There is Hope! God Is With Us!
A sermon based on Isaiah 7:10-14
December 19, 2010 – Advent 4A
Our team is down—by a lot!—and there are only two minutes left in the game. And our stay player is out with an injury. The bills are piling up and there's no end to this debt in sight—not unless I win the lottery and since I don't buy tickets, it's not looking good. The addiction has been a problem for years, and just when I think we're done, here comes another slip up again. The doctors say there is no cure. The pain will continue until this kills me. Sometimes it seems that our situation is pretty hopeless.
That's how it seemed to King Ahaz, one of the kings of Judah. He was in a bad situation. His enemies, Israel and Aram, were at his doorstep. The destruction of Judah seemed inevitable. The situation seemed hopeless. And even though Ahaz had ignored the Lord for years, God spoke to him anyway. And God gave him a reason to hope.
Today, we reach our destination in our Advent journey with Isaiah. We finally arrive at the manger. And we see God give a beautiful promise of hope to Azah and to Judah… and to us. He tells us there is hope because God is with us. God is with us whether we want him or not. And God is with us whether we deserve him or not. In Isaiah 7:10-14 he writes…
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." 12 But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test." 13 Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore 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.
I. Whether We Want Him or Not
King Ahaz wasn't exactly one of the good kings. He was a disaster both politically and spiritually. He worshiped false gods, setting up altars to them not just in the streets, but even in the Lord's temple. He even sacrificed his own children on an altar to one of these false gods. What a wicked man!
And now he was in trouble. King Pekah, who assassinated the king of Israel to take his throne, now allied himself with Rezin, the pagan king of the Arameans. They formed an alliance to fight off the Assyrians and wanted Ahaz to join them. When Ahaz refused they turned their sights on Judah. They would attack Ahaz to teach him a lesson—and it seemed obvious that they could easily win.
With things as hopeless as they seemed to Ahaz, he should have turned to God. But he didn't know God, he didn't want God's help, and he turned to the King of Assyria for help. But even when God's people try hard to forget God, God will not forget his people. He sent Isaiah to Ahaz to comfort him anyway: "Be careful," he said, "keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood… 5 Aram…" (that's Rezin's country), "and Remaliah's son," (that's Pekah, king of Israel), "have plotted your ruin… 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: "'It will not take place, it will not happen… (Isaiah 7:4-5,7)
And yet Ahaz refused to believe God! He still didn't want God's help. He'd rather trust in Assyria. So God wiped him out, right? No! Listen to what God does next!
10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." In other words, God signs a blank check. "Let me help you believe. Ask for anything, a shooting star, an eclipse, or an earthquake, let me make a piece of wool wet but keep the ground dry, or make the ground wet and keep some fleece dry. Ask to walk across the sea on dry land or ask me to rain fire or hail on your enemies. Ask for a sign—any sign. I'll show you how you can trust in me."
But Ahaz, pretending to be God-fearing, refuses to take the blank check. "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test." Come on, Ahaz! If you don't want to put the Lord to the test, why do you kill your own kids on an altar to a false God? Why do you desecrate the Lord's temple with your disgusting worship? Why do you encourage your people to rebel against the Lord?
To demand a sign from God to prove his love is presumptuous at best, but when God insists you ask him for one, what sinful folly to refuse! Think of it this way: If I demand you give me $100, you'd think I was rude. But if you insisted I take a $100 gift from you and I said, "No. I won't take it. I don't believe you," and then complained how little you cared about me you'd think I was just as rude—likely worse!
Isaiah called him out on his mock piety. Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? "You weary me by rejecting the messages I bring you time and time again, Ahaz. But even worse, you weary God by your unbelief." And yet, in spite of the fact that Ahaz doesn't want God to be with him, Isaiah continues, "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" (which means, God-with-us).
Now before you join the I-think-Ahaz-is-a-loser Fan Club, let's examine our own lives. Do we ever act like Ahaz and refuse to believe God's gracious promises? Do we ever refuse to accept what he offers? Do we ever try the patience of God?
How well do we trust God when he promises "call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me" (Psalm 50:15)? Or when he promises, "in all things God works for the good of those who love him" (Romans 8:28)? Don't we sometimes say, "No, God. You can't really help me with this one. This one's too big for even you. I don't trust your Word. And don't ask to strengthen my faith through that Word. I'm much too busy for that. I wouldn't presume to test you…"
How well do we take advantage of the rich blessings God promises in his Word? God promises to bless us if we study it, learn it, and memorize it. But don't we say, "No, God. I wouldn't presume to ask too much of you. I don't want to try God's patience demanding answers to life's questions. I'll just go watch TV or read a magazine, or take a nap." And we reject the million dollar check God offers us! And then don't we sometimes even complain that he doesn't care for us?! How we too try the patience of God! How we must weary him with our unbelief!
