Stand Firm in Faith, or You Won't Stand at All (Isaiah Sermon 6 of 81)

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Stand Firm in Faith, or You Won't Stand at All (Isaiah Sermon 6 of 81)

June 01, 2008 | Andrew Davis
Isaiah 7
Faith, Warnings, Trials

I. Introduction

I remember well my first attempt at rappelling. Rock climbers use ropes to scale rocky cliffs and go back down them. I had never done it before. It was my first week at college, where you do all kinds of insane and crazy things. And so, there I was on the fifth floor of a town house on Beacon Street in Boston, on the wrong side of the fire escape. And I had the rappelling rope in my left hand and a harness around my body, and my right hand was holding firmly onto the fire escape.

I knew my hand, but I didn't know anything about this rope. I knew what my hand could do, but did I dare let go with my right hand and trust that rope? Well, I did, and it worked, and so I stand before you today. I survived, and I never did it again. I didn't really see the point. There was no great thrill in bouncing down the side of that brick house and making it down, except getting that harness off and saying, "I'll never do this again!"

Now, others may enjoy doing that kind of thing. More power to them. But I want to focus on that moment. I remember it well. When I looked at my right hand, I had to kind of tell it to let go, and it didn't want to. It seemed to know better than I did. "I'm saving your life, you don't want me to let go!" But it is a spiritual principle too. We know what we can do, and we are accustomed to trusting in ourselves. But this scripture today that we are looking at commands us to trust in Christ, to look away from what we can do, what schemes and plots and arrangements we can make to get ourselves out of whatever situations we find ourselves in, and to trust in Christ alone. And it is so hard for us to do it, to live by faith, not by sight, to learn how to rely on God who is invisible, to trust in the certainty of his promises, to look away from what we can achieve and to trust in him.

I think this is one of the biggest questions that we face in our lives. On what or on whom are you really trusting? What are you relying on? What is the truest source of confidence for your own life? Now most of the time, I think, in everyday life this question doesn't really come up. You're not asking intensely as you pour milk on your cereal in the morning, "Now, what am I relying on at this moment? Can I do it?" Or when your cell phone rings and you pull it out, "Do I have the power with which to answer this call?" Everyday life can just lure you into a sense of false security. You get behind the wheel, you turn on the ignition and you think, "I've done this before. I've driven many times to church, I can handle it." And so you don't really pray, you don't really think much about Christ at that moment and so you just go about your business.

But this is a grave misunderstanding of how totally and constantly we should be depending and relying on Christ, on Christ alone. It is a devastating state to be in spiritually, to rely on yourself. It will damn the soul. Because we cannot save ourselves and we must be trained to look away from what we can achieve and look instead to Christ and to him alone. And so, as we come to Isaiah seven, the central lesson of Isaiah seven, I believe is, “Stop trusting in yourself and the alliances you can make in your own strength, and rely on Immanuel. Rely on God alone, who is with us." 

Now, as we come to this passage, Judah is facing a crisis. The little kingdom of Judah is led by a faithless king. And this faithless king, Ahaz, a descendant of king David, is the very man whom God confronts with this promise: “God with us.” God wants to entrust the sign of Immanuel to him and Ahaz doesn't want any part of it.

 II. Crisis Reveals True Faith (verses 1-2)

Ahaz:  David’s Faithless Descendant

We need to understand the geopolitical context of Isaiah 7 to get its full richness. That's the challenge before me today, because you think about the history, what was going on, who are these names that were read for us? Pekah son of Remaliah, and the son of Tabeel, and Aram and Ephraim - who are all these and what does it have to do with anything? But this is the crisis that was revealing the true faith of Ahaz, I would have to say, his lack of faith in almighty God. As we come to Ahaz, we come to a descendant of David, grandson of Uzziah. He is the king of the southern kingdom of Judah.

Now, remember your history. Because of his wickedness, because of his idolatry, Solomon’s heart had turned away from God. And God had decided to judge him, not in his lifetime, but that his son would lose ten tribes. And those ten tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel. The house of David was left with one tribe, Judah, the southern kingdom. And the northern kingdom Israel, and the southern kingdom of Judah were for the most part bitter enemies from that point forward. And so Israel was the northern kingdom, and Judah the southern kingdom.

