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Christmas Lights: God With Us, Isaiah 7

God With Us

Isaiah 7:10-17


What are you afraid of? We all have things we don’t like … thing’s we’re afraid of. Some people are afraid to fly. Others are afraid of spiders, or mice, or snakes. Some are afraid of heights. Sometimes we call those things phobias. Recently some celebrities shared the things they’re afraid of.


Jennifer Aniston, Cher, and Whoopi Goldberg are all. They are afraid of flying. Barbra Streisand is uncomfortable around strangers. Michael Jackson was haunted by the fear of contamination, infections, and diseases. The celebrity with the most phobias is Woody Allen. He’s afraid of insects, sunshine, dogs, deer, bright colors, children, heights, small rooms, crowds, and cancer.


Famous people of the past were no different. George Washington was scared to death of being buried alive. Richard Nixon was terrified of hospitals, and Napoleon Bonaparte, the military and political genius, feared cats. The man conquered most of Europe, and probably could have been stopped by the release of tons of cats.


Fear has a way of taking over, of dominating us, causing us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do. Just think about how your body feels when you are really afraid. Sweaty palms. Your stomach gets all queasy. Every single inch of your body is on alert. And each of us respond to fear in different ways. Some of us freeze. Others run. And some of us fight, but regardless, we all know what it is like to be afraid. Fear can truly be paralyzing and it can be very difficult to think clearly when you are truly afraid. It is no surprise, then, that the Bible talks a lot about fear and being afraid.


It’s often said that the Bible says “Fear not” 365 times, one for each day of the year. That really isn’t true. The words “fear” and “not” do appear beside each other that many times, but not always in the context of “do not be afraid.” Still, over and over in scripture, 110 times to be exact,  are these reminders: Do not be afraid. Do not fear. It may not be 365 times, but its clear that God does not want his people to live their lives controlled by fear and worry. Now, be careful here. God also doesn’t tell his people to go looking for trouble either. Most of us aren’t afraid to drive a car, or ride in a car, but we still put on our seatbelts before we pull out, don’t we? We aren’t afraid, in the sense of feeling fear in the moment. But we also aren’t dumb. The same thing could be said of wearing masks and social distancing to protect against Covid. We need not be controlled by fear, but that doesn’t mean we don’t take appropriate precautions. Wear your seatbelt, and wear your mask. Christ followers die in car accidents and get Covid just like everyone else. That’s just wisdom.


So think about the situations that cause you to be afraid. Not just the phobias. Life situations. Maybe it’s being alone. Or losing someone you love. Or what others think about you. Or not being able to provide for your family. Or failing in some way. Or losing a business or your job. Now, picture yourself facing those situations WITH GOD. Because that is the reality. You do not face those things alone. That’s God’s solution to our fear and worry – Emmanuel. God with us. Not just out there, almighty and powerful and at work in the universe, fully present everywhere. Right here. On this planet. In Christ God became like us. God jumped into our mess with us, to be with us, to experience it with us, and to create a way out where none existed before. That’s the light of Christmas. God is with us.


Isaiah was a prophet of God among a people who were afraid. But they weren’t just feeling fear. We all feel afraid sometimes. That’s normal. They were being controlled by their fear. And although Isaiah wasn’t directly related to the king of Judah, he was of royal blood, he was a part of the extended family in some way, and so he had access to the king. He was a kind of spiritual advisor to the kings of Judah. And because he was anointed a prophet by God, his voice was the voice of God in the royal court. He started his ministry near the end of Uzziah’s reign, and served under the next three succeeding kings, all father-son successions. Uzziah’s son Jotham, Jotham’s son Ahaz, and Ahaz’s son Hezekiah all ruling the southern kingdom, Judah, from the palace in Jerusalem.


After Solomon died, the northern kingdom, Israel, had split off, and had established her capitol in Samaria, where she had her own line of kings. In Isaiah 7, Ahaz is king of Judah. And both Ahaz and Judah are facing a defining moment. A watershed moment. The decision Ahaz makes here will in many ways decide the future of Judah. And Ahaz is afraid.


The mighty Assyrian Empire had been quiet in recent years as a new emperor established himself on the throne and dealt with some unrest within the borders of Assyria and in territories to his east that he held. It had provided the much smaller states in the west, states like Israel and Judah and Syria and Philistia, some respite and time to decide what they were going to do about Assyria, who wanted their lands. But now that the new emperor had settled things down at home and to the east, his eyes were turned westward once again. He was coming.


And the kings of those tiny nations had some decisions to make. Could they join forces and possibly hold off the Assyrian army? Should they see if Egypt, to the south, would provide aid? The kings of Israel and Syria wanted them all to join forces and stand up to Assyria. But Ahaz in Judah wasn’t so sure. He thought the best plan might be to offer Assyria tribute, seek to become her friend. Certainly the emperor wouldn’t attack and destroy a nation that was his friend. Of course that meant embracing Assyria’s false gods and all that went with it, but that was a small price to pay for security, right?


Well, the kings of Israel and Syria didn’t like this approach. They wanted Ahaz to join them in standing up to Assyria, and since he wasn’t going to … they were going to march on Judah themselves, besiege Jerusalem, depose Ahaz and replace him with someone who would do what they wanted him to do. So now Ahaz has two problems … Assyria is coming, eventually. And Israel and Syria are marching against him now. Look at Isaiah 7:1-9. God tells Ahaz through Isaiah, don’t worry about these two idiot kings. I’ve got you. I am going to make them fail. I will protect you. Don’t worry about them. And don’t worry about Assyria. But Ahaz, and his people, are being controlled by their fear. And Ahaz isn’t buying it. Maybe he could kill two birds with one stone and reach out to Assyria for help, becoming an Assyrian ally and dealing with this more immediate threat from Israel and Syria in one move. That was his plan.


When we’re overcome by fear, the only thing we can see is the object of our fear. We can’t see God. We can’t see what God can do, will do, wants to do. When we’re in the clutches of fear, we can’t see past it. We can’t see around it. We can’t see what life might be like on the other side. We’re hyper-focused on our fear. And it paralyzes us. It’s normal to be afraid sometimes. To worry sometimes. That’s part of the human experience. But as our fear grows, it begins to control our hearts. Today, we view the heart as the seat of emotion, but in Isaiah’s day, the heart was the center of thought, will, and action. They actually saw emotion as coming from the gut. In the Bible, the heart is that part of us responsible for our thought, our will and decision-making, and ultimately our actions. That’s why Jesus said, “for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). When our thoughts are impacted by fear, our wills are impacted by that fear, and then we act, motivated by fear.


There’s a huge difference between feeling afraid, which happens to all of us, and being controlled by fear. That’s fear unchecked. Fear allowed to grow and fester. Now, look down at Vv. 10-12. Instead of admitting his fear as seeking God’s comfort and guidance, Ahaz fakes faith. He says what he thinks he’s supposed to say, but the truth is, he’s already made up his mind what he’s going to do. He has no desire to even turn to God. He had figured it out on his own. He was going to reach out to Assyria for help with his neighbors, and hope that they left him alone after that because he was their friend.


To Ahaz, his problem looked bigger than God. The Assyrians looked unstoppable. Obviously their gods, or whatever they were, were stronger than God. God wasn’t going to be any help. But he isn’t going to say that. Through Isaiah, God tells Ahaz to ask anything of him, from the heights of heaven to the depths of hell, anything at all, be daring, and he would do it. There was no limit to what he could ask. Instead, he fakes faith and quotes Scripture. “I will not put the Lord to the test.” That’s a quote from Deuteronomy 6:16. The law of Moses does say that. But it’s in the context of testing God out of rebellion and doubt. But testing God is invited when it’s done out of faith, daring to put your weight fully on God and see if he will hold you up.


