This week I read about a French criminologist in the 1880’s named Alphonse Bertillon who worked in a Paris police station as a records clerk. Over the years Bertillon became convinced that an accurate description of a suspect could help police avoid cases of mistaken identity and also find and arrest the actual perpetrator of a crime.
This conviction made Bertillon obsessed with itemizing the physical characteristics of prisoners who were brought into the station. He painstakingly measured things like the lengths of prisoners’ arms and the circumferences of their heads. He carefully catalogued ear formations and other anatomical markers and made notes of tattoos and scars. He even photographed the prisoners from the front and in profile. In so doing, he in essence “invented” the mug shot.
Well, by amassing all his data Bertillon was able to develop a system for positively identifying inmates, which became known as criminal anthropometry. In 1883 alone French police used Bertillon’s identification practices to nab 241 repeat offenders. When the success of Bertillon’s tactics became known, this early form of forensics science spread to other police departments around Europe, and the United States. It gave birth to other things that could be used to identify an individual, things like the police sketch, fingerprints, facial recognition software, and DNA evidence.
I mention Bertillon’s work and the science of positive identification that came from it, because of our reading this past week in chapter 16 of The Story. If you remember we read about the fall of the Northern Kingdom during the reign of a wicked king named Hoshea and the fall of the Southern Kingdom 140 years later. We learned that destruction came to both parts of God’s chosen nation because the people of these kingdoms ignored God’s loving laws and embraced sinful lifestyles, especially the sin of idolatry.
God is holy and cannot ignore sin, plus He would never FORCE individuals to follow Him, so He allowed both nations to be conquered and the inhabitants to be deported, carried off in captivity.
As you read about all this you may have felt like many who get to this point in God’s Story and think, “Nothing seems to be working in God’s plan to draw people to Himself. After all, His chosen nation couldn’t keep His law. The vast majority of their kings were failures. They were proud and disobedient. Neither the kings nor the people would listen to God’s prophets. There’s just no hope for these people, no hope. God’s story is overand it didn’t end well.”
Well, I think it’s no coincidence that, as I told you yesterday, God brought a prophet named Isaiah on the scene at this point in His story because in this sad, hopeless time Isaiah gave prophecy after prophecy about the Christ, the coming Messiah of God. Seven hundred years before Jesus was born, Isaiah began to say, “Here’s where your hope lies, a hope that is steadfast and sure. You hope lies in the coming Messiah.”
And Isaiah didn’t just SAY the Messiah was coming. He gave a detailed description of the Messiah that would have made Bertillon proud because it is so clear, so precise, that it identifies the Messiah perfectly. Like a fingerprint or DNA sample it leaves no room for doubt.
In essence Isaiah, said, “The Messiah is comingand so there will be no mistakes, here’s how you can positively identify Him.” And his prophetic description is so detailed that one person and only one person could be the Messiah that Isaiah describes Jesus of Nazareth because only He fit the description PERFECTLY. In fact, the book of Isaiah is sometimes called the fifth gospel because it’s all about Jesus.
Now we don’t have time to look at everything Isaiah says about the Messiah but let’s do take a quick sampling of his prophecies to show you why people say that, why we BELIEVE that Jesus was, is indeed, the Messiah of God.
First, Isaiah said the Messiah would be Virgin Born.
In chapter 7, verse 14, he said, “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and will call Him ‘Immanuel.’” In other words, one thing that would distinguish the Messiah from all other men would be the fact that He would not have an earthly father. No, His Father would be God Himself! There would be no more prophets from God, now God Himself would come to be with us, in fact, that’s what “Immanuel” means: “God with us.”
You can check this identifying factor off the list because Jesus of Nazareth was indeed virgin born. Do you remember what the angel said to Mary when she asked how she would be able to have a child since she was a virgin? Gabriel said, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy One to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
A second, identifying characteristic of the Messiah according to Isaiah is that He would be a descendant of King David.
In chapter nine, verses six and seven he said, “A Child will be born to us, a Son will be given us and the government will rest on His shoulders and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end of the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over His kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness form then on forever more.”
You can check that one off as well because in both Luke’s and Matthew’s Gospel accounts Jesus’ genealogy shows that Jesus’ was indeed a descendent of Israel’s greatest king. By the way, if you have read the Gospels then you know that during Jesus’ earthly ministry the Pharisees and Saducees did everything they could to discredit His claim to be the Messiah. All they would have had to do to succeed in this would be to show that Jesus had no genealogy to back up His claim. But they never made this accusation because apparently they had researched the public records and found that Jesus was indeed of the lineage of King David both through His mother Mary and through His adoptive father, Joseph. Others must have done this record search as well because on that Palm Sunday as the people waved their palm branches and spread their coats on the ground before Jesus they cried out, “Hosanna to the SON OF DAVID!” ( Matthew 21:9) So check that identifying characteristic off as well.
But that’s not all. In Isaiah 9:2 this prophet foretold that the Messiah’s ministry would begin in Galilee.
He said,“In earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naptali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.”
Check that off your list too because we all know that Jesus was from Nazareth in Galilee! We know He began His ministry in that part of the world.
And, speaking of His ministry, in Isaiah 35 it says the Messiah would be a miracle worker.
Listen to his exact prophecy: “The eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. The lame will leap like a deer and the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.”
Anyone who has read of the ministry of Jesus knows of His miracles so check that one off too. Crowds of people followed Him everywhere because they knew He healed the sick and even raised the dead. In fact, Jesus ruined every funeral He attended by bringing the corpse back to life.
In Isaiah 40 this hope-giving prophet said the Messiah would have a forerunner someone to announce He was coming and prepare the way for Him.
But he got even more specific and said this forerunner would be known as a voice in the wilderness, a voice we know belonged to John the Baptist.
Isaiah even reminded his hearers that the Messiah would not just be for the people of Israel but for Gentiles as well.
In Isaiah 49:6 he said, the Messiah would be, “…a light for the Gentiles…and would bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” And Jesus has been that. In fact, His last command was for us was to go into all the world with His message of love. This is why tonight people all around the globe from all ethnicities…follow Jesus and, like us, are gathering to celebrate His birth.
Well, I could go on and on listing the distinct characteristics of the Messiah as foretold by Isaiah, characteristics that point to Jesus, things that leave no doubt that He is indeed the Christ.
But I have to share one more because the most distinctive prediction of all was when Isaiah said the Messiah would take on Himself the sins of the world.
He would suffer for our sins. Listen to Isaiah 53:4-6 “Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.”
This one fits Jesus as well because He was indeed pierced. Those nails in His hands and feet, the spear thrust in His side, the death He suffered, was for us.
So, suffice it to say that Isaiah’s prophecies positively identified Jesus as the Messiah eight centuries before He was born in Bethlehem, as another prophet foretold.
Now what does all this “positive ID stuff” mean? Well, as I have said, first it means that we are right in worshiping Jesus as the Messiah every Christmas. We are right in singing, “Joy to the world, THE LORD has come!” because in Jesus, the Lord did come!
But it also means that as we have been saying these past few months, God has always had an Upper Story plan to save you and me, a plan to make it possible for us to know Him as the first Adam and Eve did, a plan to forgive our sins so He could walk through life with us, a plan to give us eternal life so we could live with Him forever and that plan was wrapped up in the Person of Jesus Christ. As we read in our first chapter of The Story it didn’t begin in Isaiah, no it began in Genesis 3:15 when He told satan that the seed of a woman would crush his head. Think about that for a moment. God made this plan to save you and me at the dawn of time, in fact before that! He knew mankind would sin. He knew His chosen people would fail.
He knew the law wouldn’t work, knew we could never save ourselves so before history began He came up with the plan to send His only Son into the world. That’s how long God has loved you. That’s how long He has planned Your redemption!
You know, in chic flics guys often tell their sweethearts, “I’ve loved you all my life. I’ve loved you even before I met you.” which is silly because you can’t love someone you don’t know. But God, our omniscient, omnipresent God, has known you from the molecular level out and loved what He knew about you from before time began! Doesn’t that awareness bring joy to your heart? It does mine! God’s great love has reached across time to you and me and because of that it has always been His plan to send His only Son to crush our enemy. As Hebrews 2:14 says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity, so that by His death He might destroy Him Who hold the power of death that is, the devil.”
I have often told you that one of the best books I have ever read is Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s the true story of WWII vet, Louis Zamperini who was shot down over the Pacific, survived 47 days in a raft only to be captured and tortured by the Japanese for several years. After the war Zamperini’s life went downhill because of post stress disorder. Nightmarish memories of his ordeal caused his career and marriage to crumble until he attended a Billy Graham crusade and became a Christian. Jesus came into his heart and life and healed him of his disorder and gave him a new life. Jesus restored his marriage and restored the years the locust had eaten. Zamperini is still alive today, telling others about Jesus.
Well, I have lost count of how many copies of Unbroken I have given away and am so thankful that Betty and Ed Summers gave me my original copy. This week Sue and I purchased another copy as a gift and I discovered it is still flying off the shelves, still only available in hard cover. Universal Studios is even making a movie based on the book. Zamperini has been hired to make sure the film stays true to his story but he cautioned the producers saying, “You better hurry. I’m 93.”
Now think about it why is this book so popular? Why are people drawn to this story? Why are they willing to pay hard-cover prices? It’s because all people instinctively know they need God. In the core of their being they know they are sinners and that God is holy and that they need forgiving so they are drawn to Zamperini’s “telling testimony.” In short, they embrace his book because it is a story of redemption and they know they need redeeming. The popularity of this book is a reflection of the joy of Christmas, the joy we get when we celebrate the fact that as Isaiah foretold in Jesus, the LORD has come, come to save us!
Every Christmas Eve here at Redland we partake in COMMUNION as a way of reminding ourselves of this stark but wonderful truth that Jesus was BORN to DIE for sinners like you and me, die so that we could live. As we celebrate in this way, let me invite all Christians present to partake with us. Even if you are not a member of this church. If you are a Christian, if you are His, this is Yours.