Aram, Edom, Moab - these were all little kingdoms or little countries in the ancient near east in Palestine that jockeyed for position.  At times some would be a little bit more powerful than the other, etcetera, similar perhaps to the small nations of Serbia and Belgium in pre-World War I days. But then there were the big empires, the big rulers like in pre-World War I days when you had Russia, you had the Austria Hungarian empire, you had Germany and Britain. So in those days, you had Assyria. Assyria was the big monster swimming in that small pool, the superpower of the ancient near east - violent, ruthless and brutal. Called the Nazis of the ancient world, Assyria was poised to gobble up all these minor nations like a lion devouring scraps of meat. That is the context.

Now this man Ahaz was Uzziah's grandson, but he had none of Uzziah's piety, none of Uzziah's love for the Lord. 2 King 16:3-4 says Ahaz “walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.” And so God gave him over. Because of his sins, God gave him over to his enemies.

There is a plain connection between the king's false religion and his defeat by both Israel and Aram on the battlefields. The story is told in 2 Chronicles 28:5-6. Because of Ahaz's sins, “therefore the Lord his God handed him over to the king of Aram. The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel, who inflicted heavy casualties on him. In one day Pekah son of Remaliah killed a hundred and twenty thousand soldiers in Judah - because Judah had forsaken the Lord, the God of their fathers."

Sadly, however, Ahaz did not learn the lesson. He was of the pragmatic school of religion - what works is what we need to follow. And he followed the “if you can't beat them, join them” approach. So in 2 Chronicles 28:23 it says, “He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he thought, 'Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.' But they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel.”

The Crisis:  A Scary Alliance

So that's the context. The immediate context in the issue of Isaiah 7 is a scary alliance. That is the crisis. Two of these little kingdoms have agreed to join together in alliance against little Judah, and the odds are overwhelming. If Judah can't stand up against one of them, how is Judah going to survive against both of them allied together? And so, look at Isaiah 7:5,6. “Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, ‘Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.’” This is the plot. This is what's going on.

Fluttering Like a Leaf

It is a dire situation for Ahaz and for the people of Judah. And as a result in verse two their hearts are fluttering like a leaf. “So the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.” The crises of our lives reveal true character. Even more significantly, they reveal what we are truly trusting in. And so God brings us through crises sometimes to show us our faith, what we really trust in, and perhaps to show us what we are not trusting in and how we should be trusting in Christ more.  These people, including Ahaz, had no solid foundation in the sovereignty of God. They had nowhere to turn, and so they were terrified, fluttering like leaf.

 III. The Sovereign Lord Intervenes, Promises and Warns (verses 3-9) 

The Sovereign Lord Intervenes

And so the sovereign Lord intervenes. He steps in. Our God doesn't stand passively on the sidelines of history. That's not the God of the Bible. He is not an idler. He is not rooting and hoping for a proper outcome, powerless to do anything about it. No, he steps in and brings it about. He accomplishes what he decides.

He is sovereign in deciding what will happen on the stage of history. He moves his little finger and the nations convulse. This is our God. And so, he begins with a quiet word from the prophet to the king. His real desire, the real focus of God, is the hearts of his people. What is going on in your heart? Do you trust or do you not? That's what it is all about. And so he is moving so that his people will learn to trust him, even in the midst of that kind of a crisis. He sends Isaiah the prophet. So Isaiah goes out to confront Ahaz as he is making preparations for battle.

 Look at verse three. “Then the Lord said to Isaiah, ‘Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's field.’” So he is out there, making preparations, perhaps getting some water ready for a siege. He is out there, and Isaiah goes to confront him, to deal with him.

 God’s Command:  Don’t Be Afraid… Only Believe

And God gives Ahaz and the people of Judah a command. He says, “Don't be afraid, only believe.”  Look at verse four. “Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood - because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah.” So he gives them a command. So often Jesus does the same thing with his own disciples.

In the midst of the storm, he rebukes them and said, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” (Matthew 8:26). So, often we get afraid of the future, and we should be trusting in God. Faith drives out fear and makes us strong and courageous. And so, God gives a command, and he says, “Don't be afraid, only believe.”

