Advent 4a

Preached: December 23, 2007

Faith Looks to Where the Lord Points
Isaiah 7:10-14

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out his Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. The Word for us to take to heart and put into practice is Isaiah 7.

The LORD again spoke to Ahaz, “Ask for a sign for yourself from the LORD, your God whether from the depths below or from the heights above.”
Ahaz said, “I will not ask and test the LORD.”
[Isaiah] said, “Hear now, O house of David. Is it to little for you to weary the patience of men that you must also weary the patience of my God? Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will be pregnant and give birth to a son and call his name, Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:10-14)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow watchers for our Savior:

1) Why is the Lord's patience with King Ahaz so astonishing?

She was determined for him to be her high school sweetheart. She did what she could to catch his eye. She put notes in his locker, gave him little gifts, and even asked him to the Sadie Hawkins dance. But he ignored her. His sights were set on the flashy, popular girls. Her patience and persistence made no difference to him. He had no time for her, and he made that perfectly clear. Eventually she stopped trying to win his affection, and he was left with no one.

In a way that's what happened to King Ahaz. It wasn't a girl that pursued him. It was none less the Lord God himself. He wanted Ahaz to follow him as his dear child, walking in the way of his forefather David. You can hear the LORD pleading with him in the text.

Here's the situation. It was the 8th century before Christ. Ahaz, from David's family line, ruled as king in Jerusalem over the people of Judah. But his land had been invaded! Pekah, king of the northern tribes of Israel, and Rezin, king of Aram, had made an alliance against Ahaz. They were now marching on Jerusalem.

But through the Prophet Isaiah the Lord had just promised deliverance. In fact the Lord promised that these enemies of his people would be shattered. He invites Ahaz to hold on to this promise in faith, to stand firm on the Lord's words.

Let's just pause there and marvel at the Lord's patience in making this promise. Ahaz had in no way been a god-fearing king. He had set up idols to Baal. He offered sacrifices at the high places and hilltops instead of at the Lord's temple. He sacrificed his sons in the fire. In fact, all this is why the Lord sent these enemies against Jerusalem to bring Ahaz to repentance.

But now what patience as the Lord again speaks his promises to Ahaz! He promises to deliver him and the people from their enemies. The Lord's desire to win over Ahaz as his own didn't even stop there. He wants to give Ahaz a firm rock for his faith to stand on. He tells Ahaz to ask for a sign, no matter how great whether in the deepest depths or the highest heights. And notice how Isaiah even refers to the Lord as “your God,” Ahaz's God. The Lord earnestly desired Ahaz to be his very own. What patience, grace, and mercy!

But how does Ahaz respond? Far worse than simply ignoring the Lord, he responds with mock piety, pretending to be a pious believer. “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test” (Isaiah 7:12 NIV).

But the Lord had told him to ask for a sign! Yes, if the Lord had not promised to give a sign, then expecting a sign is superstitiously putting God to the test. But the Lord in his patience had promised a sign, anything that Ahaz would ask for. And to such a generous promise Ahaz turns up his nose. “I don't need a sign. I'll do things my way.”

That's the heart of unbelief. Rather than looking to where the Lord points, unbelief thinks that we know best. Unbelief wants to do things our way and dress them up as spiritually motivated. Unbelief refuses God's earnest promises and tries his patience until it is too late. Faith, though, faith looks to where the Lord points.

2) How do we, like Ahaz, fail to look to where the Lord points?

And where does the Lord point us to in these words from Isaiah? He points us to a far greater deliverance than from Rezin and Pekah, earthly kings that are but a footnote in history. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NIV). He points us to the womb of the virgin. No one would expect to find a child there. That's impossible. But faith looks to where the Lord points no matter how unusual, unexpected, or impossible.

What do you see when you look to where the Lord points, when you look to the Child born of the virgin? Our old Adam sees a cute, cuddly baby, sweetly listening to our pious lullabies. Our old Adam will talk about how this baby will grow up and show us the way to live in love with one another. Our old Adam will point to his devotion and love that even faced death. Our old Adam will praise him as a great example for us to follow. But our old Adam won't call him Immanuel. It might use that name and other pious sounding names like Savior and Redeemer, but our old Adam won't truly mean what those names clearly say.

