Grace be with you all from the God of peace who by the blood of His Son has saved us. Amen.
Isaiah 7:10-15 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” 12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.” 13 Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. 15 He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.
A sign to remove all doubt.
Dear friends in Christ,
Since about A.D. 600, the announcement of the coming Savior’s imminent birth has been celebrated on March 25th, nine months prior to the Christmas celebration. In the Norwegian Lutheran Church, though, this festival was reserved for the fifth Sunday in Lent so that it is not overlooked simply because the 25th doesn’t fall on a Sunday. Now, some might consider this to be of rather minor importance, but we really do have much reason to rejoice as we remember A sign to remove all doubt.
In a sermon Johann Gerhard preached about four hundred years ago, the theologian contrasted Mary, the Mother of our Savior, with Eve, the first woman. Back in the Garden of Eden, the evil angel in the form of a serpent, seeking to destroy God’s workmanship in creating everything very good, spoke to the first woman, tempting her away from God’s will. When Eve believed the fallen angel, she conceived the first sin which led to the infection and curse of the entire human race.
In contrast, when the angel, Gabriel, was sent to Mary, he brought the Good News that the Child to be conceived in her was sent by God to destroy the devil’s rebellion and reverse the consequences sin had brought to men. When Mary believed the angel announcing the fulfillment of God’s promises, the Child she conceived in her virgin belly was indeed the Son of God come down to earth to unite Himself with human flesh for the restoration of all mankind.
Thus, while the devil led Eve away from God’s Word resulting in the curse upon the world, Gabriel brought words of divine truth and consolation for all people. While the result of capturing Eve’s attention led her to sin and brought death to her descendants, Mary’s trust in God’s promise led to her acceptance of God’s will for her life and restoration of life to all who would believe in her Son.
Now that we are reminded of why the sign is so important, let’s go back and examine how this sign of our Savior came to be. The Lord God offered to give King Ahaz a sign. Though on the surface that might seem unimportant, you have to understand the circumstance. Ahaz was one of Judah’s worst kings, yet he is also in the ancestral line of our beloved Jesus. Furthermore, God is His mercy strongly desired to help Ahaz, to protect him and his people, to be the loving God the Lord always had been to Abraham’s descendants, and to protect the line of the Savior. Ahaz couldn’t have cared less.
Ahaz was worried about his neighbors attacking his little kingdom, and he suffered severe losses in his battles with his neighbors. Yet, instead of trusting God’s offer of protection and care, Ahaz took it upon himself to arrange protection from even more threatening nations (and you can imagine how well that worked out for him), which brings us to Isaiah’s interaction with the king. Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”
What a mockery Ahaz made as he pretended pious obedience. Here, the Lord God of heaven and earth offered to give any sign the king wanted as proof that He would defend Ahaz and his nation. Ahaz refused. He not only refused God’s offer of help but even refused God’s command to ask for a sign. Ahaz would have had Isaiah believe that he was obeying Moses’ instruction, “Do not test the LORD your God.” (Deuteronomy 6:16) But, it isn’t testing the Lord when one obeys God’s command. Rather, Ahaz was trying God’s patience by refusing God’s mercy. Even worse, Ahaz had been trying God’s patience far more by promoting every imaginable form of idolatrous worship in Judah.
Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of my God also?” God’s prophet had heard enough. Actually, we should say that God had heard enough of this arrogant man’s rebellion. The sign God offered would become for Ahaz a sign of condemnation. The sign would confirm for God’s people the reality of the Savior when He came, but for Ahaz, it was a mark of his fall. And, this rebuke was not only for Ahaz but for all those people who thought the same way. Everyone in Ahaz’s support circle was about to fall under God’s justice. For our times, this should serve as a reminder that God intended these signs for our good. Every promise and prophecy God made was intended to lead us to and to show us our Savior.
That brings us to A sign to remove all doubt. Isaiah told Ahaz, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right.” This would be a one and only event in human history. A virgin, a woman known to be untouched by a man would bear a Child, and the Child wouldn’t be just an ordinary human baby, He would be God with us. It’s such a simple statement, but it has awesome implications.
Though it is possible that through the course of history some woman may have tried to pretend to be pregnant without the benefit of a human father involved, none other than Mary could prove it to be true. Only Mary was known to be a Virgin before the announcement of her pregnancy. Only Mary was visited by God’s angel with the amazing news. Only this One Child was confirmed to be the Son of God by God’s angel to the man who was betrothed to the mother. Only this One Child was serenaded by the hosts of heaven at His birth with multiple witnesses to their joyous song and the completely unique circumstances of Jesus’ birth.
There is one more contrast I would like to make this morning, a contrast between those who reject God’s signs, and those who believe them. In our world today, many reject the miracles of the Bible as mere fables, wives’ tales, and/or morality plays. However, by rejecting what God has recorded for us, they are rejecting the work of the Holy Spirit, and in doing so, are putting themselves in severe danger of everlasting judgment. Those who reject God’s miraculous signs—the hundreds of prophecies God gave before the coming of the Christ—all fulfilled in Jesus, are in effect rejecting God’s Son, and the Father along with Him. They try God’s patience because apart from faith in Christ, there is no forgiveness or salvation.
By contrast, for you and me, this message to Ahaz is A sign to remove all doubt. This sign, and all the other prophecies concerning the promised Savior fulfilled in Jesus, confirm the truth that God loves us with an everlasting love. It proves that God didn’t forget His promise to Adam and Eve. God didn’t forget the covenant He made with Abraham. God didn’t forget the sorry state we were born into. Rather, God sent His own beloved Son, born of a humble virgin from Nazareth in the little town of Bethlehem, born to live in poverty and meanness (as the song writer says). The signs are all there that Jesus is the Savior God had long promised to send. The signs prove that God is faithful.
In our world today, many people might scoff at you for believing this ancient prophecy proves anything. Others might laugh at you for believing we are saved completely by God’s grace. But, remember the warning example of Ahaz, a man who despised God’s gracious invitation pretending not to want to offend God, when in fact, every part of his life was an offense to God. Ahaz intended to save himself and therefore died an inglorious death. He wasn’t even buried among the kings of Judah. Worse yet, he almost for sure died an unbeliever condemned to spend eternity with the evil angel who had rebelled against God in the first place. Ahaz’s end is where all who weary God’s patience will end if they reject the Son God sent to save them.
However, this very fact is why we celebrate the sign Ahaz was given. You see, as much as Ahaz tried God’s patience, our loving God tried numerous times to reach that king’s cold dead heart. Sadly, Ahaz was following another god who had no power to save. The Good News for us is that God didn’t abandon us to the fate of death. He sent His Son in the exact method He promised to Ahaz. God sent Jesus, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law. That’s you and me, dear friends. God’s Son lived and died and rose again from the grave, so that forgiven of all sins you and I can celebrate forever, the Son born of a Virgin. A sign to remove all doubt. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.