Tag archives: Christmas

Christmas Prophecies (Part 2): How the Suffering Servant Defied Expectations

by David Closson

December 21, 2020

This is Part 2 of a 6-part series. Read Part 1.


13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely;
  he shall be high and lifted up,
  and shall be exalted.
14 As many were astonished at you—
  his appearance was so marred [is an anointing], beyond human semblance,
  and his form beyond that of the children of mankind—
15 so shall he sprinklemany nations.
  Kings shall shut their mouths because of him,
for that which has not been told them they see,
  and that which they have not heard they understand. (Isaiah 52:13-15)

As we approach Christmas and the celebration of Jesus’ birth, it is helpful to consider what the Bible teaches about why Jesus came to earth. Isaiah 53, written 700 years before the first Christmas, provides a detailed description of this purpose. To fully understand Isaiah’s teaching, it is important to start a few verses earlier with Isaiah 52:13-15.

Verses 13-15 function as a prologue, previewing the issues that will be developed throughout the passage.

Despite being in the middle of a chapter, the phrase “Behold my servant” introduces a new section of thought in 52:13 (modern Bible readers must remember that chapter and verse divisions were not added until around A.D. 1200).[1] Biblical authors often signaled new sections of thought by using stylistic elements. Such is the case in 52:13, with the attention-getting “behold.” However, this phrase does more than merely indicate a new section of thought; it also helps communicate the significance of the person about to be described, i.e., the Servant. Isaiah wastes no time in drawing attention to the person and work of the Servant.

Isaiah continues by explaining that the Servant “shall act wisely.” The ESV and NIV render the Hebrew verb as “wisely,” whereas the NASB translates it as “prosper.” Although both contain an important nuance, neither conveys the full intended meaning. Isaiah is not merely explaining that the Servant will be wise. Rather, he is saying that he will “both know and do the right things in order to accomplish the purpose for which he was called.”[2] This provides clarity to the rest of the verse: “he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” Because he has completed the work for which He was sent, the Servant will be exalted to a place of prominence.

Next, verse 14 provides further detail on how the Servant will accomplish His purpose. First, the text explains that many will be “astonished” at Him. Why are people astonished at the Servant? The reason for this response depends on how verse 14a is translated. There are two options for translating the Hebrew noun used here— “anointing” or “destruction/marred.” Old Testament professor Peter Gentry argues that the first option—“anointing”—is to be preferred because of its pervasive use in other biblical texts. He notes that the imagery associated with “anointing” recalls the anointing ceremony that took place when a new high priest was installed into office (Ex. 29:29; Lev. 21:10). This special anointing served to differentiate the high priest from other priests.

On the other side, Professor Gary Smith proposes that the Hebrew term is better rendered “disfigurement.” Appealing to context, he argues that “disfigurement” fits with the physical description of the Servant in 53:2.[3] Concurring with Smith, John Oswalt contends that “all suffering is encompassed here: physical, mental, and spiritual.”[4]

However the term is best translated, the Servant’s appearance is evidently a shock, especially to those who expected a godlike deliverer. Reading this text informed by the New Testament, the connection between the Servant in Isaiah and Jesus is becoming clear. Those in Jesus’ day were anticipating a military and political champion to overthrow the occupying Romans. Jesus defied those expectations, and, following a Roman-inflicted beating, did not appear able to save.

Moving on to verse 15, there is debate amongst biblical scholars on whether the Hebrew word should be rendered “sprinkle” or “startle.” The majority of interpreters prefer “sprinkle,” which best fits the progression of the text, especially if “anointing” is the correct interpretation in 14a. Peter Gentry summarizes his position for both disputed words by arguing, “The servant sprinkles because he is anointed.” He adds, “The idea of many being horrified at the Servant and of an anointing and sprinkling that goes beyond that of Israel so that it applies to all the nations best explains the exaltation of the Servant and why so many in the end are told something they have never before seen or understood.”[5] Gentry’s argument prioritizes the literary structure by recognizing that the prologue previews the major ideas unfolding in subsequent stanzas.

