[Audio File at End of Post]
Often when we turn to Christmas, there are a few familiar passages that we return to on which we meditate to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of our Lord. Some of the most famous passages come from the beginning of the book of Isaiah, chapters 7-11:
• Isaiah 7:14: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel
• Isaiah 9:6-7: 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 righteousness from this time forth and forevermore
What people don’t often realize is that Isaiah speaks in these chapters of three sons, two of which are his own children, and each of these sons point to the coming of the Messiah. As Isaiah himself says in 8:18:
Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion.
Portents are omens that something momentous is going to happen. Isaiah is saying, look at us – me and my children – and see what God is doing and what he is going to do! For Isaiah, his prophetic call extended through his family to his kids. God’s word consumed his life and his family. He had personally heard the Lord and experienced Him. Christmas is time for families, so this Christmas season, we’re going to spend some time with Isaiah’s family, getting to know his kids.3
Surrounded by spiritual darkness, personal danger and societal ruin, Ahaz and the people feared.In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it. When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
• The year is 734 BC. Political counsels and public gossip in Jerusalem are centered on one topic – the growing threat of the kingdom of Assyria, led by their ruthless and violent king. Assyria is sweeping away everything in its path to world domination. The only thing standing between Judah, Ahaz’s kingdom, and Assyria are the kingdoms of Syria, led by a man named Rezin, and Ephraim, the northern kingdom of Israel, led by Pekah. Then you have tiny little Judah, which is at this point about the size of the amalgamated city of Ottawa.
• Obviously Syria and Ephraim recognize the danger that they are in and so, knowing that Ahaz is a coward who will never stand up to Assyria, they plan to forcefully remove Ahaz and set up a puppet king in Judah to fight with them against Assyria.
• Ahaz has no good options.
o He could sell himself and his country out to the Assyrians.
o He could join with E&S and get slaughtered by the Assyrians.
o He could do neither and get slaughtered by Ephraim and Syria.
• Here are the facts:
o There has been no spiritual leadership in Judah under Ahaz. He in fact has during his entire career as ruler led people away from the Lord and into idolatry.
o Ahaz and the people are personally in danger.
o Judah is facing societal ruin.
• Ahaz’s motivational posters (adversity, despair, hope,) Fear is our natural response to crisis.
The fearful have need of encouragement
And the LORDsaid to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer's Field. And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.
• Ahaz, apparently goes for a walk, out to the well. This well is a source of anxiety for the Jewish kings, for the water-source feeding Jerusalem is outside of the city. Now many refugees have come into the city. When you’re fearful, you dwell on things.
• Isaiah brings his son: Shear-Jashub. Interesting name. My kids names given for a purpose. Shear-Jashub: “A remnant shall return”. Now, this boy doesn’t say any thing as far as we know, but he’s there through the whole conversation with Ahaz. He’s the first sign on Christmas.
• Isaiah is there to bring a word of encouragement – though he could have blasted Ahaz for his idolatry.
o Sometimes sinners need to be turned,
o Other times they need to be encouraged to trust. Jesus often blasted the self-righteous, but extended grace to the fearful and failures. We do the opposite at times.
The fearful need to be personally pointed to God’s promises
‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah. Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying, “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,” thus says the Lord GOD: “‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass. For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. (Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be broken to pieces so that it will no longer be a people.) “‘And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’”
• Isaiah’s message: the kings represent the people. [go to the map] Syria’s capital is Damascus, and Rezin is its king. Israel’s capital is Samaria and Pekah is its king. As the king goes so does the people. But I brought my son here to remind you that “a remnant will remain.” Twice in this passage, Isaiah refers to Ahaz’s as the house of David. God has not given up on us, and will not because he made a promise to your house that a son of David would reign forever. This is your time Ahaz, you hang in the balance. If you are not firm in the faith, you will not endure – God can preserve his promise and his remnant without you – but now is your time! Interestingly, the “you” in the verse 9 “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’” is plural. Isaiah is talking not only to Ahaz, but to all who are fearful. God’s salvation comes!
Seeking confirmation is an act of faith for the fearful
Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?
• God graciously offers Ahaz a sign which he piously refuses
• God will confirm his word to you and it is not wrong to seek confirmation
• We wickedly do not want confirmation because we want to follow through on our plans without God!
Jesus is the Ultimate Sign that God is With Us.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
• We’re going to get into this really difficult passage later, but Luke tells us that Isaiah is talking about Jesus – and it makes sense in the context, for Ahaz should have been assured that “The Remnant Will Return” because the Messiah is going to be born. He must be born.
• God’s plan cannot be thwarted – if Ahaz knew that he would have realized that he wasn’t stuck between a rock and a hard place, but that God would somehow, someway deliver him if he put his hope in his promise
• Isaiah gives the sign not only to Ahaz, but to all the house of David. The Christmas baby, born of the Virgin, Jesus Christ, is the sign to all people that God will always preserve a remnant. Again, notice the plural – the Lord will give you all a sign. That sign has been given. The Lord has sent his rescuer.
What have we learned?
• In times of spiritual darkness, personal trial, societal ruin it is our nature to fear.
• The fearful need to be encouraged by directing them to the Lord and his promises. Ultimately they need to be pointed to Jesus, God’s ultimate sign that He is with his people.
• It’s not wrong to seek confirmation from the Lord in times of fear.
• In times of fear the ultimate question is in whom do you trust? In yourself? Your circumstances? Will you be part of that remnant of the faithful who will turn to the Lord?