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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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 reubenbredenhof.com
 
Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Trust in Immanuel, 'God with Us'
Text:Isaiah 7:10-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Our Salvation
 
Preached:2022
Added:2022-03-13
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 84:1,2                                                                                        

Ps 6:1,2                                                                                                          

Reading – 2 Kings 16:5-9; Isaiah 7:1-17; Matthew 1:18-25

Ps 132:6,8,9,10

Sermon – Isaiah 7:10-17

Hy 16:1,3,4,5

Hy 37:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, when Dad and Mom receive the good news that a child is on the way, there’s a few things they’ll do. Paint the baby room. Take a birthing class. And pick names. Dad and Mom might want to choose a name with a family connection, and name the little one after Grandpa or a favourite aunt. Or perhaps they’ll spend hours on a baby name app until they find just the right name. It’s a big decision.

Names are important in Scripture as well. Especially when God reveals one of his names, we need to pay attention. Through his names we come face-to-face with what God is like, his character and his purpose. Most of us only have a couple given names, and maybe also a nickname or two. But God is so glorious that He has many names and titles: He is LORD, He is El Shaddai, He is God Almighty and King and Shepherd.

The same is true for our Saviour Jesus. He doesn’t just have a first, middle, and surname, but He has several dozen names. For example, next week we’ll look at the well-known passage from Isaiah 9:6 about the Messiah, “He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He has many names because his person is so majestic, and his work is so marvelous.        

Today we look at how one of the special names of our Saviour came about, the name “Immanuel.” Why was this name given? What did it mean? And how does this name still bring comfort and strength to us today? I preach to you God’s Word from Isaiah 7:10-17,

God gives fearful Ahaz the sign of Immanuel:

  1. the need for this sign
  2. the hope in this sign

 

1) the need for this sign: Did you notice how Isaiah 7 is different from the chapters around it? It’s not ‘pure’ prophecy in the way that we usually think of prophecy, when a person speaks for God about the present situation or future events. There’s some of that here, but it begins with a narrative, a history like we’d find in the books of Samuel or Kings.

Isaiah first tells us what’s going on in the land of Judah: “Now it came to pass in the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, king of Judah, that Rezin king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah, king of Israel, went up to Jerusalem to make war against it” (v 1). So why on earth would the people of Israel, Judah’s own cousins and uncles and brothers, be going to war against Jerusalem? And why would they be doing so together with a Gentile and his nation, Rezin king of Syria?

We should keep in mind what was going on in the Middle East at this time. Everyone was feeling the heat from the Assyrians, an aggressive and powerful empire. If a nation stood on its own against Assyria, it’d be helpless—you’d be too small to resist. But just like what happens today among the nations when there is unrest, there’s a rush to make alliances to try and stand together against a threat.

By this time, of course, God’s people were split into two nations: Israel and Judah, each with their own king and capital and army. And the king of Israel, Pekah, had recently made an alliance with Syria, the country just to the north. Syria and Israel want Judah to join with them too. They so badly want them to join, they’re going to twist Judah’s arm: invade and persuade.

They attack, but Rezin and Pekah fail in their attempt. They’re not able to conquer Jerusalem. Still, King Ahaz of Judah—and the people with him—are terrified. Listen to how Isaiah describes the king: “So his heart and the heart of his people were moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind” (7:2).

Judah is living in a warzone right now, and they fear that another attack is only a matter of time. That’s probably why Isaiah finds Ahaz at the aqueduct in Jerusalem: the king was inspecting the city’s water supply (7:3). He wants to see for himself whether they could withstand a siege. How long could Jerusalem survive with what they had?

Even if they could hold out against Syria and Israel, they knew that the big enemy, the Assyrians, were still keen to take more land for themselves. That’s how life is sometimes: you go from one crisis to the next. At this time, the people of Judah feel very much alone. Who could possibly help them? Who was with them?

But God is gracious. He wants to give reassurance to his anxious people. So He sends Isaiah to visit with Ahaz. And the prophet gives the king this message from God, “Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands” (7:4). In short, God says that Pekah and Rezin were nothing to worry about.

When you’re camping in autumn, you might get a few pieces of wood that have been rained on—they’re pretty hard to light. Just a whole lot of smoke, no flames. That’s what Pekah and Rezin are like, ‘firebrands,’ smoking logs that look far worse than they are. Whatever these kings were plotting, God says, “It shall not stand, nor come to pass” (7:7).

So Judah didn’t need to fear Israel, or Syria, or anybody. God can deliver, for He is almighty and He is good. As God says so often to his people in times of crisis, “Do not fear!” He says the same to us, “Do not fear!” When trouble comes, when we feel like trembling trees—pounded by the wind, quaking in our uncertainty—He reassures us that He is dependable and near.

God had the power to save, but Judah has to believe it. Isaiah says, “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established” (7:9). I like the NIV translation of this verse, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” And the good news, of course, is that the opposite is true: If you do believe, then you will stand. Be still, and humbly trust in God, for then the LORD will save.

