Thursday, December 03, 2009

Sermon on Isaiah 7:1-17, for Wednesday Advent 1, "The Throne of David"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. During these three weeks of Advent we’ll be looking at three prophecies from the book of Isaiah that point forward to Jesus the Messiah and King. Today we look at the first, from Isaiah 7, the prophecy of Jesus’ virgin birth. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
This Scripture passage is all about faith. It’s about faith in God’s promise to carry out salvation through His Son, the Virgin-born Messiah. It’s about the having the faith to trust in God and His continuing presence and action in our lives, even when circumstances dictate otherwise. It’s one thing to do whatever is in your ability and trust God to provide a way through challenge and difficulty when the way is uncertain. It’s another thing altogether to disbelieve God and try to engineer your own solution to a problem through dishonorable means.

The reading from Isaiah describes just such a situation. Isaiah came to King Ahaz, the King of Judah, during a crisis point in his young reign. Ahaz became king at only 20 years old, and proved to be a wicked and disobedient king who had no regard for God. The ugly tale of his reign is punctuated by some of the greatest offenses one could commit against God. He built idols to Baal, made offerings to false gods on every hill and under every tree, and worst of all, he offered his own sons in child sacrifice to his pagan gods. He also ended the proper sacrifices to the True God that were offered in the Temple. He sacrificed instead to the gods of his enemies, because after all they seemed to have helped them; he vandalized and destroyed the vessels, basins, and altars used in the Temple, constructed idolatrous altars all throughout Jerusalem, and closed the doors of the Temple. Can you imagine? Desecrating God’s house of worship and shutting the doors sent a message loud and clear—we’ll no longer worship God and we’ll no longer worship here. So that’s a thumbnail sketch of his evil reign.

As for the crisis he faced early in his young reign, two political kingdoms—the Northern Kingdom of Israel, and the Kingdom of Syria, had allied and were attacking Judah. Though they didn’t yet have the strength to attack him, their threatening was enough to make the heart of Ahaz and his people shake “as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” Whether Ahaz already begun his spree of wickedness or not—God extended an olive branch to him through Isaiah. He told Ahaz not to fear these two nations who were as harmless as two burnt sticks whose embers were smoking and dying out. Isaiah called him to courage and to know that God had already set the date for the downfall of both of these enemies.

But after prophesying their downfall, Isaiah adds: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.” So to test Ahaz’ faith in God’s Word, God makes a remarkable offer to him. Ask for a sign—any sign, no matter how great. God not only promised the defeat of his enemies and the safety of Jerusalem, but He even offered any sign Ahaz wished as proof. But Ahaz hid his unbelief behind a mask of piety, saying “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.” Except there was no holy regard for God in his answer, only disobedience and the despising of God’s offer. Isaiah had told Ahaz to ask a sign of your God—but with Ahaz’ brazen refusal, now Isaiah’s anger was stirred. Isaiah’s fiery reply was this: “Hear then O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”

Ahaz failed his test of faith miserably. He was not firm in faith, and truly he would not remain firm at all. Rejecting God’s protection and mercy for his kingdom, he instead made earthly alliances with the powerful Assyrian empire, and set out on his course of idol worship and seeking the wisdom of other gods, instead of the true God. So God rejected him, and set in motion the proof of his promise—those nations fell in very short order—and God set forth a future sign and miracle that would astonish even so hardened an unbeliever as Ahaz. A virgin woman, who had known no man, would give birth to a child. Here was a miracle no human could have devised. But this would be the proof of God’s faithfulness to the house of David—even despite the wickedness of some of its kings. This child would be no ordinary babe, but would be named, “Immanuel—which means God with us.”

This child born of the Virgin Mary, conceived by the Holy Spirit, is Jesus Christ—the true Son of David who would establish the throne of David’s kingdom forever. He was God in human flesh, proof that God really is with His people. There is a dark irony in the fact that Ahaz, turned to sacrificing his sons to idols, would be given the sign of Immanuel, the True Son of God, who laid down His life in sacrifice for our sins. Jesus was the resolution of Ahaz’ fears of losing the Davidic throne, as He became the Forever King who established and ruled David’s throne. Jesus was the resolution of Ahaz’ desire for direct mediation from God, as Jesus intercedes for us to the Father, and by His death brought reconciliation for our sin. Jesus was the proof that the tiny kingdom of Judah had a real ally who was powerful even over death.

We’ll probably never have such a dramatic test of faith as Ahaz, but our faith will surely be tested. When it is, will we put our confidence in our own efforts, short-cuts, and engineering? Will we see past our present but passing circumstances, and see the spiritual truth that God knows everything and sees through to our end? God hasn’t promised us confirming signs for His will in our lives with the challenges we face. But the confirming sign of Immanuel, born of the virgin, is a sign for us as well. God’s promise now extends to us as well. We’ve been brought under the kingship of Jesus, the Son of David who rules forever and has a throne that is established for eternity. And He is Immanuel, God with us also.

We’re under the kingship of an eternally wise king, who knows all our circumstances, who sees through to the conclusion of all our earthly difficulties, and has a plan for bringing us safely to our destination. We certainly should be wise and prepare and do all that we’re able to, but when difficulties go beyond our earthly strength, we should be firm in faith in the one who has all strength. However God may bring us through difficulties in life to their conclusion, we know for sure that God is with us—He is Immanuel. Jesus came in human flesh to walk with us, to bear our sorrows, and to be tested and tempted as we are. He came offering an olive branch of peace to all who’ve rebelled against God in the stubbornness of our sin. He came to know life in every way that we do—but more than knowing, He came to live His life for us, so that we can have eternal security through His saving death and resurrection. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us, even until the end of the age, as He is with us by His Word that speaks and brings life, and by His Sacrament that brings His very body and blood for our forgiveness. There is no dark valley, no fearful place where our God will not be with us. Be firm in faith and God will make you firm. Glory to our Immanuel! Amen.

Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.

No comments: