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Summary: Isaiah the prophet communicated the prophecy about Immanuel to Ahaz. An angel communicated the promise of Jesus to Joseph. Ahaz responded in fear. Joseph responded in trust.

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“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.”

Most of you are familiar with the story: Joseph had learned that Mary was with child, and he was making plans to divorce her quietly. An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying to Joseph: “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. This is the work of the Holy Spirit. Mary will give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” This, Matthew writes, is just what was prophesied by Isaiah.

The first thing the angel said to Joseph was, “Do not be afraid to marry Mary.” Apparently, Joseph was afraid. Not afraid like Indiana Jones in a boxcar full of snakes, maybe. But afraid. Afraid that his world would fall apart if he went forward with his original plans. Afraid that he would never again be the person he once was if he didn’t find some way to cope with the mess that life was dealing him at the moment—some way to make the mess go away. Joseph had examined the resources at his disposal, and he had determined the best way to proceed: divorce Mary.

The angel’s words came to Joseph like the promise of light in the darkness. Joseph received the promise in faith. He acted according to that promise, in faith. He put aside his best plan for dealing with the mess. He entered into God’s plan. God’s plans concerning Jesus moved forward. And Joseph was ok too—the circumstances that seemed so overwhelming that night faded into the background as new challenges came his way.

“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel.”

The Gospel of Matthew points to the fulfillment of this prophecy—of this promise—in the birth of Jesus.

This morning I want to take you back to the making of the promise—to the historical context in which the prophecy was given, and the historical figure to whom the prophecy was given.

Ahaz was one of the wickedest kings from the line of David ever to rule Judea. In chapter 16 of 2 Kings, we are told that Ahaz “did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God.” He followed the ways of the nations who had occupied Palestine before the children of Israel came into the land. He offered sacrifices and burned incense in the high places—a reference to the worship of Baal. He even sacrificed his son in fire—probably a reference to the worship of Molech. Ahaz was an unfaithful king, to say the least.

At the time of Ahaz, David’s kingdom had long since split in two. Israel, the northern kingdom, had routinely strayed from the ways of the Lord. Judea, the southern kingdom, went back and forth under the rule of faithful and unfaithful kings.

The king of Aram and the king of Israel came as allies against Judea. Ahaz was defeated badly. Chapter 28 of 2 Chronicles reports that thousands of Ahaz’s soldiers were killed and thousands more of his people were carried into captivity.

This is the background of Isaiah chapter 7.

Once again Aram and Israel come against Judea. They march against Jerusalem. This time they are repulsed. Still, the alliance is a powerful one. Verse 2 reports that “the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.”

Ahaz is at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road out of Jerusalem. This is Jerusalem’s main supply of water. He’s probably there to check the water supply against the possibility of siege by the invading armies. Ahaz is facing the biggest mess of his life. Jerusalem is in danger of falling. His kingdom, not to mention his life, is in danger of coming to an end. At the aqueduct, Ahaz examines the resources at his disposal and tries to determine the best way to proceed.

It’s here at the aqueduct that God sends to Ahaz, not an angel, but a prophet. It’s here that Ahaz is offered a promise of light in the darkness. It’s here that Ahaz rejects that promise.

Think about what happens when you have been in a dark room for a long time. Your eyes adjust to the darkness. Your pupils dilate to capture any glimmer of light from any source—a little moonlight peaking through a tear in the window shade, a child’s glow-in-the-dark ball lying in the corner. The ceiling light is off and you don’t even think about light from that source. Then someone flips the switch and the room is flooded with light. It’s unlikely that your first response is to look up and thank the person for the light. More likely you respond by clenching your eyes shut and growling to the person to turn the light back off! When you’ve been in the dark a while, your eyes don’t expect light, and when it comes they cannot receive it…not yet, not all at once. It can be pretty tempting to pull the covers over your head and stay in the darkness.

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Annie Bedford-Wilbon

commented on Oct 22, 2006

Great Sermon, Very helpful in my study of Isaiah.

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