Here is where you and I need to confess our own sin of following our old Adam. Like Ahaz, how often haven't we followed our old Adam and dressed it up with pious sounding words. Rather than looking to the Lord for help, Ahaz figured that he would make a deal with the king of Assyria. If Assyria attacked Aram, then Rezin, the king of Aram, would have to retreat and defend his homeland. Maybe Ahaz figured, “God helps those who help themselves, so I'm going to help myself by making this alliance with Assyria. So why do I need to look to God's promises or signs?”

How often don't we fall into that same thinking! We focus on ourselves, what we can do, our skill, our ingenuity, our talents, our financial resources. God's promises become secondary. Maybe as an afterthought we say, “Oh yea, those things came from God and I should be thankful. But you know God helps those who help themselves.” We dress up a self-centered heart with outwardly pious words, just as Ahaz did.

3) What does faith see as it looks to the Child born from the virgin?

But the Lord points you and me to the Child born from the virgin, to Immanuel. Yes, you and I need that Baby. But that's humbling, isn't it, to admit that we need that Baby, that we can't help ourselves? But come kneel before this lowly Child. Only that Baby can deliver you and me from our own pride and arrogance. Only that Baby can rescue us from sinful self-reliance. Only that Baby can shatter through our old Adam. For that Baby is Immanuel. He is your God. Only God can rescue and save us from the enemies, from sin, death, and the devil, that besiege our soul to starve us of God's promises. No amount of self-help of self-reliance can do it. Only Immanuel, only God with us.

He is your God that came to be with you, to rescue and save you. Our sins, like enemies surrounding a besieged city, had cut us off from God. But our God became one of us and broke through that siege. As your Substitute, the God-man Immanuel, Jesus Christ, carried away your sins, nailing them to the cross in his body. For he carried all the sins of the world. Rising from the dead, he has won the victory. He gives you that victory. Faith trusts that his victory is ours, so that you who believe will live with him forever. Yes, he is forever God with us, forever Immanuel.

That's what faith sees as faith looks to where God points. Faith sees more than a cuddly baby and a good example. Faith see our God who saves. That's why faith, your faith, calls him Immanuel. For he is your God who came to rescue you, to save you and me from our sins, so that we may be with him forever. What good news! Immanuel! God with us! Immanuel!

And where does faith look for assurance that this is true, that the Baby born of the virgin is Immanuel, our Savior-God? Where does faith look? Faith looks to where God points.

4) Where does God point you to in order to give your faith a solid rock to stand firm on?

But where does God point us to in order to give our faith a solid rock to stand firm on? Our old Adam may look to the spiritual feelings within us or to statistical growth in membership in the church around us. It may seek confirmation by what makes us feel good or look successful. But God does not point us to any of these things.

Where does he point you and me to give our faith a solid rock to stand on? He points us to his Word, his Word in the Scriptures and in the Sacraments. There you find Immanuel, God with us. Like the unexpected, lowly womb of a virgin, like the unexpected, lowly manger where she laid him, so also the unexpected, seemingly lowly words of Scripture, and water of baptism, and bread and wine of the Lord's Supper, these are where Jesus hides himself today.

Human reason sees only what is weak and foolish in these places. But these are God's power and wisdom, for they bring you Immanuel. Yes, that is how the Virgin-born, the Baby of Bethlehem, is still with you and me today, still Immanuel, God with us. He is present in his Word and Sacraments. He is present not only with his almighty power that rules all things everywhere, but through the Scriptures and the Sacraments he is present with his grace and mercy to deliver and save us. And in the Lord's Supper he's present in that most miraculous way, so that we truly eat and drink his real body and blood for our forgiveness. Immanuel. God with us.

He is present there, patiently calling to you, even as he called to Ahaz centuries ago. Will you like Ahaz cover up unbelief with pious sounding words, spurning the Lord's patience until he leaves you alone forever in hell? Or will you look to where the Lord points?

Think about that this Christmas. Then come and look into the manger and see Immanuel, your God who came to save you from your sins, breaking through that siege so that you may live with him forever. Worship the Virgin-born. For faith, your faith, looks to where the Lord points and believes that this Baby is Immanuel. Look into the Scriptures and the Sacraments and again see Immanuel, your God who is still with you to help and to save. For faith, your faith, looks to where the Lord points. There you see Immanuel, your God who saves you to be with him forever. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313