What links about a third of the pictures in the National gallery with Shakespeares Macbeth and King Lear? What is the relationship between works by Handel and Haydn and Bach and songs by Bob Dylan Katy Perry and even the Spice girls?
Any idea yet, If I said that when Alex asked me to preach today I was at ‘my wits end’ and it felt ‘like a millstone around my neck’ until ‘at the eleventh hour’ I saw the ‘writing on the wall’ and not wanting to be a ‘scapegoat’ decided to ‘move mountains’ for you.
You’ll probably have realised by now that all my references come from the Bible and serve to show just how important and relevant it is and what a large part of our cultural and social life comes from it.
But what I want to talk about today is the great story within the bible that is linking the two readings we have heard today. Many know that there are several references in Isaiah prophesying to the coming of the Messiah.
We have todays reading and probably the most well-known one from Isaiah
See, my servant shall prosper;
he shall be exalted and lifted up,
and shall be very high.
And goes on in verse 4 of chapter 53 an extract often known as the suffering servant and with obvious reference to the crucifixion
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we accounted him stricken,
struck down by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities
And of course in an earlier chapter we see the foretelling of the work of John the Baptist
A voice cries:“In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord;
make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
But it is not only Isaiah where we see the story unfolding throughout the old testament we see references to the story of Jesus. In Zechariah 9:9: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”
Of course, people sometimes say how can it be one story; it is many books written by different people. But when you understand that these writings are inspired by God that they are all part of God’s great story you realise the magnificence of a plan being executed over thousands of years and appreciate the need for it to be recorded by many people over the years.
I could go on and give references from scripture from Genesis to Malachi which foretell parts of the story but maybe just one more connection. There are many references in the New Testament to Jesus’ ancestry through the line of David, and throughout Samuel and the Psalms we hear that that great period for Israel is just a foretaste of a greater king to come who will be the saviour of not just Israel but the saviour of the world. Indeed we heard in todays gospel… Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: ‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
That great event has inspired artists through the years. The most expensive painting ever is the saviour of the world by da vinci and other great works with the same title have been painted by Durer and El Greco.
But lets leave the final words to Jesus himself to sum up the story.
Jesus said in John 5:39, when talking to the jews in the temple “You diligently study the Scriptures. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.”
And then, Jesus rebuked Cleopas, and that other unnamed disciple, as they walked along the road to Emmaus on that first Easter Sunday, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Old Testament Scriptures concerning himself”
So just imagine, all that history, all those thousands of years of God planning and talking to man, all leading up to next week, all leading up to the coming of Jesus. To the coming of Jesus to offer us salvation.
And all we have to do to take advantage of all those thousands of years of work, is just to reach out and ask.
Isaiah Gives Ahaz the Sign of Immanuel
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, saying, 11 Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven. 12 But Ahaz said, I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test. 13 Then Isaiah said: “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. 17
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
18 Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife, 25 but had no marital relations with her until she had borne a son; and he named him Jesus.
The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. (1989). (Mt 1:18–25). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.