In 2 Kings 20, Ahaz son Hezekiah, now the king, desperately wants to do what God wants him to do, but he needs reassurance. “And Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me, and that I shall go up to the house of the Lord on the third day?” And Isaiah said, “This shall be the sign to you from the Lord, that the Lord will do the thing that he has promised: shall the shadow go forward ten steps, or go back ten steps?” And Hezekiah answered, “It is an easy thing for the shadow to lengthen ten steps. Rather let the shadow go back ten steps.” And Isaiah the prophet called to the Lord, and he brought the shadow back ten steps, by which it had gone down on the steps of Ahaz (Vv. 8-11).


How different father and son are here. Ahaz fakes faith, misquotes Scripture, and goes forward with his own plan. Years later, his son, Hezekiah, just as afraid, basically asks God to make the sun go backwards so the shadow on the steps recedes 10 steps, and God does it.


Now, look down at Vv. 13-17. Two huge things happened here. We have to look closely to see the first one. Look first at V. 11. “Ask a sign of the LORD YOUR God …” Now look at V. 13. “Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary MY God also.” He is no longer Ahaz’s God. Not because God has turned his back on Ahaz, but because Ahaz turned his back on God. Ahaz has rejected God, God’s comfort, and God’s provision. Motivated by fear, he will depend on his own ingenuity.


The second thing that happens here we see in V. 14. Ahaz refuses to ask God for a sign that God is with him. Well, God is going to send him a sign anyway, and it’s a big one. This sign actually has two prongs, two spheres of influence. The first is the immediate context facing Ahaz and Isaiah. A child not yet born but soon to be born will not yet have reached the age of accountability, 12 years of age, when God will have dealt with Israel and Syria and their kings. Ahaz needn’t worry about them. God would soon dispatch them. AND, because of Ahaz’s unwillingness to trust God and seek God’s comfort and help, Assyria would fall upon Judah too. Not only would Ahaz’s immediate concern be dealt with in short order, so too would Ahaz. Judah’s fate has been sealed. Judah will be heading into exile too. Motivated by fear, depending only on herself and her own ingenuity, she too would fall.




There’s a bigger story here. The word Isaiah chose to use for “virgin” wasn’t the only one accessible to him. If he meant only a virgin in the distant future, he would have chosen another word. If he meant only a woman in the present time who was not yet married, he would have chosen still another word. The word he chose is more ambiguous. It leaves open the possibility of both.


Roughly 730 years later, the angel Gabriel appeared to a man named Joseph, who was engaged to a woman named Mary. She was pregnant, but still a virgin, or so she said. Joseph didn’t want to see Mary hurt, so he planned to break things off quietly with her, until Gabriel appeared to him and, quoting Isaiah 7:14, said, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us) (Matt. 1:22-23).

A defining moment, a watershed event, for Ahaz and for Judah, and they had failed. Controlled by fear, they had turned their backs on God. And it was then, in the face of their greatest failure, that both judgment (you WILL go into exile) AND salvation (God with us) are announced. It is in the midst of our sin, our rebellion, and our rejection of God that Immanuel, God with us, comes. We do reap the consequences of our sin in this life, but God’s love surpasses all of that. In the face of our refusal to trust and our rejection of him, God comes. God rescues us. God’s word WILL be kept.


Revivalist Charles Spurgeon, known as the Prince of Preachers, said, “Emmanuel, God with us in our nature, in our sorrow, in our lifework, in our punishment, in our grave, and now with us, or rather we with Him, in resurrection, ascension, triumph, and Second Advent splendor.”[i] God. With. Us.


No matter what you have faced in 2020, no matter what you face this Christmas season, and no matter what you will face in 2021, know that God is with you. God is for you. And God is asking you to trust him. In the face of your fear. In spite of your doubt and discouragement. With all of your anger and your worry. God is asking you, “Will you trust me?” Let us pray.

[i] C. H. Spurgeon in Morning and Evening. Christianity Today, Vol. 40, no. 14.