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God With Us: Isaiah 7-9
Good morning, church. Please go with me to the book of Isaiah, and this morning we’re going to be reading parts of chapters 7-9.
We’re in a series through the book of Isaiah, which is a book about humanity’s sin, God’s redemption, and the coming of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
We spent the last several weeks focusing on humanity’s sin, that distance between who we are and who we are meant to be. Isaiah spends time reminding us of the way the world was created, and the way the kingdom of God will be, so that we can see how far we are from our destination—there is a gulf between us and heaven—and we need to learn to long for the world as it will be; the world as God is making it.
Maybe you’ve felt that distance before, a sense of restlessness, of not quite being at home in this world. If so, know that you will always feel restless until you find rest in God. The gulf between heaven and earth, the distance between who we are and who we are meant to be, is too vast for us to cross, but God himself has crossed that gap to be with us.
Last week we looked at Isaiah’s vision of God as a high and holy king, able to do whatever he will do and be whoever he will be. But Isaiah ends this vision in mourning, because God isn’t going to do what Isaiah wants him to do. God doesn’t always do what we want him to do—he’s not on our side in that sense—but God does always do what’s right, and he stands beside us even through suffering from our own sin; in that way he’s on our side, even if we are on the wrong side of this gulf created by sin.
This week we are going to focus on what Isaiah is calling us to do in light of humanity’s sin and God’s coming kingdom, in knowledge of his ability to do whatever he wants in the world: trust. God wants you to trust him. In spite of the brokenness of the world, even though he doesn’t always do what we want, or what would be pleasant for us; God wants us to trust him, and in our text today, he’s going to offer us a sign, specifically a child, to show us that we are able to trust him.
Read with me, Isaiah, chapter 7, and we’re going to start reading in v.9, then jump over to chapter 9—if I lose you, the words should be on the screen. [Isaiah 7:9-16; 9:1-7] This is the word of the Lord; thanks be to God. Pray with me, briefly. Father, thank you for revealing your character to us so we can trust you; Christ, all God’s promises find their yes in you; Holy Spirit, you are God with us today; I pray you would show us your truth in your word today, because we know your truth will set us free.
I know what you’re thinking, Anne-Elise, but no, this passage isn’t just about Christmas. The sign of the Immanuel-child is meant for the people of that day, even if it does have an immense significance for us.
My first point from the text this morning is this, just what I said earlier: God wants us to trust him. God wants us to trust him, not for his sake, but for ours; and to understand that point you have to know what’s going on surrounding this passage.
Between chapters six and seven, about 25 years have passed, and they have not been good years. When we started Isaiah, I said he was preaching woes and sin to a people who thought nothing was wrong. But here in chapter 7, 25 years later, the world goes not well.
You may remember, Isaiah lives in the nation of Judah in the city of Jerusalem. In those 25 years between chapters six and seven, two of Judah’s main allies, Israel and Syria both in the north, have started a coalition and actually begun waging war against Judah. So when our passage starts, Ahaz, who is the King of Judah in Jerusalem, is outside of the city of Jerusalem securing the water supply for the city because he’s preparing for an army coming from the north to lay siege to the city.
Isaiah goes out to where Ahaz is working, to speak with him, and the message Isaiah brings is threefold, and as so often happens in the prophets, Isaiah’s life prophesies just as much as his words. At this point, he has one child who’s probably about AJ’s age, who comes with him to speak to Ahaz the king, because the child is part of Isaiah’s message. Isaiah has named his son, “only a remnant will return.”
And I know now from experience how quickly children grow. I see it in my own child, and in the children of my friends and family. I was part of an ordination council last weekend at the church I pastored before this one, and all I could think being among that congregation after a year and a half was how much the children had changed. I know now why every year growing up at Thanksgiving my aunts and uncles would see me and say “wow, you’ve grown.” It’s startling how fast children grow, which is why Isaiah names his children after the things he’s prophesying. He’s showing how quickly everything he’s saying will come about.
One: Isaiah’s message to the king is that everything’s about to change. You’re focused on the wrong things, king. You’re worried about the wrong things. You’re preparing for a siege, but Israel and Syria won’t be able to destroy Jerusalem. In fact, Isaiah says, before my child is grown, neither of these two nations you’re so afraid of will exist, but God will still exist. If you’re going to worry, worry about what God will do, whether God is your enemy or your ally. Because God will be the only unshifting thing in the world, he will be the only permanency. Isaiah says, “if you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”
I would say the same thing to you today. God wants us to trust him, less for his sake than for ours. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all. Trust in God, not in some vague spiritual sense, but out of necessity, because he’s the only thing that doesn’t change. When your world spins out of control, he’s the only one who is still going to be there.
