Third Sunday after the Epiphany, January 26, 2020 (Matthew 4:12-25)
The ESV translates Matthew 4:14: so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled. Unfortunately the little word “by” makes it sound like Isaiah is the originator of the prophecy quoted by Matthew. Actually this little word “by” (διὰ ) is better translated “through”. Thus Matthew is informing us that Isaiah was God’s instrument—that God spoke through Isaiah. Therefore Isaiah did not create his prophecy, but God was using Isaiah as His instrument to speak inspired words to humanity. Such wording is conveying the doctrine of Inspiration, for the Holy Spirit indeed speaks through the mouth of his holy prophets (Luke 1:70). And no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).
As I was privileged to be in Israel less than two weeks ago, I saw there a photo-copy of the Dead Sea scroll of the complete book of Isaiah. This scroll that pre-dates the time of Christ was completely “unrolled’ so the entire book of Isaiah was before me. Scholars are amazed that the wording—and even the Hebrew script—is practically identical with the Hebrew of the book of Isaiah we read today. This is partly so because the Jews indeed believed that every little “jot and tittle” of the Hebrew was inspired by God, so they took extreme care whenever they hand-copied any of the writings of the “Old Testament”.
So what had God spoken through Isaiah? He spoke many wonderful prophecies about the coming Christ—prophecies that speak with crystal clarity. The Spirit predicted that a child would be born for us, a son would be given…and His name would be the Mighty God (9:6). Matthew’s gospel-reading for Sunday presents to us the verses preceding this astounding prediction of the Christ-child’s birth. Matthew informs us that Jesus began His ministry by fulfilling God’s prediction through Isaiah that the Christ would shine forth in the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. These lands that had entered a state of spiritual darkness, lands that were so dark that they had substantially rejected their Jewish heritage, these were the very lands where the Christ would shine forth with holy preaching and heretofore unseen miracles. Here the Christ began to herald the gospel of the kingdom, a gospel that would culminate in the cross and the empty tomb of the kingdom’s king.
As the gospel of the kingdom announced both by word and by deed the presence of the Christ, so this Christ and this gospel would ultimately take believers to the climactic work of the kingdom: Christ dying for mankind’s salvation. Thus appropriately Isaiah—or rather God through Isaiah—predicted: But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:5,6).
Through. Indeed God works through means, actively participating in His creation. The Spirit of God spoke through His prophets and apostles. God sent His Son through a virgin. The Son of God creates our salvation through His death and resurrection. God brings us to faith through His Holy Word. Through: God is always the agent, the one who must act upon us and upon His entire creation. Every good thing must come from Him, and we bow before Him as He gives us good things through the instruments He chooses.