Summary: The first message in a Christmas/Advent series from Isaiah

“The Sign of Immanuel”

Isaiah 7:1-16

INTRODUCTION: Remember the movie "O Brother Where Art Thou?" Three convicts on the lam have holed up in a barn to spend the night, only to awake to find the barn surrounded by police, with guns drawn, demanding their surrender. One of the three helpfully exclaims, "Dang! We’s in a tight spot!"

Have you ever been caught in a tight spot? Where circumstances (or your own bad decisions) left you hemmed in, pinned down, and at the mercy of forces beyond your control? Maybe you’re in a tight spot today. Maybe your tight spot involves your money, or your job, or your studies, or your relationships. Maybe your tight spot will get tighter as Christmas approaches. I know whenever I find myself in a tight spot, I always try to work my way out of it myself, but what we’re about to see from God’s word is that when we’re in a tight spot, we need to trust God [READ 7:1-4]

I. In a tight spot, we should trust God (1-13)

A. We should trust God above our resources (3-4)

1. Ahaz was by the aqueduct of the upper pool as part of his preparations for the coming siege. Jerusalem’s water supply was aboveground and vulnerable to attack.

2. APP: This is a huge struggle for American Christ followers.

a. “We’ve got the power,” we say to ourselves. “We’re in the money,” we think.

b. Got a foreign problem? Send in the military. Got a domestic problem? Send money.

c. But power comes and goes, and money can’t defend against every disaster.

B. We should trust God above our alliances (5-9)

1. Rezin, king of Aram, northeast of Israel, and Pekah king of Israel had formed an alliance.

a. Rezin was Aram’s last king, and Pekah was Israel’s next-to-last king. These two threatened Pekah’s southern neighbor Judah, threatening to replace Judah’s king with a puppet king.

b. The people of Judah were afraid. The king of Judah, Ahaz of the house of David, was terrified. Ahaz was under pressure from his advisers to play the astute politician by allying himself with Assyria against the northern kingdoms.

c. ILLUSTRATION: Like Chapel Hill forming an alliance with Raleigh if Durham threatened to invade

2. But Isaiah’s word was astute—Aram and Ephraim were spent forces, smoldering stubs. Their combined might was nothing compared to Assyria’s, and they would soon cease to be a threat.

3. Beyond that, the issue was not one of politics but of faith. If only Ahaz could be persuaded to do nothing, to keep clear of compromising alliances, the Lord could be trusted to keep His promises to David and to deal with the Assyrian threat. The issue is that clear-cut: will Ahaz seek salvation by works (politics, alliances) or by simple trust in God’s promises?

4. APPLICATION: Contrary to what politicians suggest, there are no political solutions to spiritual problems

C. We should trust God above our instincts (10-13)

1. Isaiah told Ahaz to “ask the Lord for a sign.” Gideon asked for a sign not because he doubted or disbelieved, but because he wanted to be doubly certain he was walking in the will of God. In his case seeking a sign was in itself an expression of believing commitment. Isaiah is appealing to Ahaz in this light.

2. Ahaz refuses to put the Lord to the test.

a. There is indeed a sin of “testing God.” Essentially it is the sin of unbelief. It says, “I will trust if God proves Himself trustworthy” or “I will not believe unless God proves Himself.” To ask a sign in this spirit is to prove that one does not believe—it treats God like a performing animal, with faith as the sugar lump rewarding the trick.

b. But to refuse a proffered sign is proof that one does not want to believe. Pious though his words sound, Ahaz by using them demonstrated himself to be the willfully unbelieving one. And since he would not believe, he could not continue. This was his moment of decision. Just as the Lord loves to be trusted, so unbelief is the unforgivable sin.

3. APPLICATION: Don’t hear what I’m not saying—when the Bible teaches us to trust God in tight spots, it means it, but some people apply their faith foolishly:

a. “I’m trusting God, so I don’t need to see my doctor.”

b. “I’m trusting God, so I don’t need to pay my bills.”

c. “I’m trusting God, so I don’t need to talk to anyone else.”

Good impulse—bad instincts.

4. ILLUSTRATION: A "Bonehead of the Day" e-mail reported on a newfangled toy recently released for distribution: A U.S. company has an action figure called Invisible Jim that is selling briskly in Britain for about $2.80 apiece. Why is it called ’’Invisible Jim?’’ Because all you get is the packaging. There is no Jim. ’’Lack of darting eyes’’ and ’’realistic fake hair,’’ ’’as not seen on TV,’’ and ’’camouflage suit sold separately’’ are some of the boasts made on the package. The company says they have received no complaints about the empty boxes. A spokeswoman for the distributor says that when the first shipment arrived they thought there was some mistake at the factory—that they sent the packaging without the product. Good marketing, good packaging, empty box. Sounds a lot like relying on our own resources, alliances, and instincts to solve our problems.