We humans are trusting creatures. We can’t help but depend, rely on things, even those of us who think ourselves independent and self-made. It’s a lie. Most of us trust that our families will always be there, that we’ll have enough money, that our spouses will always love us well, that our strength and skill will be enough, that we have time left to live the life we were meant to live. But all of that can change in a moment. Don’t trust in any of it, trust instead in God.
Because God will always be there for you; he always has time for you; he never sleeps, always answers when you call; he always gives good council; he always speaks hard truths; he is always powerful enough and has enough resources to affect the situation, to do whatever needs done; he’s always good, and he never waits too long or acts before the time is right; trust in God, because he is worthy of your trust and dependence, he alone is solid enough to hold up under the weight of our need. God wants us to trust him.
The second part of Isaiah’s message, and therefore the second point I’m trying to make is wrapped up in the sign of Immanuel. Immanuel just means “God with us,” so my second point is this: God is with us whether we want him to be or not. God is with us whether we want him to be or not.
When Anne-Elise and I read this passage together this week, she brightened up and goes, “It’s Christmas! Christmas in May!” And it’s tempting, if you’re more familiar with the New Testament than the old, which is most of us, to jump forward to Jesus before we understand the prophecy here, so I want to encourage you. As we’re going through Isaiah, and in general whenever we read prophecy in the Old Testament, think about it in the same way you think about reading the words of Scripture and applying what you read to your life today, thousands of years after the scripture was written.
As John Oswalt writes, “the sign of Immanuel, has a single meaning, but a double significance.” We think about prophecy as foretelling the future, which it often does, but that’s not the point of prophecy. The point of prophecy is to reveal the nature and work of God in the world, which does not change, past present or future, and which was perfectly revealed and accomplished in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Every prophesy, in that sense, is going to have a single meaning that is relevant for the original context of the prophesy, is fulfilled in Jesus, and that single meaning still applies unchangingly today and in the future—because the nature and work of God are unchanging. Let me show you, in this specific prophesy what I mean.
Isaiah tells King Ahaz God wants to give him a sign to show Ahaz he can trust God. God is pleading with Ahaz to trust in him. But Ahaz won’t even do that, and the reason he gives is maddening. He quotes the Bible and says he won’t ask for a sign from God because that would go against the law of God. Basically, God is pleading with Ahaz to trust in him, and Ahaz responds with hypocritical piety instead of faith.
This is like when I share the gospel with people and they respond with their life philosophy, or a list of all the good things they’ve done. I tell them, look, I’m trying to give you the one thing I know can actually help you, and instead of accepting it, you just want me to be impressed with you. Isaiah tells King Ahaz, God is going to give you a sign regardless. A virgin will conceive and bear a son and he will be called Immanuel, “God with us.”
Again, there is a single meaning here, with multiple significance. The single meaning is something the Old Testament tells us over and over again: the God we worship is the God who is with us. When God reveals himself to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, they ask which God he is, and God tells them, I’m the God who is with you. Not one who is removed from the world and not involved; no, our God is one who saw the world broken by sin and emptied himself, taking on the form of a servant, even submitted himself to death in order to rescue us. Over and over again, God is telling his people, I’m with you.
And here again, even when Ahaz doesn’t think he needs God, even though the people of God don’t seem to want him there, God is still telling them, I am God with you. And again, we see Isaiah’s life preaching this message even louder than his words—this is debated, but I think—Isaiah’s first wife had died, and he remarries, has a second child with a woman who had not previously been married, a virgin, and their child together is a sign to Ahaz, just like Isaiah’s first child, both that destruction of Judah is coming startlingly quickly but unthinkably, God will remain with his people. When they go into exile, he will go with them. When they suffer under foreign rule, he will come and suffer with them. He will remain, God with them, even though they haven’t yet learned to trust God, even though they reject him.
And of course we do see the significance of this prophecy—I would say, the fulness, the fulfillment of this prophesy—in the life of Jesus, who was conceived of a virgin and was fully God with us, being fully God and fully man. The life of Jesus was another radical, unthinkable instance of God coming to us even though we rejected him, even though we didn’t want him, even though we killed him. I praise God that his salvation of us does not depend upon us or our character, but instead depends upon him and his steadfast love.
God is with us whether we want him to be or not. The significance of this in our lives, too, is enormous. When I was growing up, as a child, my favorite passage of the Bible was always Psalm 139, which is a beautiful promise that God knows us completely, and yet still loves us, and no matter where we go, he’s going to go with us. There’s no place we can go that can separate us from him. I was comforted by that as a child.
