The Miracle of Prophecy
Miracles are woven into the Christmas story. Let me mention just a few.
An angel of God tells an elderly priest named Zechariah that he and his wife, Elizabeth, who was unable to have children would have a child, who would prepare the way for the coming of God’s Messiah.
God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth to a virgin named Mary, and informed her that God had chosen her to give birth to the Son of God. Her conception would be miraculous. The child in her would be conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Angels rock the heavens with praise as they appear to shepherds in the hillside, announcing the birth of the Savior of the world. The shepherds believe the angels and go to Bethlehem to find the baby. They found the child just as the angels said they would.
An unusual star appears in the sky, and it attracts the attention of a group of astrologers, who interpret it as a sign of a miraculous birth. They follow the star until it takes them right to the child. They worship the child and give him expensive gifts.
Do miracles happen today? Are you one of the 82% who believe they do? Have you ever experienced one?
A miracle is defined as “. . . an extraordinary event that has no reasonable explanation in known forces which operate in the world, and results from an act of God. . .” (Kenneth L. Woodward, The Book of Miracles)
Because miracles are extraordinary events, they produce different emotions and feelings in all who experience them. Prophecy is a miracle because it produces many, if not all, of these same emotions and feelings in us.
To me the prophecy of Isaiah 53 is the most miraculous of all prophecies; not just because it was delivered six hundred (600) years before Jesus’ birth, or because it describes the life of our Jesus the Christ perfectly. To me it’s a miracle because, like all miracles, this prophecy of Jesus’ suffering and death in Isaiah 52:13-53:12 leaves me in awe and wonder.
As we consider that bible scholars refer to as the fourth (4th) Servant Song of Isaiah’s prophecy, I pray it will move you to awe and wonder like it does me.
Prophecy is miraculous because it astonishes (52:13-15).
The fourth (4th) Servant Song actually begins at 52:13. [READ vv. 3-15] Immediately we wonder who this person is Isaiah is describing.
God never speaks in a vacuum; that is, he never speaks without a reason. Yet for some reason God chose to speak to Israel through Isaiah at this point in history.
No one knows exactly who the historical person was Isaiah prophecies about in Isaiah 53. Some scholars say that what the prophet says about the Servant goes far beyond anything that could be said about anyone in Israel’s history. Yet John D.W. Watts, in Word Biblical Commentary, does offer an interesting interpretation that focuses on a leader who lived during the time of the return of the Jews from of exile in Babylon. By the way, this is the time when Isaiah 53 was written.
Watts identifies this person as Zerubbabel, who served a governor of Judea during the beginning years after the return from exile. Let me try to summarize why Watts believes Zerubbabel may be the person Isaiah describes.
The Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell of the severe opposition Zerubabbel and the returning exiles faced as they worked to rebuild the temple. Tattenai, the Persian governor of the territory, did everything possible to stop the project, since he had not received authorization from Darius, the king of Persia, to allow it.
It’s interesting that shortly after the rebuilding of the temple began, Zerubbabel suddenly, and without explanation, leaves the picture. Exactly why no one knows. However, Watts and others believe that Tattenai, hoping to stop the building of the temple, had Zerubbabel beaten to death. Thus Watts believes it was Zerubbabel Isaiah described. He was “disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness.” (52:14b,c)
After Zerubbabel’s death, a messenger arrives from king Darius with a letter that grants the returning exiles permission to rebuild the temple, and even says the government will fund the project. This news was unbelievable to Tattenai and the people of the province. This is because they, along with most of the people of Persia, didn’t believe Darius would be chosen to be king. Darius’ predecessor had been opposed to the exiles returning to Palestine. This may be what the prophet means when he writes,
“Who has believed our message, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (53:1)
According to Watts’ interpretation, God used king Darius to carry out his will that the temple be rebuilt. However, Zerubbabel’s life has been taken without cause. Tattenai and the people of the province stand guilty of murder.
Since the people acted out of ignorance, king Darius forgives them of their wrong, and proclaims Zerubabbel’s death to be a sacrifice for their sin. Construction of the temple is allowed to continue, and it is eventually finished many, many years later.
By means Zerubabbel’s death, peace between the returning exiles and their neighbors ensued, enabling the temple to be rebuilt. God’s will was done, the Jews were saved, and for the first time in history the world witnessed “substitutionary atonement.” One person’s death was accepted for the sins of others. And relative peace was the result.
This is an astonishing interpretation in its own right. Even Watts agrees it can’t be proven. There also are other aspects of the prophecy that this interpretation doesn’t explain. This interpretation also doesn’t prove our point about the miraculous nature of prophecy. God astonishes us in history by speaking a message that goes beyond history, into the future. Even if the prophet was speaking of Zerubbabel, we know that what God said contains a message that transcends the days of the prophet of the exile.
Watts himself recognizes that his interpretation doesn’t do any harm to the prophetic nature of what Isaiah wrote. What’s written in chapter 53 is bigger than anyone can imagine.
Prophecy is miraculous because it creates wonder (53:1-3).
If you’ve ever wondered if Isaiah described someone in his own day, now you have a possible answer in John Watt’s theory.
In spite of theories like that given by Watts. do we believe the message presented in this prophecy?
If you remember, as it’s told in Acts 8, Philip the deacon was commanded by the Holy Spirit to go down to the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza. Once he arrived there, Philip met a eunuch who happened to be the finance officer for Candace, queen of Ethiopia. This eunuch must have feared God because Philip found him reading from Isaiah 53. Philip asked the eunuch if he knew whom he was reading? The eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone explains it to me?” (Acts 8:31) Philip got into the chariot with the eunuch and helped what the eunuch understand that the prophet was talking about Jesus.
