A Sign from God
Isaiah 7:1 – 17
Matthew 1:18 – 25
A Sign from God
Who’s who? (v 1 – 2)
We’re going to get straight into Isaiah 7 today, thinking about history. So come back with me to the nation of Judah, in about 730 BC.
You’ll remember, if you know the story of the Old Testament, that about 200 years earlier, the kingdom of Israel had split into 2 kingdoms, a northern kingdom that kept the name Israel, or sometimes called Ephraim as we see there in verse 8, and a southern kingdom known as Judah.
Currently the king of Judah is Ahaz, verse 1. He’s a nasty piece of work, one of the worst kings that Judah ever had. We read in 2 Kings, which deals with the same time frame as Isaiah, that Ahaz followed all kids of pagan practices, and even sacrificed his son in the fire.
And he’s one of the main characters in our section today.
In the north, Pekah son of Remaliah is king of Israel.
And although these 2 kingdoms used to be one country, that doesn’t put them on the same side now.
So for most of the wars in the last century or so, The United States has been on the same side as Great Britain, haven’t they? Great Britain, of which they kind of used to be a part.
They put their differences over that little tea party aside, and have fought on the same team!
Well, not here! What’s happening in verse 1?
Pekah, the King of Israel, has marched up to fight against Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, the southern kingdom, with his ally, King Rezin of Aram. That is, Syria.
Now there’s lots of names and kingdoms there so remember, so let’s work our way up from the south,
Ahaz is king of Judah,
Pekah is king of the northern kingdom, Israel, or Ephraim,
Further north from there, Rezin is king of Aram, also called Syria, the capital of which is Damascus.
And further north still is the kingdom of Assyria, which was the world superpower of the time. This is before Babylon rises to greatness, so Assyria, not to be confused with Syria, is the country who can throw its weight around the most!
So now these 2 near neighbours of Judah, Syria and Israel, have come to fight against Jerusalem. And understandably, the people of Jerusalem are pretty worried.
North Korea test fired another nuclear capable missle this week, and so lots of people, especially in South Korea get nervous.
That’s the same thing here, isn’t it? hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
It’s quite a picture!
Ahaz and his people are really worried about these missile tests. Well, not these missile tests, but the army encamped outside their city.
And notice that the royal court of Judah is referred to as the house of David, in verse 2.
We know the significance of that, don’t we, because of our last few weeks in the Old Testament.
This is a way of saying, the king who’s on the throne is part of that line of kings that is ultimately going to lead to the Messiah, God’s chosen king, the one who’s going to lead, and deliver, and save God’s people.
There’s a little clue there, a little reminder, God’s got a plan!
Ahaz is a nasty piece of work, and God’s going to punish his sin. In fact God is going to use these armies as his tool of judgement, but it raises the stakes doesn’t it?
We’re not just talking about the rise or fall of one kingdom, but the future of the dynasty that God has established as the key thread towards his plans for the world.
Will you fear, or trust God? (v 3)
So look with me at verse 3 if you will, Then the Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, g to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field.
Now this is where the civil engineers among us get really excited, because the civic infrastructure plays an important role here, and they don’t normally get to be the centre of attention like that.
God tells Isaiah to take his son, and to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Launderer’s Field
Why is Ahaz here?
Well, this is where the city’s water comes from.
And if you’re going to be attacked, or besieged, this is the spot you need to secure.
I remember after the September 11 terrorist attacks a friend telling me that his nephew who was a police officer, was assigned to sit in his car at one of Sydney’s reservoirs, and watch it, to guard it against possible terrorist attacks.
But this guy first had to go and buy some reflective sunglasses so that while he was sitting in the police car for hour after hour, he could sleep, and no one who happened to pass by would be able to tell that his eyes were shut!
That’s kind of what Ahaz is doing here.
Logically, militarily, this is the key spot you want to make sure is safe.
Some years later, the king of Assyria, sends the commander of his troops and huge army, to this very spot, in order to threaten King Hezekiah.
This is the spot that the city depends on,
If you’re setting out to defend the city yourself,
If your goal is to do everything humanly possible to protect your city, this is the place you go and check,
Kick the tyres and all that, to make sure it’s up to task,
If the future of the city depends on you, this is the place you want to be.
But God wants Ahaz to know it’s not all up to him,
Survival here isn’t about maintaining your civil infrastructure,
Or having a better military strategy.