And then I got to be a teenager, and the Psalm changed in my mind. It sounded more like a threat than a promise, because I wanted to leave God at the church house sometimes, and he kept intruding into my life. I wanted to get away from God, and there he still was in my life, like a parent who wants to go with you on a date. He wouldn’t leave me alone, kept bothering me whenever I was doing something out of step with his purpose for me, and I that’s when I first learned this important truth.
God is with us whether we want him to be or not. King Ahaz does not want God in his life, among his people. He doesn’t want to hear Isaiah’s prophecies, he doesn’t want God to do anything he’s promised to do. Ahaz knew, just like I did as a teenager, that God being with him would not always be pleasant. And Isaiah is pleading with him to trust God.
I think I’ve learned in my life at this point, that even though God being with me convicts me of sin, even though walking with him has me wading through darkness and difficulty at times, even though following him has me giving up and giving away all kinds of things I valued in life, his presence is more of a blessing than any of it. He gives me more joy than anything else I’ve pursued. He fulfills my desires more than any other thing I’ve tried to use to satisfy myself. God being with me is not always pleasant, but it is always good. I’ve learned, little by little, to trust him to be there, that he is still steadfast in his love for me, even if no one else is and everything else in the world has changed.
The sign of Immanuel is for each of you this morning, too. Isaiah’s children teach us how brief our lives are before we arrive at judgement, and they remind us that God wants to be a part of your life. If you once become his child, he’ll never leave you. And yes, knowing him is not always pleasant. He’ll call you to do hard things, like killing the sin in your life. He’ll say things you disagree with, even things you find offensive. He’ll ask you to call people family when you’d rather not have anything to do with them. He’s not going to share your political views, and he may even allow our country to fall. But he will still be there, steadfast as ever.
He is with us, whether we want him to be or not, and God wants us to trust him because, his salvation is greater that we can imagine. That’s Isaiah’s last message and my last point for today. God’s salvation is greater than we can imagine.
Ahaz, in the passages we read, is annoyed with Isaiah, and frustrated. Frustrated enough to be angry. He’s a little more focused on the problems at hand than on some far distant day of the Lord. Imagine the king preparing for a siege—there were armies actively marching toward Jerusalem—and here comes the preacher Isaiah with a child saying there’s nothing to worry about, and fear God, live righteously. All Ahaz wants is salvation from the coming invasion. What he doesn’t realize, what he can’t even imagine, is that God is doing so much more.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. He will reign with justice and righteousness forevermore.
God saved Judah from that particular invasion, Isaiah was right. Ahaz had nothing to fear from those two nations. But eventually the city was going to fall. The sin of the people was too great, God couldn’t let it go unanswered forever. But God’s salvation has little to do with whether or not Jerusalem falls to this enemy or that, because there is are enemies greater than Assyria or Babylon, whose dominance in our world is so total, that we’ve begun to accept their rule as a fact of life—the enemies of sin and death.
God was going to find a way to save his people, not from invasion, but from death itself. To rid the world of death, so that we could live to the full, and everlastingly. This prince of peace that Isaiah prophesies would sit on the throne of David forever was going to overthrow much more than an empire. He was going to overthrow sin and death itself. God’s salvation is greater than we can imagine.
We are like Ahaz, annoyed with Isaiah and every other preacher or Bible teacher we’ve known. I remember, coming up, before I was the one teaching, thinking the salvation of God was largely irrelevant to my circumstances. I was praying for things like grades and girls, jobs and decisions, and I was frustrated that all the things God kept telling me were so…churchy. Now, I see that the grades didn’t so much matter, and what I would need to actually love and serve a woman was to be found in the pages of the Bible I didn’t think was relevant to my life. Over and over again, God proved himself to be a wonderful counselor. I was focused on all the little things, and he was preparing me for the enormity of life and eternity. Bit by bit I’ve learned to trust him.
I don’t know what your issues are, the problems you’re facing, the things in your life that keep causing you pain, but I do know that God’s salvation is greater than you can imagine. Maybe you’re focused on the problems right in front of you, so things like prayer, going to church, reading your Bible don’t really seem to matter, but I think you’ll find—if you do as the Lord is inviting you to do, if you accept his mercy and seek out his signs, if you learn to trust him—his salvation will be fuller, more joyful, more final than you could have imagined. And the time is short. Startlingly short, like childhood.
I’m inviting you this morning to trust the Lord. Stand firm in him, and in faith that he is good and means well for you, or you’re not going to be able to stand at all. His salvation is more than you can imagine. And his sign for you, to show you you’re able to trust him is this: a child, born of a virgin, who would show us, unthinkably, unimaginably, that God is with us wherever we go. Pray with me.