Today’s Bible reading looks back to Isaiah 7:14 and finds its fulfillment in Jesus. Did Matthew go too far in applying this prophecy to Jesus?
Isaiah 7:14’s context is that God extends to King Ahaz an unusual offer to ask for a sign. When he refuses, saying he doesn’t want to test God, Isaiah steps forward and gives the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy. He says that in the time it would take a young woman to be married and give birth to a child and for that child to come to the “age of accountability”, God would deliver His people from their Exile. In other words, God would fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy in about a decade.
So what’s the problem? Isaiah says God would provide this sign in just a few years. Yet Matthew says Isaiah’s prophecy was about Jesus, born of a virgin young woman, Who came on the scene several hundred years later. So who’s right Isaiah or Matthew?
They’re both right!
Oftentimes, the writers of the New Testament — and even Jesus Himself — will quote from or allude to a passage from the Hebrew Scriptures (their Bible) and find the fulfillment of that passage in Jesus and the New Covenant. In this particular instance, Isaiah uses the Hebrew word for young woman, not necessarily a virgin young woman. (Note: Hebrew has two different words for 1) a young woman and 2) a virgin. If Isaiah meant virgin, he could/should have specified virgin; instead he used the general term young woman.) Yet, Matthew clearly understands the passage as referring to a virgin, specifically Mary, a virgin, a woman who has “known no man”. (Luke 1:34) In fact, Matthew points out that Joseph keeps Mary a virgin until after Jesus is born. (Matthew 1:25)
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Matthew freely reads and applies Isaiah’s prophecy to Jesus, just as Peter applies Joel’s prophecy (Joel 2:28–32) to the Day of Pentecost. (Acts 2:17–21) In other words, even if Isaiah isn’t specifying a virgin in 7:14, Matthew sees that Jesus, born of a virgin fulfills the prophecy.
I said earlier that both Isaiah and Matthew are right. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Isaiah the deliverance of God’s people in a few years. He may have — but didn’t have to — see Jesus as the fulfillment. The prophecy was fulfilled in two ways: immediately, and several hundred years later.
Why make such a big deal about this? Because it matters! Critics say that Isaiah’s prophecy wasn’t fulfilled in Jesus because Isaiah used the word for young woman instead of virgin. This is a backhanded accusation that Jesus wasn’t born in a virgin birth. It’s an attack on Jesus. And it’s an attack on the reliability of the Bible.
But Isaiah didn’t have to know that virgin-born Messiah would be the fulfillment of His prophecy. The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth doesn’t live or die on Isaiah’s prophecy. The Doctrine of the Virgin Birth lives or dies on Matthew and Luke’s testimony and description of the unique conception of Jesus in Mary’s body.
How did it happen? All I know is what the angel told Mary and Joseph: The baby was from God. (Matthew 1:18, 20) The angel didn’t give Mary and Joseph “The Talk”. He just said Jesus had been conceived in a unique way. (Luke 1:35, 37) And the coming of Jesus would bring a new intimacy with God and mankind. (Matthew 1:23b)
The Bible is trustworthy. Don’t let the critics try to convince you otherwise. The Bible can stand up to the allegations and accusations of the critics. Every one of them has died and will die. But the Word of God will stand forever. (Isaiah 40:8)
I’m glad the Navigators (the organization that designed our Daily Bible Reading Plan) placed the readings from James to follow Galatians. Some — even Reformer Martin Luther — don’t like James. But this is a good way to show the balance between faith and good deeds.
In today’s Bible reading, James concludes the first chapter talking about pure, wholesome religion. Many consider themselves to be “religious”. Others consider themselves to be “spiritual, but not religious”. Others simply say they aren’t religious, they just love the Lord.
In James’ day, some would claim to be very religious. They were devout. They were very dedicated in their faith. Some described pure and undefiled religion as social justice: taking care of the disenfranchised, the destitute, the marginalized. Others claimed to be religious and defined pure and undefiled religion as separation from the world. We see the same extremes in our day.
So which is it? Should religion aim for social justice? Or should religion aim for separation from all things “worldly”?
James says that pure and undefiled religion is both social justice and godliness. The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather they are mutually inclusive.
Look around and you’ll see some churches emphasizing liberal causes. Others emphasize conservative causes, separation, and holiness.
Why can’t we just take the Bible as it reads? Why do we tend to read only the parts that agree with our personal and political agenda? The political and religious divide in our nation is very wide. If we want to see healing, we will have to read the whole Bible, in its context and try to apply it to our context. We have to let the Bible speak for itself without imposing our agenda on it and reading it accordingly. But why can’t we do that? It’s because we are all fallen creatures who have inherited a propensity, a proclivity, a bent toward ourselves and away from God. Our default setting is disobedience and rebellion from God. Until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will continue dealing with the struggle between doing what we want and doing what God wants. We are involved in spiritual warfare.
Both extremes are wrong when taken alone. Instead, we should aim at glorifying God by reaching out in social justice AND live a holy, God-pleasing life.
Apollos was an eloquent preacher. He was well-versed in the Old Testament Scriptures. He knew his stuff. But he wasn’t “up to snuff”.
