Sermon December 22, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1425

December 22, 2019 Fourth Sunday of Advent Isaiah 7.10-16

Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

“Immanuel”

 

10 Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz: 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 And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15 He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16 For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.

 

  • A Sign Given

 

King Ahaz is fearful. Armies are threatening to seize Jerusalem and Isaiah is sent to Ahaz to reassure him that God is going to protect Jerusalem. The text says in verse 10 that the Lord spoke to Ahaz. It seems likely that this word spoken was through the prophet himself as we will see in verse 13. The word is basically, ask for a sign, it can be a big one, as deep as a pit or as high as the sky! Ahaz, either because he is fearful or because he is trying to be pious in keeping a law not to test God, refuses to ask for a sign. Maybe Ahaz knows that if he asks for a sign and God gives one, Ahaz is then completely committed to trust God. For whatever reason, Ahaz will not ask for a sign. Ahaz is actually using the quote not to test God in an inappropriate manner. God has already asked Ahaz to test Him! Ahaz is either ignorant of scripture or unwilling to trust God. But Isaiah, clearing speaking in verse 13, tells Ahaz that a sign will be given. The point of the sign is to invite Ahaz to trust in God, that God will protect and deliver.

Signs are given all over the Bible. The rainbow is a sign that God will not destroy the earth again by flood. The blood of the lamb was a sign that God would spare the first born of the Hebrews in the Exodus plagues. John’s gospel has many signs that demonstrate the power of God in Jesus, water into wine, healings, multiplying the bread and fish, and raising Lazarus. All of these signs helped people to see who Jesus was and helps us to continue to trust in Him.

 

We like signs. We would probably like more signs from God. We seek to interpret signs and even make some things signs when they might not be. We joke that something “must be a sign”! We sometimes think of praying for a sign that we might see more clearly what direction to go or what choice to make. “Lord, give me a sign.” No doubt we lament that we don’t get enough signs. We know that Bible gives us signs to remember, signs to find meaning, signs for various reasons, but if Isaiah asked me to ask for a sign like he did Ahaz, I think I would have asked!


 

  • Virgin Birth

 

The sign given is about a birth. There has been, in the minds of liberal scholars who read and interpret the Bible in the way they do, a deeper than necessary chasm between the Isaiah passage of chapter 7 and Matthew passage of chapter 1. The chasm has been that the prophet did not have Jesus in mind at all in the time of King Ahaz, but instead another birth in his time. It might not have been important outside of just knowing a birth time frame in order to know when the hostilities against Jerusalem might be over. Much is made of this by some who want to deny the virgin birth or to at least disconnect Jesus from Isaiah’s prophecy. It is surely likely that Isaiah was offering to Ahaz a word of comfort that in the time of this child’s birth and ability to judge certain things, the threat to Jerusalem would be over. That’s fine and dandy, but it is also true that this prophetic word can be considered a foreshadowing of another birth to come that will take away every threat and every enemy of God’s people.

What I think is important for us to affirm is that the New Testament writer Matthew tells us of the birth of Jesus by using Isaiah. Even if we argue that Isaiah did not have Jesus in mind at the time of his writing, Matthew saw fit, by the power of the Spirit, to use Isaiah’s word to also bring comfort with the announcement of the Messiah’s birth. The power of that virgin birth transformed the world.

 

  • A Son Given

 

The stories or prophetic words of birth, virgin or otherwise, are all promises of hope. They are promises that invite trust in what God has done and will do. For Isaiah, trust that God will one day defeat the enemies of Israel. For Christians, that God would send a Savior, born of Mary. The trust and hope and now reality in the birth of Jesus is that we have been delivered from the sin and death that plagued the world since Adam and Eve.

 

In the Jewish world the birth of sons was crucial to the existence of the people, the nation. I think part of that was because they were a small group compared to other nations. Families, in those days, Jewish or otherwise, wanted sons to carry the name and to carry the lineage. Matthew begins with the lineage to show the connection with the line of David.

 

Think about some of the women of the Bible who had sons when none were expected. Sarah, old woman way past her years to have a child, conceives and bears a son of promise. Hannah is the classic sign of hope in God and God working miracles and signs. Barren woman conceives and bears a son, Samuel. Elizabeth and Mary in the New Testament are both miraculous announcements of birth. One child, John the Baptist, will announce later the presence of the other, Jesus Christ.

 

Isaiah 9 breaks the good news this way,

 

2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

 

  • Call His Name Immanuel

     

 

Call His name Immanuel, God with us. This too is a sign. The name is the sign that God will be present with His people. It was a sign given for Isaiah and Ahaz and the house of David. It is a sign given to Joseph and Mary and to those who would come to trust in Jesus. This name invites us to trust that God is present. Believe, confess, and trust that God is here, now, present by the Holy Spirit and therefore working in and through our lives for His purposes. Like Ahaz was invited to trust, so too are we.

But we have so much more, so many more signs in our memory to call upon and to help us build trust. We have a multitude of names, as we heard in Isaiah 9, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. There are at least 50 names or titles attributed to Jesus in the Bible. Just a few include: Alpha and Omega, Bread of Life, The Way, The Truth, The Life, Counselor, Lamb of God, Son of God, Son of Man...These names and titles are signs of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done or is doing or will do. We take the name with us. We carry the name and have responsibility to the name not to disrespect it or take it in vain. This Christmas, let us renew our commitment to the name Immanuel and to every name given to Jesus.

The sign given in Isaiah, sign in Matthew, and the sign given today. God is with us. There is no greater comfort and no greater promise. Redemption has come in the person of Jesus Christ born on Christmas day and born to die that we might live. This is what we honor on Christmas, the birth of the Savior of the world. Behold, says Isaiah. Behold, says John the Baptist. Behold, says God, this is my Son, with whom I am well pleased. In this name and in this birth we sign of joy and peace and good will. We hope for even more as we look to His coming again, the fulfillment of another promise given us and even invitations throughout the gospels to look for the signs of His coming. We place signs all over the place to mark His first coming, His birth. Those signs are in lights and trees and presents and festive events. May all the signs point us to Jesus and the Good News of His birth. Rejoice and know that God is with us. Amen.

 

 
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