Advent 4 – God’s Kingdom Will Come Through the Child Immanuel
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Who Would Believe It?
Who would believe it? Years ago there was a fisherman. He used to go out to his own small lake because of the tasty pan fish that were there. And, one day, he caught a massive fish. He reeled it in. He got it beside the boat. He even scooped it up with his net. But the net was too small. And the fish was too strong. It wiggled. And the guy had to make a decision as to whether he could go in the lake and probably drown or go home without the fish. He thought about telling his friends about the fish. But then, with sadness, he said those words to himself, “who would believe it?” In the bible God plans and promises vital facts. But in Isaiah’s own life he saw that there were problems with this. It’s the same problem as the fisherman had with the fish. Isaiah knew that God’s word was true. But who would believe it? In Isaiah 7, we see how this this question arises in the lives of the people of Isaiah’s day: “1 This took place during the reign of Ahaz, son of Jotham, son of Uzziah king of Judah: Aram’s King Rezin and Israel’s King Pekah son of Remaliah went to fight against Jerusalem, but they were not able to conquer it. 2 When it became known to the house of David that Aram had occupied Ephraim, the heart of Ahaz and the hearts of his people trembled like trees of a forest shaking in the wind. 3 The Lord said to Isaiah, “Go out with your son Shear-jashub to meet Ahaz at the end of the conduit of the upper pool, by the road to the Launderer’s Field. 4 Say to him: Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering sticks, the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and the son of Remaliah. 7 This is what the Lord GOD says: It will not happen; it will not occur. 8 The chief city of Aram is Damascus, the chief of Damascus is Rezin (within sixty-five years Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people), 9 the chief city of Ephraim is Samaria, and the chief of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you do not stand firm in your faith, then you will not stand at all.” (Is. 7:1–4, 7–9 CSB17)
The context in Isaiah 7 is defeat.1 The nation of Aram came down and defeated Judah and enslaved many of their people. And just as bad as this, their neighbors to the north in Israel went to war with them too. And in one day 120,000 soldiers from Judah died. So the Lord sends Isaiah to speak to his people. Isaiah, in many different ways, tells his people to not be afraid. Their neighbors to the north will not destroy them. And the knee-jerk response of the people of Judah is: who would believe it? And the Lord’s response is fascinating. He tells them that their faith needed to come first. Then, after that, the proof would follow. Long ago, St. Augustine wrote to people who were against God’s word. They said, “when I understand it, I’ll believe it.’” Augustine responded with just the opposite. He said, “believe that you might begin to understand.”2 And my dear friends, the same is true today. How many people are there out there who demand the details. They want God to come down and answer every question and give every detail. And then, maybe, they might take his word seriously.
The irony is that the same people who treat God’s word this way don’t have the same standards for the other parts of their lives. About, maybe, 6 years ago or so, there was a flood in the valley just down the hill from St. George. And the funny fact about that was that MNDOT had already done work on that road. They had already fixed the road. And yet, despite the science, the research, the committees and the money spent, the valley still flooded. How much do you trust MNDOT? And yet, the same people who would not believe the bible, believe MNDOT. And how do they show this? They drive over bridges. Now, if they were honest and sincere, they would stop and inspect every bridge to see if it would support them. They believe first, and then understand later on.
When it comes God’s word, we believe first. And then, only when we trust what the bible says does the world begin to makes sense. The world says that people are basically and intrinsically good. And then they are shocked and surprised when there’s terrorism out there and corruption in congress. The bible says that Adam and Eve sinned and dragged us with them into sin. Who would believe it? The first barrier is whether what God says is possible. But there’s another barrier: “10 Then the Lord spoke again to Ahaz: 11 “Ask for a sign from the Lord your God—it can be as deep as Sheol or as high as heaven.” 12 But Ahaz replied, “I will not ask. I will not test the Lord.”” (Is. 7:10–12 CSB17)
The first barrier is whether what God plans and preaches is possible. But the next is whether it is permissible. You see, for Ahaz, the issue wasn’t really whether God could do what he promised. He didn’t want God to do what he promised. Ahaz had idols he followed. And he knew that if he acknowledged that God’s promises were true then he would have to acknowledge that his own idols were false. The would then have to repent of them and throw them away and trust in the Lord.
Isn’t the same true for us? Each of us has our idols. We have sinful thoughts and desires that we take comfort and consolation in. And my dear friends, you know what is in your own heart. Is it lustfulness, laziness? Is it stubbornness or pridefulness? Is it prejudice? Is it greed? All of these desires become idols in our hearts. And if the question is, who would believe that God’s word is true,’ we say, “no way!” We say this because, like Ahaz, if God’s word is true, then we have to repent and throw away this long list of sins in our hearts. Who would believe it? For in our own hearts, we say that it’s not permissible.
But, my dear friends in Christ, There is another voice in our hearts. Alongside this old, sinful nature in our hearts, there is a new voice. This new person in us follows our Lord truly, but also weakly. So, on the one hand, our sinful selves say, “I will not permit you to repent.” But on the other hand, our new selves live in fear that The Lord will not permit us to be saved. For God sees what is there in my heart. How could he believe that there’s anything in me worth redeeming. To all this then, listen to our good and gracious Lord as he responds: “13 Isaiah said, “Listen, house of David! Is it not enough for you to try the patience of men? Will you also try the patience of my God? 14 Therefore, the Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel.” (Is. 7:13–14 CSB17)
Our good and gracious Lord responds. First, he responds by sending his Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us faith through water and word. And right along with faith, our Lord gives us repentance to grieve over our idols, hate them, and yearn for forgiveness. Our good and gracious Lord sends the Holy Spirit. But he also sends his Son. And notice how Isaiah speaks about this. There would be a virgin so many years in the future. She would give birth to a Savior for you, who would also be with you. And just one week down the road we have the immense privilege of seeing how this all took place. This salvation was predicted so long ago. It was promised there in Jesus’ birth. It was proven as Jesus lived for us and died for us and rose for us. And it is still promised to us today in our flesh and blood Savior who is still with us, who was tempted in every way just as we are—and yet without sin. And he is still with us to both partner together with us in our weakness, giving us the ability to say, “no” to sin and also going to his Father on our behalf to forgive us when we sin.
And at the end of all of this we might ask the question, “who would believe it?” And each of us can say, “I do.” For the doubting voice inside of us might echo the world, saying, “that’s not possible and not permissible.’” But our Savior is both for us and with us. And with that is full forgiveness. Amen.
1 Cf. 2Chronicles 28
2 Crede, inquam ut intellegas