This is meant to be the story of our life, that we walk by faith. It’s what God wanted from the king of Judah, what He wanted from Isaiah, and it’s what God wants from us. That we deliberately and resolutely and constantly put our trust in him. Whatever is going on around us, whatever is going on within us—whatever the unrest, illness, or trouble—we can rest in God.

And what if we don’t trust in God? What’s the alternative? Maybe we’d never actually admit that we don’t trust in him, but we’d show it. For we depend on ourselves, our intelligence and character and experience. We’ve figured out a way to manage before, and we’ll figure it out again. Another thing that we do (instead of trusting God) is putting confidence in created things; we build alliances to strengthen our position, we shore up our money reserves, or protect our reputation. And another alternative to trusting in God is simply to despair. We go to a dark place of fearing that we are alone and nobody’s going to do anything to help. But believe in him, and trust that God’s people are never forsaken!

God knows that faith can be hard. So He wants to give the king every reason to believe. Isaiah says to Ahaz, “Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God” (7:11). He commands the king to request a proof of God’s nearness, basically whatever sign Ahaz can think of.

But the king acts like he’s above needing a sign: he refuses to ask. We don’t understand this. Doesn’t he want his faith strengthened? Wouldn’t a confirmation be nice? But he doesn’t want a sign, because then he’d have to let go of his earthly security. For Ahaz has already committed himself to Assyria!

We read that in 2 Kings 16:7, “Ahaz sent messengers to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, saying, ‘I am your servant and your son. Come up and save me from the hand of the king of Syria and from the hand of the king of Israel, who rise up against me.’” He’d rather run right into the arms of the enemy than live with any more uncertainty.

Did Ahaz really trust Assyria not to attack? Well, he thought he could buy their loyalty, so he took money from God’s temple and sent it to Assyria. It’s hard to think of an act that shows more clearly a total lack of faith in God: turning to a foreign king for help, and doing so by robbing God’s own temple. We might call it ‘selling his soul to the devil.’

It looks terrible, but it shows how trust can be a scary thing for us. Real trust means that we try to rest in the Lord completely. And we can feel vulnerable taking the ‘all or nothing’ path of trust. We like to keep our options open, just in case God doesn’t come through.

What’s more, trust in God always goes together with obedience to God. In Scripture, it’s always the unbreakable duo, ‘Trust and obey’—there’s no other way. Ahaz knows what God is going to require of him: ‘If you trust me, you’ll listen to me. If you trust me, you’ll have to what is harder, what seems more challenging, things like giving up your human ambitions and idols.’

With all this in the background, you can hear that Isaiah is irritated with the king, “Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also?” (v 13). God rebukes him, but then God says He’ll give a sign regardless! If you think about it, this is spectacular grace, amazing mercy. Ahaz has been so faithless, so disloyal—selling out for short-term gain—yet God gives him a precious sign and firm foundation for faith. This is what God is like, wanting to help us rest in him, wanting us to walk by faith in him alone.

And this will be the sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (v 14). A special child is going to be born to a woman, and his name will reveal how near God is to his people. For this newborn will be called Immanuel, which in Hebrew means: “God with us.” What a beautiful gospel message for the fearful king, and for his troubled people. Rezin and Pekah might be against you, but the LORD is with you! Tiglath-Pileser might turn on you, but God is near, just as sure you see this child, ‘Immanuel.’

Now, there’s some mystery surrounding our passage. First, we don’t know which woman was going to bear this special child. It was obviously a woman Ahaz knew, because Isaiah says to him, “The virgin shall conceive.” Perhaps it was someone in the king’s family, a servant in his court, or maybe the king’s own wife, or maybe Isaiah’s wife. But in order for him to get the message, Ahaz had to be able to notice the sign.

So was the wife of Ahaz a virgin, someone who hadn’t had sexual relations? Or was the wife of Isaiah a virgin? That obviously cannot be the case, of course, since both Ahaz and Isaiah had sons. It does seem that whatever woman is meant, she wouldn’t actually be a virgin. The Hebrew word here most often means simply a “young woman,” a ‘maiden,’ a woman who is of marriageable age.

Not to say that God couldn’t have caused a virgin to become pregnant—certainly God could have done that, and He did do that, centuries later. But chapter 7 says the sign isn’t so much the conception of the child, or the fact of his birth. Rather, the sign is what is going to happen during the child’s life.

First, Isaiah says about this child that “curds and honey He shall eat” (v 15). This verse is another puzzle. Curds and honey aren’t typical food for infants. Some Bible commentators say that this is royal food—high class nutrients, because the child will be part of the king’s household. Others suggest the opposite, that “curds and honey” are the food of the poor. Look at verse 22, where it says, “For curds and honey everyone will eat who is left in the land.” So maybe the child will be born in a time of hardship, when people resort to eating whatever they can get their hands on—like in a time of war. That does fit the time of Ahaz, but I don’t have a clear answer on what exactly is meant by the “curds and honey.”

Second, more clearly, Isaiah says about Immanuel, “Before the child shall know to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land that you dread will be forsaken” (7:16). The child is going to be a living, breathing pledge from God. Because before he turned three or four years old, the present danger will have passed.