Philip didn’t know a thing about Zerubabbel, but he knew a lot about Jesus. So, even in the very early days of the church’s history, the followers of Christ the identity of the person Isaiah wrote about.
Almost every important aspect of our faith as Christians has its roots in the prophecy of Isaiah. The fourth (4th) Song of Isaiah’s prophecy creates wonder in us as we view it against the background of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The parallel is amazing, to say the least.
What was the man Isaiah described like?
The Suffering Servant
First, he enjoyed no social esteem. No one considered him to be anyone special. They paid no more attention to him than they would a young stem growing on a tree, or a sprig struggling to grow out of dry, broken ground.
We’ve constructed so much romanticism around Jesus’ birth that we forget that the situation involving Jesus’ conception and birth may have caused Jesus to become a source of slanderous gossip. Jesus may have been nothing more to most of the townspeople in Nazareth than Mary’s little bastard son. Jesus may have suffered lot of such put-downs.
We also tend to equate beauty with esteem. Television shows that highlight Hollywood’s rich and famous wouldn’t last five minutes if the people they portrayed weren’t slender, beautiful, and rich.
We’re told that Abraham Lincoln was chided many times for his ugliness. (He wasn’t a handsome man at all!) This happened even while he was president. Those who knew him, however, looked past his ugly features into his eyes and into his compassionate heart. One time, Lincoln is said to have told someone who questioned his looks, “The face you have before forty you cannot help, but the face you have after forty you deserve.”
The prophet tells us about Jesus’ features in verse 2b-3. [READ]
This section of Isaiah’s prophecy makes us wonder by making why God determined that His Servant would be someone who didn’t dazzled people by his looks. Wouldn’t he draw more people if he was one beautiful person? Yes, if that’s what God had intended for His son to do : draw attention to himself. Yet Jesus said came so that people could see God the Father.
Prophecy is miraculous because it astonishes us and creates wonder in us.
Prophecy also creates an even deeper response in us. Undoubtedly you’ll see what I mean as we consider verses 4-9.
Prophecy is miraculous because it shocks (53:4-9).
Today especially, artists use the “shock factor” to make statements regarding how they feel about life. While some use the shock factor for good, others use it to insult people’s religious beliefs. Some artists have used the shock factor repeatedly in recent years to insult Christians for their beliefs.
Since most of us saw Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ, let me ask you if you think Gibson used the “shock factor” on purpose to get people to watch his film? Personally, I don’t think so. He didn’t have to, since he depicted what scripture describes. Some of you told me you couldn’t sit through all of the film because of its extreme violence. Yet was it extreme? Consider this. [READ vv. 4-9)
If ever there was a generation of Christians that need to be shocked when it comes to Jesus, it’s ours. Yet it’s not the violence in this chapter that’s intended to shock. It’s something else.
Many miracles we read about in the Bible shock our intellect. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We’ve never seen that done before. How can we believe that one man could bring another man back to life?
Jesus made a lame man walk simply by touching him. Again, we’ve never seen that happen. We have no basis in fact for believing that such a miracle can happen today. Our rational minds simply can’t believe such things can happen. Our experience in life doesn’t prove it can.
But what about this?
God allowed Jesus, an innocent man, to die on a cross so that you, a sinner, can be forgiven of sin and live forever. On what basis can this be true? Can it be proven? Jesus’ death can be proven historically, but that he died for you can be accepted only by faith.
The miracle of Isaiah 53 shocks our souls. It slaps in the face all of our notions of what’s just and fair. If one person kills another, he or she should be punished; perhaps even put to death. If they didn’t do it intentionally, then perhaps they should only get life in prison. But the Bible says Jesus did nothing wrong to deserve death. Even Pontius Pilate, who had Jesus crucified, admitted Jesus didn’t do anything wrong. Yet we’re told, “it was the Lord’s will to crush him.” What are you going to do with that? God condemned his own Son to die so that you could be forgiven and live? Does that shock you? It ought to. Hopefully it will shock you enough that you’ll accept it as true, and be saved from your sin.
As shocking as it may seem to accept, the miracle of the cross is that “the Lord has laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all.” Jesus died in your place. God took your sin, and the sin of every person, on himself. The Bible says that whoever believes in and trusts in Jesus will be saved. How about it? Do you believe this?
This is the miracle that astonishes, brings into wonder, and shocks every person who sees the truth of it, and accepts it.
There’s one final emotion, or feeling, that the miracle of prophecy leaves us in.
Prophecy is miraculous because it leaves us in awe (53:10-12).
Perhaps you’re living in sin right now, and you believe it would take a miracle for you to be forgiven, and to change your ways. God has a miracle for you. His name is Jesus. Isaiah tells you how Jesus can be your Savior today.
[READ verse 10]
The reason God caused Jesus to suffer and to become a guilt offering is so that you, a sinner, can be forgiven of your sin and guilt and become an “offspring,” a child of God through faith in Jesus.
[READ verse 11]
Isaiah tells us that after God’s Servant dies, he will be raised from the dead (“see the light of life and be satisfied.”) Jesus rose from the dead and was satisfied that he had fulfilled God’s will completely. He provided the way for you to be saved and live forever with God.
The prophet says that “by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.” What does he mean? He means that God’s servant knows what God’s will is perfectly, and does God’s will perfectly.
Jesus knew that it was God’s will for him to suffer death so that sinners could be “justified,” which means to be acquitted, and pronounced “not guilty.” You can be acquitted of all your sins today if you’ll believe in him.
[READ verse 12]
God raised Jesus from the dead so Jesus could become our Advocate with God, to secure for us, today and every day, God’s forgiveness.
Prophecy is a miracle because, like all miracles, the prophecy of Jesus’ suffering and death leaves us in awe and wonder. It’s my prayer that you will believe in Jesus through the miraculous message of Isaiah’s prophecy.