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The Law and Gospel of Immanuel December 24, 2014

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Isaiah 7:10-14

Christmas Eve

December 24, 2014

 

Focus:  God sent a Savior for His people.

Function:  That the hearers rejoice in the good news of their Immanuel.

Structure:  Walking through the text.

 

The Law and Gospel of Immanuel

 

When I was in high school, I remember one of our talent shows.  In between acts, they always had a little humor to help you transition, whether it was the emcee telling a joke, or a student running across the stage, there was always something.   And in between one set of acts, a student walked on stage holding a big sign that said, “Man Eating Tiger.”  And then a boy walked across the stage chewing on a stuffed tiger.

It’s all about how you hear it.  Even the sweetest words can be heard in a negative way.  In my German class, we always joked around about how the language sounded.  Maybe it was all the guttural sounds, but for some reason, the language is deeper.  Ich liebe dich!  It means “I love you.”  But if you don’t know that, I might just sound angry.

Language is a funny thing.  The same word or the same phrase can be heard differently by different people.  As I stand up here and preach a sermon, each of you might hear it in a different way.

It’s even true of the gospel.  How do you hear it?  Do you hear God’s precious words to you as gospel, or do you hear them as law?  Let me give you an example.  Let’s look back to our Old Testament reading.

Now my confirmation students are experts on the history surrounding this text, but let’s go over it anyway to help you understand what God is doing through Isaiah with the King.  God’s people, His chosen and holy people, were the nation of Israel.  First ruled by God Himself, then they asked for a king to lead them, so they could be just like all the other nations.  So God gave them Saul.  After Saul, they had David, and then it was David’s son Solomon.

But when Solomon died, his son Rehoboam made a treacherous mistake.  And ten of the twelve tribes of Israel abandoned him and chose Jeroboam as their king instead.  So in the year 932 BC, the kingdom was divided.  The two tribes that stayed with Rehoboam became known as the nation of Judah, and Jeroboam ruled over the other ten tribes, calling his nation Israel.

Over the next two centuries, war was common between Israel and Judah, they just didn’t like each other.  And so as we fast forward two hundred years to the year 736 BC, we now see Ahaz, king of Judah.  And there’s a war brewing.

Israel has partnered with the country of Aram and was planning to attack Ahaz and overthrow him.  In his fear, Ahaz was looking for help.  And his first thought was to find another nation that would help him crush Israel and Aram.  And that’s when Isaiah shows up.

God sends Isaiah to King Ahaz to offer him the chance to repent, to believe in God.  He sends him with this message: “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.”  In other words, believe in Me, and I will provide.  But if you don’t, you will lose your kingdom.

Isaiah then offers Ahaz a wonderful opportunity.  Few in history have been given this kind of a chance.  “Ask a sign of Yahweh your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  What an opportunity?!  Ask for anything you want, and I’ll do it.  Think about that?  What would you ask for?  A mountain made of pizza?  A valley filled with ice cream?  A Vikings Superbowl?  A healing miracle for a loved one?  Or perhaps even in Ahaz’ case, the elimination of your enemies?  The angel of the Lord actually does that for Ahaz’ successor Hezekiah…

But with this golden opportunity, how did Ahaz respond?  “I will not ask, and I will not put Yahweh to the test.”  It had nothing to do with asking Yahweh.  King Ahaz didn’t believe in God.  There was no relationship there at all.  He simply said it to get Isaiah to go away.  But God knew and so did Isaiah.  So the language shifts.

Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call His name Immanuel.

 

Did you hear the shift?  Before it was “ask Yahweh your God.”  But now Isaiah says, “my God.”  Ahaz was given a chance, and he rejected it.  And so God gave him a sign anyway.  Actually, He gave him two.  The first sign, of Immanuel, was something Ahaz wouldn’t live to see.  But the second sign, he would see.

That first sign to us is pure gospel.  We hear Immanuel, and we hear “God with us.”  It’s a wonderful thing, our Savior, taking on flesh, being born of Mary so that He could take away our sins.  But to the faithless Ahaz, God with us takes on a much different meaning.  And so the second prophecy continues by saying what will happen before this boy Immanuel even has a chance to grow up.

You can read the rest of chapter seven yourself, but I will summarize it for you now.  Isaiah tells Ahaz that the two kings he fears will be completely destroyed, as will their nations, and that Judah will experience something unlike anything they have seen since the day Israel and Judah split.

Again, we might hear that as good news.  That it would be like before, the joy of being one united kingdom.  If only Isaiah hadn’t continued.  He meant it another way.  Assyria, the nation Ahaz wanted an alliance with, the nation that would defeat Israel, Assyria was coming and “will sweep on into Judah like a flood” (8:8).  They wouldn’t destroy it, but they would enter the land, take its wealth, and steal its power.  They would leave Ahaz as powerless as he had feared he would become.

Within a decade’s time, that’s exactly what happened.  Assyria destroyed the threat, but they also took everything from Ahaz.  And it wouldn’t be until the next King, King Hezekiah, that Judah would recover, and even that was only temporary.

Because King Ahaz lacked a relationship with God, the promise of Immanuel, of God with us, was a terrifying thing.  Ahaz heard the gospel, but when he heard it, he heard nothing but law.

More than likely you have had that happen to you before.  That as you listened to the Word of God proclaimed to you, the good news of a Savior, that you heard something different.  Perhaps you were stuck in a sin or holding a grudge, but there was just something there, something that made that sweet, sweet gospel, suddenly taste bitter.

Before each sermon that I preach, I pray.  I ask God to speak to you whatever He needs you to hear.  I ask Him to send His Holy Spirit to work through me in a way that is beneficial to you and your relationship with Him.  Without a doubt, each and every one of you hears the sermon a little differently, and that’s why I’m glad that God is at work in this place.

You see, God is working in you, in all of us, to restore us to Himself.  To heal us, to love us, and to build that relationship between us.  And that’s what this Christmas is all about.  Our coming Savior, born of a virgin, born without sin, Immanuel, God with us. That God loved us so much that He sent His Son to save us, to give us peace.  As Isaiah would say two chapters later, He is our Prince of Peace.

To us, as God’s people, this is good news.  The virgin conceived and bore a Son.  Immanuel, our Savior, has been born for us.  Henry Schumann got this.  Henry knew he wasn’t perfect, he knew that he needed a Savior.  And so he prepared, and when he sinned he would repent, and he tried to live the life that God had prepared for him.  But that little baby boy, our Immanuel, took away Henry’s sins and gave him life.  And Henry is with Jesus in Paradise. What a blessing that is!

What a wonderful message, what a wonderful gift.  We rejoice as we celebrate Christmas together.  We rejoice at Immanuel, God with us.  And if for some reason you’re hearing that as law tonight, please speak with Pastor Fritsch or myself after church, that you too can leave here rejoicing in the good news of our Savior.  Jesus Christ, our Immanuel is born.  Merry Christmas!

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