Isaiahs Audacious Hope

Isaiah 7:14

December 3, 2006 | Brian Bill

Do you know that after today, there are only 21 more shopping days left until Christmas?  Some people panic when they hear this but for me it means that I still have three weeks before I have to begin my shopping!  Doesn’t it seem like a lot of stores start their sales earlier each year?  Instead of waiting until Thanksgiving to kick off Christmas now we’re hearing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” right after Halloween.  If this keeps up, Labor Day will launch the crush of the Christmas rush.  How many of you went shopping on “Black Friday?”  Retailers love this day because it helps them get in the “black” financially.  Beth was at a store by 5:00 a.m. but returned before the sun was up because of long lines and short fuses.  

Against our culture’s call to consume the clutter of Christmas, stands the simple yet profound season of Advent.  This word means “coming” and refers to the coronation of a King.  Traditionally it’s been a time for prayer, penitence and preparation to help believers slow down enough to savor the Savior’s birth.  I see Advent as a spiritual journey that helps us focus on the greatest gift of all so that we can worship the Word made flesh with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.  Special music and readings and candles and sermons will help us reflect and rejoice.  As we experience the ancient/future dimension of this time of the year, it strikes me that one can never start too early when getting ready for something really big.

While we are not known to be a liturgical church, we’ll be using an Advent Wreath with four candles, said by some to represent the four centuries of waiting between Malachi and Matthew.   We’ll light a different candle each week, shining the light on the themes of hope, peace, joy and love through different readings by families in our church.  This will help create a sense of expectation so that we don’t just get caught up in the consumerism of our culture.  Many of you will be having special meal times around an Advent Wreath in your home as well.  Using rich reminders from Scriptures our aim is to keep the Christ of Christmas present in the midst of all the presents as we focus on his first “coming” to this world.  We want His beauty to shine bright in the busyness of our lives.  And that can only happen when we slow down.

Introduction to Isaiah

Allow me to make just a few points that will serve as an introduction to this book.

  • Isaiah has been called the “fifth gospel” because it is filled with so much good news. 
  • While the book is brimming with glory and good news, it also contains some gloom as well.  This is summed up in Isaiah 60:2: “See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.”  
  • Isaiah was written about 700 years before the time of Christ, a fact that should cause us to wonder and worship as we contemplate how specifically these prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus.  Isaiah would say that one can never start too early when getting ready for something really big.
  • This book contains some of the most beautiful language ever written and was quoted by Jesus extensively. Since Isaiah was one of His favorite books, then we should consider what it has to say as well.  Isaiah is called a “major” prophet for two reasons.  First, his book is one of the longest and second his message is very meaty.
  • Some have pointed out that the 66 chapters in Isaiah serve as a “miniature” Bible, since there are 66 books in the Bible.  The first 39 chapters correspond to the “law” of the Old Testament; while the final 27 correspond to the “liberty” taught in the New Testament.  
  • While there are many themes to this wonderful book, I want to mention just three:
    • God is in control.
    • The Messiah is coming.
    • God always has a remnant that stays committed to Him.

Isaiah’s name means “Jehovah saves” and he ministered for more than fifty years during the reigns of four different kings.  He was impacted when the northern kingdom of ten tribes, referred to as Israel, was destroyed and its inhabitants were led into captivity.  Ministering in the south in the land of Judah during a time of cultural corruption (kind of sounds like our country today), part of his mission was to warn the people that the same thing would happen to them unless they repent.  His opening words begin with a complaint in Isaiah 1:4: “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt…” and yet he continued to offer words of hope throughout the book.  

I titled this sermon “Isaiah’s Audacious Hope.”   The word “audacious” means to be bold and fearless.  Isaiah is bold about his longing for something more.  He dared to believe that something better was coming even though his culture was corrupt and everything around him seemed so dark.  We can summarize Isaiah’s audaciousness by looking at what he said in 64:1: “Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down…”  He is longing for the Lord to somehow come down into his world to make sense out of all the nonsense, to bring peace to all the problems, to dispel the darkness and to extricate evil.  Isaiah is hungry to have the Holy One enter our whacked-out world in an extraordinary manner.  Brothers and sisters, aren’t you glad that the Lord has come down?  

Let’s let our fingers do the walking as we look at four passages rather quickly – chapters 7, 9, 11 and 53.  I’m hoping that by doing this we’ll get a composite picture of what Christmas is all about in the mind of Isaiah because one can never start too early when getting ready for something really big.

1. A Sure Sign (Isaiah 7).

When we come to chapter 7, an evil king named Ahaz is on the throne.  He had deliberately disobeyed God and as a result his kingdom came under attack from all quarters.  Look at verse 2“So the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.”  Friend, if you don’t know God when trouble comes, you too will be shaken to the very core of your being.  Instead of turning to the Lord, Ahaz begins to think about partnering with the evil empire of Assyria.  At this crucial time, God in His great love and mercy toward the house of David, took the initiative and sent Isaiah the prophet to help King Ahaz. 

