Can you believe it? In only two days from the day this post goes live, we will once again focus on an amazing sign of God’s great love for sinful mankind.
God sent His only Son into our troubled world to save us from sin. We will again be reminded of the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah and how they were fulfilled at the time of Jesus’ birth.
- What for you is the most amazing aspect of the Christmas story?
Isaiah 17:4 ESV
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”
- How did you react to the birth of your first child or to a new baby in your home? Did he or she make a difference to your way of life?
The proud parents of their first baby often send off cards or make phone calls to announce the child’s birth. When our first baby, Debbie, was born we had copies made of a photo of her. We placed each copy in a card and sent it off to family and friends. We couldn’t wait to share the news. A child had been born. To us! But of course, in those days, we had no idea if we were expecting a girl or a boy.
Approximately 735 years prior to Jesus’ birth, the prophet Isaiah announced, “For to us a child is born,..”(Isaiah 9:6), it was not at all newsworthy. It hadn’t yet happened. But maybe the next part of his announcement would have attracted a little more attention! “To us, a son is given.” That the prophet was able to foretell the sex of the child, was most unusual.
You have a son!
Most couples desire to have a son and heir. As a youngster, I once overheard my parents discussing my grandfather’s concern that the Corder name could die out. His concern was really unfounded. Between his two sons, they produced three grandsons, who in turn provided the old man with seven great-grandsons. And those are now starting to produce their own generation of Corders. The Corder name is in no imminent danger!
Of course, with the development of technology, it is possible to determine the sex of a child whilst still in the womb. Parents now have an opportunity of knowing in advance whether they are to have a boy or a girl. Although it does take away an element of surprise, it does help the parents to be better prepared for its arrival.
We have been studying the prophecy of Habakkuk for almost a year now. We noted that it was focused on the southern kingdom of Judah. Isaiah’s prophecy was geared for both Judah and the northern kingdom of Israel.
The timing of this announcement of this child’s birth though was probably not welcome.
Soon after the reign of Solomon, David’s son, Israel was divided in two. The southern territory of Judah was ruled by two successive good kings but their successor, King Ahaz was wicked.
A coalition army comprised of Rezin, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of the northern kingdom of Israel,was advancing on Jerusalem. They were seeking revenge upon King Ahaz for not joining forces with them against the growing might of Assyria.
Ahaz and the Jewish citizens of Judah were fearful of the consequences of this threat. Ahaz had to make a choice – appeal to Assyria for help or trust God to deliver them.
And at that point, God sent the prophet Isaiah, in an attempt to persuade this faithless monarch to trust God rather than Assyria.
Despite Isaiah’s message of encouragement, King Ahaz remained unconvinced. So God prompted Isaiah to tell King Ahaz to ask God for a sign.
“Ask the Lord your God for a sign,….” (Isaiah 7:11)
But this foolish king in a mock display of obedience to God’s command in Deuteronomy 6:16 “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test,..” responded, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.” (Isaiah 7:12)
God had told him to ask, but Ahaz didn’t really want to hear from God.
- Are we perhaps sometimes guilty of the same sin? Do we at times trot out some feeble excuse for not having consulted God over some perplexing issue?
A Double meaning sign
Despite Ahaz’ response, God did give a sign in the words so familiar to us at Christmas time:
“The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14b)
Today all Christians see the fulfilment of this prophecy in the birth of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago. But, what had this sign of a virgin birth to do with King Ahaz? Nothing!!!
So then, what sign did God give to King Ahaz?
The sign was in Isaiah’s own child Shear-jashub. God instructed the prophet to take his son along with him to visit King Ahaz. The boy’s name meant ‘a remnant will return’ (Isaiah 7:3). So God’s sign to Ahaz was that even when Judah’s existence was threatened, the Jewish nation would not completely perish.
Before Shear-jashub, Isaiah’s son, reached an age when he could determine right from wrong, the northern kingdoms of Syria and Israel, whose kings were threatening Ahaz, would be conquered.
“…knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste.” (Isaiah 7:16)
God is true to His Word. What He says does come to pass in His perfect timing. This prophecy was in fact fulfilled about two years later.
How foolish of Ahaz not to trust God!
- But can we really find fault? Are we ourselves not guilty of the same sin?
- How quick we are to place our confidence in our programmes and schemes, rather than to exercise complete trust in God?
God’s sign for us
- God gave Ahaz a sign – Isaiah’s son, whose name meant ‘a remnant will return.’
- God gave the Jews in Judah a prophetic sign for the future “For to us a child is born, to us, a son is given...” “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
- God’s sign for us today is the same message.
“For to us a child is born, to us, a son is given…” “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Derek Prince, a missionary, and acclaimed author of over 100 books, was an international Bible teacher highly revered for his theological insights. He was an expert on Israel and spent many years of his life there. In an article entitled ‘Our debt to Israel’ he says:
- “There is one thing that all the nations of the world have in common and that is that they all have an incalculable debt to Israel and the Jews.”
- “Jesus said, ‘You Samaritans know so little about Him (God), worshipping blindly, while we Jews know all about Him, FOR SALVATION COMES TO THE WORLD THROUGH THE JEWS.’” (John 4:22)
- “Without the Jews there would have been no patriarchs, prophets, apostles, Bible, or Saviour of the world! Without Jesus how could we be saved from our sins and know the forgiveness which only comes through Him?” (‘Our debt to Israel” by Derek Prince)
When Joseph was hesitant to marry Mary because she was pregnant, God sent an angel to tell him,
“Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her.Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Immanuel, which means God is with us.” (Matthew 1:20-23 CEV)
The title Immanuel, which only appears in Isaiah 7 and again in Matthew 1, means ‘God (the divine being) is with us (humans).’ Although divine this child would also be truly human.
Think about this: Our Creator put His Son’s life at risk by allowing Him to become a defenseless little baby, totally dependent upon a human mother’s care.
It’s mind-boggling. Particularly in the light of the high infant death rate in those days.
The sign that God gave is only of value to those who welcome the sign.
Ahaz did not welcome God’s sign and for him, it became a forewarning of God’s judgement upon his lack of faith.
For those who choose not to accept God’s gift of salvation offered through the child that was born to the Virgin Mary, each successive Christmas comes as a solemn warning. Their time is running out and God’s judgement awaits them.
Helen Stainer Rice, a much-loved writer of Christian and Inspirational poetry wrote:
“Only through the Christ Child can man be born again,
For God sent the Baby Jesus as the Saviour of all men.”
In two days time as you celebrate the reminder of Immanuel’s coming into our world, give God all thanks and praise for His amazing gift of love. Pray for anyone you know who like king Ahaz is rejecting God’s sign of Immanuel – God with us.
My wife, Shirley, joins me in wishing you all a very happy and blessed Christmas. Let’s celebrate the coming of that baby so long ago, to guarantee us salvation if we put our trust in Him.