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Isa 7,1-25 Immanuel, a sign of hope and judgment (2008)

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I had a really hard time making heads or tails

            out of the scripture lesson for today,

            and as I was thinking about the passage

            I felt for our Sunday School teachers

            who were preparing this lesson for today,

            and are most likely to be teaching this lesson right now…

Incidentally, more than once when I looked at this text

            I was tempted to lay it aside

            in favor of another sermon for today.

But, after reading the text a number of times,

            I realized that Isaiah is really trying to speak Hope

            into the lives of God’s people,

            and encourages Judah to trust in God.

Hope!

That is what we too need at a time like this.

Isaiah gives Israel the assurance that

 

“The Lord himself will give you a sign:

The virgin will be with child

and will give birth to a son,

and will call him Immanuel” (v. 14).

Ill.: There is a Sign in an Atlanta police station:  "In God We Trust -- Others We Polygraph."

And off course, we’ve all seen this fortune cookie after a good meal of Chinese food.

Did you know that

The official national motto of the United States and the State of Florida is In God We Trust?

The motto first appeared on a United States coin in 1864,

but In God We Trust did not become the official U.S. national motto until after it was passed by an Act of Congress in 1956.

In the last few weeks many people will have looked at this Faith claim with new eyes,

as we have seen the US and world economy shaken to the core,

Leave alone also the numerous layoffs and the uncertain economic situation in our province and country.

But what is in a statement like this?

And what does this have to do with today’s message?

Well, today’s message is about Hope…

And trust…

And faith…

And judgment…

And I think it is very timely for us to think about where we place our trust.

With that, let’s turn to our text to introduce the characters.

1 When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

The invasion of Rezin and Pekah is known as the Syro-Ephraimite War.

Aram and Israel were trying unsuccessfully to persuade Ahaz to join a coalition against Assyria to the North.

Isaiah, on the other hand, was trying to keep Ahaz from forming a counter-alliance with Assyria against Aram and Israel.

The northern kingdom of Israel, led by Pekah,

and Aram, led by Rezin, wanted to form an alliance against Assyria,

Ahaz refused to join them.

And so the two kings decided that the best thing to do was to conquer Jerusalem and get rid of Ahaz

putting their own king, the son of Tabeel, on Judah’s throne.

Then they thought they could resist the great superpower of Assyria.

In the end Assyria took Damascus and killed Rezin.

Ahaz met Tiglath–pileser there, and, seeing a pagan altar, he ordered the high priest to make a copy of it for the Temple at Jerusalem (2 Kings 16:9–11).

Pekah was killed shortly thereafter even as he had killed his predecessor.

Captives from Galilee and eastern tribes were taken by Assyria and resettled (2 Kings 15:29; 1 Chronicles 5:26; see Isaiah 9:1).

“So the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.”

Ahaz and all of Judah were scared,

And in their fear turned to Assyria to seek an alliance against Israel and Aram.

Ahaz gathered up the gold and silver of the temple and sent them to the king of Assyria

hiring him to deliver Judah from the threat of Israel and Aram.
It was a foolish thing to do.

When we are threatened by seemingly overwhelming odds we tend to trust what we can see.

God is unseen and to human comprehension so very far away.

Our temptation then is to reach for what we can do ourselves.

Fear and doubt, if we let them, will rob us of the Lord’s plan to rescue us.

That’s what happened to Ahaz.

God knew of the fear that paralyzed Ahaz and sent Isaiah to tell him two things.

The first was this:
“Then the LORD said to Isaiah,

‘Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub,

to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool,

on the road to the Washerman’s Field.

Say to him,

‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid.

Do not lose heart

because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood…”

(Vv. 3-4).

God’s message through Isaiah to King Ahaz is,

“Do not lose heart!”

The threat is not nearly as great as it appears to you right now.

Aram and Israel are all used up,

they are nothing but smoke and ashes.

There is no fire in them.

And there is no need to ask Assyria for help as a result.
“Do not lose heart!”

This is a message for us today as well.

“Do not lose heart!”

 

In the midst of the stresses and confusion that you experience in your life,

Do not lose heart!”

