Midweek Advent Service
Wednesday, December 7, 2005
I’m going to tell you the history behind the reading from Isaiah chapter 7. Knowing the history is how we start to see how this passage applies to our relationship with Jesus. At some point, you may find yourself asking, “What does this have to do with me?” I’m glad when you ask that question, and I promise that we’ll get there. For now, listen to the history of God working in the world, and if you’re still having trouble waiting and wondering what this has to do with us today, you can start by asking yourself this question, “Am I Ahaz?” This history is about King Ahaz of Judah, and we have to wonder in hearing about him, “Are we like Ahaz?”
King Ahaz of Judah gets this incredible opportunity. Isaiah the prophet of God comes and says that Ahaz can ask God for a sign. A sign would be very helpful at this point in the career of Ahaz. It looked like Ahaz and the kingdom of Judah were going to be conquered by two kingdoms called Rezin and Pekah. Isaiah 7:2 says that “the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” Ahaz was afraid that Rezin and Pekah, these two kingdoms, would come and conquer him. He needed a sign from God to show that this wasn’t going to happen.
So God sends Isaiah to Ahaz. Isaiah tells Ahaz not to worry about Rezin and Pekah. Rezin and Pekah will not conquer Judah. Rezin and Pekah themselves will be conquered. And from world history, we know this is true. Rezin and Pekah were conquered before they could harm Judah, and so that’s why most of us have never heard of Rezin and Pekah.
Except Ahaz didn’t believe Isaiah. Ahaz still thought he needed to make a plan of his own to protect his kingdom. Ahaz didn’t believe that God was going to save them. So tonight when we hear Isaiah say, “Ask the Lord for a sign,” he’s essentially saying that Ahaz could ask God for a sign to prove this message. Ahaz might not have believed that Rezin and Pekah wouldn’t be a threat, but to help Ahaz believe, God was going to give him a sign.
Ahaz refuses. Who turns down an opportunity like that? You get this good news from God, your kingdom won’t be conquered, and better than that, God said he’d give you a sign to back up this message. Who turns that down? Ahaz does, because Ahaz thinks he can handle this on his own. It looks like he’s being humble, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test,” but really, Ahaz is slamming the door on God.
So Isaiah tells Ahaz that God will give a sign anyway, the sign of a virgin giving birth to a child who will be called Immanuel. This is the sign of the Messiah, the Christ, who would be born to save God’s people. This is a sign that points to Jesus. And really, it doesn’t have anything to do with Ahaz and his problems. Ahaz refuses God’s sign, and so God decides that instead of giving a sign for Ahaz, He’ll give a sign for the whole world.
Imagine it this way: Ahaz is like someone driving down the road, not quite sure where he’s going. God’s offer of a sign is like giving the driver a GPS or Magellan or OnStar, one of those things in your car that gives you an interactive map, tells you where to turn, and gives you directions. God’s offer to give Ahaz a sign is like offering to give a driver something that would give him directions all the way to his destination. Ahaz refuses. Like a typical guy, Ahaz doesn’t want to ask for directions. He decides he can figure it out on his own, decides he already knows what’s going to happen so he’ll take care of it by himself. The sign God would’ve given to Ahaz was for Ahaz alone, but since Ahaz refused the opportunity, God decides to use this situation to give the sign to everyone.
So now instead of a GPS telling that one driver how to get to his destination, it would be like changing all of the highway signs to electronic message boards. Those electronic message boards would give directions to everyone. Those directions don’t lead to the same place the original driver was going; instead, those directions lead to someplace even better. When Isaiah gives the sign of God, “a virgin will give birth,” this no longer has much to do with Ahaz. God is giving a sign on all of the electronic message boards, telling all of the drivers to head towards the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior of the world. Ahaz didn’t want the GPS, didn’t want the sign, didn’t want God’s help, so God just changes the message so that now it’s a message for all people, for anyone who will listen to Him.
OK, now we’re ready for that “what does this have to do with me” question. Now let’s try to figure out the answer, “Are we like Ahaz?” No, we are not like Ahaz. I mean, I suppose you already know that you’re not kings with kingdoms, but also God hasn’t given us the opportunity to ask Him for a sign.
Sometimes we’d like to ask God for a sign to confirm our actions, thoughts, or beliefs. We’d like a direct sign to show us whether we’re right or wrong, to show us what the future holds. We’d like to ask God for a sign, but this passage in Isaiah chapter 7 doesn’t mean that God is telling us we can ask for a direct sign like Ahaz could’ve. God went to Ahaz specifically with the opportunity to ask for a sign. We’re not Ahaz; God doesn’t promise to give us this opportunity; God doesn’t promise to give us a GPS for our lives where He’ll give us directions about every decision we make.
We’re not Ahaz getting the GPS; instead, we’re everyone, the whole world, all of the other drivers seeing those electronic message boards. When Ahaz doesn’t receive a sign from God, we’re the ones who benefit because instead of Ahaz getting some message just for him, we get a message that tells us that the Savior of the world will be born to a virgin and be named Immanuel. We get a message which points to Jesus as the One who saves us from sin and death. We get a message that we celebrate every Advent, waiting for the Child to be born.
So we aren’t Ahaz, and we don’t need to be. We don’t need any specific, direct signs from God, because we have the biggest, best sign we could possibly hope for in Jesus Christ. When Jesus is born to a virgin fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah, when God comes and takes flesh in the person of Jesus, we have the ultimate sign of hope and love and peace. While I’d like a sign to help me figure out how to make a decision, while I’d like it if God gave me a GPS that told me the right answer every time, I don’t need such signs. You don’t need those kinds of signs. We have Jesus. We have the Good News of Jesus which helps us to understand how to live in this world as we wait for eternal life.
And yet, sometimes we’re like Ahaz, because we have trouble trusting the message. Ahaz had trouble walking in trust with God. Ahaz thought he needed to do something about those kingdoms, Rezin and Pekah, and while he had heard the message of God, Ahaz still decided he needed to take matters into his own hands. Spiritually, sometimes we still think we have to take matters into our own hands.
If we try to take control of our own spiritual lives, we’ll miss the sign that God has given us. God has offered His Son, Jesus, as a sign to us, reminding us that we will be saved from eternal death. God is flashing this sign on all of the electronic message boards along the spiritual highways of life, and if we decide to ignore those directions and go our own way, well, then we’re going to find ourselves down a dead end, an eternal dead end.
While the sinful part of me would love to take credit for my own salvation, I’d be fooling myself if I thought I could really save myself. I’d be lost.
Instead, listen to the message of God. God has given us the message that He will save us through His Son. This salvation is a gift, a free gift from God that we haven’t earned. Jesus was born to save all people from their sins. When we admit that we’re sinful, when we admit that we can’t save ourselves, it’s not the end of our story. Instead, by admitting how lost we are, that’s when we realize that God’s given us this incredibly wonderful gift of salvation.
God has saved us; God has promised us forgiveness, love, salvation, eternal life, and peace. The sign of the virgin giving birth to a child is the sign for us. Our Savior is born! We do not have to wait for another sign, because God has announced this sign to the whole world—the child is Savior of the world.
Just in case the birth of a child doesn’t always seem like a sign that’s powerful enough, remember the night that Jesus was born. His birth wasn’t a small affair. The angels showed up in multitudes, calling out to the shepherds, making sure people knew that the sign was fulfilled, the Savior had been born. This is your sign tonight, the sign that you have been saved by God:
8“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
15When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”
Make haste this Advent season to see this one sign that the Lord has given us, the only sign that we need: the Savior was born, the child of a virgin.