Verse 15 concludes the prologue by describing kings’ reactions to the Servant’s work. In short, the Servant’s work will be unlike anything the nations have seen before.

Isaiah 52:13-15 serves as a helpful prologue for Isaiah 53. Isaiah has signaled that the Servant is the focus of this section and the one who is tasked with securing forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with God. As we see in the forthcoming verses, this will be accomplished through His mediating role of a priest, and it will apparently involve a type of sacrifice. Evidently, the Servant’s work will shock those who witness it, and ultimately the Servant will be exalted.



[1] Robert Plummer and Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible, (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2010), 28.

[2] John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 373.

[3] Gary V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (B&H Academic, 2009), 438.

[4] John Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, 380.

[5] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBTJ), June 12, 2007, ,http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 29, 31.

Christmas Prophecies (Part 1): Why We Should Contemplate Christ’s Suffering at Christmas

by David Closson

December 20, 2020

This is Part 1 of a 6-part series.

When Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is common to retell New Testament stories of how Jesus came into the world as a baby in the manger. But there are other passages in the Bible that help us understand the purpose of the incarnation, including one of the most stunning prophecies in Scripture—Isaiah 53. This blog series will take a closer look at this passage and provide fresh perspective on Jesus’ mission, suffering, and victory over sin and death.

This week, Christians around the world will celebrate the birth of Jesus. Over the next few days, Scripture passages such as Matthew 1-2 and Luke 2 will be read and studied, and believers will reflect with gratitude on God’s love manifested in the incarnation of His Son. But as wonderful as these passages are, additional biblical texts can also help us understand the meaning and significance of Christmas. One such passage is Isaiah 53, a well-known Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah that explains the purpose of Jesus’ birth and the significance of His atoning work on the cross.

In his book, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment, James Hamilton makes a simple but profound observation: “If we will listen carefully to the Bible, it will proclaim to us the glory of God.”[1] This is true of Isaiah 53, one of the most magnificent prophecies in the Old Testament. Although the entire biblical canon manifests the majesty of Christ, this particular passage shines a light on God’s plan of redemption in a way that is striking, weighty, and sobering.

This Christmas blog series will unpack Isaiah 53 by carefully analyzing each verse with the aim of illuminating larger themes, including the significance of the Servant’s death and resurrection (biblical scholars agree that the Servant figure in Isaiah prefigures Jesus). Entries in the series, of which this is the first, will follow the natural flow of the text. The second will examine the prologue in verses 52:13-15. The third will examine the rejection of the Servant in verses 53:1-3. The fourth will examine the Servant’s substitutionary atonement in verses 4-6, and the fifth will examine the Servant’s rejection in verses 7-9. Finally, verses 10-12, which interpret the meaning of the Servant’s death, will be covered in the final entry.

Understanding the book of Isaiah’s literary style and broader context is essential to grasping the significance of chapter 53. Hebrew prophecy has a unique form and style. Old Testament scholar Peter Gentry helpfully points out: “Prophetic preaching and writing certainly does not follow the patterns of Aristotelian rectilinear logic so fundamental to our discourse in the Western world. Instead, the approach in ancient Hebrew literature is to take up a topic and develop it from a particular perspective and then to stop and take up the same theme again from another point of view. This pattern is kaleidoscopic and recursive.”[2] This kaleidoscopic approach is characteristic of Isaiah’s prophecy, which presents a holistic message through seven major sections. Each of these sections focus on aspects of God’s relationship with Israel. The reality and implications of the broken covenant, judgment, exile, and the hope of restoration are all thoroughly explored throughout these sections.[3]

The Fourth Servant Song is situated in the sixth section (chapters 38 to 55), which focuses on restoration and redemption. This section follows on the heels of a lengthy description of Israel’s forthcoming exile (chapters 5-37). As Isaiah shifts his attention from exile to restoration, it is apparent that there are two distinct returns from exile and two agents of redemption being described. The two returns are a return to the land of Israel and a return to an Eden-like experience with God.[4] Gentry summarizes this by noting: “There are two issues in the return from exile: physical return from Babylon and spiritual deliverance from bondage and slavery to sin.”[5] Corresponding to these two returns are two agents of redemption: Cyrus and the Servant. Whereas Cyrus is responsible for the people’s physical return to the land of Israel, the Servant is tasked with the more difficult task—securing forgiveness of sins and restoring a right relationship with God.