Gods’ got this under control.
Take a look from God’s perspective (v 4)
See, verse 4, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart
Pekah and Rezin, and the countries they lead. There’s no reason to fear them. They might look strong, and powerful, and dangerous, but they’re no match for God.
In fact they’re nothing more than two smoldering stubs of firewood. It’s a great image, isn’t it? To reassure Ahaz?
The New Living Translation calls them two burned-out embers.
Again, amidst all that ramping up of nuclear tension with North Korea, do you remember that Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un were trading insults, I think, via Twitter.
And everyone had to look up the word “dotard” to work out what Kim Jong Un was saying about Donald Trump!
Which is saying something, isn’t it? That a Korean speaking guy can use a word in a sentence that we don’t know!
Well, here’s a way to make your enemy sound like nothing.
Some of you have wood fires at home, and some winter mornings, you get up, and you discover that overnight the fire has died down completely. There’s a speck or 2 of glowing red, so you breathe on it, you fan it madly, to try and coax it back into life,
But there’s nothing left in it. And you know it would take too long to start the fire from scratch, so you just give up, and endure another chilly morning!
two burned-out embers, don’t be afraid of them, trust me, God says.
And the little poem there, cuts to the heart of why these nations, though powerful looking now, are really nothing to be feared.
They’re not going to come and destroy you, as they claim they’re going to do.
After all, What’s the most significant part of Aram?
And who’s the most significant person in Damascus? Rezin, the king.
And then Israel, Ephraim, the power’s all in Samaria, and the guy in charge there is, well, he doesn’t even get named does he?!
How insignificant do you have to be to not even get mentioned by name?
When I get called “Jamie’s Dad’ or something like that, I know the person’s not really interested in me, are they?!
Who’s the leader of your enemy? Who are you afraid of?
Just some bloke,
only Remaliah’s son
Will you trust in God or in world? (v 5 – 9)
Here’s a clash, between the plans of humans, And the purposes of God.
Syria and Israel want to invade Judah,
God says, it will not take place.
But Isaiah shows us it’s not just a clash of plans, contradictory intentions, but a clash of worldviews.
There’s the approach of looking at the world as if God doesn’t exist,
We value things, we make assessments, as the world does.
That’s Aram and Israel’s approach isn’t it?
We’ve got the numbers, we’re strong enough for this little city, let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves
Oh, and also, we’ll put our king in charge. Again some bloke who doesn’t even get his name mentioned, the son of Tabeel.
It’s entirely humanistic, isn’t it?
It’s looking at the world, without reference to God.
God said there’s going to be a king from David’s line, we’ll just stick some other bloke in there.
We compare our military against their military, it’s a done deal.
Nothing is going to get in our way.
That’s the thinking!
What does depending on the world look like?
And sometimes Christians today can fall into thinking like this, can’t we?
We make assessments, like the world does,
We think like the world,
We put our trust in the things of the world.
We say we’re Christians, we say we believe in God, but actually when it comes to making decisions,
When it comes to working out what we’re going to depend on,
We do it just like the world around us.
We value and depend on the very things that the world does.
It’s functional atheism. To function, to live, without God.
We assign value to things, from God’s perspective, but from the world’s
I’ll be OK, I’ll be safe if, If I have the right relationship,
Or the right amount of money,
Or the right career.
It can even mean depending on yourself, can’t it? As long as I’m strong, things will be OK.
But those are not the things God wants us depending on.
God doesn’t want us making assessments the way the world makes assessments, and so putting our trust in other things.
He wants us to trust in him.
He doesn’t want us to see things around us through the eyes of everyone else, everyone who is blind to the things of God.
God wants us to see things as he sees them.
That’s when we really see what’s valuable and what’s dependable.
The armies of foreign nations, they looked dependable didn’t they?
They look like what you want to have! And the more the better!
And their leaders look like mighty warriors.
But when God sees them, he calls them a couple of pieces of burnt firewood, and one of them he can’t even be bothered speaking his name!
Don’t be afraid of stubs of firewood!
I wonder what God might describe in our day, in our experience, as the smoldering stubs of firewood, the burned-out embers?
What looks to us, powerful?,
So impressive and domineering that we fear it, but at the same time we think, “if we could get something like that for ourselves, we’d be OK”, we’d be able to stand.
There’s no doubt that political power, often for Christians, falls into this category.
