A SIGN THAT GOD IS WITH US
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Read Isaiah 9:2-7
2700 years ago, the Middle East was a troubled place ... [See 2 Kings 16, 2 Chronicles 28, Isaiah 7-9]
- People were fearful and worried in the nation of Judah in the 8th century BC. Judah was not nearly what it had been in the old days. In the golden age when Israel and Judah were one nation they were known around the world. But not in the 8th century ...
- The big Superpower to the North was Assyria. Every nation was afraid of Assyria. No nation could match them. But what if the smaller nations could combine forces?
- King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel had a plan. They would force Judah to join them in their campaign against Assyria.
- Ahaz was the king of Judah. And if he would not join the other nations, they would place their own man on the throne to complete their coalition against Assyria.
- So Ahazs has a no-win scenario does he fight Aram and Israel and suffer defeat, or join them and go up against Assyria and get really suffer defeat? What should he do?
- Ahaz is not the greatest leader. His father and grandfather were not the greatest of rulers either. Ahaz had committed his people to war against the northern tribes of Israel and suffered horrible losses. He lost 120,000 in one battle and 200,000 women and children were taken captive. Ahaz didnt seem to learn from these losses. He seemed indifferent to the loss of life. He was willing to compromise anything to achieve his own goals. He even sacrificed his children to evil gods to ensure their favor.
- Worse yet, Ahaz is contemplating a counter-alliance. If an alliance with Aram and Israel wont work, what about an alliance with Assyria? He could turn the tables on Aram and Israel. It sounds logical, but it is a deal with the devil ...
Its in the midst of this Middle East Crisis that the name Immanuel is first spoken ...
- Ahaz is king in Jerusalem. Jerusalem has a special place in Gods heart because of his promises to David. God promised David that his throne would endure, so God isnt real fond of this talk about a puppet ruler taking over.
- So God sends his man Isaiah to encourage Ahaz. Gods word, his news, for Ahaz is this: Dont worry about Aram and Israel. I know the future and those kings arent going to be around much longer. Their days are numbered. But dont cozy up to Assyria. Trust in me to take care of you. I am in control of Assyria and my plans dont include an alliance between Judah and Assyria.
- To build up Ahazs trust in God (which has not been that great) God has approved a sign. God invites Ahaz to put him to the test. (Not the proper thing to do, but God is God). Go ahead, what do you want Ahaz? Even something impossible?
- But Ahaz (out of character) chooses to do the proper thing and not test God (besides negotiations with Assyria were coming up and it was looking good). Isaiah encourages Ahaz to take the offer, but Ahaz still refuses.
- Fine! God will pick his own sign and its the Immanuel sign. A young woman (a virgin at the moment) right there in Ahazs court will have a child and before this child is old enough to eat table food and before he can choose what he wants and doesnt want (i.e. in just two or three years) Aram and Israel will be history.
- And that son will be named God with us as a witness to Ahaz that God is keeping his promise to David and there will be hope for the future, but in Ahazs rule there will be hard times with Assyria, because Ahazs decision was faithless and he would have rather have Assyria with him than have God with him.
700 years after Ahaz, the Middle East was still a troubled region ... [See Matthew 1-2]
- The king in Jerusalem is Herod. Like Ahaz, he has made a deal with the super-power to the north in this case Rome. Like Ahaz, Herod is a man who will compromise to accomplish his own purposes. Like Ahaz, Herod is worried and fearful. He is so afraid of losing his familys claim to the throne that when he hears of a rival king being born he orders the annihilation of all male children.
- How many children died because of the orders of a fearful, arrogant ruler? How many mothers grieved because the powers-that-be loved power and control more than life and justice?
- The actions of Herod threaten the well-being of a humble man and his betrothed wife. Their names are Joseph and Mary. Joseph is troubled. But God has approved a sign. He is sending a messenger to Joseph through a dream. Like Ahaz, Joseph was invited by God to take a step of faith. And once again, the name of Immanuel is spoken. This child is going to be born of a virgin begotten of God. He is going to be the fullest expression of Gods solidarity and love for us. He will truly be God with us!
Immanuel ... God is With Us. He lives with us, yet the presence of God With Us God in this world changes the way we live in this world.
Immanuel means we fear God rather than the crisis of the day ...
The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said, Dont call everything a conspiracy, like they do, and dont live in dread of what frightens them. Make the Lord of Heavens Armies holy in your life. He is the one you should fear. He is the one who should make you tremble. Isaiah 8
Immanuel means that a new age of justice is breaking into our unjust and cruel world ...
He will break the yoke of slavery slavery? Is there slavery in the world? God help us there is. Some 20 million in the world, many of them children, are forced into slavery. The economics and sexual perversions of a troubled world have forged their chains.
But Immanuel will lift the heavy burden from their shoulders and break the oppressors rod. May God help us that we are not their oppressors, or we will find ourselves at odds with Immanuel!
Immanuel means that a new age of peace is breaking into our hostile world ...
The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heavens Armies will make this happen! Isaiah 9
2000 years after the name Immanuel was spoken to Joseph and Mary, the Middle East is still a troubled place. But in the 21st century, that means the world is a troubled place.
- Aircraft carriers patrol the Persian Gulf.
- The governments of Iran and Iraq could be moving toward alliance.
- The governments of the United States and Iran are not.
- Regardless of our political views, we know that our friends and loved ones are away from us in a troubled land and what happens over there matters over here.
- And people we do not know, people who live in other countries are just as concerned as we are about what may happen in our troubled times.
But God is With Us. He is with all of us. God is for us. Pay attention, I am not saying that God is with us and not with them, whoever them is. For the arrival of Immanuel means that things are radically different [Isaiah 11]:
6The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the hole of the cobra,
and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.
Under the flag of Immanuel, natural enemies live in peace. Thats not possible under any other banner. Thats not possible with any other treaty or alliance. No army on earth can secure this peace. Only the commitment of the the Lord who command Heavens Armies can secure this peace.
When all hope is lost, when we are afraid and troubled thats when God gives us a sign. Immanuel is that sign. God with us is that sign. We see in our baptism God is with us. We see it in our communion God is With Us. We see it in our love and service God is with us.
God is with us. Immanuel. Jesus Christ born of a virgin. He showed us the glory of God. He bore the shame of the cross. God raised Him and established His rule over all time and space. Do you know Him?
Let us pray and hope for that day when the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord. Thats the day when swords become plowshares. Thats the day we receive justice. Thats the day we stop harming one another. Lets live like that day is today for in Jesus Christ God is with us. Do you know Him?
West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 23 December 2007
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