Worth the Wait: Advent Scriptures and Devotion for December 18
Tue, 12/17/2013 - 5:56pm Dr. Carl Peters
There are only six days left in our preparations for Christmas. Day eighteen has arrived. The Scriptures for today focus on a very particular and peculiar prophecy from the prophet Isaiah. A ‚Äúsign‚Äù is given that will come to pass in such a way that the fulfillment is utterly unmistakable! This ‚Äúsign‚Äù has been mocked, explained away and ridiculed over the centuries. But, for us who believe, it is defining point of Christian orthodoxy. Read on to determine more about this fascinating three part ‚Äúsign‚Äù.
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, 11 ‚ÄúAsk a sign of the Lord yourGod; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.‚Äù 12 But Ahaz said, ‚ÄúI will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.‚Äù 13 And he[g] said, ‚ÄúHear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that 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.
The first part of Isaiah 7 is rarely read. We usually skip right to the prophetic statement in verse 14. But, to understand this passage, we must put it in context. Verse one tells us that Ahaz was the king of Judah. He lived in Judah‚Äôs capital which was Jerusalem. Chapter 7 goes on to tell us that Israel, the northern part of the kingdom, and Syria had made an alliance. Between 734 and 732 BC, they waged war with Judah (2 Kings 16:5‚Äì18; 2 Chronicles 28:16‚Äì21). Here in chapter 7, this unholy alliance was threatening to overtake Jerusalem and depose Ahaz. They were hoping to dethrone him and replace him with a king of their own. The Lord spoke to Isaiah saying that this plan to dethrone the Davidic king would not come to pass (Isaiah 7:7), despite the rebellion of the king. God sent Isaiah and his son named Shear-Jashub, which means ‚Äúa remnant will remain.‚Äù In taking his son, Isaiah was not only obeying God, he was presenting Ahab with a living prophecy. After the fall of Jerusalem, a small remnant would be reestablished in Jerusalem.
But, God had more to say to Ahaz. Isaiah instructed the unfaithful king to ask for a sign ‚Äì from the highest heights to the lowest depths. Essentially, Ahaz could ask for any sign he wanted, for God commands everything, whether high or low! Rather than put his trust in God, Ahaz feigns piety and religiosity. He said, ‚ÄúI will not put the Lord to the test.‚Äù This is reminiscent of Jesus‚Äô answer to Satan during his temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:7). But Ahaz was not answering righteously. He was afraid that if God offered him a sign, he would be bound to believe it. Isaiah then offered Ahaz a stern rebuke, claiming that the king is ‚Äútrying the patience of God.‚Äù So, what does God do? Verse 14 tells us, ‚ÄúTherefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.‚Äù
While there are several possibilities for fulfillments of this prophecy during the time of Ahaz, the most important fulfillment was yet to come. We learn from this passage that those ‚Äúin charge‚Äù are unfaithful and do not trust God as their deliverer. That sounds strangely similar to wicked King Herod and the unfaithful religious leaders before and during the earthly life of Jesus. They thoroughly rejected Jesus as being the Messiah and God‚Äôs deliver. God calls the leaders back to faithfulness, but they balk. Matthew 3:7-8 contains just such a call to repentance from John the Baptist to the Pharisees. ‚ÄúBut when he (John) saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: ‚ÄòYou brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath?Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.‚Äô‚Äù Like King Ahaz, they would not listen to this call to trust the Lord. So, God offers an unusual and unforgettable sign. A virgin will become pregnant and have a son who will be named Immanuel which means ‚ÄúGod with us.‚Äù Ahaz would ignore the blessing of God‚Äôs Presence as His ‚Äúrefuge and strength‚Äù and instead, he would forge an alliance with the Assyrians. This is parallel to Herod and the religious leaders of Jesus‚Äô day. They aligned themselves, not with God, but with Rome! In Matthew 19:15, the Chief Priests cry out, ‚ÄúWe have no king but Caesar.‚Äù Only 150 years after Ahaz rejected God, God‚Äôs judgment would fall on Jerusalem. In 586 BC, The Davidic King would be deposed and Solomon‚Äôs Temple would be destroyed. Likewise, only 40 years after Jesus, God‚Äôs judgment fell on Jerusalem and Herod‚Äôs Temple was destroyed. But out of the dust and decay, a New Temple stood. Jesus said, ‚ÄúDestroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days‚Äù (John 2:19). Our of the carnage of God‚Äôs righteous judgment, though Ahaz was gone and Herod was no more, the Davidic King, Jesus, would be on the throne of God‚Äôs kingdom forever! Indeed Immanuel, born of a virgin, had come into the world. And, a faithful remnant, the Church of Jesus, would remain!
