Shifting out of Self-Preservation Mode

Christmas is the most likely time of year to experience depression.

  • suicide rate is higher than any other month.
  • 45% of people dread the festive season.
  • Every one else seems so joyous: We don’t want to bring down those around us, we don’t want to feel “different” or alienate ourselves, and we don’t want to draw attention to ourselves either. We wonder what’s wrong with us and why we can’t just jump right on into the holiday cheer. This is supposed to be the happiest time of the year and yet we can barely drag ourselves out of bed and become functional human beings. On top of feeling sad and dysfunctional, we feel out of place, and somehow illegitimate in our feelings.
  • For some people, they get depressed at Christmas and even angry because of the excessive commercialization of Christmas, with the focus on gifts and the emphasis on "perfect" social activities.
  • Other get depressed because Christmas appears to be a trigger to engage in excessive self-reflection and rumination about the inadequacies of life (and a "victim" mentality) in comparison with other people who seem to have more and do more.
  • Still others become anxious at Christmas because of the pressure (both commercial and self-induced) to spend a lot of money on gifts and incur increasing debt.
  • Other people report that they dread Christmas because of the expectations for social gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances that they'd rather not spend time with.
  • And finally, many people feel very lonely at Christmas, because they have suffered the loss of loved ones or their jobs.

Some of us, while not fully depressed, sink into a sort of self-preservation mode.  Just get through this, just get through this. Focus on the task.

The people of Israel were in self-preservation mode.  Two weeks ago we met up a king named Ahaz.  Ahaz was the king of Judah somewhere around 735BC.  We learned that Ahaz was fearful and stressed out because the two countries to the north of him were plotting to come against him, kill him and take over his country so that they would be stronger to stand against the super power, Assyria.  Ahaz is in a bind, because if he joins them, it’s suicide and if he doesn’t they’ll kill him. Ahaz is in self-presevation mode.  We find him fretting out by the pool that is Jerusalem’s water supply contemplating what he can do – should he give up? Should he stay and fight? How long can they hold up in the city without an adequate water supply? Should he form an alliance with Assyria?

The people had also entered in to self-preservation mode. Chapter 8 gives us a glimpse of the self-preservation mindset.  

1)    “Every Man For Himself”  8:6 - “Because this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah”.  The people had deserted Ahaz and would be happy to see him fall  They recognized that Ahaz had no future as king and the more welcoming they could appear to the new kings, the better.  . Irony – the leader had fallen into Self-preservation mode, which led the people into the same mode and ultimately, they turned against the leader. Loyalty? Allegiance? Friendship? Integrity? These things mean little to the person in self-preservation mode. Judas was in self-preservation mode – he could see the writing on the wall with Jesus and sold high, before he would be required to take the fall.  There is no “we” in self-preservation mode.  This is the person who lies to your boss and slanders you, to make himself look better. Churches in self-preservation mode turn to political infighting – we have to win the power struggle so we’ll stay afloat longer even if it means standing on the submerged head of others.

2)    “I want a Second Opinion”. 8:19-22 And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?  To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.”  People in self-preservation mode want to know how things are going to turn out, but they don’t want to hear bad news. The people in Jerusalem were begging for answers.  Look at the horoscopes, consult the stars, get some fortune-tellers in here.  Tell us what we should do!  Tell us how things are going to turn out!  We’re no different.  We turn on 24-hour CNN to tell us what the economy is going to be like and when is it going to recover, and when will the wars be over, and what’s going to happen in the presidential campaign, and what stock should I invest in and am I going to have a retirement.  And there are analysts and experts and futurists and trend-observers.  And as 2008 taught us, a lot of the experts could not see even the biggest bubble burst coming! It’s actually kind of humorous, if it wasn’t so sad, to read the failed predictions of 2008.  Because there are always second opinions out there. Should I date this girl - you come to me, is she a Christian does she love jesus? Are you at a place in your life that dating is not going to distract you from maturing in your faith and in life?  Could you see yourself getting married in a few years? I want a second opinion! Isaiah directs his people – to the teaching and to the testimony – but part of his prophetic vision was that things will get worse before the get better. 

So Ahaz is fretting out by the pool that is Jerusalem’s water supply and wondering what he should do when Isaiah the prophet drops by with his kid.  Ahaz probably wasn’t too happy to see Isaiah because he knows he hasn’t served the Lord and Isaiah has been vocal about it, but Isaiah surprises him by telling him, “Be quiet, do not fear, don’t worry.”  This is your time, king, and you can either stand firm in the faith and be rescued, or keep going your own way which, as you admit yourself, looks pretty bleak.”  And so Isaiah tells Ahaz that the Lord will give to his house a sign that they can trust the Lord in this situation.  The Christmas verse – we’re going to look at it a bit more in depth this week.  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.  He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted.” 