 God’s Promise: The Secret Plans of Man Will Fail

And he gives them a promise as well: “The secret plans of man will fail.” Look at verses five through seven. "Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 'Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.' Yet this is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'It will not take place, it will not happen.'"

That, my friends, is the final word on that. When God speaks like that, who can turn aside his will? His hand is stretched out and who is able to turn it back? He's made a decision in this matter and this will not take place. It's a promise. The secret purposes of man will not prevail.

“Man Proposes, God Disposes”

You've heard the saying, "Man proposes but God disposes." God makes the final decision. Oh, many verses teach this. Proverbs 19:21 says, "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." Others teach plainly God's sovereign authority over the rise and fall of nations. Daniel 4:17, "The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men." Some verses even discuss directly the plots and plans and schemes and lies that political leaders make, even to one another, sitting at a conference table, and say God's sovereign plan will overrule all of that. Read Daniel 11. Well, here God decrees failure for this alliance. It will not take place. It will not happen. And here faith must find its resting place in the sovereign power of God. He decrees what will and will not happen. And in that we find our sure security, our stable resting point.

Tragically, however, Ahaz will not listen. He is not going to listen. Instead, he is going to flee willingly into the arms of the monster Assyria. He is going to turn away from a loving God and he is going to embrace Assyria to save him. Now Judah's enemies are merely human. How many times does it say, "The head of this country is only so and so. The head of that country is only so and so." They're only men. They are nothing.

Within sixty-five years, Ephraim will be too shattered to even to be a people. Who is speaking these words? Later in the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, verse 22 and following, "He sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in. He brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of this world to nothing. No sooner are they planted, no sooner are they sown, no sooner do they take root in the ground, than he blows on them and they wither, and a whirlwind sweeps them away like chaff. 'To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?' says the Holy One."  "The head of such and such country is only so and so, but I, I sit enthroned above the circle of the Earth, and all the nations are like grasshoppers before me. Who do you fear?"

 The Warning: Grave Danger for Unbelief

And therefore he gives Ahaz, and through him Judah and all of us a warning: "Grave danger for unbelief." Look at verse nine. To me, this is the center of this whole chapter. I know the promise of Immanuel is wonderful. We will talk about it. But the lesson that takes in the whole picture of Isaiah 7 is this one verse, verse nine, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” That is the warning that Isaiah gives to Ahaz.

The greatest danger in the universe is unbelief in Almighty God, for this makes the sovereign Lord, who sits enthroned above the circle of the Earth, it makes him your enemy. And who can stand before him? Here I perceive also the same issue as the gospel itself. Romans 1:17, “The righteous will live by faith.” Those who refuse to believe in Christ will be destroyed, and they will be destroyed by the very things they trust in, as Ahaz was destroyed by the very nation he trusted in, Assyria. Unbelievers trust in false gods and false good works, and they will prove the greatest enemies of our souls on judgment day.

 IV. The Sovereign Lord Gives a Sign: Immanuel (vs. 10-17)

Stooping to Our Weakness

And so the sovereign Lord stoops to our weakness. He stoops to Ahaz's weakness, and he wants to give him a sign, the sign of Immanuel. It's amazing, isn't it? How sweetly patient our God is. How much he is willing to reach out. "All day long," He says, "I have held out my hands to an obstinate people” (Isaiah 65:2). This is God. And so he stoops to Ahaz's weakness, and he wants to give him a sign. He knows Ahaz's heart is terrified. He knows it is faithless. He wants to give him a sign to help him. And so Isaiah, on behalf of the Almighty God, hands Ahaz a blank check with God's signature and says, "Fill it in, any amount, anything you want, and I will do it."

It's an astonishing statement here. "Ask the Lord your God," verse 11, "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights, [anything, and I'll do it.]" And notice the language here, very hopeful. Speaking to Ahaz, "Ask the Lord your God, Ahaz.” “Your God” - that will change in a moment. But at this point, he has an invitation to trust in the God of his father David, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of power. And look at the graciousness of the command: "Ask for any sign."

Remember one time during the period of the conquest, when Joshua was fighting, and he asked God for an extraordinary thing. He just wanted a little more time that day to finish off the battle. Do you remember that from Joshua 10:12-14? "On the day the Lord gave the Amorites over to Israel, Joshua said to the Lord in the presence of Israel: 'O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon.' So the sun stood still, and the moon stopped, till the nation avenged itself on its enemies. … The sun stopped in the middle of the sky and delayed going down about a full day. There has never been a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man. Surely the Lord was fighting for Israel!"