And so it can be a frightening thought that Immanuel—God is with us. That means God is with us when we're sinning against him. It means he's right there in the room when we choose to ignore him and his Word reaching instead for the remote. It means there's no place we can go, no place we can hide, no place we can escape his noticing our sin. We are just as bad as Ahaz, friends. Often, we don't want God's help. We don't want him with us. But thank God that even when it seems we're trying to forget God, he won't ever forget us. Thank God that just as he was with Ahaz, he's with us too, carrying out his plan to save us, whether we want him here or not. And thank God he's with us whether we deserve him or not…
II. Whether We Deserve Him or Not
Can you think of anyone less worthy of God's promise of salvation than Ahaz? Not only did he rebel against God in every way, setting up false prophets in every street, slaughtering his own children, rejecting God's promise when he sends it to his doorstep? When God did promise deliverance he rejected the promise. When he offered a sign, he belligerently refused!
And yet, God delivered him anyway. God didn't let Rezin or Pekah win that fight. 2 Kings 16:5 tells us: "Then Rezin king of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem and besieged Ahaz, but they could not overpower him."
And what's more, is that when Ahaz had only one thing on his Christmas list: Deliverance from Rezin and Pekah, God promised him even more. He promised deliverance from sin in the Savior: "Hear now, you house of David! …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."
I don't know if Ahaz understood what this promise meant. But it doesn't matter. It was intended for a much broader audience than that one king anyway. The "you" of "I will give you a sign" is plural. This sign was given to the entire house of David—that is, to the line of kings, the ones through whom the promised Messiah would come. (Remember, God told David one of his offspring would sit on the throne forever? – cf. 2 Samuel 7:13ff.)
And Matthew makes the meaning of this prophecy crystal clear. He writes of Jesus' conception by the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary in Matthew 1(:22-23), " All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: "The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel"—which means, "God with us."
What comfort we find in this promise—a promise given to such a wicked, undeserving king. It's so comforting because we know that we don't deserve God to be with us any more than Ahaz did. A minute ago I asked, "Can you think of anyone less worthy of God's promise of salvation than Ahaz?" If we're honest, every one of us will say, "Yes. I can think of someone less worthy—me."
By nature we are spiritually dead (cf. Ephesians 2). We are hostile to God. (cf. Romans 8:7) And even after he brings us to faith, even after we have a clear understanding of this prophecy proclaimed to Ahaz, even though we see clearly God's plan of salvation, we still act like Ahaz. We're just as bad as he; worse even because we've seen the fulfillment of God's prophecies. We are totally undeserving to have God be with us.
Imagine if the President of the United States were going to visit Kenai. Would you be a little surprised if he called you up and asked if he could stay at your place? You'd probably be shocked, right? "Why me? What makes me so special?" Especially if you haven't always had the kindest things to say about him or the way he's running the country.
Well, this is Jesus—true God—coming to be with us! A little surprised? We might be taken aback because we're not worthy. We haven't always said the nicest things about Jesus, or done the nicest things to him. After all he said whatever we do to someone else on earth we do to him. The only thing we're worthy of is having him be against us, not with us.
And yet, God delivers us anyway. At that first Christmas, God became flesh to be with us. He was born of a virgin and became human; became a weak and helpless little baby born in a smelly stable. And as he grew up God was with us on the earth, living the perfect life that we couldn't so he could give that perfection to us. God was with us so he could die for us and save us not just from an enemy nation, but from our sins, from death, from the eternity of hell that we deserve. That's what Isaiah promised in this little child in the manger, Immanuel, God with us.
And now, God is still with us today. He promised, ""I am with you always, to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:20) God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you." (Hebrews 13:5) Whether we deserve to have God with us or not is beside the point. He is with us. He sent his Son to be with us on the cross. He promised to be with us now. And God will be with us for all eternity when he takes us to glory one day soon.
So, no matter how hopeless things may seem, we have hope. It doesn't matter if the bills are piling up and the money's used up. It doesn't matter if the family's broken up because you've goofed up. It doesn't matter if you've slipped up and feel like giving up.
God didn't give up. He carried out his plan of salvation for you, whether you wanted him to or not. He sent his Son to become a baby—Immanuel; God with us. See God with us in the manger. See God with us on the cross. See God with us in every struggle of life. And one day soon see God with us—face to face in the glory of heaven, whether you deserve it or not. Rejoice, dear friends. There is hope! God is with us. Amen.