As we prepare to celebrate Christmas this week, it is appropriate to consider the reason for the incarnation. Why did Jesus—the Second Person of the Trinity—step out of heaven and become a man? As Isaiah helps us see, it was to deliver us from our sin and reconcile us to God. This is why Jesus came. This is the reason we celebrate the arrival of Immanuel—God with us—at Christmas.

David Closson is the Director of Christian Ethics and Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council.



[1] James M. Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 2010), 40.

[2] Peter J. Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” The Southern Baptist Journal of Theology (SBTJ), June 12, 2007, ,http://www.sbts.edu/resources/journals/journal-of-theology/sbjt-112-summer-2007/the-atonement-in-isaiahs-fourth-servant-song-isaiah-5213-5312/, 20.

[4] James M. Hamilton, “Introduction to Old Testament II” (The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, August 30, 2016).

[5] Gentry, “The Atonement in Isaiah’s Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53:12),” 22.

For Some Christians Around the World, Celebrating Christmas is Dangerous

by Arielle Del Turco

December 24, 2019

As Christians around the world prepare to celebrate Christmas, many are forced to do so in secret. Arrest and punishment at the hands of the government or violence at the hands of extremist groups plague many around the world who simply try to celebrate the birth of their Savior.

In Iran, the government takes advantage of Christmas celebrations in their effort to crackdown on the spread of Christianity. Dabrina Tamraz has been a victim of religious persecution herself in Iran. She is reporting that authorities began to arrest Christians in the last few weeks. She says, “Christmas celebrations make it easier for Iranian authorities to arrest a group of Christians at one time.”

The Iranian government’s main targets are converts to Christianity from a Muslim background and evangelicals. The regime feels threated by Christians who would evangelize and share their faith. Christians who stay home might avoid being targeted by authorities, but any expressions of faith—including Christmas celebrations—can be dangerous.

Christians in India are also bracing themselves amid a new wave of persecution this December. According to International Christian Concern, at least 10 Christians were arrested on trumped-up criminal charges, clean drinking water was cut off for 25 Christian families, and several churches have been shut down just this month.

We have cancelled all our Christmas events in Banni Mardatti village, including carols, cottage meetings, and pre-Christmas events,” said Pastor Raja Bhovi from in India’s Karnataka State, “There is a fear of being attacked by Hindu radicals.” 

If last year is any indicator, these fears may be justified. Just before Christmas in 2018, a mob attacked a small church in India’s Maharashtra state, leaving many injured.            

Some countries go so far as to openly ban the celebration of Christmas. In Brunei, a small country on the island of Borneo, Christians found celebrating Christmas illegally could face a 5-year prison sentence, a $20,000 fine, or both.

Brunei instituted this policy in 2015, while its Ministry of Religious Affairs released a statement expressing concern that any public Christmas celebrations might “damage the aqidah (beliefs) of the Muslim community.” 

In North Korea, those who celebrate Christmas can be imprisoned, tortured or put to death. North Korea is a communist country where the only gods allowed are the Kim family dictators. Christmas is not widely known, and certainly not celebrated publicly. Yet, the North Korean regime has seemingly tried to replace Christmas altogether. 

North Koreans are encouraged to celebrate the birthday of Kim Jong-Suk, the deceased grandmother of Kim Jong Un. Her birthday, which falls on Christmas Eve, is even marked by pilgrimages to the town of her birth. The empty substitute religion centered on the Kim family ultimately won’t satisfy the human soul. Open Doors USA estimates that there are approximately 300,000 Christians in North Korea—quite an accomplishment for the most closed country in the world. 

In countries across the world, any expression of the Christian faith leaves Christians vulnerable to arrest from the government or even attacks from their neighbors. Christians are often forced to either cancel their celebrations or gather in secret. Yet, the price for getting caught at such clandestine events can be costly.

