A Christmas Meditation Read Matthew 4:13-17 and Isaiah 9:1-7.
When the Christmas season comes around, everyone has favorite passages to read. Many people turn to the prophet Isaiah to read of his Messianic prophecies in relation to God the Son’s incarnation. Isaiah 9:6-7 is one such passage. Isaiah describes the sign of one who would be both born (indicating humanity) and one who would be given (indicating deity). This passage is usually torn from its context and applied to a baby. Isaiah’s prophecy, however, does no such thing. We must remember that the event we celebrate, the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity, is not a sentimental, historical event that needs commemorating. Too often we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Messiah much like we celebrate our own birthdays. Isaiah’s prophecy is bigger and more particularly applicable to the Christian than a once per year celebration. Let’s look at it in relation to the part which is quoted in the New Testament Gospel of Matthew.
Galilee of the Gentiles
Jesus’ home was in
What was Isaiah prophesying? Those from the northern tribes who were first taken into captivity by Assyria (732 BC) were Naphtali and Zebulun (2 Kings 15:29). In judgment, God had brought anguish and contempt upon these people for their idolatry and general disobedience. Isaiah sees the long shadow cast by Assyria as one of darkness, which seems to be a figure for despair. But now God offers hope (light). There would be no more gloom, the people would be made glorious, and those who were in darkness would see a great light.
Often in our world today, man’s condition is underestimated. Not so for many of the Jewish people hearing Isaiah prophesy. They understood all too well what it meant to be in bondage to another nation, having that nation cast a long shadow of authority over one’s life. They understood armies sweeping in, people being relocated, and the contempt that comes with sin and its judgment. They understood the anguish that comes from family separation as well as the rest of the horrors of war (death, dismemberment, and worse). Like this, man’s condition is not to be underestimated. Man is in bondage to sin (Rom. 6:15-19) and has the contempt, gloom, and anguish that comes with the bondage. Spiritual darkness is over the earth. Why is this even remotely important?
A Light has Dawned
Because a light has dawned! 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 (Is 9:2; see Matt 4:16). The light causes an end to the bondage (Is 9:4) a multiplication to the nation and an increase of joy among the people (Is 9:3). Finally, there is freedom from bondage as well as a release from anguish and contempt.
Who does this? For those not familiar with the first part of Isaiah 9, you may be more familiar with verses 6-7 (hint: Christmas verses!). “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.” That’s right, Jesus Christ comes to set free those in bondage and relieve anguish and contempt. This son who is born and given to mankind is given to give light in the darkness and relief from anguish and pain due to bondage. He is to rule and reign over a kingdom.
How does He do this? Matthew continues in chapter four by saying that Jesus went about preaching repentance and the kingdom of heaven near (Matt 4:17); that is at the very doorstep. He told them that He was the fulfillment to Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 9:1-7. What? Jesus didn’t come to change the political climate of Israel, cast off the Romans, and offer better morality to the populace? No, He came as a light to a completely dark world; a light that would set you free from bondage to sin as well as the anguish and contempt that comes with it.
Too often Christians fall into the sentimentality of finding the ‘spirit of Christmas’ or the ‘true meaning of Christmas.’ This search usually leads to hugging your family, accepting people as they are, and thinking Jesus in the manger made it really awesome! Not even close. The celebration of God incarnate – Jesus Christ – is not sentimental. He came to rule and reign. He came to set you free from your sin. He did this first through proclamation, then through His own sacrificial death and resurrection. He left us to proclaim His same message – “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” This is not drama, dancing, and mime. It is a most urgent message: a light has come to set you free.