in the flesh, so they denied the humanity of Christ rather than His divinity. This is called the Nestorian heresy.
The Bible shows us that Jesus was truly human. He was born of a woman, grew up as a child, ate food, drank water, and enjoyed or suffered from all our emotions and temptations. The humanity of Jesus is implicitly denied when we ignore these matters and imagine that His divinity made canceled out His humanity.
KJV Hebrews 4:15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
It is the humanity of Christ which should encourage us to cast our cares upon Christ and trust in His love and sympathy.
Early heretics denied the humanity of Christ directly or denied it in other ways, by rejecting His suffering and death on the cross. Modern heretics deny the divinity of Christ. Almost all the books written about Christ in the last 150 years have been attempts to explain away or deny the doctrine of Christ being true God.
How do these heretics begin, by attacking the most obvious truths of the Christian faith? Never. Why break through the front gate, which is guarded, when one can burrow under the fence which is not guarded so well.
How clever to claim that the prophet Isaiah was not telling Ahaz about the Son of God being born of the Virgin Mary, but about another royal birth, an ordinary birth. The rationalists then say that Matthew and Luke borrowed this prediction and applied it to Christ. The outcome of this approach is to reduce the Old Testament to a Jewish book which may have some connections with the New Testament.
The divinity of Christ cannot be separated from the inspiration, unity, and clarity of the Scriptures. If one is being attacked and undermined, then the other aspects of the faith are being nullified at the same time.
Luther said, and it must always be remembered, that the three main avenues of attack against the faith have been:
When Jehovah’s Witnesses came to my door (again) today, I said (again), “You are wolves in sheep’s clothing.” The senior JW said, “That’s a nice thing for you to call us.” I responded, “I didn’t call you that. Christ did. You are wolves in sheep’s clothing for denying the Trinity.”
There is no difference in substance between a JW who rejects the divinity of Christ and a so-called conservative Lutheran who denies that Isaiah 7:14 is a direct, rectilinear prophesy of the Virgin Birth of Christ.
The divinity of Christ cannot be surrendered, no matter what the excuse might be.
How could we say that the crucifixion of Christ mattered if He were only a man, even if He were the very best and noblest man of history?
How could we say that we receive the true body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion if the Son of God could not be present in both natures, divine and human, in the elements of communion? (Is it surprising that the Nestorian Zwingli rejected the Real Presence of Christ in Holy Communion, that this became the excuse for later Calvinists to deny the divinity of Christ?)
Was the divine nature of Christ ever limited in any way by His human nature? Never. Jesus chose to travel with His disciples within the limits of His human nature, but He could also walk on water and command Peter to walk on water as well.
The Virgin Birth of Christ declares the truth of the humanity of Jesus and the divinity of the Savior, two natures united in the One Person of Christ. Isaiah has given us a wonderful name to call Jesus, Immanuel – literally God with us.
"But I think that the Virgin Mary is rightly proclaimed blest if those things are attributed to her which are both in agreement with the Scripture and can be proved from there, so that the name of the Lord may be holy. No other celebration can be pleasing to her."
Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, trans., Fred Kramer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971, I, p. 383.
"And when, in two questions concerning the Virgin Mary, the limits set by the Scripture had already been exceeded, some began to contend in the schools that also the Virgin Mary had been conceived without original sin. Of this opinion Scotus later became the patron...But many, like Thomas, Bonaventura, Gregory of Ariminium, etc., at that time contradicted this opinion, because it was not only set forth without the Word of God and the testimonies of antiquity but it also conflicted with clear testimonies of Scripture."
Martin Chemnitz, Examination of the Council of Trent, trans., Fred Kramer, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1971, I, p. 379.
"Now the Christian Creed indicates that the Lord's ascension is in no way our doing, but an article we are to believe. All festivals in the church are celebrated by Christians for the sake of faith, that it might be served by preaching. Just as it is not my work nor that of anyone else that God's Son is conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, so also it is not my doing that Christ rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and has sent the Holy Spirit."
