The Meaning of Immanuel

About seven hundred years before the birth of Christ, the prophet Isaiah delivered a prophetic message to Ahaz, King of Judah. Isaiah had been sent by God to confront Ahaz on his godlessness. As King of Judah, Ahaz had been assigned the unique responsibility of providing moral leadership to the people of God, leading the nation in accordance with God’s Word. But Ahaz had repeatedly neglected these responsibilities both in his own false worship, but also in his political leadership and lack of trust in God.

In the midst of the confrontation between the prophet Isaiah and the wicked King Ahaz, Isaiah delivered a remarkable prophecy. A word that would live in the memory of God’s people for generations as they waited for its fulfilment. He said:

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

Isaiah 7:14

The word Immanuel literally is translated ‘God with us.’ The miracle of Christmas is that the transcendent God of the universe entered the human story as an embryo in the womb of Mary. The second person of the Trinity, the Word of God, became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1:14). He who was, “in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). God with us! Let that sink in for a moment. Never lose the wonder of the incarnation.

For Christians around the globe the sign given to Ahaz is a sign of great hope. Immanuel—God with us. Run to him, abide in him, for He is your peace, your strength, and your great joy Yet for Ahaz, the original recipient of this sign, the sign of Immanuel was a sign of terror. The worst news Ahaz could have received was that the God whom Ahaz had so rebelled against, was coming to make good on His promises. This single sign—Immanuel—must illicit one of these two responses from every person. There is no middle ground (Revelation 3:16). We are either rebels to King Jesus awaiting our judgment, or we are sons and daughters of King Jesus enjoying the fruit of our salvation.

The Life of Ahaz as a Mirror for Ourselves

And so, it behooves us to evaluate ourselves. Many, I fear, will sing the Christmas songs this year, make the obligatory trip to a local Church on Christmas Eve, and yet never take the time to ask themselves of their true condition before a Holy God. And so I suggest that we use King Ahaz as a reflection point to test ourselves. Let us use four aspects of King Ahaz to examine our own heart condition before God.

Test 1: The Law Test

Ahaz regularly and repeatedly revealed he had very little concern over God’s law. He committed idolatry by worshiping false gods, and by permitting false gods to be worshiped all around him (breaking the 2nd Commandment). He even took his living son and “burned him as an offering, according to. the despicable practices of the nations…” (breaking the 6th Commandment). That might sound extreme but modern culture has a similar practice of child sacrifice that we call abortion.

To follow God is to love God’s laws. It is to determine in our heart to abide by His commandments. To love what God loves and to hate what God hates. Whenever we see God’s law being diminished by ourselves or by others, does it cause our hearts to grieve and sigh over sickness of it all? When we see legislation pass that veers from God’s decree, does our mind simply go to the politics of it all, or do we stop and grieve out of a love for God and His commands? It is one thing to see a lack of love of God’s law in Ahaz, it is another to do the hard work of examining our own life to see if there is any of Ahaz in ourselves.

‌Test 2: The Pressure Test

Ahaz was a King who reigned during a tumultuous international conflict. His Kingdom of Judah was at a Civil War with the northern kingdom of Israel. The Assyrian Empire was an increasing threat to the East. When the pressure was on, and he did not know how to get out of the bind his nation was in, rather than turning to God, he turned to man. He made an alliance with Assyria which proved fatal. He then desperately looked for any solution that would work. He ultimately resorted to sacrificing to the gods of Damascus who had defeated him and said, “’Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.’ Ahaz saw the success of his pagan neighbors and simply said, “Well—that seems to work for them, why not try worshiping that way and see if it works for me too.”

How do you respond when hardship comes your way? How do you respond when it feels like enemies are crowded around you and the pressure is on? How do you respond when you have been harmed or hurt, or let down. Or when there is a genuine trial you are going through? Pressure ought to form dependent prayer in the life of a Christian. We cling to Christ and seek His discernment. Pressure tends to reveal where we are really trusting, or perhaps who we are really trusting.

Test 3: The Temple Test

In the midst of Ahaz’ frustration and trying to get his international conflicts resolved, Ahaz shut the temple doors and destroyed the vessels inside the temple (2 Chronicles 28:24). The temple in Jerusalem was supposed to be the one place on the planet where the glory of God resides, where the nations could see the power and love of God on display. Ahaz chose to shut the doors.

Under the New Covenant in Christ, God is not put on display in a building, but rather through a people. Christians are the temple (1 Corinthians 3:16). When the nations see a Christian, they ought to see the glory of God on display. What we do with God’s Church therefore matters deeply. Do you love God’s Church for what it is, the new temple? Do you yearn for Sunday mornings to gather with the saints and proclaim His goodness and mercy? Do you long for life with other Christians, to chase after God together, to hold each other accountable to godliness? Do you long to see others come to know the love of Jesus as he dwells in the midst of His people. If there is no love of God’s Church. No hunger for the temple of God to be honored then I fear the sign of Immanuel may not be for you the sign of hope you think it is.

Test 4: The Bible Test

Lastly, when Ahaz was confronted by Isaiah and told to ask for a sign from God, he responded by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 which says, “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test…” While this may seem like a godly response, it is actually the opposite. Ahaz is simply cherry picking a Bible verse to justify his own lifestyle and decisions.

Oh—and I fear that so many who call themselves Christians today make this very same mistake and reveal a spirit of Ahaz within them. They know just enough about the Bible to quote it from to time. But they have not been conquered by the Word of God. The Word of God is helpful, but not needed. They have never truly submitted themselves to the Word of God and allowed God’s Word to see through them, to shape them, to shape their desires, to shape their hearts, their minds, their thoughts.

Conclusion

I heard it said somewhere that both those in heaven and those in hell will share one thing in common—they will both truly believe that they got something they didn’t deserve. If as you read through the Ahaz Litmus Test provided above you discover in yourself tendencies towards sin, towards behaving like Ahaz on some scale, then you have a choice. On the one hand, the sign of Immanuel must serve as a fierce signal that there are just consequences for our rebellion to God. We ought to tremble at that reality. But if we desire for Immanuel to be a sign to of hope and salvation, if we are willing to surrender to the reality of God with us, on God’s terms, then Immanuel is a gift of infinite worth. The cost is simply to repent of your sin and to choose to follow God fully. In this life we will never do that perfectly; we will fail. Bu tin our failures we will grieve our sin and repent before the God of all mercy. The great joy of Immanuel—God with us— is found in His ultimate work of redemption of the cross. May Christmas stir you to a new love of God and a greater pursuit of godliness.

Resources

This blog post was a section o fa sermon recently given at Park Community Church | South Loop. See the full sermon below.

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