Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, December 18, 2016
God Gives a Sign - December 18, 2016 - Fourth Sunday in Advent - Text: Isaiah 7:10-17
Today is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Next Saturday is Christmas Eve and the beginning of our celebration of the birth of our Messiah, our Savior, even God Himself in human flesh, promised way back in the Garden of Eden. This morning our message of Gospel and hope come from Isaiah the prophet. Interestingly enough, as is the case very often with a message of good news and hope, there is a strike of law that hits us. I say this because more often than not, the message of good news and hope is either a message that we believe is too good to be true, or it is a message that hits at our sinful nature so that we have a difficult time believing it is for us, or it is a message which points our dependency on God and we do not necessarily like to depend on Him. Also, interestingly enough, I am amazed at how often those who need to hear the message fail to hear and those who already know the message believe it is speaking even more to them. Anyway, let us get to our text.
In our text, we have Ahaz who is under distress. He is being threatened and so he is in need of help. His solution is to trust in humanity, we read, “10Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11‘Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.’ 12But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test’”(v. 10-12). Ahaz is being threatened, and instead of praying to and trusting in God he is putting his trust in the Assyrian army. Now, if we were honest with ourselves and each other, how often do we find ourselves in this same or in a similar situation. We are under distress, troubles seem to abound and what do we do? We seek help, aid and comfort from others, and even from others with similar difficulties. These are often called support groups. And I would suppose one can get some comfort from a support group. However, Isaiah reminds us that we should take it to the Lord in prayer. Certainly if anyone knows our sorrow, our pain and our suffering it would be the Lord. And certainly, if anyone should know how and would have the ability to help us it would be the Lord.
So, Ahaz does go to the Lord. When he prays to the Lord, God asks him to ask for a sign. In other words, we might say God gives Ahaz permission to test Him to make sure He will answer Ahaz’ prayer. Unfortunately, Ahaz refuses, but he does so in a very pious manner, suggesting that his refusal is because he knows better than to put the Lord to the test. Actually, Isaiah shows us that this is not the case, rather his refusal to ask simply shows his unbelief. Here again, how often do we find ourselves in the same situation as Ahaz. We fail to ask God because we “don’t want to bother Him with our problems,” or we fail to ask God because we might think we already know His answer and perhaps the answer we think we will get may not be the answer we want to hear. Might I suggest that our problem is the same as Isaiah says Ahaz’ problem is, that is that we simply have a lack of faith. Of course, we never like to hear the truth that we lack faith after all, we like to think we are good Christians.
Thanks be to God that He is God and that He did not let Ahaz’ lack of faith get in His way. God gave a sign anyway, we read, “13And he said, ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? 14Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. 15He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. 16For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted. 17The 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’”(v. 13-17). Notice how Ahaz was beginning to try the patience of God. God shows His weariness with Ahaz in simply stepping in. How often does God get exasperated with us. God is God. He is there ready, willing and able to help us at all times and what do we do, we wait and we wait and we wait. We try to solve our problems for ourselves. We try to not be burden the Lord. What we fail to do is realize that God is ready, is willing, is able and wants to help us.
With Ahaz, God gives a sign. God’s sign was a sign of ultimate deliverance in His Son. God’s sign was that a child would be conceived and born of a Virgin. And God’s sign was the this child would be given the name Immanuel, which means “God with us.” This sign given to Ahaz is a sign given to us. Of course, we have the advantage of looking back over two thousand years and seeing that this promise was fulfilled in Jesus. Ahaz did not have that advantage.
God’s promise and sign was that before Immanuel is born, the children of Israel will be brought back from exile. This promise was fulfilled, because before Jesus was born the children of Israel were back in the promised land. The conditions of their return may not have been exactly what they hoped for, but they were living in the promised land.
And, although the children of Israel did not have a life as in the days of Kings David and Solomon, they were good days. When Jesus was born the children of Israel had some freedom, at least they were free to worship as they chose to worship. And notice that none of this happened because of Ahaz or because of any one person, but all this happened according to God’s promise, according to God’s timing and according to God’s directing and doing.
