(32) For to us a child is born, to us a son is given – Isaiah 9:6

The word ‘Messiah’ means ‘anointed’ or ‘anointed one’ in Hebrew and is used of anointing priests and kings in the Old Testament (see Leviticus 4:3 and 1 Samuel 24:6). The people of Israel saw that there were many scriptures that pointed to the coming of a one specific Anointed One from David’s line, and who would rule in Jerusalem and be put to death (see Daniel 9:25-26). One of the most remarkable features of Isaiah is the amount of prophecies that relate to this coming Messiah which were fulfilled seven hundred  years later in the life of Jesus.

During the reign of wicked King Ahaz, the Lord offered him a sign to support a prophecy concerning Syria and Israel who were attacking Judah at the time. Ahaz was dismissive but God gave him a word anyway through Isaiah. He told Ahaz that “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14), which means ‘God with us’, and went on to tell him that before the boy was old enough to know right from wrong, the lands of Syria and Israel will be deserted. This is an example of many prophecies in the Old Testament which have two fulfilments. The immediate fulfilment of this prophecy was the birth of a child to Isaiah’s wife, who he was engaged to at the time of the prophecy. The gospel writer Matthew sees a second fulfilment in the birth of Jesus to Mary, a virgin who conceived by the Holy Spirit (see Matthew 1:20-23).

The prophet Micah, who lived at the same time as Isaiah, prophesied that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, a fact that the religious leaders knew and were able to tell Herod and the wise men who came looking for Jesus (see Micah 5:2 and Matthew 2:3-6). Isaiah speaks more about this coming child when he says:

“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 Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Isaiah is prophesying about a child who will ultimately come to fulfil the promise to David to have one of his descendants reigning on his throne forever.

The second half of Isaiah opens with the line made famous by Handel’s Messiah, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1) and provides comfort for God’s people in their coming exile, including further insight into the life of the coming Messiah. There are a number of passages which describe the mission of the servant of God who will come and suffer for his people. When Jesus started preaching and teaching he stood up and read from one of these – “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1, quoted in Luke 4:17-21) – telling the people that these words were now fulfilled in their hearing.

The longest of the so-called ‘servant songs’ describes how the Messiah will suffer, something that Jesus’ disciples failed to grasp even though he taught them about it (see Matthew 16:21-22, Luke 24:25-27). It describes how he will be “a man of suffering, and familiar with pain” and that “he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him,” and that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:3,5,6). This insight into what Jesus did on the cross is remarkable, and its words are powerful in sharing what God has done for is in and through Jesus.

It is fascinating that we still read Isaiah’s words at Christmas and Easter as the prophet, who wrote seven centuries before Jesus was born, brings depth and meaning to Jesus’ birth and death.

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