Well, here Isaiah goes out on behalf of the sovereign Lord and says, "You can ask for anything. I'll even do that again if you want, so that you will know that God is still fighting for his people."

Ahaz’s Transparent Hypocrisy

But what does Ahaz do with this blank check? He crumples it up and throws it on the ground. And he does it with a transparent hypocrisy that is really quite shocking. "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test" (verse 12). Oh, that is really lousy. And that smells. I know he's quoting Deuteronomy and all that. And I know the Lord said this in terms of casting himself off the pinnacle of the temple and all that. “Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah” (Deuteronomy 6:16). But God had told him to do it! That’s the whole issue. If the Lord had commanded, if God had commanded Jesus to cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple, Jesus would have done it without hesitation, knowing that God would send his angels to catch him. But God hadn't commanded Jesus to do that. The whole issue is what is God commanding? And here the sovereign Lord has commanded Ahaz, "Ask for a sign." And he says, "I won't do it."

The fact is that God is really testing Ahaz. He wants Ahaz, he wants all of us to see what is in his heart. There is nothing there toward God. He doesn't want to ask God to give him a sign, because he doesn't want God to do the sign. He doesn't want anything to do with Yahweh. He doesn't want anything to do with a mighty, wonder working God. All he wants is to solve his problems his own way. He already knows what he is going to do. He is making preparations for the siege. He already knows what his plan is. We'll get to that in a moment.

But Isaiah gives him a sharp reply from the Lord. Verse 13: “Then Isaiah said, ‘Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?’” Oh, that is significant. Notice he doesn't say your God here. The moment has passed. There is a moment, and it passes. There was an opportunity there for Ahaz, and he threw it on the ground. And so now it is my God. This is the decisive moment, I believe, in Ahaz's life. He refuses the grace and help that the Lord will give. Judah will be saved, but not by Ahaz. Not by Ahaz.

The Sign: Immanuel

And so, here comes the sign, verses 14 through 16, "The Lord Himself will give you a sign: the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him, Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste." Alright, so Ahaz won't ask for a sign, the Lord will choose the sign. He is going to give a sign. This time it is of the Lord's choosing. And notice that the sign is given to the whole nation. The word is plural. It's not just to Ahaz singular. It's "to you, the Lord will give all of you a sign." And this sign is a word. It is a child who symbolizes the word "Immanuel" - God with us.

Three Issues with the Sign

Now there are three weighty issues with this verse, three significant issues we need to try to figure out. First and foremost, was there an immediate sign given in Ahaz's time? Did God do something for Ahaz in his generation? Second, does this verse teach the virgin birth? Third, what is the significance of the word, "Immanuel"? Three key questions here.

Let's take the first. Was there an immediate sign given in Ahaz's time? Absolutely, yes, there was. The whole thing with Christian prophecy in the Old Testament is that of shadow and fulfillment. There is a reality that acts out an aspect of Christ's life, and then the perfect fulfillment is in Christ. And so, we have that again here. There was an Israelite young lady who was going to give birth to a son at that time, and they would give him the name "Immanuel." And that son, that boy, would be a sign and a symbol of something the Lord was going to do. This mysterious name, this word "Immanuel," is the essence of the sign. The boy, I believe, was just an ordinary boy.

But he became somewhat like a time clock, measuring what God intended to do. And so, how long does it take for a young boy to know right from wrong? It says, "He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste." They are not even going to be an issue anymore. Well that's what - five or six years? In a very, very, very short time, it is going to be laid waste. And you are not going to be wondering anymore about those two kingdoms that are allied together against you. And so there's the sign. It's a time clock. In a very, very short time - you won't have to wait long - those two kingdoms will be destroyed. So yes, there was a sign immediately given in Ahaz's day.

