Summary: The first message in a Christmas/Advent series from Isaiah
“The Sign of Immanuel”
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.