We’re dismayed at the power and influence of our government, when it seems opposed to Gods’ plans and purposes, and so we think the solution must be, to put all our efforts into the political process. That’s where it seems that power lies.
Now, I’m not suggesting for a moment that we become disengaged from politics.
But that is not where the power lies, is it?
That is not where we ought to depend,
It’s not in the political process or in our government that we ultimately trust.
Certainly the New Testament speaks of God working through the governments he raises up, But his great gospel purposes aren’t achieved through politics are they?
By governments enacting legislation that re-inforces Christian belief,
What does the New Testament say? “Be born in a country where the government is shaped by Christian belief and you will be saved?”
No, it doesn’t say that, at all, does it?!
How does God achieve his purposes?
No, believe! The great gospel purposes of God come about through faith!
Through people hearing the good news of Jesus and believing, trusting!
Which means the great gospel purposes of God come about through people, people like you and me, speaking the good news of Jesus,
Through people like you and me praying that God will be at work, drawing people to himself in faith.
Isaiah reminds us where real power lies, and let’s also remember how God achieves his purposes.
Each year about this time, Starbucks introduces a Christmas design for their coffee cups. But in 2015 the Christmas cups were just plain red, no Christmas decoration at all.
And so some Christians complained, about Starbucks being anti-Christian, and politically correct, by not talking about actual Jesus stuff at Christmas.
And besides the fact that I’m not sure what the dog on a sled, or the snowman from previous years’ cups have to do with actual Jesus stuff, I heard a Christian leader saying, “Christian person, it’s not Starbucks’ job, to tell the story of Jesus. That’s your job!”
God doesn’t bring his purposes about, through the ways that the rest of the world thinks are important or significant.
Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world.”
God brings his purposes about through the obedient trust of his people.
Don’t expect God’s purposes to come about through an act of parliament. Expect God’s purposes to come about through proclamation of the Word of God, through faith in the promises of God.
That’s how God’s great gospel plans will come to fruition.
It’s always been the way the way that God works.
It’s here in Isaiah 7,
You can put your trust in what everyone else puts their trust in,
Securing the water supply,
Getting a big army,
Trusting in what everyone says is dependable and impressive,
Or, you can trust in God’s word,
You can choose to see things from his perspective, where those things that seem at first sight to be great and strong and powerful, actually they’re not.
Ahaz, on what are you going to depend?
Where are you going to put your trust?
Trinity, on what are you going to depend?
Where are you going to put your trust?
Ahaz has a choice to make;, is he going to look at his circumstances from the perspective of the world?,
To depend on the things that people like to depend on, or is he going to depend on God?
If you trace back Aram, to Damascus and Rezin,
And if you trace back Ephraim, to Samaria and Remaliah’s son,
It raises the question, doesn’t it, what happens if you trace back Judah?,
Who stands behind Ahaz?
Of course, it’s God!
And God really wants Ahaz to have confidence and trust.
God promises a sign (10 – 17)
Drop your eyes down to verse 10, because God offers the king help to trust.
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
What God wants from Ahaz, is trust, faithful dependence on God. And he’ll go to great lengths, almost any lengths, to help Ahaz have that kind of faith.
I reckon we sometimes imagine that God’s almost trying to hide from us, and we have to do all the work, summon up the faith and whatever, if we’re going to believe.
You hear it in the language that people use about relating to God.
People talk about seeking God, or finding God. And the Bible does use that language on occasion, but we’ve kind of taken it up to the next level, as if God’s playing hide and seek with us.
Sure, God wants us to have faith in him, but we’ve got to do all the work, or maybe he’ll meet us halfway.
But is that anything like how God’s presented in Isaiah 7?
You think about your friends and family, who don’t yet have a faith in God, who don’t yet believe that Jesus is God with us, to pick up the language from this chapter,
Does it seem that God, as he’s pictured he’s pictured here, is hard to find?,
That he makes it difficult for people to trust him?
Or maybe you’re here this morning because you’re interested in Christian things, or you want to find out more about Jesus,
Not quite sure what you think or believe about God.
We’re so pleased you’re here,
And make sure that this part of who God is, and how God acts, and how he relates to people,
Make sure this goes into your picture, your understanding of who God is and what he’s like.
Now, to say that this is what God’s like, that this is his character, doesn’t mean his character will always express itself this same way. God doesn’t promise us a sign every time we want to know what’s going to happen in the future, does he?
