Why We Should Look at Isaiah the Prophet this Christmas

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In the run up to Christmas we Christians traditionally lament the triumph of materialism over the triumphant entry of our Saviour into this world.

The Bible as we all know has a lot to say about Christ’s birth - perhaps some of the most famous appearing in the Old Testament book of Isaiah.

The book, written by Isaiah son of Amoz (1:1) should be especially loved by those work in the media because of the sheer beauty of its language and its stirring predictions – 700 years before Christ’s birth – of His entry into the world.

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory. (6:3)

Therefore the Lord himself will give you[a] a sign: The virgin[b] will conceive and give birth to a son, and[c] will call him Immanuel. (7:14)

For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. ((9:6)

We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
    each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all. (53;6)

Like most prophets, Isaiah announced the bad news of punishment for sin. But he also described a coming Messiah who would be “wounded for our transgressions… bruised for our iniquities… and with his stripes we are healed (53:5)

Called to the ministry through a stunning vision of God in heaven, Isaiah wrote a book that some have called the “fifth gospel” for its predictions of the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ some 700 years later.

The prophecies of redemption offset some of Isaiah’s more depressing promises of God’s discipline against Judah and Jerusalem, which were overrun by Babylonian armies about a century later.

Isaiah’s prophecy ends with a long section (chapters 40-66) describing God’s restoration of Israel, His promised salvation and His eternal kingdom.

Early in His ministry, Jesus said that he fulfilled the prophecies of Isaiah. “The Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord (61:1-2)

The purpose of the book of Isaiah is to demonstrate the trustworthiness of the Lord. The first king whom Isaiah serves, Ahaz, did not trust the Lord. He ignored Isaiah’s advice and followed his own schemes.

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This led to defeat and servitude at the hands of the Assyrians. Ahaz’s son Hezekiah, in contrast, trusted the Lord and Jerusalem was delivered from Sennacherib and the Assyrians. In the second half of the book the exiles were also encouraged to trust the Lord to bring deliverance and to respond like Hezekiah, not like Ahaz.

A significant theme is the hope in a future ideal Davidic king. The book provides a template for Messianic expectation as it develops a profile of God’s plan, including the exaltation of Jerusalem (see Isa 2), the coming child who is to reign (see Isa 9), peace and stability of the reign of the Davidic heir (see Isa 11), and how the ideal Servant of the Lord will carry out God’s mission (see Isa 42–53).

That much is fairly well known about Isaiah, but there are other less well known – but no less interesting things – about him:

  • He had two children with strange prophetic names. Shear-jashub (7:3) means “a remnant shall return” and Maher-shalal-hash-baz (8:3) means “haste to the spoil”.

  • Shear-jashub’s name carried God’s promise that Jews would one-day return home.

  • Maher-shalal-hash-baz’s name assured the king of Judah that his country’s enemies would be dealt with by Assyrian armies.

This Christmas, as we relax with our families, it’s worth thinking about Isaiah and his prophecies as an antidote to the materialism of the age.

Alastair Tancred, Editor for Christians in Media