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothedto a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, ‚ÄúGreetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!‚Äù[c]29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, ‚ÄúDo not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.‚Äù 34 And Mary said to the angel, ‚ÄúHow will this be, since I am a virgin?‚Äù 35 And the angel answered her, ‚ÄúThe Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy‚Äîthe Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.‚Äù 38 And Mary said, ‚ÄúBehold, I am the servant[f] of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.‚Äù And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1:26-28 served as our Gospel reading in a previous Advent study. So, rather than tread ground already covered, let‚Äôs focus on this passage as a fulfillment of the ‚Äúsign‚Äù prophesied in Isaiah 7:14. To fulfill this sign, three things must occur. A virgin must conceive. She must give birth to a son. And, this son must be called ‚ÄúImmanuel‚Äùwhich means, ‚ÄúGod with us.‚Äù
First, a virgin must conceive. In these nine verses of Luke 1, we hear that Mary is a virgin three times. Verse twenty-seven has two occurrences. God sent Gabriel‚Ä¶‚Äúto a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin‚Äôs name was Mary.‚Äù In verse twenty-seven, Mary is described as a virgin. In verse thirty-four, Mary declares that she is a virgin. After being told by the angel what will happen to her, she replied, ‚ÄúHow will this be,‚Äù Mary asked the angel, ‚Äúsince I am a virgin?‚Äù Matthew‚Äôs account also gives evidence to Mary‚Äôs status as a maiden. Chapter one, verse one says, ‚ÄúThis is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.‚Äù Before Mary and Joseph had come together in marriage, she was with child. This was not because of a premarital lapse, but rather because Mary had conceived through the Holy Spirit. Further, Matthew 1:25 declares, ‚ÄúBut he did not consummate their marriage before she gave birth...‚Äù Most men would have a problem marrying a pregnant fianc√© whose child was not theirs! But, Joseph did take Mary to be his wife, despite her condition. Why did he do it? ‚Äú‚Ä¶an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‚ÄúJoseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit‚Äù (Matthew 1:20). Joseph was not dishonored by this arrangement because Mary was still a virgin. Without question, she fulfills the first requirement of Isaiah 7:14. The young woman had to be a virgin. Mary was a virgin!
The second requirement was that the virgin must conceive and bear a son. In Luke 1:31, the angel Gabriel tells Mary, ‚ÄúYou will conceive and give birth to a son‚Ä¶‚Äù This language is identical to that of Isaiah 7:14. The child is described as the ‚ÄúSon of the Most High, (vs. 32)‚Äù and the ‚ÄúSon of God‚Äù (vs. 35). Matthew 1:21 reiterates, ‚ÄúShe will give birth to a son.‚Äù Verse 25 states, ‚Äúuntil she gave birth to a son.‚Äù Luke 2:7 tells us that, "...she gave birth to her firstborn, a son, and wrapped him in clothes..." The ApostlePaul also contributes to our evidence. Galatians 4:4 states, ‚ÄúBut when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman.‚Äù Mary, the virgin, gave to a son. The first two requirements of Isaiah 7:14 are fulfilled. What about the third?
The third requirement is that they, ‚Äúwill call him Immanuel.‚Äù According to Luke and Matthew, when the son was born, Mary and Joseph named Him Jesus. Oh well, we got two out of three. That‚Äôs pretty good. But, wait just a minute. The name Immanuel means ‚ÄúGod with us.‚Äù This is temple language ‚Äì speaking of the dwelling of God with men. As we mentioned, it was Jesus who said, ‚ÄúDestroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days‚Äù (John 2:19). As the New Covenant Temple, Jesus didn‚Äôt just represent the Presence of God to His people; He embodied the Presence of God! John 1:14 states, ‚ÄúThe Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.‚Äù The Greek word for ‚Äúdwelling‚Äù is tabernacle. Jesus became flesh and ‚Äútabernacled‚Äù with us. So, the name Immanuel is more than just a proper name, it is a deep theological truth. Immanuel, which means ‚ÄúGod with us‚Äù is actualized in the coming of Jesus. God became flesh and is indeed with us! Jesus is the fulfillment of the last requirement. He fulfills them all.
Matthew 1:22-23 lays it out rather succinctly. ‚ÄúAll this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‚ÄúThe virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel‚Äù (which means ‚ÄúGod with us‚Äù).
Unlike Ahaz, Herod, and the Religious Leaders of Jesus‚Äô day, may we trust the Word of God when it tells us the most unbelievable things! May your 18th day of Advent be full of anticipation. We will soon celebrate the day a virgin gave birth to a son whose name is Immanuel! Could that really happen? You had better believe it!!