Immanuel – God’s sign to save

Bible Readings

  • John 1:12
  • Isaiah 7:1-17


Dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Robert Robinson had been saved out of a tempestuous life of sin through George Whitfield’s ministry in England. Shortly after that, at the age of twenty-three, Robinson wrote the hymn “Come Thou fount of every blessing”

Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing

Streams of mercy, never ceasing, 

Call for songs of loudest praise. 

Sadly, Robinson wandered far from those streams and, like the Prodigal Son, journeyed into the distant country of carnality. Until one day—he was traveling by stagecoach and sitting beside a young woman engrossed in her book. She ran across a verse she thought was beautiful and asked him what he thought of it.

Prone to wander— Lord, I feel it— 

Prone to leave the God I love. 

Bursting into tears, Robinson said, “Madam, I am the poor unhappy man who wrote that hymn many years ago, and I would give a thousand worlds, if I had them, to enjoy the feelings I had then.” She reassured him that the “streams of mercy” mentioned in his song still flowed.

Robinson turned his “wandering heart” to the Lord.

Godliness spurned

Let’s say you were privileged to grow up in a palace where you could drink from the “fount of blessing”.

Your great-grandfather was king for 29 years; your grandfather was king for 52 years, and your father took over from him and rained 16 years.  So, when you took over the reigns there were just three years short off a century of rulers, of which the Bible records, “they did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” (2Chronicles 25:2, 26:4, 27:2).

Of your great-grandfather you could learn this lesson:  bring the gods of other nations to Jerusalem to worship, and God will not tolerate it (2Chronicles 25:14-16). As soon as your great-grandfather divided his loyalty between these goods and the God of Israel, God sent another king against him who raided Jerusalem.  So that’s a big lesson to learn:  follow the Lord with all your heart.

That’s what your grandfather did. He worshipped God who gave him one victory after the other. That’s what the bible says, “God helped him…” (2Chronicles 26:7)  He ended up having an army of 307,500 men (v. 13).  But, alas!, he became proud, and presumed upon the office of the priests, and God struck him with leprosy.  So that’s a big lesson to learn:  remember who you are in the presence of the Lord.

Then your father became king.  To secure the city, he build the Upper Gate and restored the city wall.  He built along the border of Judah with the northern kingdom, subdued the Ammonites who paid him tribute.  He was a successful king.  The Bible teaches:

Jotham grew powerful because he walked steadfastly before the Lord his God. (2 Chronicles 27:6, NIV)

Your father taught you to walk steadfastly before the Lord.

Then it was your turn.  What sort of king are you going to be?

Let’s fill in the picture of what is happening in other kingdoms around you.  Over the border, just to the north, an unknown fellow, Pekah was his name, assassinated the king of his country (Israel) and crowned himself as leader.  But he found himself in deep waters, because to the north-east there was a mighty king—the leader of the Assyrian Empire—who wanted to expand his kingdom.

To the north-west, the king of Syria, felt the pressure from the Assyrians too, and was looking for a partners to halt the imperialistic aims of this mighty king and recruited the help Pekah.  The two of them though it might be a good idea to get your help—the young king of Judah in Jerusalem.

You resist. You’re in trouble and you start looking for help elsewhere.  Where do you go?  Just follow the example of your great-grandfather who taught you to follow the Lord with all your heart; your grandfather, who taught you that pride is something deadly; and your father, who set the example of following the Lord steadfastly.

So ask God for help?  Instead, you lose your head and you make metal images of—??—Baals! You even went as far as to burn your sons as offerings to the gods of the nations around you!

What happens next?  God turns against you.  You could expect it, couldn’t you?

One of the kings who asked for your alliance attacks from the west and carries off a great number of your people.  As if this is not enough, the Edomites in the south, attack and take some captives. And then, your immediate neighbour, Pekah of Israel, decides to get into the act and attacked, killing 120,000 men on one day, and stealing 200,000 women and children (2Chronicles 28:5-8).

But God comes to your aid by sending a prophet as mediator to send the women and children home.

Why does all of this happen to you and your people?  The Bible helps us:

The Lord had humbled Judah because of Ahaz king of Israel, for he had promoted wickedness in Judah and had been most unfaithful to the Lord. (2 Chronicles 28:19, NIV)

What now?  Where do you go now that your kingdom is falling apart?  Return to the God of your fathers?  No! Headlong in stubbornness!  Listen:

Ahaz gathered together the furnishings from the temple of God and cut them in pieces. He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and aroused the anger of the Lord, the God of his ancestors. (2 Chronicles 28:24–25, NIV)

The more one turns away from God, the more absent He becomes; the more absent He becomes, the greater the hopelessness and bewilderment and confusion in man.