As Christians in the West openly celebrate the Christmas season with friends and family, we should pause and pray for the Christians who will celebrate in secret. We can be thankful that Christ was born over 2,000 years ago to bring us the Gospel. And that hope is a light that no force of darkness can extinguish.

Christmas Joy and Divorce

by Family Research Council

December 9, 2014

Each Christmas my wife Joy and I set up our tree and relive the memories of past years. For every year of Joy’s life she has received an ornament commemorating a major life event. There is a baby crib for year one and a Crayon box for a few years later. There is an ornament for her first car and for her college graduation. There are many “Joy” ornaments as can be expected for someone with such a cheery Christmas name. And there is one of my favorites, the one that reminds us of our marriage. Sadly many couples do not spend Christmas together. Many more use the holiday, not for sharing sweet memories but for hurtful words and unkind actions. Others spend it shuttling the kids between their broken homes.

I consider my marriage to my wife to be precious as well as sacred. When we said our vows we both sincerely understood and meant “for better or for worse” and “‘til death do you part.” A recent article in First Things on the danger of no-fault divorce laws demonstrates the sad reality for many families harmed by recent American attitudes toward divorce. The article lists some casualties of no-fault divorce including “abandoned spouses, the institution of marriage, and American society itself.” No-fault divorce gives the false impression that there is an easy way out of the difficulties of marriage. Rather than seeking to understand one another, become more loving, and to get counseling when needed, many couples simply give up on marriage. But divorce is never that simple. It affects children, the couple, and the country. A society whose basic family unit is not functioning in harmony cannot expect its political institutions to function well. A society where the marriages are not accountable to God cannot expect its other institutions to be accountable to God.

Love in marriage is a difficult thing. One sees all of the faults of their spouse. It can be easy to become frustrated and discouraged. But marriage is not about one, it is about two who have become one. No fault divorce has caused many homes to become not a place of joy at Christmas but one of bitterness and broken hearts. We must work to change the no-fault divorce culture to a marriage-is-precious culture. So this Christmas if you are struggling, let your spouse know you believe your marriage is precious and seek help. If you are happily married then I recommend going home and, like me, giving your Joy a loving Christmas hug, it will do more good than you know.

CMI on the War on Christmas

by Family Research Council

December 22, 2011

The Media Research Centers Culture and Media Institute (CMI) recently posted an article about the war on Christmas, documenting how some in the media ignore or demean attacks on Christmas as phony and fake. One of the attacks on Christmas that they list comes from JP Duffys experience at a U.S. Post Office in Silver Spring, MD.

CMI fellow Erin Brown writes, Even our tolerant Federal government is playing the Grinch card this year. According to FoxNews.com, A group of Christmas carolers was thrown out of a U.S. Post Office in Silver Spring, MD, after the post office manager told them they were not allowed to sing Christmas carols on government property.

Brown documents a long series of attacks over the last couple of years, as well as the reactions of numerous liberal media types that ignore or mock the war on Christmas.

These days, the war on Christmas is fought by the Christian right … [Catholic League President] William Donahue and Rupert Murdochs New York Post, traditional combatants in the war on Christmas, have trained their Yuletide guns on someone, not for railing out put the Christ back in Christmas, but for failing to worship Santa Claus, Keith Olbermann accused on his old MSNBC show Countdown in November of last year.

If youre not convinced that theres a war on Christmas, check out the page, and a few of the attacks it documents:

In upstate New York, one school district has declared that Christmas and Hanukkah will no longer be celebrated in classrooms. According to FOX/WROC, The Batavia City School District will no longer allow decorations for either holiday to appear in classrooms as well as teachers are discouraged from writing or saying Merry Christmas. In Fairfax County, Va., grade-schoolers are treated to winter celebration. In Texas, another school district has declared war on Christmas this time, classrooms are not allowed to celebrate Santa Claus or exchange gifts.

Some attacks on Christmas are downright weird. The Huffington Post has the Skeleton Santa story, which Brown also documents in her article.

