Mid-week Advent: The Lord Will Give You a Sign--Himself!
“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).
Ahaz, the king of Judah, was in a tight spot—mostly of his own making, and he was very afraid. He was facing two enemies, the northern kingdom of Israel and Syria, both of whom were looking to conquer the Promised Land. To make matters worse: Ahaz was looking in all the wrong places for help. When God offered to help, Ahaz refused, and sought an alliance with heathen Assyria instead. Rather than worshiping and trust the Lord, Ahaz was bowing down to false gods—he even sacrificed his own son as a burnt offering to one idol. We could cite more examples of his faithlessness, but that’s enough to demonstrate that Ahaz was dead in sin and an enemy of God.
But Ahaz was the king of Judah, and God had promised to preserve a remnant of Judah. Therefore, God sent Isaiah to the wicked, fearful king and said, “Ask a sign of the Lord you God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven” (Isaiah 7:11). To which Ahaz responded, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” Unfortunately, Ahaz kept his near-perfect record of disobedience alive.
It’s normally wrong to demand signs from God. It’s an act of distrust—unless God tells you to ask for a sign. This was Ahaz’s golden opportunity, and he wanted nothing to do with it. We thus acknowledge the Scriptural truth that sinners are not only dead and enemies of God, but also spiritually blind.
Even though Ahaz would not ask, God would still give His sign: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. He shall eat curds and honey when he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good. For before the boy knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land whose two kings you dread will be deserted” (Isaiah 7:14-16).
Regarding this passage, Martin Luther notes that there are two signs. On the one hand, the Lord was promising Ahaz that in short order—during the nine months of gestation and the typical time until the weaning of a child—He would deliver Judah from the two kings threatening them. In fact, their subjects would be fully swept away by exile. On the other hand, the Lord promised something remarkably different from a typical pregnancy, a miracle that would have shocked Ahaz’s unbelieving hearts: a virgin will conceive and give birth to a Son.[i]
In itself, that’s quite a miracle. But there’s even more going on here. The Lord has eternal salvation in mind, not simply Judah’s temporal deliverance. Note the name: Immanuel. Literally, “God with us.” This virgin-born son would be no ordinary child. He would be Yahweh in in human flesh. He would be the holy, almighty, eternal God with finger and toes just like Ahaz. Just like you and me. Furthermore, He would be sinless, righteous. Instead of a blind, dead enemy of God, this child would actually choose the right, not the wrong.
You know what all that means: that sign wouldn’t be just an empty, feel-good symbol to give Ahaz peace of mind. That sign would be the Lord God Himself in human flesh, doing all that was necessary to win salvation for all the world. That Son of Mary and God would grow up, go to the cross, and die as the perfect sacrifice atoning for the sins of the world.
Now, to highlight God’s faithfulness even more, consider this: Ahaz didn’t repent. He went on to live a life so wicked that his people chose not to bury him with the other kings because he didn’t deserve the honor. Ahaz chose to sacrifice his own son rather than trust in God’s Son who would sacrifice Himself.
But even though Ahaz was faithless, God remained faithful. God kept the promise. He sent the sign. The Son was born. And here is your good news: That Son is Immanuel. That Son is God in human flesh. That Son is your Savior.
Jesus is the Messiah who was foretold by the prophets, not some wannabe who claimed the title for himself and then died. In our Epistle, St. Paul declares that Jesus descended from David according to the flesh—in other words, He was fully human, just like you. In fact, He is more human than you, because He does not suffer the corruption of sin that makes you less than God made you to be.
Furthermore, Jesus is the Son of God, as demonstrated by His resurrection from the dead. Remember, you don’t just need nice feelings of grace and peace, or a new way of life. You need a Savior who saves you from being dead and an enemy of God. This is what He has done. Jesus, the Son of God, became flesh—human, just like you—in order to be dead in your place. He shouldered all of your sin and sinfulness that would have you dead for eternity, and He bore that awful mess to the cross on your behalf.
On the cross, Christ became the enemy of God as God made Him to be sin for you. On the cross, the Father turned His face away from His Son. Why? So that He might turn His face toward you—so that He might say, “You are no longer dead, because My Son has made you alive. You are no longer My enemy, because My Son has made you My beloved child.”
You needed real grace and peace for your body and soul, your thoughts and words and deeds. So Jesus became flesh, to be perfect in body and soul, to think pure thoughts, speak true words, and perform godly deeds for you. He has done this to robe you in His righteousness, to give you the credit for His perfection and perfect life. He has done this to die in your place, to take away your sin, so that He might raise you up as He has been raised from the dead.
How do you know this is true? Once again the Lord will give you a sign. And let’s be clear: He does not point to empty signs that merely symbolize. He gives you signs that contain the fullness of the promise.
The Lord will give you a sign—Himself!
God gives you the sign of His Word; and don’t forget the Christmas news that Jesus is the Word made flesh. Where God’s Word is present, He is present. In other words, when I speak God’s Word to you, I don’t just speak about Jesus to you. I speak Jesus Himself to you, because He’s present in His Word. Jesus remains Immanuel. He is God with you, as present as He was in the manger when the Virgin gave birth. The Lord will give you a sign—Himself!
God gives you the sign of water in Holy Baptism—not an empty sign, because Jesus is there. He remains Immanuel. At your Baptism, He said, “I am with you always. You’re not dead in sin, because I’ve joined you to My death and resurrection. You’re not My enemy, because I’ve made you My beloved child.” Your Baptism was not just a fine wish or a good intention. There, God-with-us was with you, and is with you to this day. The Lord will give you a sign—Himself!
God gives you the sign of bread and wine in Holy Communion, and there is no doubt that Jesus is there. The same body and blood that Mary held in her arms, that died on the cross, that rose on the third day, is given for you, for the forgiveness of sins. Your Savior is not far away. He is present, He is Immanuel. God-with-us, with you, for the forgiveness of sins.
The Lord will give you a sign—Himself! And because God is with you to save, you are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.