The Realities of Christmas



            Last week we looked at a passage of Scripture we don't look at much and from a book of the OT that we don't study much.  This morning, we're going to go back to that book and look at some more of what the prophet Isaiah has to say to us.

            Isaiah was one of the greatest men of God in the ancient world.  He was a prophet of Almighty God.  He was a counselor to kings.  He was a writer of Scripture.  In fact, his Holy-Spirit inspired book is quoted more often in the NT than any other, except Psalms.  When Jesus preached His very first sermon, He chose a text from Isaiah.

            As a prophet, Isaiah was a contemporary of Amos, Hosea and Micah.  He ministered to the southern kingdom of Judah during some dark times for that nation.  Very early on in Isaiah's ministry, shortly after he accepted God's call to go, he was thrust into a volatile political nightmare.  Let's now read our main Scripture passage from Isa. 7:1-14.

            Ahaz is the young king of Judah, probably no older than his early twenties at this time.  His father was Jotham who was a good, godly king and his grandfather was Uzziah who was also a good, godly king.   Ahaz, however, was not a good king.  His reign is summed up for us in 2 Kings 16:1-4.  It's kind of amazing to me that so many children in the Bible, especially the children of good kings, didn't follow in their father's footsteps.  That's the case with Ahaz.

            We don't know why he wasn't a good king like his dad and granddad.  We can speculate.  Perhaps he thought their ways were too old fashion for him.  Maybe he just never bought into the God of his fathers.  Whatever the case, we do know this:  When Ahaz became king he was thoroughly secular.  He was somewhat religious, but he did not have a relationship with God.  God was just one option out of many options the king could use for wisdom and guidance.  He would turn to God if he felt it helped him and benefited the nation and he would shun and ignore God if he felt he didn't need Him. 

            At some point in his reign as king, Ahaz finds himself facing a national crisis.  When trouble came he had no spiritual resources to rely on.  He had not spent time during easier days cultivating a trust in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He had not developed his faith, so when the test came, he failed.  When the king failed, the entire nation suffered for it.   

            His political problems were external.  In 734 B.C. Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel joined forces to invade Judah.  This alliance was formed because they were all fearful of the growing menace of the mighty Assyrian army.  The war machine of Assyria was legendarily ruthless and gobbling up city after city as they expanded their kingdom. 

            The leaders of Israel had gone against godly counsel and formed this alliance with Syria in an effort to defend themselves against that attack from the Assyrians that was inevitable at that time.  But even with that alliance, they felt they weren't strong enough, so they attacked Judah with the goal of deposing the king and placing their own king on the throne.  That way they would have strengthened their own position in the face of the oncoming Assyrian invasion.

            We know from verse 2 that not only King Ahaz, but the entire nation were completely overcome with fear.  They were panic-stricken when they realized that Israel and Syria were coming to attack them.

            In response to that, Ahaz came up with a bold plan.  He sought to help preserve his life and the life of the nation of Judah by forming an alliance with Assyria.  That sounds good on paper, but it's a lot like a mouse trying to buy the favor of a cat to help him fight against two rats.  In the end, the mouse still gets eaten.

            It is into that fearful hour that God sent the prophet Isaiah with a word.  Ahaz was apparently in the process of doing a careful inspection of Jerusalem's critical water supply.  He wanted to know whether or not Judah could hold out against Israel and Syria until the Assyrian troops arrived to help.

            Most of this passage seems about as far from Christmas as we can get, until you get to the last verse that we read.  Even with that being the case, we can find four realities of Christmas in this story.  Actually, our first reality takes us back a bit to the chapter before this in the book of Isaiah.  The first reality is that we have to go.  Isa. 6:1-8.  This was the beginning of Isaiah's incredible ministry.  God gave him a vision that very few, if any, have ever seen.

            The prophet saw God on His throne.  God's robe filled the temple; smoke filled the temple; angels filled the temple as they called out and worshiped God for all of His holiness.  When Isaiah saw that vision, he was nearly destroyed.  He recognized God's holiness and at the same time he also recognized his own sinfulness.  He cried out "Woe to me for I am ruined."  But he wasn't ruined because God sent an angel with a coal and cleansed, redeemed and saved Isaiah. 

            It was after that when God reached out and called Isaiah to serve Him.  The call seems a little indirect from our perspective, but it was effective.  God said, "Who should I send?  Who will go for us?"  Isaiah responded, "Here I am.  Send me."  He didn't know what he was getting into.  God gave him no information, no specifics, no timetable.  Isaiah didn't ask because it didn't matter.  God needed someone to go and he was willing to do whatever God wanted him to do.

            One of the realities of this time of year is that we also need to go.  We're all familiar with the Great Commission.  "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations."  Part of that involves us doing what we can as we live our lives to influence others for the Lord and to bring them into His kingdom.  But we also need to be intentional and go into situations that might not be convenient for us or situations that we like.

            That aspect of going could involve taking a short term missions trip somewhere here in the states.  It could be a longer term project somewhere around the world.  It could involve becoming a full time minister or missionary somewhere.  When we're talking about following God, we can't submit and surrender to Him and at the same time tell Him what we want and where we're willing to go.  "I'll do what you want, Lord, just don't send me to Africa."  That's not godly or biblical.  I've struggled with that in the past.  God lead us somewhere but let me tell you where I'd rather not go.  We need to let go of that control and simply submit to whatever God wants.  He knows what is best for us and where we would best be of use for the kingdom.  The first reality of Christmas is that we need to go.