Thankfully, this hopeful time of year isnt built on the backs of Christmas displays shimmering on lawns and in storefronts. Its founded on the birth of hope: Christ Jesus our Lord.

Post Office Manager Throws Christmas Carolers Out into the Cold

by JP Duffy

December 12, 2011

This Christmas season has been very memorable for me and my wife especially now that Audrey, our 2-year-old, is old enough to participate in festivities such as decorating the Christmas tree. Since Thanksgiving, Audrey has danced around the house singing Jingle Bells and humming the tunes of Christmas carols that she hears throughout the day. Last Saturday, Audrey almost had the opportunity to experience another Christmas tradition for the first time —- caroling. The three of us stood in line along with dozens of other customers at the U.S. Post Office located in the Aspen Hill Shopping Center in Silver Spring, Maryland. We were preparing our packages when Audrey tugged on my sleeve, saying Daddy, Daddy, look. I turned to see a bright smile on her face as she pointed to a trio of Christmas carolers entering the post office who looked like they had stepped off the theatre stage of A Christmas Carol. The gentleman of the group wore a top hat and the ladies were arrayed with shawls and bonnets. Dickens would be proud. Everyone turned their attention to the carolers in anticipation of that annual tradition that weve all experienced.

They were only a few notes into their carol when suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw a scowling postal manager rushing to confront the carolers. He angrily told them that they had to leave immediately because they were violating the post offices policy against solicitation. Everyone was momentarily frozen in astonishment before customers began booing the manager. Even in the face of protests from his customers, the manager wouldnt back down.

The carolers explained that they were going to each business within the shopping center to sing a couple of carols — as they have done for many years. However, this was the first time that they had been turned away. The manager said he didnt care and that they could take it up with the postmaster if they had a problem. You cant do this on government property, he said. You cant go into Congress and sing and so you cant do it here either, he said smugly as the carolers turned sadly to leave. I encouraged them to file a complaint but they had little hope that a complaint would resolve anything and felt they had no choice but to acquiesce.

I later described the incident to a friend of mine who had worked for the post office for 26 years. He couldnt imagine that there would be any policy that would prevent Christmas caroling at post offices. Indeed, a Google search will show examples of post office caroling during past Christmas seasons.

Over the last several years, we have watched militant secularists team up with federal bureaucrats in the effort to sterilize the public square of anything remotely connected to anything religious. This postal manager has clearly received the memo which has led him to stamp out Christmas caroling. But I have my own memo to all the Christmas carolers out there. Lets not surrender to the secularist version of Christmas future. Lets hold onto Christmases of past and do our part to pass that on to our children. As for me, I am taking at least one piece of advice from the postal manager and will send my own comment to the General Postmaster. The U.S. Constitution in no way prevents the government from accommodating Christmas caroling. I invite you to send your own memo (or email in this case) to pmgceo@usps.gov or call 1-800-275-8777.

Ben Franklin, the founder of the U.S. Post Office once said, So shalt thou always live jollily; for a good conscience is a continual Christmas. The U.S. Post Office and all of us would do well to heed Franklins advice.

UPDATE: Sign FRC’s petition affirming Christmas

Theyll be Home for Christmas

by Robert Morrison

December 18, 2009

While the U.S. is drawing down forces in Iraq and building up, by some 30,000, our troops in Afghanistan, thousands of American soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard are returning to the homeland. Thanks to Operation Welcome Home Maryland, those who come into Baltimore-Washington International airport will not come home alone.

Theyll be greeted by dozens of people from the local community, many of them former service members themselves. Some of these older veterans can tell sad stories of returning from Vietnam to a cold and sullen airport arrival. No more. Operation Welcome Home is determined to give our all-volunteer servicemen and women the homecoming they deserve.

Incoming flights are posted on the organizations website—-www.operationwelcomehomemd.org. Greeters are invited to bring goodie bags of food, water, and other favors from home. When the uniformed service members come through those arrival gates, many are stunned to see the reception committee yelling, cheering, applauding, and playing Im proud to be an American on iPods. To be hugged by total strangers is an unusual experience, to say the least.