 

2) the hope in this sign: Think of what a comfort it would’ve been to see the child Immanuel. He was just a baby, then a toddler, but whenever Ahaz saw him, he got a reminder of God’s promise. Every time, he could be reassured. That’s often what we need when we have our fears: not just once, but those regular reminders, frequent encouragements, to know that God never forsakes us. ‘I am with you still.’

And sure enough, God didn’t forsake but delivered his people. The prophecy came true. Just a few years after this, Israel and Syria decided to leave Jerusalem alone and went on to other battles. Then, some decades later, Israel and Syria were both destroyed once and for all. The sign was fulfilled: surely God was with his people!

Yet that’s not the end of the story of Immanuel. For Ahaz had showed where his loyalties lay, selling out to the Assyrians. And it wouldn’t work, for the Assyrians will still invade. It’s the cold dose of reality which follows right after: “The LORD will bring the king of Assyria upon you and your people and your father’s house” (7:17). Disaster was coming for Judah. She too would go into exile.

So wasn’t God with them, like He said? Whatever happened to that child with the special name? God was with them, but Judah surrendered to fear once again. They didn’t stand firm in the faith, so they collapsed.

And yet the gospel lives on. Later in Isaiah, even when Judah goes into captivity, God doesn’t forsake his own. In this way, the name Immanuel points us to the future: this wondrous name is going to become even more wonderful. This is what we see with many of the Old Testament prophecies, that they are fulfilled more than once: there is a first fulfillment, and then later, a second and far richer fulfillment.

Maybe you could compare it to listening to a song with one earbud in, and the volume turned low. You hear what’s going on, and you appreciate it. But then you listen to the same song with both earbuds in—high definition, noise-cancelling ones—and you’ve got the volume turned up just right. It’s the same song as before, but now it’s so much more powerful. That’s the difference between a first and second fulfillment of God’s prophecies. The first happens with the little child born in Jerusalem in those fearful days under Ahaz. The second fulfillment happens when God sends his own Son, born of a virgin.

In Matthew 1, we read about Joseph, learning that Mary was pregnant. He decides to end their relationship quietly. But then an angel appears to explain what’s really going on. This expected child will be God’s instrument of salvation. Verse 23, “They shall call his name Immanuel, which is translated, ‘God with us.’” The glory of that name is made more beautiful, and its glory is increased a thousand times.

For the young woman in Matthew 1 isn’t just a young woman, but she is a virgin. Unlike in Isaiah 7, the Greek word in Matthew can be translated in no other way. It’s not ambiguous: this was a woman who had never slept with a man, and by a miracle of God’s power she was going to have a baby.

And there’s more to the name of her child Immanuel. He’s not merely the promise of God’s presence, a sign that God will surely accompany his people. Now the sign is much more, for the child is God himself! The LORD Almighty is really and truly among us, even in the flesh. You could see him, hear him, touch him: God living among men. When this child was born, grew up, and walked on the earth, He was in the truest sense, “God in our midst.”

Christ went between a sinful people and the holy God, and He made them one. Jesus brings God back to his people, and He brings his people back to God. God isn’t just above you in heaven, so far away. Nor is God against you with wrath, so angry. But because of Christ, God is with you in his love and faithfulness.

This is the profound reality of Immanuel. For the sake of Jesus, God is on our side. Like God came near to trembling Ahaz and fearful Judah, but in a way that is now far more amazing, God himself is among us. We do not stand alone, but we have one to carry our load, to bear our guilt, to protect and help and renew us.

If we have eyes to see, there is a powerful sign right in front of us, proof of God’s steadfast love. His name is Immanuel, and in him we have a sure pledge of God’s faithfulness and kindness toward us. He invites our trust, and He calls us to faith. He assures us that through Christ and for his sake, God is with us.

As Jesus promises in Matthew 28:20, “Surely I am with you always.” For though Christ is King in heaven, his promise holds true. Our Saviour is still Immanuel, God with us—in the present tense. And He will be, now and always. This name can give us confidence. For if God is with us, no one can stand against us, and nothing can keep us from his love.

Like Ahaz, we still find trust to be very hard. We’re still tempted to seek earthly answers, and to figure out solutions through endless hours of worrying or planning. Trust is hard, because trust still always comes with its partner, obedience. If we will trust in God, then we must also obey God. We might turn to God when we’re feeling overwhelmed, but do we also trust him enough to obey? Will I obey God, even if my desire is for the pleasures of sin? Will I obey God, even if someone has hurt me and I want revenge? True obedience isn’t easy—it’s probably just as hard as really learning to trust. But God helping us, we can grow in obedience to him.

For faith in God’s promises is the only sure way to peace in the midst of trouble. A bit later, Isaiah will declare to God, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (26:3). By setting our minds on God, by trusting in him, by holding onto his promise, God keeps us in perfect peace. By trusting Christ, we slowly begin to gain ‘the peace that passes understanding.’

Immanuel makes it possible. So trust in the sign of Immanuel. Though you tremble and shake, trust in this sign, the Son, the Saviour. For when you believe in him, God comes near and keeps you in his perfect peace.  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2022, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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