Summary: Jesus came to overcome those who are opposed to God. So we can have confidence, not in our own ability to overcome those who oppose the gospel, but in the God who sent his only Son as both a sign of his love for us and as the means by which that love coul
There are times when we find it hard to trust God to look after us. There are times when we think our situation is so bad there’s no way out. There are other times when we think we know the best solution to our problems so we don’t bother to ask God for help.
All three of those statements were true for Ahaz, as Jerusalem lay surrounded by the armies of Israel and Syria. It looked like Jerusalem was doomed. The people were starving and there didn’t seem to be much hope unless they were rescued by another nation. In fact Ahaz had it in his mind to form an alliance with Egypt or Assyria. Maybe that would solve their problems.
Unfortunately, too often when we make these sorts of short term decisions we overlook the long term consequences. If they formed an alliance with, say, Assyria, they’d lose their independence, The nation of Judea would be handed over to a pagan king. Jerusalem would become a secular city just like any other city in the world.
I wonder what you do when you’re faced with some impending disaster? Do you use your own political savvy, your own applied logic, to find a way out by yourself or do you ask God to intervene? It’s difficult isn’t it, because either may be appropriate. God promises to help us, but he also tells us to act to help ourselves.
In the case of Ahaz, God decides to help him out. He sends Isaiah to speak to him and say "Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood." Ahaz could relax in the face of this threat, because God was with him. This was God’s city and he wasn’t going to let these almost burnt out enemies take it captive. In fact he tells him that Israel will be gone within 65 years. That’s what happens when you play politics with a greater military power. But in the meantime Ahaz should trust in the Lord and ask for his help.
That sounds good doesn’t it? What is there to worry about? Just get down on your knees and pray. God has already sent his prophet to assure him of his help. He tells him to ask for a sign. That’s what Gideon did when he wasn’t sure. And God gave him a sign - twice. It’s OK to ask for a sign. God understands our lack of confidence at times like this.
But did you see how Ahaz responds? He doesn’t want to put the Lord to the test! God has gone out of his way to help his people and their king doesn’t want to bother God. Perhaps he thinks this is a trap that Isaiah is setting for him. Or perhaps he’s just too scared to step out of his comfort zone and trust God rather than his own political manoeuvring.
Well, Isaiah isn’t going to let him get away with that. He may be the king but this is God’s city, God’s people. So he gives him a sign anyway. He speaks a word of prophecy: "A young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel." The naming of a child is a common technique in the prophets to bring a message to God’s people. Hosea uses it to warn them of God’s judgement, then to promise his restoration. Here the child is to be named Immanuel, that is, "God is with us", to assure them that God is ready to stand with them against their enemies. And if God is with us who can stand against us.
In the end the words Isaiah spoke came true. Both Israel and Syria were taken over by Assyria. Even Jerusalem was threatened, but it wasn’t defeated because God protected them. That would happen later.
But of course the history of Israel isn’t actually our focus today. Today we’re interested in the way that prophecy had its outworking in the birth of Jesus. As we read in the passage from Matthew 1, Matthew identifies this child with that prophecy of Isaiah 7: "They shall name him Emmanuel," which means, ’God is with us.’"
So what does it mean that with Jesus birth God is with us? Is this just to do with the incarnation. God has come in human form to live among us? Here is a child who is both human and divine at the same time? Well that’s certainly true. This is a unique event in human history. The word of God has become flesh and dwelt among us. But it’s clearly more than that. Matthew certainly thinks so. He tells us that this child is the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. A lot of water has passed under the bridge since Isaiah’s day. Jerusalem is no longer under attack from Syria, now it’s in the hands of the Romans. So things are even worse than they were then. If ever the people needed to know that God was with them, it was now. And they needed to know not just that he was with them but that he’d protect them, save them.