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Isaiah 7,9-11 Sign of Judgement and Hope (2008)

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Immanuel: a sign of Hope and Judgement

Isaiah 7:1-25

 

I have to admit that this is a difficult time

       for us as a family.

Yesterday morning Hedi had a wonderful conversation

       On the phone with her dad.

A short while later her brother called back from Paraguay

       To let us know that Hedi’s dad

       Had been taken by ambulance to the hospital

       And it didn’t look very good.

The rest of the day

       We basically sat by the phone to await any news.

It appears that he had a massive stroke.

As we continue to wait for news about his condition

       We ask for your prayers.

We need your prayers.

And now to my sermon,

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

       And choose 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.

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).

Isn’t it amazing to see how God works?

It is easy for us to say that we trust in God.

Our behavior would suggest

otherwise as we rely on money

or the ability of another person

or some greater human power to help us.

When God says something in his Word,

can we trust him that he will carry out his work on our behalf?

1. When you are threatened…

The opening verses give us a nutshell of the situation.

“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” (v. 1).
More of the story is told in 2 Kings.

What we do know is that the northern kingdom,

Israel, led by Pekah,

and Aram, led by Rezin,

wanted to form an alliance against Assyria,

Ahaz refused to join them.

The two kings decided that the best thing to do

was conquer Jerusalem

and depose Ahaz

putting their own king on Judah’s throne.

Then they thought they could

resist the great superpower of Assyria.

Ahaz and all of Judah trembled at the thought.

What do you do when you are threatened by bullies?

Hire a bigger bully to beat them up.

That’s what Ahaz did.

He 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.

The situation would have been similar to Poland

asking the Soviet Union to help them

fight the Nazis in World War II.

When the war was over the Soviets didn’t leave Poland

and the Poles remained a threatened people,

a people living in fear.
Fear can force us to make rash decisions.

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,

or arrange for ourselves.

We will solve our own problems.
This behavior goes against what we as followers of Jesus

say we believe.

“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).

Fear and doubt, if we let them,

will rob us of the Lord’s plan to rescue us.

That’s what happened to Ahaz.

2. “Trust Me”
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).

In two words God says to Ahaz,

“Trust me.”

Ahaz has two fears.

One is that Judah will be invaded by Aram and Israel

and he will lose the throne.

The second is that if he joins Aram and Israel,

Assyria’s retribution will be worse

than anyone can imagine.

But God says not to fear

because 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.
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 clearly says the invasion will not happen.

It just won’t.

There is nothing to fear.

These people are weak

and they can’t pull it off.

God is like a spy in the enemy camp.

He can see the enemy forces

and he reports that there is nothing to them.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,

you will not stand at all.

That is a warning to Ahaz

and the people of God.

In Hebrew it is a play on words

that in English would go something like this:

‘If there is no belief,

you will find no relief.’

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.”

Now here is Shear-Jashub,

standing like a prophecy before Ahaz.

“A remnant shall return”

said two things to Ahaz.

On the one hand there was a promise

that the people of Judah would not be completely wiped out,

a fraction of the people will be saved.

On the other,

the presence of the little boy spoke of disaster

because something terrible would happen

to leave only a remnant of the people.

Simply by his presence,

Shear-Jashub represents a promise

that God can be trusted.

This little boy plays a key role in this passage,

as we will see later.

3. Meet me at a place of trust
When God asks us to trust him,

he asks that we meet him at that place of trust.

We have to show that we are willing

to put everything in God’s hands.

Then God is able to show us

how trusting him will benefit us

beyond what we can imagine.
The place of meeting where Isaiah meets Ahaz

carries this significance also.

Yahweh had told Isaiah to meet Ahaz

at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool,

on the road to the Washerman’s Field.

From our modern English perspective

the meeting place means nothing.
Careful investigation tells us that God had a purpose

in this meeting place however.

Why this spot?

There was a double-meaning in the exact location

God commanded for this meeting place.
Remember in Isaiah’s commissioning

that God said to Isaiah,

“Go and tell this people:

‘Be ever hearing,

but never understanding;

be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

Make the heart of this people calloused;

make their ears dull and close their eyes.

Otherwise they might see with their eyes,

hear with their ears,

understand with their hearts,

and turn and be healed” (6:9-10).

Now Isaiah speaks and Ahaz must listen

and hopefully perceive.

Some things God says are clear as crystal

but His people do not understand.
The word “pool” in Hebrew can also mean “blessing.”

In a dry and thirsty land like Palestine

it is easy to see how a pool of water could be a blessing.

The word “upper” means more than a higher level of pool;

it can also mean “the most high.”

Put it together and we have

“the blessing of the Most High.”

This meeting place west of Jerusalem

was where God wanted Isaiah to make his promises.
Beside this pool was the road/or highway

to the Washerman’s Field.

A highway in the OT always means an ascent.

In ch. 35 it is called the highway of holiness.

Our symbol of a highway to the laundry man

is of a way to righteousness and moral cleansing.
When we put these two symbols together,

the Upper Pool and the highway to the laundry man,

we have a meeting of the

“upward way of cleansing and of washing,

meeting the downward flow of the channel of blessings

of the Most High.”

What does that remind you of?

We know that from the Gospels

this can only be Jesus Christ.

He is the way of cleansing of our filthy rags

and the blessing of the Most High.

You see where this is going?

4. Believing in a sign you can trust
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 sniveling, doubtful,

cowardly excuse for a king who insults his God.

This was his chance to see that God was trustworthy,

that he could put his faith in God.
“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).

It is in this moment that Ahaz seals the fate of Judah.

He had sold out Judah to Assyria,

to God’s enemies,

and the future of Judah was doom.

Had Ahaz shown some faith in God at this moment,

this precise moment,

Jesus might have been born in a palace,

as the son of kings.

Instead Ahaz ensured that Judah would go into captivity,

the nation would never recover,

and Jesus would be born in poverty and obscurity.
And yet whether in prominence or obscurity,

God’s Son would be born of a virgin

to fulfill this prophecy,

and more importantly, this promise.

When Isaiah gives this sign he no longer addresses Ahaz

as an individual,

he addresses the house of David.

This is for the whole house of David.

A young man was full of fear

when he heard that his fiancé was pregnant.

What will people think?

What about my reputation?

How could my lover be so unfaithful

as to have another man’s baby?

Reaching for the only solution that made sense

he opted to break off the engagement.

Then an angel appeared to him and said,

“Joseph son of David,

do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife,

because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

She will give birth to a son,

and you are to give him the name Jesus,

because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt. 1:20-21). Like Ahaz,

Joseph is faced with a decision:

trust God or go with conventional human wisdom.

Joseph decides to trust God

and Matthew tells us this is the fulfillment

of Isaiah’s prophecy,

of Immanuel’s coming – Immanuel –

which means “God with us.”

And Matthew concludes this gospel with Jesus’ words

“And surely I will be with you always,

to the very end of the age” (Mt. 28:20).

God with us. Always.
Back in Isaiah we read

He will eat curds and honey

when he knows enough to reject the wrong

and choose the right.

But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong

and choose the right,

the land of the two kings you dread

will be laid waste” (15-16).

This may sound like it should apply to Immanuel

but this is a bit of a problem with our English.

How could Jesus’ birth 700 years later

coincide with the destruction of Israel

only years after Isaiah preached this?

Clearly this sign is for Ahaz and the problem he faced.

To whom does the “he” refer?
Shear-Jashub!

That’s why Isaiah brought along his little boy.

Two sons and two signs.

One for now and one for later.

Shear-Jashub was a sign to the unbelieving king

concerning the invasion of Judah.

That sign was the only comfort Ahaz

could know is that “a remnant shall return.”

Conclusion
I have just told you a remarkable story.

The greatest challenge we face in telling a story like this

is how we are going to respond to it.

For you see this is not merely a nice story to tell at Christmas time,      

it is really a history of failure;

failure to learn the lesson of this story

and trust God.
The questions that we ask now are crucial

for how we go on from here.

Is God trustworthy?

Can you trust God?

When you are threatened by financial crisis,

by family issues,

rebellious teens,

when your business is at risk,

when your health is in jeopardy,

can you trust God?

Are you tempted to rely on your own resources,

on conventional wisdom,

or on the advice of those who are not of God?

Do you believe that God will work out

the problems in your life for his glory?

Do you believe that what happens to you

is above God’s ability to fix?

Or do you trust that he is able to do immeasurably more

than all we ask or imagine?

How can we know that God is trustworthy?

Let me tell you,

we know this through the birth of Jesus Christ

who is God in the flesh.

Jesus is the sign of God’s faithfulness.

It is ironic that we are continually reminded

of the affluent and materialistic society we live in,

that we have more spending power than in any time of history,

and yet…we do not trust God with our finances.

We do not believe that God will be faithful to us

and supply all our needs if we sacrifice to his causes.

Can we tithe and offer gifts to God?

Can we give a little more to the church

And open our heart to our community?

NO, because we do not trust him with his money.

Can we step out in faith and let God do more in us

in our workplaces than we ever thought possible?

NO, because we do not trust him with our lives.
Will you come forward publicly

to declare that you are not living as you should

and now you want to dedicate yourself to Jesus,

whatever that may mean for your life?

NO, because we are afraid.

Without faith it is impossible to please God,

we read in our Bibles.

Do we take this seriously? I wonder.
Jesus’ birth was foretold 7 centuries before he walked the earth.

Is that not sign enough

to tell you that God has his eye on you

and that he loves you and that he wants you to step up?

We can trust him.

He will not let us down.

Come let us believe together

that He is able to spend our lives wisely.

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