Isaiah points out in verse 9 that “if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.”  This is really a pun in Hebrew that can be translated like this: “If there is no belief, you will find no relief.” In verse 10 we read that he was supposed to ask for a sign that would help him believe.    In verse 12 we see that Ahaz refused to ask for a sign.  This lights Isaiah up in verse 13: “Hear now, you house of David!  Is it not enough to try the patience of men?  Will you try the patience of my God also?”  Then we come to this remarkable prophetic passage in verse 14: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign.  The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel.”  Let’s notice a few things:

  • The Lord Himself will give the sign.  That’s similar to what Abraham said in Genesis 22:8: “God himself will provide the lamb.”   
  • The sign was given to all of us.  The word “you” in this passage is plural, indicating that it was not just a sign to Ahaz but to everyone as the angel made clear in Luke 2:10: “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”  Verse 13 mentions that this sign is specifically given to the “house of David.”
  • The sign will be a son born to a virgin.   In the Hebrew, there is a grammatical interjection that should read, Behold, the virgin will be with child…”  It’s used to arrest attention, to indicate the importance of what is about to be said.  This is no ordinary pregnancy and no ordinary birth.  A virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son.  This would certainly stand out as a miraculous sign.  
  • The Son would be God incarnate.  The name Immanuel means, “The strong God with us.”  While this was not Jesus’ proper name, it was a name that belonged to Him as an attribute.  This is who He is.  From the point of this miraculous birth on, God would Himself be present among His people.  This verse is quoted in Matthew 1:22-23: “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel’ – which means, ‘God with us.’”

Did Ahaz understand all this?  No.  Was it fulfilled during his lifetime?  No.  It was a prophecy, focusing on the future, given to all people so that God could be with all people for all time to be a sure sign.

2. A Sent Son (Isaiah 9).

Let’s quickly set this text in context.  This original birth announcement was made in the midst of grief and gloom.  Look at verse 1: “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.  In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan.” Zebulun and Naphtali are tribes from the north of Israel, making up the land of Galilee.  For many years the people in this region knew only grief because of the onslaught of enemies unleashed by the Almighty as a result of their sins.  Because they lived closest to the bad guys they were the first ones attacked.   Isaiah tells of a time in the future where gloom will be replaced with gladness in Galilee.  Don’t miss the fact that the ministry of Jesus was grounded in Galilee.  

Christmas joy is best understood with the junk of life all around us because gladness comes when we’re grieving

Loved ones, Christmas was, and is, birthed in the midst of great grief.  While the angels were proclaiming “peace on earth,” Herod was preparing to annihilate infants; while Mary was worshipping, other mothers were weeping for their children (see Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:18).  Christmas joy is best understood with the junk of life all around us because gladness comes when we’re grieving.  Is that where you’re at today?  That’s OK if you are because that’s exactly where Immanuel will meet you.

Verse 2 describes how the birth of Christ will bring brightness to a dark world: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”  I’m looking forward to our Christmas Eve service again this year as we light candles to show the impact that Christ has made on a dark world.  In referring to Himself in John 8:12, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  In Isaiah 9:4, we read that the enemies of Israel had burdened the people with “bars across their shoulders.”  When the light of life comes, the heavy yoke will be shattered.  Instead of wiping us out, Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” In the place of burdens, God wants to give us blessings.

Look at Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”  Our family was up at Moody Bible Institute’s Candlelight Carols Friday night and heard the choirs sing these words as part of the Messiah.  Some of our own people will be singing parts of this in the weeks to come before Christmas.  The phrase “to us” means “for us, for our benefit” and the emphasis is on the child.  The baby was given for our benefit.  This verse sets forth the indescribable uniqueness of Jesus.  Notice that both His humanity and deity is described.  We see attributes of God and characteristics of man.

“For to us a child is born.”  This describes his birth as a baby.

“To us a son is given.”  Jesus is God’s Son given as a gift.

The child was birthed in Bethlehem and the gift of the eternal Son is given to us.  On top of that, the “government will be upon His shoulders.”  This means that all the expectations of the throne of King David are fulfilled in Christ (see 2 Samuel 7:13-16).  The baby bundled in the straw holds the universe together.  The one nestled on Mary’s shoulders, bears everything on His shoulders.  He is redeemer and ruler of all.  Part of the reason we have been inoculated by the incarnation and even bored with the baby is because we focus only on the infant Jesus.  He is far more than that as we see in his four-fold titles.  The phrase, “and He will be called” means “He will justly bear this name…”  

  • He is Profound – “Wonderful Counselor.”  
  • He is Powerful – “Mighty God.”  
  • He is Personal – “Everlasting Father.”  
  • He is Peaceful – “Prince of Peace.”  

It’s amazing to me that Isaiah not only knew that Immanuel would be born to a virgin as a sure sign; but he also understood that He would be the sent Son.  We’re reminded of what Gabriel said to Mary in Luke 1:32: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”  He’s a sure sign and a sent Son.  Third, He’s…

3. A Shoot from a Stump (Isaiah 11).

Turn now to Isaiah 11:1-2: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.  The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him…”  During the snowstorm on Thursday night, one of our trees bent over from all the ice and was hitting our house.  Early on Friday we went out and cut part of it down.  It doesn’t look very good anymore and we wonder if the rest of the tree will make it.  In Isaiah’s day it felt hopeless because it seemed like the only thing left were stumps.  The northern kingdom had been destroyed and things were looking bleak for the south.  Do you ever feel like that?  Have the stumps in your life harpooned your hope?  

But wait.  A shoot will come up from the stump.  Jesse is the father of King David and it’s through his line that the Savior will come to the world.  Listen to the words of Luke 2:4: “So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David.”  Jesus is described in Revelation 5:5 as “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David.”  This shoot will become a Branch that will bear fruit from the root of David.  Once again Isaiah uses a play on words.  The word “branch” in Hebrew means “nezer.”  What’s cool about that is that Jesus spent a lot of time in Nazareth.  Notice also that the Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.

We tend to count the shopping days until Christmas; what we should be doing is counting the days until Christ comes again in glory and power so that we’re ready for His return

Isaiah is not only able to catch a vision of the Savior as a shoot, he can see a time when peace will prevail, previewing the angels’ proclamation to the shepherds in Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”  He fleshes this out in a series of amazing contrasts to show that during His Second Advent, Jesus will usher in a time of protracted peace.  There’s a lot here but allow me to just quote Isaiah 11:6: “The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.”  When Jesus comes again, He will come as the conquering King and the Prince of Peace.  We tend to count the shopping days until Christmas; what we should be doing is counting the days until Christ comes again in glory and power so that we’re ready for His return.

Isaiah gives a sure sign, he points to the sent Son, he ties the Messiah to David’s throne as the shoot from a stump, and finally He is…

4. A Suffering Savior (Isaiah 53).

Jesus came at Christmas so that by suffering and ultimately sacrificing Himself as our substitute, we can be saved from our sins.  This purpose is stated from the very beginning of the Nativity account in Matthew 1:21: “She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”  

There is an amazing amount of pinpoint prophecies in Isaiah 53 that describe the substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross but, I want to read just three verses.  As I do, think with me about what Jesus bought for us, not on black Friday, but on Good Friday.  Listen to Isaiah 53:3-5: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.  Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.  Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.” One can never start too early when getting ready for something really big.

A man from China who was converted to Christ told this story:  A man fell into a dark, slimy pit.  He tried to climb out of the pit, but he couldn’t.  Confucius came along, saw the man and said, “Poor fellow, had he listened to me, he never would have gotten there,” and he went on.  Buddha came along and saw the man in the pit and said, “Poor fellow, if he’ll come up here, I’ll help him,” and he too kept on walking.  Then Jesus Christ came along and said, “Poor fellow.”  And then he jumped down into the pit and lifted him out.

I’ve often wondered what Isaiah knew about Immanuel.  Ministering seven centuries before Christmas, how could he be so specific?  

  • Jesus is a sure sign
  • He is the sent Son
  • He is the shoot from a stump
  • He is the suffering Savior

Isaiah wrote about the future but his words seem to indicate that he saw the Savior with his own eyes.  Listen to John 12:41: “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him.”  

Jesus came not only to be born in this world but to be born in us.  One can never start too early when getting ready for something really big.  Are you ready right now to receive the Christ of Christmas?   Isaiah’s promises about Christ give us hope and when they’re fulfilled in us they bring peace.  But like a present, Jesus must be received.  I love the words in Isaiah 65:1-2: “I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me…all day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations.”

A woman was in the mall doing her Christmas shopping and was stressed out trying to find the perfect present for everyone on her list.  Knowing that her credit cards were almost maxed out, she couldn’t wait for Christmas to be over.  With her arms full of gifts she tried to get in a crowded elevator.  As she squeezed in with the other weary shoppers she exclaimed, “Whoever came up with Christmas out to be strung up and killed!”  Several around her shook their heads in agreement.  Then, from somewhere in the back a voice spoke up: “Don’t worry.  They already did that to Him.”

Loved ones, let’s not miss the meaning behind Christmas this year.  As a way to keep us from falling into our culture’s consumerism trap, we’re going to gather around the table of remembrance right now.  Isaiah 64:9 summarizes our plight and our plea: “Do not be angry beyond measure, O Lord; do not remember our sins forever…” and Isaiah 1:18 gives us the promise: “Come now, let us reason together…though you sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be like wool.”   Now that’s something big worth getting ready for.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?