“A Sign from God”
Fourth Sunday in Advent
“A Sign From God”
We spend a lot of time in life looking for “signs.” I am not talking about traffic signs or street signs, but those that are more like indicators. For example, we send stuff to Mars looking for “signs of life.” For those of you who are single, before you ask someone out you look for a “sign” that they are interested in you. For those of us who are Green Bay Packer fans, we have been looking for a “sign” that Aaron Rodgers broken collarbone is healing.
In our text this morning, God’s people, Judah and her king, are in desperate need of a sign from the Lord, some kind of proof that God will be with them in a time of crisis. Remarkably, the sign first given to King Ahaz and Judah in the eighth century b.c. is the sign that continues to assure us of God’s care and presence with us. Mary’s Child Is the Sign, the Proof, of God’s Love!
Judah found itself facing two strong enemies. Both Israel, the Northern Kingdom that had broken off from Judah after the days of Solomon, and Aram, or Syria, were coming to attack it (7:1). King Ahaz and the people of Judah were not certain that they would be able to defeat these enemies. They needed a sign—a sign that God was with them, a sign that God would help them, a sign that they would not fight this battle alone.
God, through the prophet Isaiah, came to Ahaz to assure him that these enemies would not be able to defeat them. God told him that this expected defeat, “…will not take place” (7:7). God called upon Ahaz and the people of Judah to stand firm in their faith.
But could they trust God’s Word? The enemies looked so powerful, so impressive. Would God really keep His promises? Could they be certain that God would help them overcome their enemies? A sign of God’s favor, a sign of God’s love and protection, would certainly help them overcome their fears.
We, too, have enemies that threaten us. Every day we live in a world knowing that terrorists could strike again. Crime and violence seem to be all around us. An uncertain economy threatens our financial security. Health problems may threaten us as well. Our sin also threatens us. We know that we have sinned against God’s holy Word again and again and again. We want a sign—a sign that God is with us, a sign that He will help us and take care of us, a sign that God still loves us in spite of our sin, a sign that God forgives us.
God has come to us through His prophets and apostles and made promises to us. He has promised that He would be with us always (Mt 28:20). He has promised to work all things together for good (Rom 8:28). He has promised to meet all our needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Phil 4:19). He has promised not to give us more than we can bear (1 Cor 10:13).
But can we trust God to keep His promises? Will He really do all these wonderful things that He’s promised? Will God be faithful to His Word? A sign would help us to believe and be at peace. A sign would help us too.
God did give Ahaz a sign: “Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz [through Isaiah], ‘Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights’ ” (vv 10–11). God understood how helpful a sign would be for His people, and He gave Ahaz the chance to pick it. Incredibly, Ahaz refused God’s offer: “Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test’ ” (v 12). Ahaz, a hardened unbeliever, wanted no part of God’s help. He’d already decided what he was going to do to get himself out of the crisis: he would seek an alliance with the even more dangerous and more wicked Assyrians. As it turned out, they did come to his aid, destroying both Israel and Aram, but soon after also turned on Judah.
God’s kindness wouldn’t be put off by the king’s foolishness. “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? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign’ ” (v 13). If Ahaz didn’t want a sign to reassure him then, God would do one better: give a sign for all time, a sign that would reassure His people no matter when or where they lived. God’s sign of His love for us is this: Isaiah announced, “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (v 14), “God with us.”
The sign was, of course, fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The Gospel text for today tells us that Mary was that virgin who gave birth to the Son. It tells us that Jesus is this promised Immanuel. Jesus is God in flesh, God come down from heaven to live and dwell among us.
The birth of Jesus is then the sign of God’s favor. Jesus is the sign that God loves us and will take care of us. The birth of Christ is the sign. For Jesus came into this world and was one of us so that ultimately He could be nailed to a cross and give up His life as the payment for our sins. Jesus was born of a virgin—born in the flesh, suffered in the flesh, raised in the flesh. And if God did not withhold even His Son from us, then obviously there is nothing good that God will withhold from us. As He lives, you also will live forever. Jesus is the sign, the proof of God’s love and forgiveness and faithfulness!
A psychiatrist by the name of Dr. John Rosen was known for his work with schizophrenics. Instead of staying aloof from his patients, Dr. Rosen moved into the ward with them. His bed was by their beds. He lived the life they had to live. If they didn’t talk, he didn’t talk either. He did something else too. He put his arms around them and hugged them. He held these unattractive, unlovable people and loved them back into life. Often the first words they spoke were simply “thank you.”
This is what Jesus did at Christmas. He moved into the ward with us. His bed is among our beds. He hugs us, loves us, and leads us to a restored life. Jesus communicates to us that we are loved.
Because God gave us a sign and fulfilled it, our hearts can now be at peace. Worry and anxiety do not have to be our daily companions. God loves us! He is with us! Our sins are forgiven! Heaven will be our eternal home! God will take care of us and help us make it through life in this difficult world! Jesus is the sign that all these things are so.
In just a few days we will celebrate Christmas. But what will we really be celebrating? Will we be celebrating just a few days off from work or school? Will we be celebrating just getting together with family or receiving presents? You know the answer. What we will really be celebrating is the sign God gave us of His love and protection and favor. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel” (v 14). This sign is how we know that God is with us and will keep all His promises. May this sign lead you to truly celebrate Christ’s birth this year!