Secondly, does this verse teach the virgin birth? Now, that is problematic. I just said there would be a baby born. Born to a virgin? I think not. Why do I say that? I think that was utterly unique in all of redemptive history, the virgin birth. Never to be repeated. Never happened before. Now, we recognize that Mathew picked this verse as a prediction of the virgin birth. Mathew 1:22-23, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ - which means, ‘God with us.’” But the virgin birth is utterly unique in all of history. I can't imagine that a child born in Ahaz's day was born from a virgin. So Isaiah uses a word, "almah", a Hebrew word which always refers in the Old Testament to a virgin, but which does not emphasize specifically her virginity as another Hebrew word would have.

I love Martin Luther's quote on this. Martin Luther offered one hundred guilders, one hundred gold coins to anyone who could show that the Hebrew word "almah" ever referred to a married woman. In characteristic fashion Luther said only God knew where he'd get the one hundred guilders if someone could meet his bet. “I don't have that kind of money, but I'm pretty confident on this one, that you'll never be able show me that this word refers to a married woman.”

So I think this Hebrew word is admirably suited both for the immediate circumstances of Ahaz, and then for the future glorious fulfillment. I don't think anyone really could have understood until it happened that a virgin would literally be with child by the power of the sovereign God. 

What is the significance of the word "Immanuel"? Well, the word literally means “God with us.” Here in Ahaz's day, it meant that the true source of Judah's safety was the fact that Almighty God was protecting her. That is the source of Judah's true safety. Look over, if you would, just one chapter to Isaiah 8, perhaps right there on the same page, and look at verses nine and ten. “Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand.” Why? “For God is with us.”

Do you see that? There's the protection. All you nations that mean us harm, just know this, you will lose. You go ahead and make your plans. Get yourself ready. It doesn't make a difference. Why? Because the sovereign God is on our side. We will find out later what he can do with one angel in one night - 185,000 troops. He can do anything. So the real safety and security for Judah is this: God is with us. No nation, no matter how mighty, can defeat God's people while God is fighting for them.

And so Deuteronomy 32:9-11 says this: “For the Lord's portion is his people, Jacob his allotted inheritance… He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.” Oh, what a glorious picture! God as a powerful eagle protecting the little ones, and none can harm them because he is sovereign and powerful. That's what Immanuel means, the power of God to defeat all of our enemies. Now the deeper significance of Immanuel comes with the birth of Christ. More in a moment on that.

V. False Faith Proves Ruinous: Assyria is Coming! (vs. 17-25)

 Both God and Ahaz Summon Assyria

But then we see the false faith of Ahaz that proves ruinous. Assyria is coming. Assyria is coming, verses 17 through 25, and amazingly, both God and Ahaz are going to summon Assyria for very different purposes.

Faithless Ahaz turns away from God to Assyria for help

Despite the sweet promises of protection from the Lord, Ahaz turns away in faithless unbelief. He has no faith in the Lord. He must save himself, and so he makes a fatal alliance with Assyria. The tragic story is told fully in 2 Kings 16:7-9, "Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, 'I am your servant and your vassal.'" That should just make the hairs come up in the back of your neck. "I am your servant, O king of Assyria." I want to be a servant of the living God, don't you? I don't want to say that to anybody, “I am your servant.” Not in this sense. "I am your servant and your vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the hand of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” “Come up and save me," he says. "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. The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it."

So there is a little boy Immanuel. Within a handful of years, the two kingdoms will be destroyed and laid waste. By whom? By Assyria. Assyria is going to come and lay them waste. And in honor of his new liege Lord, the king of Assyria, Ahaz changes the worship patterns of Judah. He sees an Assyrian altar there in Damascus and sends the plans for the altar back to be built according to that pattern. When he goes back and sees his replica altar, he offers sacrifices on it according to his own new religion, and he seeks guidance from it. He took things out of the temple of the Lord and sent them in honor to the king of Assyria. “But that did not help him” (2 Chronicles 28:21). He eventually shut the doors of the Lord's temple entirely and set up altars on every street corner in Jerusalem and worshipped false gods after the pagan pattern of Assyria. That's what he did. Wholesale defection. That's why I say the key moment is here in Isaiah 7, when God invites him and asks him to ask for a sign.

This foolish act would eventually destroy most of Judah. And why? Because Assyria is coming. One commentator said, "It's like a little mouse fighting against two larger mice and summoning the cat to come help. And so the cat comes gladly and takes care of the two little mice. And what's left? The third little mouse. And Judah is going to get gobbled up too.