In a tight spot, we must trust God above our resources, alliances, and instincts.

>>Now some of you are thinking, “Dave, that’s a good word about trusting God when I’m in a tight spot, and I appreciate the lecture on the Syro-Ephraim war of 735 BC, but it’s almost Christmas! Couldn’t you have saved this for some other month? What does any of this have to do with Christmas?” Well, the answer to that question is the reason we can trust God in tight spots:

III. We can trust God in tight spots because God is with us (14-16) [READ]

A. The birth of Immanuel would confirm all that the Lord had said through Isaiah to Ahaz. But because of his unbelief, the promised Messiah would be born into poverty, heir to a meaningless throne in a conquered land. The blame for this lay on Ahaz and his failure to believe the Lord’s word.

B. Immanuel means “God is with us.” It is not a prayer; it is a statement. It takes us back to Isaiah 7:14. That child of prophecy, that child who was to be a sing, has come at last. And he is no less than God with us.

C. Immanuel is a wonderful word to hear in this or any other time. It means Jesus is with us every moment of every hour of every day of our lives.

1. The implications of the name Immanuel are both comforting and unsettling. Comforting, because he has come to share the danger as well as the drudgery of our everyday lives. He desires to weep with us and to wipe away our tears. And what seems most bizarre, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, longs to share in and to be the source of the laughter and the joy we all too rarely know.

2. The implications are unsettling. It is one thing to claim that God looks down upon us, from a safe distance, and speaks to us via long distance. But to say that He is right here, is to put ourselves and Him in a totally new situation. He is no longer the calm and benevolent Observer in the sky, the kindly old caricature with the long white beard. His image becomes that of Jesus, who wept and laughed, who fasted and feasted, and who above all was fully present to those He loved. He was there with them. He is here with us.

3. Most incredible are the times we know he is with us in the midst of our daily, routine lives. In the middle of cleaning the house or driving somewhere in the car, he is with us. There can be no ordinary moments for people who live their lives with Jesus.

D. ILLUSTRATION: "Once he started clamping down, I remember thinking, This is it. I’m going to die." These were Anne Hjelle’s words in an interview with Inside Edition.

Riding her mountain bike in a Southern California wilderness park, Anne was ferociously attacked by a mountain lion. Thrown off her bike, Anne immediately knew what was happening. She said the lion "was going for my neck, and his goal, as it would be with any type of prey, was to break my neck and paralyze me."

Fortunately, Anne’s friend Debbie Nichols, who had been riding with her, came to the rescue. Seeing Anne being dragged into the brush, Debbie began a tug-of-war with the lion. Debbie pulled on Anne’s legs, while the lion held Anne’s face and head in his jaws. Two other bikers came by and tried to scare the animal away. Finally, the lion let go, backing off his prey.

Anne was airlifted to a hospital. Rangers hunting the lion found the partially eaten body of Mike Reynolds, another biker. The animal had made the kill before attacking Anne. The Rangers found the lion hovering near the body and killed it.

Face scarred, facing reconstructive surgery, Anne tells what went on inside her in that terrifying ordeal as she grappled with the lion for her life: "I was terrified. My first words, as soon as he grabbed on to me were ’Jesus help me.’ It was a conscious decision; I’m in serious trouble and I need help."

Jesus did help Anne, and Anne continues to look to the Lord. She testifies, "We know the process of healing will take time. But Christ is our strength!"

Conclusion: (BI) Trust God in the tight spots, for God is with us

Mary was in a tight spot when she found out she was pregnant—she trusted God

Joseph was in a tight spot when he found out Mary was pregnant—he trusted God

Herod was in a tight spot when he heard of a child who would be king—he didn’t trust God

Faith is the central reality of the Lord’s people—not just our distinctiveness, but the ground of our existence. No faith, no people; no faith, no church; no faith, no faith, no Christmas.

Paul the Apostle realized the indescribable gift of Immanuel when he wrote “If God is for us, who could be against us?” God is on our side, right or wrong, because even when we are wrong, He still loves us.

“Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you” Jesus says. Immanuel is God with you, now and forever.