This is actually one of the hardest verses to understand in the entire Bible.  It is also really controversial when talking to Jewish people or Muslims because they think we Christians are reading it completely wrong.  Here is the problem: If Isaiah is talking about Jesus (like Matthew says) then how can this be a sign to Ahaz – who won’t be around to see Jesus?  This would be like me saying, your going to become prime minister of Canada- here is the sign for you – in 700 years a young lady is going to eat a taco with a picture of Jesus on it.  Also, how can this be talking about Jesus when the second part of the prophesy seems to explicitly refer to something that is going to happen in just a few years?  Yet if it is not talking about Jesus, then whom is it talking about?  And why does Matthew say that it is?

Are there any clues in the book of Isaiah that help us out and makes sense of things?  Yes. There are.

  1. Isaiah’s call was to speak in such a way that the spiritually dull would miss his meaning.  Chapter 6 defines Isaiah’s call to “make the hearts of the people dull”.  In a sense, Isaiah spoke like Jesus, people who wanted to hear God had to figure out the riddles. Ahaz has demonstrated himself to be spiritually dull, so that Isaiah is speaking a sort of riddle to him to figure out.
  2. Isaiah gives us the answer to the riddle in his book: the virgin is Israel and the son she is birthing is the remnant of those who remain faithful to the Lord.
    1. 1:8-9: And the daughter of Zion is left like a booth in a vineyard … if the lord of hosts had not left us a few survivors, we should have been line Sodom and become like Gomorrah.
    2. 37:22: “the virgin daughter of Zion – the daughter of Jerusalem.” Although in the Hebrew this word is different from the word in 7:14 (here is betulah [physical virgin] whereas 7:14 is almah [young unmarried woman presumed to be a virgin]) the septuagint translates both as parthenos indicating that the terms are to a degree transferable.
    3. 66:7-11 “Before she was in labor she gave birth; before her pain came upon her she delivered a son. Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Shall a land be born in one day? Shall a nation be brought forth in one moment? For as soon as Zion was in labor she brought forth her children. Shall I bring to the point of birth and not cause to bring forth?” says the LORD; “shall I, who cause to bring forth, shut the womb?” says your God. “Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her; that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast; that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious abundance.”
    4. So here is the sign for Ahaz: even though it seems that everyone is in despair, everyone is turning to their own way, every one is losing their heads, there are still some who have faith in the city.  Even now they are being nursed, hearing the word. There are people not in self-preservation mode – people of faith. We are not alone – this shows that God is with us!
      1. Westboro – Highland Park. artist, Randy.
      2. So Ahaz, you’re not alone, there is a remnant of the faithful around you, you can be encouraged – secondly, even while this remnant is growing – in a very short time the threat that you are worried about will pass, but, and here is where it gets very real – even after the current threat passes – that’s when things will get bad:

        The LORD will bring upon you and upon your people and upon your father's house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.”


In that day the LORD will whistle for the fly that is at the end of the streams of Egypt, and for the bee that is in the land of Assyria.  And they will all come and settle in the steep ravines, and in the clefts of the rocks, and on all the thornbushes, and on all the pastures.

In that day the Lord will shave with a razor that is hired beyond the River—with the king of Assyria—the head and the hair of the feet, and it will sweep away the beard also.

Here is the problem with the self-preservation mindset – you don’t know what’s coming next – you are only consumed with your current crisis, and if you get delivered from it, then the next one comes and the next one comes, and it wears you down until you’re in the depths of despair. This is grace from the Lord to tell Ahaz and his people that more trials are coming – they are not going to be able to preserve themselves but need to trust in the Lord.  Isaiah displays a confidence – 8:9-10: Be broken, you peoples, and be shattered; give ear, all you far countries;

strap on your armor and be shattered; strap on your armor and be shattered.  Take counsel together, but it will come to nothing; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us (Imanuel) God is with us.

Isaiah then does something very interesting – he takes his own wife (who is not a virgin – he’s already got a son) and the lord tells him to have another kid.  So she does and they name him (not Immanuel) but maher-halel-shash-baz, which means “quick to the prey to the spoils” and basically this is like God starting the alarm clock on the prophecy.  Sometimes God would give the prophets a spiritual picture, then tell them to do something to visually illustrate it – for example, God tells Hosea to prophesy, Israel is like a wife who prostitutes herself to other lovers, other Gods.  Hosea, go marry a prostitute and let her have kids to another man, and show your love to her.  Isaiah, Israel is a virgin who will bear a remnant – so go have a kid with your wife and before the kids grows I’ll do what I told Ahaz.  So now Isaiah has two kids – A remnant will return and God will move quick.  Both of his sons are signs to what God is doing in Israel.  Every one who meets his boys will hear this prophesy Isaiah gives Ahaz: the remnant will return, trust in the Lord for his deliverance is near, and keep on trusting the Lord until salvation comes.

And salvation will indeed come.  In Isaiah chapter 9, Isaiah prophesies of another Son. They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward.  And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.  But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish …  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined … For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousnesss from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. This son is the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah 7:14 – he is the embodiment of the faithful remnant and the embodiment of the Lord’s swift judgment.  He is the child born and the son given – literally born of the virgin as a sign to all people. He is the light of the world to people anguishing in self-preservation mode. He is the wonderful counselor – no need to consult mediums or worldly advice. He is the true Immanuel – almighty God.