 God predicts and brings Assyria

Now, I said both Ahaz and Almighty God summoned Assyria, but for very different reasons. Now he is going to use Assyria to search the hearts of his own people on this very issue: Who are you trusting? Are you going to trust God, or are you going to trust Assyria? So when they come (look at verses 17 through 20), “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. In that day the Lord will whistle for flies from the distant streams of Egypt and for bees from the land of Assyria. They will all come and settle in the steep ravines and in the crevices in the rocks, on all the thornbushes and at all the water holes. In that day the Lord will use a razor hired from beyond the River - the king of Assyria - to shave your head and the hair of your legs, and to take off your beards also.”

Notice God does not merely predict that Assyria will come. That's not what it says. No, he brings them. He is going to bring the king of Assyria. He is going to whistle, like the master of bees and flies, for them to come. He is going to hire a razor to come do the shaving. He is going to humiliate his people. He is going to bring them. And the bottom line is this: What you trust in, if not the Lord, will ultimately destroy you. Assyria came not to save, but to destroy. 

Isaiah 10:6 tells us the purpose of the Assyrians. "To seize loot, and snatch plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets." That's their motive. Now, I believe if Ahaz had trusted in the Lord, I don't know what would have happened, but I think Assyria would have come anyway to take care of the northern kingdom. They were done. He would have come to destroy Aram, but they would have stopped at the border and would not have entered in. They might have wanted to come in, but they are not getting in there, because the sovereign Lord would have protected that little kingdom of Judah, as he can do. That's just speculation, but I think that's what would have happened.

But instead, Ahaz – Judah - reaches out to Assyria and God brings them. The final result is that the land will be destroyed. It will be a cursed land. Look at Verses 23 through 25. "In that day, in every place where there were a thousand vines worth a thousand silver shekels, there will be only briers and thorns.” In that place where there was rich fruitfulness, there is going to be cursing. “Men will go there with bow and arrow, for the land will be covered with briers and thorns.” That's cursed. Verse 25: “As for all the hills once cultivated by the hoe [that's a blessed land], you will no longer go there for fear of the briers and thorns [that's the curse]; they will become places where cattle are turned loose and where the sheep run.” The land is going to be destroyed because of faithlessness, because they wouldn't trust in God.

 VI. The Immanuel Sign Fulfilled: Christ is Born 

Now, I want to focus on this sign, Immanuel, and its glorious fulfillment, Jesus Christ our Savior. The virgin birth - centuries later God remembered the sign that he had promised Ahaz. And Mary, the mother of Jesus, was pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is clear and given a clear testimony in Luke 1 and Matthew 1. After Mary was told by the angel what would happen to her, she yearned to understand. Luke 1:34-35, “‘How will this be,’ Mary asked the angel, ‘since I am a virgin?’ The angel answered, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.’”

But it is Matthew who links this event back to this prophecy and focuses on the word “Immanuel”. “An angel of the Lord appeared to him [Joseph] in a dream” (Matthew 1:20). Joseph was resolving to divorce Mary. He had trouble believing, as any of us would, that this virgin was really a virgin with child. It had never happened before. And so being a just man, he resolved to divorce her quietly. “But… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ - which means ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:20,21).  “God with us” – a literal fulfillment - Jesus Christ, God in the flesh. “The Word became flesh, and made his dwelling among us, and we have beheld his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Hebrews 2:14, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity." He is God with us as a human being. More than that, however, sweetly more than that, he is God on our side, God who has come to save us, God who has come to deliver us, God for us. Romans 8:31, "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?”

“Who cares who's against us?” My translation.  Well, not a translation, just a few extra things. We'll just preach on that. "Who cares who's against us?!” Assyria, Satan, the world and the flesh, it doesn't matter. If God is for us, who could be against us? God for us and God with us - through everything we're going through. As he says in Hebrews 13:5, "Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you.” “When you pass through the rivers, I will be with you. When you walk through the fire, I will be with you” (Isaiah 43:2). Forever he is with us.

God walking alongside us in temptation. He was tempted in every way just as we are, yet he was without sin. Let's go to him then that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. God is with us in the midst of suffering. We endure, knowing that Jesus suffered more than any of us ever could or ever will on the cross. He knows suffering. Go to him as you are suffering. He is God with us. He is God with us in the trial of death. "He tasted death for everyone," it says in Hebrews 2:9.