            A second reality of Christmas that we find here is that God always has a word for you in the day of your trouble.  (v. 3).  In Ahaz's case, God's Word to the king comes in the form of the names of Isaiah and his son.  Hebrew names were often common words that conveyed a certain meaning or purpose to the hearer.  Isaiah's name means "Yahweh is salvation."  His son's name is Shear-jashub which means "a remnant shall remain."  Standing there before Ahaz, this father and son served as a living reminder of God's ability to save and preserve His people.

            What problem or difficulty are you facing in life right now?  What is God's Word to you regarding that situation?  When we face stress in life, He gives us a word of hope.  When we're facing some kind of physical ailment, He gives us a word of healing.  When we're dealing with spiritual struggles, God gives us a word of encouragement.

            It was a couple of months ago, maybe that I was reading one Saturday morning and I came across a verse that has stuck with me ever since.  It's Psalm 27:14.  "Wait for the Lord."  I don't know the specifics of why God gave me that verse at that particular time.  Maybe there is something that is going to happen that I need to be waiting and looking for.  Maybe it's just a general truth that I need to tuck away in my mind for a later time.

            I think there are various reasons why God gives us certain truths like that.  Sometimes He speaks to us and it hits us right between the eyes because it was something that we needed to hear at that moment in our lives.  Sometimes, we read a verse and it doesn't smack us upside the head right away, but later on something happens and we remember what God said to us and it makes a difference.  Then there are times when we read a verse or two and later on we are able to counsel and help someone else with whatever nugget of truth God revealed to us.  Our second reality is that God always has a word for us in the day of trouble.

            Another reality that we see here is that God is always bigger than what we fear.  (v.4).  God's Word through the prophet Isaiah to Ahaz was, "Don't be afraid."  There was no need for Ahaz to investigate his defenses or make heroic decisions or form a questionable alliance.  Kings of the nations are given certain temporal jurisdiction, but God rules the world.  God's reminding Ahaz that the two nations who were planning on attacking him wouldn't succeed because it wasn't part of God's plan.  They were no threat because God wasn't going to let it happen.

            What are you afraid of?  Unfortunately, we tend to live like Ahaz in the sense that we live by sight and not by faith.  We don't trust God to take care of difficult situations for us.  Whatever we fear the most is not difficult for God to handle.  We need to trust Him when the chips are down and our resources are spent and we're tired and things are tense.

            For those of you who are familiar with Veggie Tales, they have a song that says "God is bigger than the boogey man.  He's bigger than Godzilla or the monsters on TV."  Whatever your boogey man is in life, God is bigger and He can take care of it.  Fear is not from God, it is from the enemy.  Isaiah 41:10.  If a small child is afraid of the dark or walking home from school, he or she will feel safe if mom or dad is with them.  When we feel afraid, we can restore a feeling of safety when we realize and understand that our heavenly Father is always with us and we have nothing to fear.  God is always bigger than what we fear.

            The last reality of Christmas that we're going to look at this morning is that we need to fight the good fight of faith.  (v. 9).  Paul sums this whole attitude up for us in 2 Tim. 4:6-8.  Our confidence needs to be in God regardless of whatever circumstances we might be facing in life.  We need to hold fast to the One who made us and who controls what happens in our life. 

            What kind of fight are you fighting?  Are you fighting the good fight?  Lean on God; depend on Him; make sure your entire life is focused on Him and all about Him.  God expects us to be a follower of Him first and foremost.  After that, we are pastors, or teachers or engineers or secretaries or bankers or firemen, or whatever else it is that you do in life.  We need to be men and women of faith rather than of sight.  We need to trust in God rather than trusting in the flesh.  Fight the good fight of faith.

            Are you focused on finishing the race?  Keep your eye on the prize; keep focused on Jesus at all times in life.  A runner doesn't win if he's looking at all the distractions around him.  He keeps focused on the finish line.  We need to focus on the finish line, heaven.  We need to see beyond the temporal and the earthly and keep our eyes where they need to be, squarely on Jesus.  Finish the race.

            Are you keeping the faith?  Part of that involves knowing and holding to the doctrines that we believe as Christians.  Part of that is keeping our faith always in Christ and who He is and what His will is for our lives.  When things are tough it's easy to get distracted; it's easy to lose sight of the prize; it's easy to lose faith.  But Christ is always there for us.  Make it your goal in life to be able to say with Paul, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

            We find here in Isaiah this politically charged environment where the prophet is bringing the king of Judah a word from the Lord.  Then, right in the middle of that and seemingly totally out of place, God delivers a message about the birth of the Messiah.  Isaiah first of all tells the king to ask for a sign from God.  Even though Ahaz is not a religious man, he acts religious by saying that it would be wrong to test God.

            At that point, Isaiah gives this incredible prophecy as to what will happen regarding the birth of the Messiah.  Since Ahaz wouldn't ask for a sign, God offered one.  "The virgin will conceive, have a son and name him Immanuel."

            Immanuel literally means "The strong God with us."  In other words, it is God Himself who is coming.  He will dwell among us.  He will set right what is wrong.  He is going to change everything.  Much of that happened when Jesus came the first time.  But even more of that will come true when He comes again to finally and forever set up and establish His eternal kingdom.     We know that several hundred years after Isaiah spoke these words, a teenage girl who was betrothed to marry a man named Joseph had a visit from an angel, who told her that she was to be the human vehicle through whom the Messiah would come.  God's Word came true, He came and dwelt among us, and His plan for our salvation came to fruition.

            As our singer and musician come now, we invite you to live out the realities of Christmas.  Go; God has a word for you; we have nothing to fear; fight the good fight.  If there are any decisions or professions that need to be made today, we invite you to come now.





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