We’ve already seen that Ahaz is in that line leading to the Messiah. He holds a unique role in God’s plans.
So the way God’s character is revealed here, is going to be different to the way his character is revealed today.
But his character is the same.
God wants Ahaz to be absolutely confident that he’s able to keep his word.
He wants Ahaz to believe that what God says, happens.
That he is in control, and that he’s dependable.
And of course, even though we’ve said that we inhabit a different moment in salvation history to Ahaz, those are good things for us to be convinced of about God, aren’t they?
Ahaz refuses God’s gracious sign
So God offers Ahaz a sign, probably a miraculous sign, something in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.
But how does Ahaz respond to this very kind and gracious offer from God?
And he doesn’t just refuse, does he? He refuses in a kind of super-spiritual way!
“I will not ask; verse 12, I will not put the Lord to the test.”
Not only does he refuse God. He refuses God by quoting the Bible at him. God had said in Deuteronomy 6:16, Do not put the Lord your God to the test
He’s trying to sound like he’s a great man of faith, isn’t he?
But he’s not like Gideon or someone like that, who refused to believe God’s word and demanded that God prove himself.
Here it’s all God’s idea, isn’t it? But Ahaz wants no part of it.
You might have met people, who dress up their disobedience to God, or their lack of faith, in spiritual language.
We saw it in Haggai, but we see it around us, as well.
So God’s made promises to us,
He’s told us what he wants from us,
This is how he wants us to live,
The Scriptures give us everything we need to honour God in our life, but sometimes people say, I’m not going to do this or that, without a word from the Lord, without a sign.
It’s the exact same problem.
God says he’s given us everything we need, everything we need to know, in order to live a life that pleases him, but sometimes we say, “No, I’m not prepared to do that, to live in the way you want me to, unless I get something else.”
And that lack of obedience, or lack of trust, is dressed up in spiritual language “waiting on a word from the Lord”, “seeking God”, when God’s said he’s already given us everything we need, we just don’t believe him, or trust him, or think that’s enough.
Lack of faith, dressed up in religious pietism, it’s not appealing, is it?
See, Ahaz, says, “I’m not going to test God”, but it’s not God who’s being tested, is it?,
It’s Ahaz who’s being tested.
It’s Ahaz being tested, not God
Will Ahaz trust God?
Or will he put his trust in, the world?,
The things of the world,
The things the world values?,
Ahaz doesn’t want God’s sign, because Ahaz chooses to go the world’s path,
To rely on the same kind of power that those around him rely upon,
To depend on what looks strong and dependable,
Remember Assyria, the nation to the very north of these other 3.
Well Ahaz has been so afraid of Israel and Aram, that he chooses not to trust in God, and instead makes a deal with the King of Assyria.
On your outline there’s a section from 2 Kings,
7 Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.”
8 And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the Lord and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. 9 The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it.
2 Kings 16:7 – 9
Ahaz doesn’t want the sign that God can be trusted,
That God is with his people,
That God wants to save his people, probably because already by this stage, he’s done his deal, with the king of Assyria.
When you’re threatened by an army, just find a bigger army, that Ahaz’s approach.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin h will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.
Ahaz is going to get the sign, whether he wants it or not! But now it’s not just going to be a sign that God’s promises are trustworthy.
Now it’s a sign of his lack of faith.
The virgin or young woman, is probably Isaiah’s wife. She’ll give birth to a son, and he’ll be called Immanuel, which means God is with us.
Now, if you’re into the kind of whole foods lifestyle thing, eating curds and honey might sound appealing, but actually in this context, it’s an image of wilderness living, living off the land Bear Grylls style.
It’s how you eat when there’s no crops, no flocks.
And this is all going to happen, verses 15 and 16, while the child is still young.
And God’s going to do what he said he was going to do, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste
Eventually everyone, will see things from God’s perspective. Those two smoldering stubs of firewood will be exposed for what they are.
3 years after these words were spoken Aram fell to Assyria, and 10 years after that Israel was destroyed.
So God’s promise came true absolutely.
But because Ahaz demonstrated his lack of trust in God,
His decision to depend on other things instead of God’s promises, To go down the path of the world, and ally himself with the world, well, the ally that he thought he’d made for himself, will actually end up destroying him.
