God With Us
One of the names of God traditionally associated with Christmas is Immanuel, meaning “God with us”. It comes from:
[See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.” (Mat 1:23)
Jesus is to be called Immanuel, and yet he never went by this name. So what does it mean and where does it come from? It is a very significant name and we are going to look at that today.
The name actually comes from the book of Isaiah written over 700 years before the coming of Jesus’ birth. Going back to around 730 BC to a time of national crisis. God’s people came out of Egypt into their own land and grew into a nation — Israel. But problems have fractured their country. The kingdom grew but then fractured, being divided into a northern kingdom – Israel and a southern kingdom – Judah. They are encountering threats from other countries like Syria and Assyria. Now God made a promise to king David that a descendant of his would reign forever. His family is to be a dynasty. Ahaz is his great-great-great grandson. He is not following God and it is a messy situation.
King Nation Capital
Pekah Israel Samaria
Rezin Syria. Aram
Ahaz Judah Jerusalem.
Time of Trouble. There is trouble coming front the North in Assyria. A large and growing nation that is ruthless and wanting to expand its borders. Everyone is scared. They are threatening others.
But God has told his people to trust him. Trust him and everything will be OK. Easier said than done. Ahaz is worried about Assyria. Israel and Syria are worried too, so they form an alliance, and basically tell Ahaz you are in or out, with us or against us. If you are not in, we are going to join together, beat you, put a new king over your people and then fight together against Assyria.
When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it. 2 Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind. 3 Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. 4 Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood–because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ” ‘It will not take place, it will not happen, 8 for the head of Aram is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is only Rezin. Within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people. 9 The head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son. If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.
This is a time of intense pressure. Can you imagine this pressure? In the office HR is telling you that you have to get certain forms filled out and the finance has to agree with it, but your sales team is mad about having to do this and HR and Finance have said if you don’t do it, then they are coming for you. Or perhaps you are in the cafeteria at lunch and find out one of your friends is now best friends with another girl, they want you to stop talking to another friend, and if you don’t do that than they are never going to talk to you again and your life will be over. Or perhaps you are running a small business and your governor is telling you to run it one way, the president is saying another, and everybody who comes in your store wants to share where they disagree with you and are going to tell the world by writing bad reviews.
Ahaz is afraid. The nation is afraid.
[so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.
Fear is a big thing. Then and now. The last couple years I have heard more people share about fear, paralyzing fear than any other time in my life. People are scared to go outside. Scared to have face to face conversations with others. Panic attacks. Hyperventilating. Support structures are being taken away (work, freedom, health, gatherings). The recent pandemic has fed the monster. Or perhaps better, people have allowed the pandemic to feed their sin. Let me also say this. When you first fear something you tremble. It’s acute and noticeable. After years of fear, you become more calloused. You don’t feel anything. You numb the feeling. You don’t have highs or lows. The peaks and valleys are flatlined. You have let fear control you and it is suffocating your life. That’s not how God intends you to live. Start praying about where you can trust God
The Lord calls Isaiah to go out and tell king Ahaz.
[‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Great coffee mug!
-Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood–because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Within 65 years they won’t even be a people. They’re smoldering stumps.
-Be careful. In other words, don’t do anything stupid. Word shamar is used of guarding things and it is often used of keeping or guarding God’s word. Focus on that. Not on your fears. Not on your problems. Read your Bible more than you watch the news. Know God’s word and do it, Ahaz. Keep Calm.
-Be quiet. Used of waiting for the Lord. The basic idea of the root is “tranquility“. It implies the absence of strife, war, or trouble on the one hand, and worry or anxiety on the other. Peace in the midst of the storm. *Ahaz is dismayed but he can find peace if he rests in God.*
[If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.
Ahaz was to stand on his faith. It’s the only true rock he had. God is calling him to rely on the faith that he was brought up on. Trust God in what is not seen.
We are in hard times. Confusing times. A lot of unknowns. You can rest in your faith in these times. God said in his word life would be hard and confusing. Don’t lose faith when it happens. We are not just living for this world. Even more, know why it is so hard for others right now. We are seeing an increasingly atheistic worldview move through our nation and world. Most schools and governments are pushing this. No God. No hope for the future. All there is, is what is now. Survival of the fittest. Eat, drink, and be merry. That’s great until hard times come. Then you have nothing to explain those hard times. You are simply one who is being eaten alive. Too bad. As Christians we believe God is with us in our suffering, we believe he ordains suffering to do something in us that could not be achieved any other way, and we believe ultimately all this is preparing for us a better world that will not be shaken. Yes, we have faith in the hard times.
[When the meaning of life is about the pursuit of pleasure and personal freedom that is why suffering is so traumatic for Americans. People are confused today about hardship, confused by the emotions that accompany it, confused how to keep going when suffering is encountered.
Faith in God anchors us in suffering. Reminds us there is more to life than getting what we want. Reminder there is a battle and we have to trust God’s purposes in all our adversity. Faith allows you to stand firm.
~Ahaz, is the king of God’s people, he is heir to the promise of David. He is anything but an example of faith. God is willing to save his people if they will but follow him. It is painful to watch the unfolding lack of faith and trust here.