Sermons of Martin Luther, The House Postils, 3 vols., ed. Eugene F. A. Klug, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996, II, p. 113. Ascension Day Acts 1:1-11
"But the only thing that was taught and advocated was: Invoke the Virgin Mary and other saints as your mediators and intercessors; fast often and pray much; make pilgrimages, enter cloisters and become monks, or pay for the saying of many masses and like works. And thus we imagined when we did these things we had merited heaven."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholaus Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, V, p. 191. Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, Matthew 22:34-46
"Indeed, more factious spirits shall arise and it shall come to pass that they will not regard Christ as God, nor as the son of a virgin. For the devil is so cunning and skilful that, if one thing is taken from him, he makes use of another. Thus it has been from the beginning, and it will continue to be so in the future."
Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols., ed., John Nicholaus Lenker, Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983, V, p. 269. Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity, John 4:46-54; 1 Peter 5:8; Ephesians 6:12
"The simple and unreflecting Ave Maria of a South American peon is one thing, and a multi-volume theological opus on the 'prerogatives of the B.V.M." is quite another thing. The theologians and bishops of the church, who ought to watch and to warn the faithful of the excesses of such piety, are actually the ones who encourage the excesses. In the autumn of 1950, in the very week when he proclaimed the dogma of the Assumption, Pope Pius XII had several visions of the Virgin, during which he also saw the sun do a dance in the sky to the honor of Our Lady of Fatima."
Jaroslav Pelikan, The Riddle of Roman Catholicism, New York: Abindon Press, 1959, p. 140.
erudition. (note on p. 253) "Also they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did assume the human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably conjoined in one Person, one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men."
Augsburg Confession, III. 1. Of the Son of God, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 45. Tappert, p. 29. Heiser, p. 12.
"Here and there this form of absolution is used: 'The passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, the merits of the most blessed Virgin Mary and of all the saints, be to thee for the remission of sins.' Here the absolution is pronounced on the supposition that we are reconciled and accounted righteous not only by the merits of Christ, but also by the merits of the other saints. Some of us have seen a doctor of theology dying, for consoling whom a certain theologian, a monk, was employed. He pressed on the dying man nothing but this prayer: 'Mother of grace, protect us from the enemy; receive us in the hour of death.'"
Apology Augsburg Confession, XXI. #25-6 Invocation Saints. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 349. Tappert, p. 232. Heiser, p. 106.
"On account of this personal union and communion of the natures, Mary, the most blessed Virgin, bore not a mere man, but, as the angel [Gabriel] testifies, such a man as is truly the Son of the most high God, who showed His divine majesty even in His mother's womb, inasmuch as He was born of a virgin, with her virginity inviolate. Therefore she is truly the mother of God, and nevertheless remained a virgin." [et tamen virgo mansit.]
Formula of Concord, SD VIII. #23. Person of Christ. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 1023. Tappert, p. 595. Heiser, p. 277.
"Granting that the blessed Mary prays for the Church, does she receive souls in death, [the example of her faith and her humility]. But the subject itself declares that in public opinion the blessed Virgin has succeeded altogether to the place of Christ. Men have invoked her, have trusted in her mercy, through her have desired to appease Christ, as though He were not a Propitiator, but only a dreadful judge and avenger."
Apology Augsburg Confession, XXI. #27. Saints. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 349f. Tappert, p. 232f. Heiser, p. 106.
"Also they teach that the Word, that is, the Son of God, did assume the human nature in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, so that there are two natures, the divine and the human, inseparably conjoined in one Person, one Christ, true God and true man, who was born of the Virgin Mary, truly suffered, was crucified, dead, and buried, that He might reconcile the Father unto us, and be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men."
Augsburg Confession, III. The Son of God. Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 45. Tappert, p. 29f. Heiser, p. 12.