Is there any hope? One very interesting thing has not happened:  Jerusalem has not fallen! The Lord prevented it (2Kings 16:5).

This is where we pick up the story in Isaiah 7.  The people were in distress, dismayed and without hope.  “… the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” (Isaiah 7:2, NIV)

Then God sent his prophet Isaiah, whose name means “Yahweh is salvation”.  With him, according to the command of the Lord, was his son, Shear-jashub, which means “some will return”.  It’s a vivid picture.  “Good morning, your majesty.  My name is Yaweh-is-salvation; and I want you to meet my son, Some-wil-return.  The Lord sent us. He says: Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of Rezin of Syria and Pekah of Israel.  They are like smouldering stubs of firewood.  They will try to overcome you, and they want to kill you and put their own king on your throne.”(Isaiah 7:4, NIV)

Your majesty, listen to what God says:  This is what the Sovereign Lord says:

“It will not take place, it will not happen.  [But] If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” (Isaiah 7:7–9, NIV)

What is the message based on?  The kingdoms Rezin and Pekah are of people, but the kingdom of Judah is “the house of David” (v. 2)  God has not forgotten his promise to David to establish his kingdom forever!

King Ahaz was unsure.  Perhaps he looked down, kicking with his sandal in the sand and looked away.  “Why would God do this after all I have done?  Why does this prophet say ‘your God?’  I hate Him. I don’t deserve grace.  How would I know this is true?”

The sign of grace

Then the prophet appeared again, most probably in the palace itself. This time Isaiah brought this message from God:

“Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” (Isaiah 7:11, NIV)

The king surprises everyone:  “I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test.”  What Ahaz forgot is that the whole situation was in the first instance and ultimately not about him; it was about the house of David (Isaiah 7:13).  The king had already decided to sell his soul to the king of the Assyrians: he had stripped the temple of all gold and silver, his palace of all gold, and sent a message to that king:

“I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” (2 Kings 16:7, NIV)

He had made up his mind:  He can’t trust God; He can’t help.  And he sold his sould to the devil.  In the end he lost his kingdom. He forfeited grace!

Where do we stand this morning?  Where is your heart this morning?  Do you trust God with a steadfast heart?  Or have you taken out an insurance policy underwritten by the enemy of you Lord?  To make the message clear:  the devil can only promise you things which he doesn’t have, and therefore cannot give you.  He promised our Lord the kingdoms of the world which he himself did not have—those kingdoms belong to Christ.  Satan might promise you bread, but Christ gives the bread of life.

Ahaz did not ask for a sign, but he did get one.  God gave “the house of David” a sign.  Did the prophet perhaps point to one of the young daughters of the king who fell pregnant without any knowing it?  She would have a boy, and she would call him Immanuel. Every time Ahaz would want to call his grandson to sit on his lap, he would think about God, his promises, and how he forfeited them.

The Bible writes about Ahaz that he worshipped the idols of Aram and sacrificed to them as he sought for help, “but they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel.” (2Chronicles 28:23).  He died lonely.  This is written about him: “… he was not placed in the tombs of the kings.” (2Chronicles 28:27)

What Isaiah prophesied indeed came true.  That boy was born; he was called Immanuel, the two smouldering stumps did die only some years afterwards, and king of the Assyrians came upon them something terribly.

Immanuel—the Messiah

Then, about 700 years later, after 450 years of silence between the Old and New Testaments, when Judah was under the burden of Roman oppression and about all hope was lost, an angel appeared to a young girl.  She was not married.  She would become pregnant without being married.  The Son she would give birth to would not be the son of an earthly father, but born of the Holy Spirit.  Her fiancé married her after he thought to leave her alone because of the disgrace of being engaged to a girl who is pregnant with a child out of wedlock.

But an angel of God told him to take Mary as his wife, and name the boy Jesus—a second Joshua who would take his people into the final Promised Land.  He would be far more than young Immanuel of 700 years earlier, who was a sign that God has not forgotten his people; He would be the Lamb who took away the sins of the world.  Into this dark world of sin He came to bring light and to purchase the children of God with his blood.

He was with the Father when everything was created, equal with the Father.

You have to meet Him.  He has to be your Immanuel, your light who led you out of the  darkness of sin; the Lamb of God who takes away your sin. “Come, Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing.”  Amen.

Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 26 November 2017


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