The English-language oratorio Messiah by Handel was not an instant hit but it has become one of the most frequently performed choral works and one of the best known. After his death it was adapted for giant choirs and orchestras although Handel himself designed it for a much smaller production. Charles Jennens compiled the Scriptures for Handel and during this season of Advent we are going to ponder some of those passages. Jennens’ intention was to reflect on Jesus as the Messiah beginning with prophecies of His coming. We begin this morning with one of those prophecies. There are a number of modern scholars who try to argue that our passage does not tell us about the coming Christ. They claim that Isaiah could have used another word for virgin if he did not simply mean a young unmarried woman. Of course, if Isaiah simply meant to speak of just a young unmarried girl rather than a virgin that would not be much of a sign. But you will hear Isaiah challenge Ahaz to ask for a sign as deep as Sheol or high as heaven. Thus Isaiah prophesies a sign of Biblical proportions. Indeed, what you hear in these verses about the coming Messiah is a song worth singing.
While you await the celebration of the good news of the birth of the Messiah and while you await His return in glory, do not fear.
Ahaz, the Davidic king of Judah, did not need to be afraid. He had a long time to wait for the birth of the Messiah since the rest of the chapter shows that this birth will be sometime after the Exile. But though it would be a long wait for a Savior, he did not need to be afraid. The two nations that had joined forces to oppose him are described as “two smoldering stumps of firebrands” – in other words, they were almost burnt out and now were just smoking but there was no real fire there. The Lord promised that Syria would continue with their current borders and politics. Ephraim, the northern kingdom of Israel, would also continue for a time with their current borders and politics but they would no longer be a people within sixty-five years. So Ephraim was no real threat – they would not conquer Judah. In fact, Isaiah does not even think it is worth noting the name of the person they wanted to be their puppet over Judah. He is so insignificant that Isaiah just calls him “the son of Tabeel.” No doubt the threat from Syria and Ephraim felt very real as it was happening but Ahaz had nothing to fear.
You live after the Messiah has come but you do not need to be afraid while you wait for Him to come again in glory. The terrorists from Syria today are a smoldering stump of firebrands. They have dreams of expanding boundaries and creating a caliphate for Islam that will cover the earth. But regardless of how successful they are at their political or military objectives, Jesus is Lord. Our Messiah is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Our Holy-Warrior-God is sitting on His throne. Thus Scripture says some 365 times, “Do not be afraid.” Ahaz was more concerned about someone who might kill his body than he was about the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28). We often imagine worst-case-scenarios, which would make us false prophets. Sometimes our fears are about our health, losing our jobs or homes; sometimes our anxieties will nearly paralyze us. Thus Jesus speaks to us through His Spirit in this Scripture and says, “Do not be afraid.” We do not know how long we have yet to wait for Him to come again in glory. Nevertheless, we do not need to be afraid while we wait – even if being persecuted unto death – we do not need to be afraid while we wait. Jesus is Lord!
Sing for joy this song worth singing that Immanuel has been born and is coming again!
Even though Ahaz would not live to see the fulfillment of that sign, he responded to it in unbelief. He did not change course. Ahaz was very “religious.” When the Lord God told him to ask for a sign, Ahaz replied by alluding to Deuteronomy 6:16: “You shall not put YHWH your God to the test, as you tested Him at Massah.” So when Ahaz responded, “I will not ask, and I will not put YHWH to the test” he sounded religious but he was disobeying God who had told him to ask for a sign and it is interesting that he does not call YHWH his God. If he had said this because he didn’t need help to believe that would be one thing. But Ahaz didn’t want want an unmistakable sign from God. The people of Judah, the king included, wearied Isaiah and wearied Isaiah’s God. The religious leaders in Jesus’ day would also sound religious, doing just the opposite they would ask for signs, but they too were acting out of unbelief in the promises of God – they did not trust God’s word. They wearied Jesus. They wearied God. They did not sing of the Son who would be born of a virgin and called Immanuel, meaning “God-with-us.”
You do not need to be afraid but to have faith in Jesus who is God-with-us. You may feel at times like God has left you in exile, or even feel like God is not with you but against you, but the good news of Jesus the Messiah is that God is with us. You need no signs today that Jesus is God with us nor to weary God asking for them, for you have the sign in the Scriptures testified to you by the Spirit that the young unmarried virgin conceived and then she bore a son who is God in the flesh. God has given you a sign as high as heaven – He has given you a sign that is beyond what you could have ever imagined – in order to show you that He is with you. The Messiah was and continues to be God and man in two distinct natures and one person forever and He has sent His Spirit to be with you. Thus we sing of the Messiah who is God-with-us not to sound religious but because God has given us faith in this one who has come in the womb of the virgin Mary and who is coming again in glory. This is a song worth singing. Amen and amen.