But they are not total strangers. They cannot be total strangers. For those who have worn the uniform, no one in the military will ever again be a total stranger. Perhaps watching the made-for-TV series, Band of Brothers, can explain that all-too-bloodless term unit cohesion. It might better be called the Bond of Brothers.

The most shocking thing about Fort Hood is that an obvious traitor in our midst was allowed—for reasons of political correctness—to move freely among our troops. Someone at the highest levels should pay with his stars for allowing such a hostile environment to exist.

Our best young soldiers and sailors today say without hesitation Id take a bullet for my brother. Many of them, sadly, have done just that. No one should ever take a bullet from a traitor in the ranks.

This week, thankfully, hundreds of veterans from Iraq have passed through BWI. Theyre given special Christmas cheer as they come home in time for the holidays. They are all volunteers. And the ones who welcome them home are all volunteers, too. Its another reminder that Liberty is the most precious gift under our tree and that we are the land of the free because of the brave.

Two American Idols, One Celebration of Christmas

by Rosalind Bergen

December 15, 2009

The Carrie Underwood Christmas Special aired last week. I was looking forward to it. I put on my fuzzy slippers, dropped a couple of extra marshmallows into my hot cocoa, and snuggled up in front of the TV. I couldnt wait to hear her sing my favorite Christmas song, O Holy Night. I reached for the Kleenex box. One must be prepared for tears, especially when she hits that ever-famous note toward the end: Diviiiiiiiiiine. I was like a kid at Christmas, bursting with anticipation.

So, you can imagine my shock, sitting there on the floor in my living room, staring at the TV, mouth agape, at the opening of the Carrie Underwood Christmas Special: Miss Underwood rises from under the stage in a throne-like chair, smoke swirling and lights flashing. Shes clad in skin-tight, black leather from head to toe. I didnt know hair spray could get hair that high? I didnt know Christmas was about Carrie Underwood. Male dancers (wearing only pants yikes and matching, black leather, of course) flanked her on all sides. They all started dancing… err, more like flailing, all over the stage. The song she sang (though, is it technically a song if it lacks a discernable melody?) was no more a Christmas song than fruitcake is cake.

I grabbed the remote and hit OFF. Sigh. Speaking of fruitcake… I trot off to the kitchen. I figure Ill have better luck getting into the Christmas spirit with a slice of grandmas fruitcake. And thats not sayin much. Sorry, Grandma.

But, Christmas is about rejuvenation and re-birth, and last night, I got my second chance. I was on the treadmill at the gym, of all places, barely eeking out that first mile. (One too many marshmallows, apparently). There were about eight TVs on the wall, each broadcasting a different channel. Lets see, what can I watch to help me reach mile two? TV one: news. Pass. TV two: news. Pass. TV three: …whats this? I see a church sanctuary, brightly lit with candles and adorned with wreaths and garland. A gospel choir is swaying back and forth. I see Jennifer Hudson belting something out at a microphone. Could it be? I scrambled for my headset so I could listen. Theyre singing, Silent Night!

Alleluia! Throughout the next forty-five minutes, I was delighted by one traditional, Christmas carol after the next. No self-glorification or self-aggrandizement. No dance choreography. Not even any Rudolf. Only the beautiful singing of the old, great Christmas carols and hymns. Only the celebration of love, giving and family. At one point, during an interview before a song, Jennifer Hudson tells us, Jesus is the light of the world. Now this is a Christmas Special. I was invigorated. I looked down at my treadmills screen. Five miles?! I havent run five miles in at least five years! (Okay, a decade, at least).

Thank you, Jennifer Hudson, for producing an appropriate, traditional Christmas special. In an age where Christmas decorations are stripped from public buildings, and citizens are forced to take down nativity scenes displayed in their yards, I know I speak for many when I say, I appreciate you remembering Christ in Christmas. And thank you ABC (did I actually say that?) for your bravery in broadcasting Hudsons show. And P.S., Miss Hudson, the note you struck in Diiiiiiiiiivine, was far more beautiful than Carrie Underwoods ever could have been.

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