So, what does this mean? Today we suffer the same old problem that we human beings have suffered since the beginning of time and since our own creation. Our problem is that we trust more in ourselves and in humanity rather than trusting in God. We think we can do it. We think we can make things happen. As we work our way through the Bible in Bible Class and in our own personal reading of Scripture, I find it very interesting that when people attempted to “help God” out from time to time in the Old Testament, what usually happened was they made a bigger mess of the situation; take for example Abraham telling the king that Sarah was his sister instead of his wife; or Rebecca putting goats hair on Jacob in order to help him get Isaac’s blessing instead of Esau. How often do we fail to take it to the Lord in prayer and trust and rely on Him, even if and especially if we know or we think we know His answer may not be what we want to hear.
Fortunately, in spite of us, God continues to call us to faith and give us faith. Fortunately God does not depend on us. Too often when we discuss and make decisions as a congregation by the way we talk a person might think that the future of this church depended on us and that is too unfortunate. Do we really believe that God can accomplish only as much as we will let Him accomplish? I think we forget that this congregation has been around long before many of us came on the scene and I believe it will be around long after we are gone. What I believe is also unfortunate, and here is where we follow in the footsteps of Ahaz, we falter in faith and show our failure and unbelief by refusing to ask great things of God. Remember a couple weeks ago on Wednesday when we were reminded that both Zechariah and Elizabeth were beyond child barring years and Elizabeth was barren, yet she conceived according to God’s good will and favor. Remember last Wednesday when we heard that a Virgin conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we were reminded that with God all things are possible. And so we may say, “Yes, we believe that,” but when push comes to shove in our “real” life world, we have a great tendency to disbelieve and we speak such unbelief as well. Perhaps we would do well to take it to the Lord in prayer, to ask Him what great things He wants to accomplish through us. And then, instead of looking at what we believe to be obstacles, and instead of simply throwing our hands up in defeat, perhaps we might ask, “how can we do this,” or better, “how can God use us and help us to do this?”
I believe, at times, we forget that God is still faithful. Perhaps this might be because we tend to reflect our own nature onto God, that is that because we are not faithful in keeping our own promises and we cannot trust ourselves, so we reflect this tendency on God and sometimes on others, thinking that God is not faithful and cannot be trusted. But we need to remember, almost four thousand years went by before God fulfilled His promise to send a Savior, but He kept His promise. God has waited a little over two thousand years and has not yet fulfilled His promise to come again, but I believe He will keep that promise too. And I also believe that He will fulfill that promise before we might expect, either by returning, or by taking us to be with Himself.
In our text for this morning, and what we are getting ready to celebrate is that God kept His promise to send a Savior, the promise first made in the Garden of Eden, the promise made to take care of the sin of Adam and Eve and our sin. God has fulfilled His promise in Jesus. We are not quite ready to celebrate that fulfillment, we have one more week to wait, but we know that He did fulfill this promise.
Jesus is the fulfillment of all God’s promises to deliver us and all people from sin, death and hell. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us, who’s birth we await to celebrate and who’s return we eagerly anticipate. Jesus brings deliverance from sin, death and the devil and eternal salvation to all who believe even in spite of our unbelief, disbelief or despair.
Personally, I must confess, I wonder at times how and why the Lord puts up with us. And yet, this morning I am pointed back to Him and His Word which does what it says. I am reminded of what a great and wonderful, what a gracious and gift giving, indeed what a loving God we have. God does not depend on us, but He does and gives because that is His nature and that is His usual way of dealing with us. As we continue to get ready to celebrate His first birth, as a baby in Bethlehem, my prayer is that this celebration will cause us to continue to move our attention heavenward to trust in the Lord and lean on Him and His most precious promises. May the Lord give, strengthen and keep you in faith. May the Lord give you calm and peace during this season of celebration. May the Lord bless you and keep you so that in the end, we may all stand before His throne, with all the saints who have gone on before us and say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.