161214 Isaiah 7:10-14

Last Updated on Wednesday, 14 December 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Isaiah 7:10-14
Theme: The Virgin Will Conceive

Heavy is the head that wears the crown. If there was anyone who understood those words, it was King Ahaz. Ahaz doesn't rank among the most famous rulers of Judah, but he was arguably the worst. Instead of doing what was right in the eyes of the Lord (2 Kings 16:2), he adopted the detestable worship practices of Judah's heathen neighbors, including child sacrifice. He removed the altar from Solomon's temple and replaced it with the replica of an idol altar he had seen in Damascus. Apparently that level of apostasy wasn't enough for Ahaz because he later shuttered the temple entirely and set up altars on every street corner in Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 28:24).

To put it mildly, Ahaz made some very poor choices in his life, and his actions had consequences. The Lord's judgment came through two warring nations, Aram and Israel. Aram was a natural enemy of Judah, but Israel was family. Their kings were pressuring Ahaz to join their alliance, to help them fight against the Assyrian superpower to the north. When Ahaz refused, Aram and Israel attacked Judah with such a vengeance that "the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind" (7:2).

When Isaiah and his son approached Ahaz by the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, the king was not taking a leisurely stroll on the river walk. No, he was inspecting the city's water supply. He was preparing for the worst. He was preparing his capital for a long and drawn out siege.

I wonder what Ahaz was thinking when he saw the prophet in the distance. "Great. This is the last thing I need. Isaiah, I don't have time for this right now. I don't need you to point out my mistakes. I don't need you to show me my sins. I don't need you to tell me 'I told you so' because I already know."

But instead of condemning Ahaz, Isaiah brought the king a message of comfort. He said: "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid...Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin...yet this is what the Lord says: 'It will not take place, it will not happen'" (7:4,5,7).

And the embattled king's response to this amazing news was...silence. I wish I could say that it was stunned silence. I would like to think that Ahaz was so overwhelmed with gratitude that he didn't know what to say. But his silence wasn't caused by disbelief. It was caused by unbelief. Instead of turning to God in his time of need, instead of trusting in God to rescue him from his enemies, he turned to another foreign power for help. Ahaz made a deal with the devil in the form of the nation of Assyria.

Because Ahaz had turned to Assyria for help, the Lord could have turned his back on Ahaz. He could have told Isaiah to walk away from Jerusalem and watch the fireworks begin. But he didn't. Because the Lord is patient, because the Lord is so compassionate, he gave Ahaz one more chance. He gave Ahaz one more opportunity to repent of his sins and return to God. He told Isaiah to tell Ahaz: "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights" (7:11).

This was not a once in a lifetime opportunity because these kinds of opportunities don't come around that often. There are occasions when people ask for a sign from God. There are examples in the Bible when people demanded a sign from God. But in this case the offer was completely unsolicited. The Lord was essentially giving Ahaz a blank check: "Ask me for anything, absolutely anything, and I will do it."

It was a proposition with no down side. It was an offer Ahaz couldn't refuse. It was an opportunity that would be impossible to screw up, right? Wrong! Instead of thanking the Lord for this gift, instead of asking God for a sign, Ahaz came down with a case of false humility. He replied: "I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test."

The irony is that Ahaz had been testing the Lord's patience for years, and that vast ocean of divine patience was about to run dry. Isaiah responded: "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? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign" (13, 14a)...And what follows are some of the most beautiful and (according to some) controversial words recorded in the whole Bible: "the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel" (14b).

For Ahaz this prophecy was a threat, not a promise. He had rejected God, and so God rejected him. Ahaz chose to put his trust in alliances instead of God's promises. He was so hardened that it didn't matter what Isaiah said. He was so self-absorbed that it didn't matter what God did. He was so blinded by his sin that he couldn't see the Lord was his only hope.

Ahaz was guilty of some terrible sins. Everything we are told about Ahaz in the Old Testament gives us the impression that he will pay eternally for his sins. But at least Ahaz was up front about it. At least he worshiped his idols out in the open. The sins you and I commit aren't anything like the sins of Ahaz, but because they lie beneath the surface could they actually be worse?

We would never ever bow down to a lifeless statue, but how much of our precious time do we spend chasing after all the things that money can buy? We would never refuse if the Lord invited us to ask for a sign, but how often do we ignore his many invitations to pray to him? We would never even think of offering up our children as some kind of sacrifice, but do we make every decision with their best spiritual interests in mind?

Ahaz was guilty of some terrible sins, and so are we. Ahaz will pay eternally for his sins, and so should we. We don't deserve any more chances. We have no right to ask God for a sign. But the Lord has given us a sign anyway, and thank the Lord that he has.

Seven centuries after Isaiah spoke those prophetic words to Ahaz, a young virgin did conceive, and nine months later she gave birth to a son. God kept his ancient promise because God keeps all of his promises. Promises like: Though your sins are like scarlet they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1:18). Promises like: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Promises like: Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more (Hebrews 10:17).

Our hope rests on the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy. Our faith rests on the object of Isaiah's prophecy. Three words in English. One word in Hebrew. Immanuel. God with us. Jesus. True God and true man in one person. He was born into this world to save the world from sin. He lived a sinless life to take away our sins. He died on the cross and rose from dead. And even though he has ascended to God's right hand our Savior is and will always be "God with us."

We may not be able to see him with our eyes, but Jesus is with us right now. He is with us in the car and the coffee shop and the cancer treatment center. He is with us when we wake up in the morning and when we go to bed at night. He is with us every minute of every hour of every day. And because our Immanuel is our Savior, we will be with him forever in heaven.

It is a Christmas tradition for many families to display a nativity set this time of year, but in at least some homes the scene is missing something. It's not because any of the figurines have been lost or broken. Some families wait until Christmas Day to place the Christ child in the manger as a way to celebrate Jesus' birth.

My family doesn't go along with that tradition, and if Isaiah would have displayed a nativity set in his home I don't think that he would have either. Why not? Because Isaiah believed that when the Lord predicted something would happen, in his mind it was as good as done.

It is my prayer tonight that the humble faith of Isaiah rubs off on the rest of us, that these midweek Advent devotions have prepared our hearts for the coming of our Savior, and that these inspired words of Isaiah give us the confidence to believe that when it comes to our God, when it comes to God's Word, when it comes to the promises of God, a promise made is a promise kept. Amen.

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.


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