17 The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah—he will bring the king of Assyria.”.
Sure enough, Sennacherib, king of Assyria, attacked Jerusalem in 701 BC, and though the city was spared by God’s intervention, eventually Judah existed only as a vassal state, with a puppet king, before the city was destroyed and the nation all but wiped out when Babylon attacked in 586 BC.
Keep going in the same direction to find the ultimate fulfilment of God with us
And that would seem like the end of the story.
Ahaz choose poorly,
He chose to depend on things that look strong and reliable, rather than on God,
He didn’t trust in God’s promise.
But remember little Shear-Jashub, Isaiah’s son.
He’s a little sermon illustration! I get in trouble with my kids sometimes if I talk about them too much from the front! But this poor kid even his name is given deliberately to illustrate the message.
Shear-Jashub “a remnant will return.”
And when Ahaz was out at the aqueduct, and Isaiah turned up with his little walking talking sermon illustration, Ahaz should have taken notice, but it seems he was too busy caught up in his plans to do things his way, to notice what God was saying.
“a remnant will return”
In little Shear-Jashub God’s word became flesh. He was a living, walking, word from God,
A promise that the mighty armies of Judah’s enemies, couldn’t thwart God’s plans.
A remnant will return. God had promised it.
I was driving back into town along Wellington Road the other day, and just this side of Wistow there’s a sign,
It says you’re on the B37, and that if you keep going, you’ll get to Mount Barker in 5 kilometres, but if you keep going through Mount Barker, you’ll get to Adelaide in 40 kilometres.
You’re going the same direction, but there’s a destination quite close, and another destination, much further on.
It occurred to me that that’s a helpful way to think about the prophecies and promises of God that we find in places like Isaiah 7.
Here there’s a short term fulfilment; A woman, we don’t really know who, is going to have a child, he’s going to be called “Immanuel” as a sign of God’s presence with his people,
And within the early years of his life, the 2 kingdoms that God’s people are most afraid of, will be wiped out.
But there’s a longer term fulfilment as well. And here’s where the road sign on Wellington Road is helpful., To get to the long term destination, you have travel down the same path as you do to get to the short term one.
If you veer off the south-east after you pass through Mount Barker, you don’t get to Adelaide.
You’ve got to keep going in the same direction.
And people get themselves tied up in all sorts of knots, looking for prophetic fulfilment in events in our day, that God never intended us to understand as fulfilment of his promises.
We have to keep going in the same direction, to arrive at the right destination,
We need to keep going in the direction that the Bible sets up for us if we’re to see the fulfilment in the right events.
God has said “a remnant shall return”, and so we should keep our eyes open for those from Judah who return from exile, and who live in the Land of Promise once more,
We should keep our eyes open for someone from the house of David, remember that language from verse 2, one who can reign as God’s chosen king, the Messiah.
If we want to see where this reaches its ultimate fulfilment, we’ve got to keep going in the direction God sets up for us.
Which is why, when we open the very beginning of the New Testament, we really shouldn’t be able to miss the announcement in Matthew’s gospel, that in Jesus, this promise through Isaiah reaches its ultimate fulfilment.
Flip over to Matthew 1 with me, page 966, and see verse 20, Joseph son of David, the angel says. And Matthew doesn’t mean that his dad’s name was David, that’s obvious from the genealogy on the previous page!
He’s a descendant of David.
So we know we’re heading in the right direction.
But then Matthew removes all doubt, doesn’t he? All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).
The conception, and birth of Jesus, is the fulfilment of the promise to Ahaz.
The birth of Jesus is the fulfilment of the promise that God is with us.
Th birth of Jesus is the sign,
The assurance from God, that he is trustworthy,
That his word can be trusted,
And that to see things from God’s perspective is to see things as they really are.
We can trust God’s word because God is with us
We can trust God’s word implicitly, and depend on his promises entirely, because God is with us.
Because he broke into our world in the person of Jesus.
God is not far off and removed, speaking from his ivory tower.
He became one of us, that first Christmas, so that we can know him, and trust him.
And Matthew really wants us to remember that Jesus is God with us. We have these words right in the opening chapter, Immanuel, God with us,
And then the very last words of the book are Jesus’ promise to his disciples, and to those who would believe through the disciples’ message, And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.
Do you want a sign from God?
Do you want a sign from God that he can be trusted?
That you can depend on him?
That his promises are more sure than the things valued and depended on by the world around us?
Jesus, God is with us.
Here’s your sign.