You maybe didn’t know this about me, but I can be, I can be, incredibly indecisive. My wife will ask me, “Do you want potatoes or rice for supper tonight?” That’s like the worst question to ask me. I love both! Both taste good. I grew up on potatoes, but I’ve come to love rice. So, of course, my response, “I don’t know honey whatever is easiest to make.” It’s a cop out wrapped with a thin concern for my wife and her time. Decisions can be hard. They can be difficult because often the most important decisions aren’t about supper, but they impact the future of your life. For instance, “Should I marry this person or not?” That’s a life-changing question. “Should I take this job…should I quit that job. Should I move. Should I get a haircut like Pastor Casmer?” These are all important questions and sometimes you just want to say, “Lord, show me what to do. Lord, give me a sign!”
Have you ever asked God for a sign? Something that would help you with a tough decision in your life? It would be great, right? It would be great if every time you or I had to make a decision, we could just ask God for a sign and he’d give us one, he’d tell us, show us what to do and assure us that we are making the best possible choice. That would make a life a whole lot simpler, easier.
In our lesson, a sign of assurance was what God wanted to give King Ahaz. God wanted Ahaz to know that he, the Lord, was with him. And so, we jump into this conversation between God’s prophet, Isaiah, and Ahaz and, as we do so, I wonder if there was some pleading, some begging in the prophet Isaiah’s voice that day as he stood before the king and spoke on the Lord’s behalf. Her is what he said, “Ask the Lord your God for a sign Ask Ahaz. Just ask. Do it. Ask! Ask for a sign! And here is maybe why there was some pleading because Isaiah saw it. He saw the mess that was King Ahaz. And if you don’t know anything about King Ahaz that about sums it up, the guy was a mess.
Here, here is some history about Ahaz, this comes from 2 Chronicles 28. Ahaz became king of Judah at age 20. He reigned 16 years. Here is the key thing: “Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.” Then God gives us his list of failings. He worshiped idols. He sacrificed his own sons in fire. He was a horrible military leader. He lost in battle to the king of Aram. He lost in battle to the king of Israel. In one battle alone, he lost 120,000 soldiers and – and! – then 200,000 of his people were taken captive. Those same two kings who beat up on Ahaz? We find them here in Isaiah 7. They are now allied together hoping to take all of Judah, that southern kingdom from Ahaz, divide it, and install a new king. So, that’s Ahaz. The guy was a mess.
But our God knows all about messy people. So, he sent Isaiah to Ahaz; he sent his prophet in to help this king out. And God through Isaiah says this, “It will not take place, it will not happen.” What won’t happen? What won’t take place? Those two kings won’t succeed God tells Ahaz. I got you. I am with you. Trust me because, as Isaiah said, “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” That was God’s invitation to this messy king. He asks him to trust. Stand firm in what I am telling you and you’ll be fine. But how does Ahaz respond to all this? Silence. He doesn’t respond. He says nothing.
I want us all to see this picture today, not of a king, but of a messy sinner, just like us. And I want us to see the God who didn’t stop offering promises and assurances and invitations to trust. And then I want us to hear again that voice of Isaiah, pleading, ask, Ahaz, ask! “Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”
Stop there for a moment and just think, what would you have asked for? God just gave you a chance to see anything, anything. What would drive away any doubt in your heart for the rest of your life? What would leave you forevermore assured of God and his power? Maybe you’d ask for something that would help others see and believe what you believe… I wonder sometimes what I would’ve wanted to see. I think I would have asked for God to raise a mountain before my very eyes. That would be a sight to behold. A literal reminder to me that faith does move mountains.
And so, this offer, it’s there. Here is God reaching out. Calling out to Ahaz, do you trust me? Let me show you why you can. Ask me and I will give you what all people on this earth want, a sign, proof that I am God. Proof that I am with you. But now watch. Watch that hand and the offer in it be brushed away. Listen as that opportunity to trust is cast aside. Ahaz finally spoke and here is what he said, “I will not ask.” Wow!…
See this again and again in your mind. God reaching. God offering. God promising. Let me give you everything. And sinful messy mankind denying him. Rejecting him. One might not believe it, but there it is. It’s a horrible picture. And it’s one we need to see because in it we might at times find ourselves. God’s ear towards me straining for my cry ready to help, yet my voice silent; refusing to speak. God’s hand reaching down to pick me up but me shuffling aside, running not wanting his aid. God calling, offering me forgiveness, but me staying, preferring the sin. It’s not hard for us to be Ahaz. We may even try to dress up our unbelief as he did. Go back to his response, “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test.”
It sounds so righteous and good doesn’t it? No, no God, I couldn’t bother you. Heaven’s no! You don’t need to prove yourself to me. What an insult. God offered him a sign. God invited him to ask. God looked to strengthen him, but he refused. It’s no wonder Isaiah likely pleaded when he told Ahaz to ask for a sign. He knew. He knew what this could mean for Ahaz. He hoped…yet, Ahaz chose not to believe. That’s the sadness of this story. Ahaz rejected God. He didn’t want God’s help. There stood God’s prophet. There he held God’s offer, but Ahaz politely said, “No thanks.” But God wasn’t done.
That’s the joy of this story. God didn’t walk away. He called out Ahaz’s false humility. “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of men? Will you try the patience of God also?” You can almost hear the sorrow in Isaiah’s voice, “Oh, Ahaz, what are you doing? You don’t want a sign. You don’t want to believe…but the Lord’s going to give you a sign anyways. He’s going to give you what you need. Listen close. Here is his sign to you, to us all.” “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
God’s sign was himself. Entering this world, stepping into human history by being conceived in the womb of a virgin. And in this way being Immanuel – God with us. Think about it. Isn’t this the sign we’ve always craved? Haven’t our hearts been asking for nothing less than this – that God should know what it’s like to be me, to understand my pain, and my hardship, and my daily struggles. To learn what it means to be here, to be with us. That was the promise. The sign. God would come. And soon, very soon, we will celebrate his virgin birth. The day his eyes first opened, and he saw, and he looked, gathering his own private view of this world with all its sin and ruin. But then that child wouldn’t walk away and leave us in our sin to perish, no that’s why he came, that he might do the one thing he could not do in heaven. He came here to die. He came to free us from this world of sin. He came not just to be with us, but to make it so that we could forever be with him.
And I want us to remember to whom this sign was given. A king lost in unbelief, a messy sinner who needed a Savior. God sought to be with him. Today, he seeks to be with you, a sinner, often just as messy. If you ever wonder how God feels about you, remember the sign he gave: Immanuel. He promised to be with you, and he was. He was born, a baby, Jesus. It’s to his manger we run this Christmas to gaze unhurried upon that face of deity wrapped in flesh. And there we see him. That’s my God. That’s my Savior. A sign just for me and a promise that in him all my sin is taken away.
I may wish that God would give me a sign when I’m looking to make a tough decision. I may pray that he shows me that I’m making the right choice as I wrestle with a life changing choice. But I don’t need any other sign to know that he loves me. No, I’ve seen that sign. I see it every time I step into his Word and watch my Savior Jesus as he walked this earth and spoke with words of forgiveness and love to sinners. I see it as he cried and cried at the grave of Lazarus, and I see it there on calvary as his chest heaved and his last breath was spent. And I know, there is my Immanuel. So, take a good look this Christmas. Peer into that manger and see the sign the Lord gave to you. It’s Jesus. He came to be with you. Amen