I remember raking leaves with the kids and telling them to take the trash can to the street. They would complain that it is too hard. I would tell them to do it. They complain. My hand is on the trash can picking up 99% of the weight. If they would just put their hand on it and pull a little into it, it would get done. Feel like that with Ahaz. And I am sure God is looking at parts of my life and saying just quit complaining, put your hand on the can and move a little.
Let’s read what happens next. What will Ahaz do???
10 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?
Isaiah tells Ahaz he wants to strengthen him in his faith. Ask the Lord for a sign. Ahaz refuses. He will not test the Lord his God. Oh the piety!! The problem is Ahaz has done nothing to serve the Lord. The one being tested here is Ahaz.
[ In the seventeenth year of Pekah son of Remaliah, Ahaz son of Jotham king of Judah began to reign. 2 Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD his God. 3 He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. 4 He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.
God says he will give Ahaz a sign but Ahaz has a plan and that is what he wants. Ahaz fumbles an incredible opportunity.
[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. 16 But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.
God tells him what he will do. God chooses the sign. He speaks of a virgin, young lady, maybe Isaiah’s wife or fiance, points to her and says she will give birth to a son and before he knows enough to reject wrong and choose right the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. These two kings will be gone in a short period. It is not an immediate fix. But the Lord has spoken it. Ahaz could rest quietly in that. God has promised to take care of him, these two nations he fears, and if he can trust God with those then he can trust him with Assyria. It is a bit in the future. But pregnancy is noticeable sooner, and everytime he would see this lady with child he would be reminded of God’s promise of deliverance.
Amazing! But Ahaz blows it. God says will you try the patience of men and God. Why all this pretense??
Last week we talked about a national collusion of God’s people with the world. They were to follow him, and they professed that with their mouths, but in reality they were living for something else. Exhibit number 1: King Ahaz. Knows the right things to say. But his heart is not concerned with following God. Read God’s word. See what God calls you to do. Don’t make alliances with other nations. Trust God.
If Ahaz will trust God, then God will be with him! Child will be name Immanuel, which means “God with us”. God with his people. God with his people to comfort and protect them.
But he takes everything from the temple and sends it to Assyria. He does the exact opposite of what you want your leader to do. He doesn’t trust God and sells out! Fails God. Fails himself. Fails his nation.
The prophetic word is so certain it is embodied in an actual person, a baby, a child.
[7 Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. 9 The king of Assyria complied by attacking Damascus and capturing it. He deported its inhabitants to Kir and put Rezin to death. (2 Kings 16:7-9)
But this doesn’t end God’s purposes. Isaiah continues. God tells Ahaz he is bringing a sign to show his commitment to his purposes. God says there is a young woman, and she is going to conceive and have a baby and before that child knows right from wrong, the land of the kings he is scared of are going to be laid waste.
Ahaz makes a deal with the devil. Mesmerized by Satan’s power he strays from God. Will take everything from the temple and give to the king of Assyria. No trust in God. I have made my deal.
What could have been a sign of the Lord’s favor and blessing becomes a sign of the Lord’s judgment. Instead of Immanuel the child is named something else.
[3 And I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and bore a son. Then the LORD said to me, “Call his name Maher-shalal-hash-baz; 4 for before the boy knows how to cry ‘My father’ or ‘My mother,’ the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away before the king of Assyria.” (Isa 8:3-4 ESV)
“Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, 7 therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, (Isaiah 8:6-7 ESV)
Instead of Immanuel they get Maher-shalal-hash-baz. Now in addition to that being an awesome name for your driver’s license or the back of your jersey, this name has a direr meaning. Immanuel means God with us. This means “quick to the plunder, quick to the spoil.” You might see that translated in the footnote of your Bible. Kind of an easy come, easy go. Ahaz has been so concerned with getting safety and not just later but now, he has sold himself to the devil. A quick reward that will spoil quickly, too.
Ahaz didn’t want to test God. He is actually the one being tested. It is in the times we get squeezed that we really see what we are about. That’s when we see what is inside of us. Pressure exposes us. It’s easy to trust God when it’s easy.
This is the demise of Ahaz, but God’s purposes do not end. God will send a child into the world to secure the fortunes of his people. He will send a king who will secure the blessing of his people. A king in the line of David who will trust God, keep his commands. Though God’s people failed and missed the promise of having God with them, God did not give up on the his goal. He brings punishment on his people. But he also brings redemption. In 700 years God will bring his Son into the world. A son unstained by the sin of this world. A child born of a virgin. A child who will truly be God with his people. With them for comfort. With them for strength. With them for good.
Matthew calling Jesus Immanuel is saying that God’s promise to be with his people is fulfilled in him. This is the protection. This is their deliverance. And don’t make the same mistake that was made in the past.
So certain was the prophetic word through Isaiah that it was embodied in flesh. And in the future the various threads of the promises from this political crisis will be woven into a new fabric that is hard to imagine. A new king, a new promise.
Christmas is a reminder of the incredible hope we have in Jesus. Hope that God is with us, and if he is with us, I don’t need anything else. Life is hard, but it is leading to something better. God will be with me now. When I close my eyes in death, he will be with me then, too. We don’t need to fear. We can keep ourselves in him, we can be quiet and peaceful, we don’t have to lose heart. But you have to make a decision to turn from the things you are hoping in and trusting in. Trusting in political figures, trusting in friends, trusting in your wealth, your health. God can take that away in a heartbeat and you are floundering. With Jesus there is comfort and Joy!