In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us about an Alexandrian preacher named Apollos. Look at the positive words Dr. Luke uses to describe him: eloquent, competent in the Scriptures, instructed in the way of the Lord, fervent in spirit, speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus. (Acts 18:24-26)
But Luke adds that Apollos only knew of John’s baptism. So Aquilla and his wife Priscilla take him aside and teach him more accurately. What was lacking? What needed clarification?
If Apollos only knew of John’s baptism, he didn’t know about the Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection. Those are some very important things! The Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection are what make Christianity more than just another religion or a cult of Judaism. With those two realities, Believers are empowered to live the life that the Jewish Law prescribed. Radio commentator Paul Harvey would have said that the Holy Spirit’s baptism and Jesus’ resurrection are “the rest of the story”.
Yes, Apollos preached about Jesus accurately. But he needed to know — and experience — more accurately. And by taking him aside and explaining the rest of the story, Aquilla and Priscilla changed his trajectory from being an eloquent preacher to being an empowered preacher. Being eloquent wasn’t enough for Apollos. And it isn’t enough for you or me. We also must be empowered by the Holy Spirit to live the obedient life to which we’ve been called.
It’s relatively easy for someone to go out and get an education and then teach the truths of the Bible. But being empowered by the Holy Spirit takes the education to “a-whole-nother” level. God doesn’t want us to simply transfer knowledge from one person’s head to another person’s head. God wants us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) as the Holy Spirit applies the truths to our hearts.
Are you being renewed? Are you seeking to be continually filled with the Holy Spirit? (Ephesians 5:18)
Don’t settle with mere head-knowledge.
Preachers are always concerned about how their sermons will be received. We agonize over the Biblical text, wanting so much to be true to what God says. We want our hearers to receive the Word as good soil. (Matthew 13:23)
In today’s Bible reading, Stephen (one of the Seven who were chosen to serve tables) recounts the history of the people of Israel, the physical children of Abraham. He begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave everything familiar to him to go to a land he didn’t know about. The trip would take a couple of months, traveling up to twenty miles a day with his family, his servants, and his livestock. Stephen continues through Moses’ call to lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt. So far, so good. Finally, he quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 and then makes his application:
“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53 ESV)
Now, if a preacher was trying to attract new convert with a “seeker-sensitive” sermon, he definitely wouldn’t have concluded his message with those three verses!
But Stephen was true to God’s Word. He applied it to his hearers in such a way that they stoned him to death. They understood his message. They rejected his message. So Stephen became the first Christian martyr.
The Greek word for martyr means “witness”. Stephen was a witness and shared the Good News with these religious leaders. But before you can get to the Good News, must understand the implications of the Bad News. And that makes the Good News all the more attractive. Unfortunately, much of modern preaching and evangelism overlooks the Bad News and its implications. Instead, it offers an incomplete Good News message and cheap grace without the mention of sin and our need of repentance.
We (all of us, not just the ordained, but also the ordinary) need to follow Stephen’s example and be willing to be the witness/martyr that he was. Stephen was unfazed as his audience picked up stones to kill him. He continued to bear witness to the glories of heaven.
Being a witness for Jesus may cost your life. But isn’t that what we’re called to do? A call to salvation is a call to come and die. (Luke 9:23)
In today’s Bible reading we read that after celebrating the Passover meal with His Disciples, He leads them to the Garden of Gethsemane singing a hymn. Jesus asked three of His Disciples, Peter, James, and John to pray with Him. He tells them that he is greatly distressed and troubled and asks them to remain there and watch. (Mark 14:34)
If you’ve read the story before, you know that the Disciples grow tired and sleepy. Three times Jesus finds his three “Garden Friends” asleep, despite His urging them to watch.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ Garden Friends choked when He needed them to pray for Him. But with their dozing off, it reminds me that I’m not the only one who sometimes lacks the ability to persevere.
It’s important to have a few “Garden Friends”. Jesus only had three who went deep into the garden with Him. Garden friends aren’t like “Facebook friends”. Garden friends are just two or three people (of your gender) who can hold you and each other accountable in your walk with Christ.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to plan your time together. But you do need to meet together. Face-to-face. On a regular basis. When you aren’t able to meet together, touch base with each other with a text or phone call, letting them know you’re thinking about them and praying for them. Ask them how their time with God is going? Are they having any challenges in their quest to walk closer with the Master? Again, the time doesn’t have to be fancy. And you don’t have to have a list of questions for each other every time you meet. Remember, it’s a time to work together to grow closer to Jesus.
At one point, Jesus asks Peter if he could not pray for one hour. (Mark 14:37) When was the last time you spent one hour praying? Alone. By yourself. Just you and God?
If you’ve never done it before, it can seem like much more than one hour. But if you get in the habit of spending one hour in prayer, it becomes easier each time. But it’s important to remember to be well-rested when you’re developing the habit. Try it sometime. Find a comfortable place where you can sit uninterrupted. Turn off your phone’s ringer. Disable your phone’s notifications. Remember to bring your Bible and a notepad. Use the Bible as a pattern to pray, especially including some of the Psalms. Pray God’s Word back to Him. Write out your prayers. Keep a prayer list and link your requests with Bible verses, using these verses as the basis of your prayers.