The Wonder of the Prophets: God is With Us
We’re in a 5 week series called the Wonder of Christmas. The wonder of Christmas is that God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, to be born as a human, to live a perfect life, die a righteous death, and to rise from the dead for our salvation. This week we’re looking at the wonder of the prophets.
A prophet was someone who received messages from God and revealed those messages to others. 1 Peter 1:10 says that the gift of salvation that came through Jesus Christ was something the Old Testament prophets inquired into and searched carefully, prophesying of the grace that would come to us through Jesus.
Can you imagine being one of those prophets? There are about 150 prophets named in the Old Testament, this doesn’t count the prophetic psalm writers, musicians, or school of the prophets. When we think of the prophets, we are usually thinking about the prophetic books: one of the 4 major prophets- Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel; or a minor prophet (12) Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, or Malachi.
The text we’re going to start with is a familiar Christmas reading, but it will point us back to one of these prophets, who is then going to point us forward again- Back to the Future style, so to speak.
Matthew 1:18–25, Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. 19 Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly. 20 But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. 21 And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.”
22 So all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying: 23 “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which is translated, “God with us.” 24 Then Joseph, being aroused from sleep, did as the angel of the Lord commanded him and took to him his wife, 25 and did not know her till she had brought forth her firstborn Son. And he called His name Jesus.
This text is hugely important for establishing some fundamental doctrines about the Lord Jesus Christ. One of the main beliefs, is of course, the Incarnation of the Eternal Son of God, the 2nd person of the Godhead, the Trinity, who is God in the flesh, Jesus Christ.
A 2nd important doctrine is the Virgin Birth. God could have come in the flesh in any number of ways, but He chose this way- to circumvent the natural order of human birth, so that the Son of God that was conceived in Mary was not a product of natural relations with a man, but the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her, miraculously placing a child in her womb.
Matthew famously says that this event, the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ fulfilled what was spoken by one of the prophets. One of the wonders of Christmas is that this miraculously happening was prophesied in the Old Testament. That prophet was Isaiah, that prophecy is Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
Many people have heard the headline but haven’t read the story. What we’ll do today is look back at the setting, the sign, and significance of the prophecy of the Virgin Birth.
1. The SETTING of the prophecy: Choose Faith Over Fear
The times of the divided kingdom- the Northern Kingdom of Israel & the Southern Kingdom of Judah, c. 735 BC
An alliance was formed against the King of Judah, Ahaz (the son of Uzziah). The two kings of the alliance were Pekah, the King of Israel, & Rezin, the King of Syria. They wanted to force Ahaz/Judah to become allies with them to fight against Assyria (a sweeping force). Their plan was to remove Ahaz & replace him with “the son of Tabel” (Is. 7:6).
Ahaz had been beaten by these guys before (2 Ch 28:5-8), so Is. 7:2 says the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, “moved as the trees of the woods are moved with the wind;” i.e., they were shaking like leaves. Now the LORD knows all things, & He knew ahead of time that Ahaz's plan was to form a counter-alliance with Assyria.
So God sent Isaiah to meet Ahaz to tell him to Is 7:4 ‘Take heed, and be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted for these two stubs of smoking firebrands, for the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria, and the son of Remaliah.” I.e., Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood ... (they) have plotted your ruin ... Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: (vss. 7-8), “It will not take place, it will not happen ... Within sixty-five years Israel will be too shattered to be a people... (a challenge/ stipulation) “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established,” i.e., If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.'
Have you ever been there? Have you ever been afraid of what might happen? You do know that the opposite of fear is not courage, it’s FAITH. That is what the LORD is trying to coax out of Ahaz- faith. The LORD was trying to get Ahaz to believe Him, to trust Him, to have a little faith that He would work it out. The Wonder of Christmas is that He wants you to believe too.
The setting of the prophecy teaches us to choose faith over fear.
2. The SIGN of the prophecy.
Isaiah 7:10–14, Moreover the Lord spoke again to Ahaz, saying, 11 “Ask a sign for yourself from the Lord your God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, nor will I test the Lord!” 13 Then he said, “Hear now, O house of David! Is it a small thing for you to weary men, but will you weary my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.”
Essentially the LORD told Ahaz that he could ask for any sign, no sign would be too great to ask for, but Ahaz would not ask. It is true, that as a general rule, we should not put the LORD to the test. But here we have an example of God demanding Ahaz to put him to the test. Malachi said the same thing in regard to tithing. Mal 3:10, Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,” Says the Lord of hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. Ahaz couches his unbelief & disobedience in piety, but it is really rebellion.
