The Hope of Christmas (A Sermon for First Advent from Isaiah 8:1-22) November 29, 2009Posted by roberttalley in Advent, Christmas, Faith, Hope, Incarnation, Isaiah, Jesus, Messiah, Religion, Sermons, Signs and Wonders, Virgin Birth.
THE HOPE OF CHRISTMAS
INTRODUCTION: This advent season we are looking at “Christmas According to Isaiah”. Chapters 7-11 of the book of Isaiah all come from the same time period of Isaiah’s ministry. It is about 700 years before Jesus Christ would be born. Ahaz, king of Judah is looking to Assyria for help against his two enemies to the north: (1) his relatives, the northern kingdom of Israel and (2) their ally, Syria. Isaiah’s message to Ahaz and to Judah is depend on God not man for help. You will be judged, in fact, God will use your ally, Assyria, to judge you. However, God will not forsake His people. There is hope but only for those of His people who turn to God.
This is the hope of Christmas. These are tough days for many but there is hope for a glorious future for those who turn to Christ.
I. God confirms this hope through a child (vs. 1-4). Now this is not the first sign that is given to Ahaz and the people of Judah. In Isaiah 7:13-17, Isaiah tells Ahaz to ask for a sign and Ahaz refuses. God, however, through Isaiah gives him a sign anyway. It is the sign of a child. We know that this prophecy is referred to in Matthew as the prophecy of the virgin birth of Christ. However, as is not uncommon in Old Testament prophecy, there is a double fulfillment: a near fulfillment and a far off fulfillment. The fulfillment through the virgin born Christ is still at this time 700 years in the future but God also gave another child, Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, to be born and the purpose of His birth was to confirm the prophecy and to confirm the hope that would be connected to that prophecy.
a. How the prophecy concerning the child is given is described in verses 1-2. Now there are several important things that we need to notice.
i. First, this prophecy was intended to be public. It was written on a large scroll so that it could be easily and readily read. Witnesses were named who would be able at the fulfillment of the prophecy to confirm that the prophecy had been given before the fulfillment.
It is very important to God that people have good reason to believe His message of hope. When God speaks of hope, He speaks of a certainty, a guarantee. If you purchased something this past Black Friday, you undoubtedly saved your receipts. If you decide to return an item, the receipt tells you whether your hope of getting your money back is a wish or a certainty. In the same way, God gave the sign of this child as a confirmation, an assurance that He would not forsake His people but would save them in the end.
Is this not one reason why the virgin birth of Christ is important? That Christ was born of a virgin confirms for us that we have hope in eternity. If it were to be proven that Jesus was not the far future fulfillment of this prophecy, then our hope in Him would be based on the lies of Matthew and Luke. He was, however, born of a virgin. Both Matthew and Luke point to verifiable eyewitnesses who could verify that Jesus truly was born of a virgin.
Once I spoke with an evangelical pastor who felt that it did not really matter if Jesus was born of a virgin. What was important was that one believes in Jesus. Why then did God give the prophecy? Faith in Christ must be based on the certainty that Jesus alone fits the prophecy of the Scriptures. Anything less is like going to the store without a receipt and wishing for an exchange.
ii. Let’s look now at the prophecy (verses 3-4). Isaiah and his wife, the prophetess, would have a son named Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz. His name was actually the prophecy: “hurry to the loot, swift to the prey.” (verses 3-4). According to the prophecy, before this baby would speak his first words, the meaning of his name would come to pass.
b. The prophecy concerning the child is fulfilled. The beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy is found in 2 Kings 16:9, “So the king of Assyria heeded [Ahaz’s call for help]; for the king of Assyria went up against Damascus and took it, carried its people captive to Kir, and killed Rezin.” Chapter 17 then describes the fall of Israel to the Assyrians.
II. So what is the message of hope that is found in this prophecy? It is this, “God protects His people even in judgment” (vs. 5-10).
a. This judgment comes because of lack of faith in God (vs. 5-7). The northern kingdom depended on man rather than God as represented by their rejection of the waters of Shiloah and because of their rejection, the Assyrians came like a flood and wiped out their armies and took their people captive.
b. Mercy, however, is available to God’s people (verse 8a). We see this in that the flood of judgment would not overwhelm them but rather come up to their neck. This is exactly what happened. The Assyrians who defeated Syria and Israel were not able to overcome Judah. Judah suffered much because of the Assyrians but God delivered Judah from destruction.
c. Why? Because God is with them (verses 8b-10). Isaiah reminds them in these verses that Immanuel, “God with us,” will deliver them from their enemies. Because God is with His people, they can have hope. Their future, even in the day of judgment, is certain and victorious because “God is with us.”
“No wonder when John Wesley lay dying in 1791, he roused from his sleep long [enough] to open his eyes and exclaim, “The best of all is, God is with us!” Then he closed his eyes and died” (from Ray Pritchard’s sermon “Overcoming Loneliness”).