Whatever the circumstances may be…

Do not lose heart!”

You may be going through a personal crisis in your family, with your spouse or children,

at work, or at school,

You may be wrestling with health issues,

Or carrying with you the weight of a heavy decision,

Or the uncertainty of the future,

And you may be wondering,

“Whom can I trust?”

Let this word wash over your spirit and sink deep into your soul:

Do not lose heart!”

The Lord is in control!

The second thing the Lord says through Isaiah is this:

“It will not take place,

it will not happen,

for the head of Aram is Damascus,

and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.

Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered

to be a people.

The head of Ephraim is Samaria,

and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.

If you do not stand firm in your faith,

you will not stand at all” (Vv. 7-9).

God says the invasion will not happen.

What you worry about the most will just not happen.

There is nothing to fear.

Your enemies are weak and they can’t pull off the kind of invasion that they are plotting against you.

But, you must have faith.

If you do not stand firm in your faith,

you will not stand at all.

That is a warning to Ahaz.

And it is a warning to us as well.

The fact that Ahaz was to be found at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field,

Indicates that he was inspecting the water supply, which was running low.

He was worried, “Will I have enough resources to make it through this political crisis?

If we think about this from a human point of view we would say,

“That’s the mark of a good leader.”

He’s got to know his resources.

But, the prophet says to Ahaz,

“You are not standing on solid ground.

You are building your future on your own understanding of the situation,

and on an ungodly alliance with Assyria.”

This will come back to bite you.

Assyria will take over and deport your people…

While this is taking place,

while Isaiah speaks to Ahaz,

there is a little boy who says nothing and does nothing.

The son of Isaiah, Shear-Jashub, stands quietly by his daddy.

Yet his very presence gives the prophecy meaning.

His name means a remnant shall return.”

Isaiah is telling Ahaz that his fear is misplaced.

“You are scared of Israel and Aram,

but you should fear the judgment that will come by way of your alliance with Assyria.”

God knew that Ahaz still had doubts about being spared an invasion.

So the Lord offered Ahaz some assurance:

“Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz,

‘Ask the LORD your God for a sign,

whether in the deepest depths

or in the highest places.’

But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask;

I will not put the LORD to the test’” (10-12).

Sounds like a pious answer, doesn’t it?

It’s not right to put God to the test.

But in this case it is a doubtful and cowardly excuse for a king who insults his God.

He had indeed copied some of the idols of the Assyrians and brought them to Jerusalem.

And he had also taken the Gold used in the Temple ceremonies and given it as payment to Assyria.

This was his chance to see that God was trustworthy and that he could put his faith in God.

And we see that Ahaz totally blew the opportunity, and tries to cover up his deceit with “spiritual-sounding” words.

“Oh no, I couldn’t put the Lord to the test…”

Then Isaiah said,

‘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:

The virgin will be with child

and will give birth to a son,

and will call him Immanuel” (13-14).

Here Ahaz seals the fate of Judah.

He had sold out Judah to Assyria, to God’s enemies,

and the future of Judah was doomed.

By refusing God’s help

And instead trusting in the Assyrian army for help

Ahaz ensured that Judah would go into captivity,

And the nation would never recover.

God promises to be with us.

When everything seems lost…

When we find ourselves in captivity…

When our security and safety is threatened…

When our faith is low…

Then we perceive the words of the Eternal:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart

and lean not on your own understanding;

in all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).

This story, that points us toward the Christmas promise of the birth of the Immanuel - “God with us”,

forces the question on us in all circumstances of life:

In whom do we trust?

Is God trustworthy?

Can you trust God?

When we are threatened by financial crisis,

            by family issues,

when our business or work situation is at risk,

            when your health is in danger,

            can we trust God?

When our relationships with each other in the church are not what they are supposed to be,

            can we trust God?

Are we tempted to rely on your own resources,

            on conventional wisdom,

            or on the advice of the wisdom of this world?

Do we believe that God will work out our problems

            and do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine?

When our world is threatened

And we look around for solid ground on which to stand

            let us never forget that God is with us.

Whatever your situation may be,

            do not lose heart!

            Trust in God!

Because in God alone is our hope!

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