The LORD goes on to predict that before the boy knew to choose right & reject wrong (12-13 years of age, i.e. before he became a man) "the land of the two kings you dread (Syria & Israel) will be laid waste". History records that Assyria invaded Israel in 732 BC, or when he was 2-3 years old. More than that, the prediction included that the very nation Ahaz sought for help Assyria, would become the instrument of God's justice against him.
Ahaz wouldn’t ask for a sign, so the LORD said that He, Himself, would give Ahaz a sign- the virgin will conceive and bear a son and call his name Immanuel.
Before we rush back to Matthew 1:23, understand that this prophecy, like most prophecies, had a near fulfillment and a far fulfillment. The near fulfillment is in Isaiah 8:
Isaiah 8:1-4, he wrote- The LORD said to me, "Take a large scroll and write on it with an ordinary pen: Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz... 3 Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said to me, "Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. 4 Before t/1e boy knows /tow to say 'My father' or 'My mother,' the wealth of Damascus and the plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria. "
Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz: quick to the plunder, SWIFT to the spoil
5 Tlte LORD spoke to me again: 6 "Because tltis people ltas rejected tlte gently flowing waters of Sltilo/1 and rejoices over Rezin and tlte son of Remalial,, 7 tlterefore tlte Lord is about to bring against tltem tlte migltty floodwaters of tlte River- the king of Assyria wit!, all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks 8 and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing througlt it and reaclting up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, 0 Immanuel!" 9 Raise tlte war cry, you nations, and be shattered! Listen all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be sltattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! 10 Devise your strategy, but it will be titwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand,for God is with us."
There is another prophecy in vss. 12-16, but its Isaiah's words at the end that I want to show you, Is 8:17-18- 17, I will wait for the LORD, who is ltiding his face from tlte house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him. 18, Here am I, and the cltildren the LORD has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from tlte LORD Almighty, wlto dwells on Mount Zion.
• Do you remember what God wanted from Ahaz? Belief, obedience
• What was the sign that God would do what He promised? A Son
If you are looking for a sign to believe, look no further- Here's Your Sign.
I'm not saying you need to ask for a sign, I'm saying God has already given you a sign, all you need to do is believe.
3. The SIGNIFICANCE of the Prophecy,Matthew 1:23
Immanuel/Emmanuel is the symbolic and prophetic title of the Messiah, the Christ. Mt. I:23 says that Jesus is that Messiah of God, meaning he is the fulfillment of God's OT promises and prophecies concerning the Messiah.
IMMANUEL is more than a title, it actually means something. When we read about it in Isaiah, Immanuel was a sign that even in the worst of times, when things are real bad, when it looks like it can't get any worse and that there is no hope- the child was a sign that you could still trust God and put your faith in Him because He was with you & would do what He said.
Fast-forward a few centuries to Matthew 1:23 & you realize that Isaiah 7:14 had a greater meaning & fulfillment than Isaiah knew. No longer was Immanuel only the sign of a promise, but that promise of God took the form of a PERSON, & that person is Jesus.
Jesus is "God with us" in the flesh. God took the form of a man & became like us. This doctrine is called the INCARNATION.
Philippians 2:6-8, "Cltrist Jesus: 6 Wlto, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made ltimself notlting, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in ltuman likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, lte ltumbled ltimself and became obedient to deatlt- even deatlt on a cross!"
The Incarnation is the sign that "God is with us" & wants to save us.
ILL: There was a rough old farmer who refused to believe in God or to trust the Bible. He didn't believe in miracles, or that a virgin had a baby. If you were God, why would you ever do that? Why become a man?
One harsh winter, the man looked out his window to see a flock of birds that didn't make it south in time before they were trapped by bad weather. He tried to shoo them into the barn but every time he got close to them, they would fly away. He'd run at them, and call them, and woo them, and flap his arms at them but each time he did they'd fly away from him.
He thought to himself- "If only I were a bird, then I could get their
attention and lead them into the safety of the barn. " Then it hit him- that's what God did when He became a man. He became like us to save us!
That is the significance of the sign, the Son, the prophecy- Immanuel is God Incarnate. God is with us through His Son Jesus Christ.
Look God may not prevent every tragedy, but it doesn't mean that He can't; nor does it mean that He does not love the ones who go through it.
The kind of tragedy that happened this week happens because man is sinful, but God sent Jesus to save people from their sins, vs. 21. The fact that He sent Jesus is a sign to us that God is witlt us & He loves us.
So if you're looking for a sign to believe, look no further. Don't ask God for a sign, He already gave a sign of His promise & that person is Jesus.
God is ltere, but wltat will you do witlt ltim? Maybe He is calling you to receive His presence into your life through the person of His Son by receiving Him as your Savior & King this Christmas.