III. With this message of hope, God warns of the danger of rejecting His confirmed Word (vs. 11-15).
a. He tells Isaiah, “Do not fear those who reject Me” (vs. 11-12).
“Isaiah’s message must have seemed crazy: ‘Don’t fear the mighty army you see arrayed against you. Though they have far more soldiers, you have something they don’t. You have Immanuel on your side.’” (from Ray Pritchard’s sermon “Are You Prepared to Suffer for Christ?“). For that reason, many accused Isaiah and other prophets of the LORD of collusion with the enemy. This is similar to what Jesus said to His disciples in Matthew 10:28 when He said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
b. “Do not fear those who reject Me but rather fear the One who is to be hallowed (vs. 13-14a).” To hallow God is to set Him above all others. No one can veto His Word. He is the LORD and there is none else.
c. Destruction is the end of His rejecters (v. 14b-15). It is not just that those who reject God, who reject Christ, will stumble and be offended. The picture in these verses is that they will be destroyed by the very one they stumbled over. The one who they found so offensive will be their judge.
IV. God gives hope only to those who trust His Word (vs. 16-22), that is, believe in His confirming signs. In those days it concerned Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz but today the sign in whom we must believe is the virgin born Son of God, Jesus Christ, Immanuel, God with us. The apostle Paul in Romans 9:33 took part of verse 14 and another portion from Isaiah to make this very point, “Behold, I lay in Zion a stumbling stone and rock of offense, And whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.”*
a. Our hope is confirmed by His works (vs. 16-18). The signs that God gives confirm His word and give us the ability to wait, to hope. The difficult part of the certain hope of the Christian is the waiting. The first verse of one of the carols we sang today, written by John Wesley’s brother, Charles, describes very well the difficulty of waiting, of hoping.
“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”
Isaiah and his two sons (Shear-Jashub is mentioned in Isaiah 7:3 and means “the remnant shall return”) were signs of hope in their day but men had to wait 700 years before Immanuel was born. Immanuel, God with us, Jesus lived and died and rose again and returned to His Father’s side at the right hand of the throne of God 2000 years ago and we wait, we hope, we sing…
“Come, Thou long-expected Jesus…
Born Thy people to deliver,
Born a Child, and yet a King,
Born to reign in us forever,
Now (can you not hear the longing in this carol?) Thy gracious kingdom bring.
By Thine own eternal Spirit
Rule in all our hearts alone;
By Thine all-sufficient merit,
Raise us to Thy glorious throne.”
That is the hope of Christmas!
b. Our insight, our ability to see the truth, to wait, to hope is conditioned by faith in His Word (vs. 19-22).
There were those who offered an alternative to God’s Word, God’s law, God’s signs. They said, “Go to those who can speak with the dead and find out what God is doing!”
As in those days, many “In our relativistic age… are offended by any suggestion that there is only one way of salvation. But that is precisely what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). Those words must be taken at face value. We have no right to water them down. Sometimes people speak of Jesus as if he were some kind of great moral teacher. The people who say that generally don’t like John 14:6. It doesn’t fit the concept of a great moral teacher. If Jesus isn’t the way, the truth, and the life–if there really is another way to the Father–then Jesus isn’t a great moral teacher. He’s either the most self-deceived man in all history or he is a liar. In either case, he’s not a great teacher. You can’t pick and choose with Jesus. Either take what he says at face value or reject him altogether. Those are the only two choices you have.” (from Ray Pritchard’s sermon “Stumbling Stone or Cornerstone?“).
That is what Isaiah is saying in this prophecy. Believe God and His Word and you will know the truth. You will not be plunged deeper and deeper into darkness but will be enlightened and will have hope even in a dark world.
CONCLUSION: Our Future is Absolutely Certain.
There are many fulfilled prophecies related to Jesus Christ in Isaiah (that Jesus will be born of a virgin), in Micah (that Jesus would be born in Bethlehem), in the Psalms (that Jesus would suffer, die, and rise from the dead), in Daniel and Hosea and elsewhere. When we look at those prophecies we know that we can expect that our hope for the future will also be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
INVITATION: Would you bow your heads and close your eyes for a few moments? This is good news. Perhaps you have heard this good news before, perhaps many times. Is it not time that you believed it? Is it not time for you to say, I am going to trust Christ alone as my salvation. Would you do that today? Would anyone like to do that at this moment?
Perhaps you are here and you are interested but are not yet ready to make a commitment to Christ but would like me to pray for you today, that God would help you to know the truth. My prayer for you is nothing magical but the God who hears and answers prayer wants to bring you to Himself. If you would like prayer today, would you raise your hand?
If you raised your hand, you need to talk to someone you can trust. I would be glad to speak with you. There are others who would be glad to speak with you. Perhaps you would like to speak to the person you came with and ask them to show you how to trust Christ as Savior. Do it today!
Maybe you have a lot of questions. We can help you to get connected with someone who will take the time to meet with you weekly and answer your questions. Please let us know today, if we can help you in this way.
(Thanks to Ray Pritchard for the quotations from his sermons.)