He is also God with us in all of the work he gives us to do. Remember how, through the flames of the burning bush, God sent Moses to Pharaoh? And he said, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" (Exodus 3:11). And what did the Lord say? "I will be with you." "I will be with you" (Exodus 3:12). And so he has entrusted to us the work of reconciliation for the whole world. To the church he has entrusted to us that we should “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19,20). But what does he say after that? “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” God with us in everything he has commanded us to do. He will never leave us and never forsake us.

The True Deliverance

And God with us to deliver us from the true danger. It's not the Assyrians. It's not the Arameans. It's not Israel. It's none of that. The true deliverance is from sin and death and hell. Hallelujah! He has come to deliver us from those enemies, and so he drank the cup of God's wrath. He drank hell in on the cross. He suffered hell for us so that we could be delivered. “And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night” (Revelation 4:11). That's the real deliverance we need. We need to be delivered from hell. We need to be delivered from judgement and from wrath. And we deserve it. We know it. 

The Final Fulfillment: Eternally with God

But Jesus has come to deliver us from what we truly deserve by giving us a free gift. And the final fulfillment of God with us is heaven itself. Heaven itself. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:1-3). That's God with us friends. 

"Father," he says in John 17:24, “I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory.” And so the final fulfillment of Immanuel is Revelation 21:2,3. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Now the dwelling of God is with men.’” God with men. That's Immanuel. “And he will live with them, [Immanuel], "they will be his people, and God himself will be with them, [that's Immanuel], "and [he will] be their God.” That is the fulfillment of the promise of Isaiah 7:14. Eternity in Heaven in face to face fellowship with Almighty God.

 VII. Central Lesson: In What Are You Trusting?

How Do You React During Trials?

So what is the central lesson of Isaiah 7? This is: What are you trusting in? What do your trials show you that you are trusting in? How do you react when you get bad news? Whether it's financial, or medical, relational, spiritual - when you get bad news and your heart is laid bare what are you really trusting in? Is your heart fluttering like a leaf when you get some bad news? Or are you rock solid knowing there is a God who sovereignly overrules your life and nothing can touch you except what is passed through his wise and loving hands. Which is it? Are you stable or are you fluttering? Christ is saying, "Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart" (Isaiah 7:4).

Even More Poignantly, What About Your Soul??

 Even more poignantly he says to all of us, to the human race, “There is an earthquake coming far greater than any we've seen in the current events. It is going to shake what you built. It is going to shake everything. Once more he will return and shake the earth. And if you do not stand by faith on that day, you will not stand at all.” Romans 1:16-17 puts it this way, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’” I appreciated singing “Come Ye Sinners, Poor And Needy.” Oh, is that powerful! Wasn't that powerful? I wanted there to be twenty more verses.

I guess then I wouldn’t be preaching now. But that's fine. We'd still be singing. But that's fine. Oh the rich theology. The rich, rich theology. And one of the verses said this,

Lo, the incarnate God, ascended,

Pleads the merit of his blood:

Venture on Him, venture wholly,

Let no other trust intrude! 

Oh, is that potent. Venture out like you're on the seventh floor of a burning high rise and a hook and ladder has come to save your life. Don't hesitate. Go. Venture forth and don't look for anything else to save you. “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must saved” (Acts 4:12). It's Jesus alone. Call on the name of the Lord and you will be saved. And it says, “Let no other trust intrude!

Yesterday, I had the privilege of performing a wedding for Jim and Claire Ewell. And standing right here at the very end of the ceremony, I gave them permission, actually kind of a command. “You may kiss the bride.” I think he was eager to do it. And so he stepped forward and he embraced his bride and kissed her. A public display of affection right here in church. He gave her a big kiss. But at that moment of marital embrace, there was not a man or woman or child on the face of the earth who would have been welcome to join them. No one. I was closest to them. I wasn't tempted. That was their moment. That's a picture of the soul in Christ. Let no other trust intrude. He is the lover of your soul. He is the only one who can save you. Nothing else has a right to intrude on the embrace of your soul and your savior Jesus Christ.

 Close with me in prayer.

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