A Weary World Rejoices – Isaiah 7/Luke 2 – A Sign
We live in the age of 24/7 news and 2020 has been a year of lots of news-anybody had news overload this year? Whether it’s politics, coronavirus, lockdowns or the economy-but there was a very important news story that took place last week-and it was this-the Utah monolith. Anybody hear about this? It was discovered in a remote, redrock canyon south of Moab, Utah. The monolith stands about 12 feet high and seems to be 3 pieces of aluminum riveted together and firmly placed in the ground. It was discovered on Nov 18 but the Utah Bureau of Land Management didn’t reveal the location in order to keep people from flocking to it and getting stranded in the desert. But you can pretty much find out everything on the internet so thanks to sleuths on Google Earth the coordinates were posted on social media and dozens of people began making the journey that required an SUV on a rocky road and then having to go on foot and hike the rest of the way into the canyon. But plenty of people made it-as you can see-pics. One person’s post said-Thanksgiving Day treasure hunt. Makes me wish we lived a lot closer to Utah-that would have been my Thanksgiving Day hunt! It was actually removed the Friday after Thanksgiving so it was only there for just over a week making its mysterious appearance all that more mysterious. But people were drawn to it-why? First of all it was a shiny thing in the middle of the desert-who doesn’t like that? It was in a remote place, you had to journey to find it. But it’s also very representative of the science fiction film 2001: A Space Odyssey-and if you’ve ever seen that film there’s a monolith in the desert that comes from beyond our world. The monolith was a sign saying that we’re not alone in the universe-there’s life or a higher power out there. It was a source of wonder and amazement in the film-which is what everyone was feeling last week who went out to see it in Utah. Even though everybody knew it was probably staged-it brought a feeling of awe that maybe something’s out there. But here’s what I find so fascinating. That while Google Earth reveals that it showed up on images taken from October 2016, its November discovery of this year in 2020 was by a group of guys in a helicopter working for the Wildlife Division who were counting bighorn sheep in southeastern Utah. It amazed them so much when they flew overhead they flew back and landed in order to see it up close. Here they are-pic.
And now the big question-what would you call a group of guys who count sheep for a living? Shepherds! Certainly modern-day shepherds in a helicopter-but shepherds nonetheless. So here’s something incredible discovered by a bunch of shepherds that amazed them so much they had to go see it for themselves and quickly the news of what they saw spread and all who heard it were amazed because this was like some sort of sign from beyond our world. Does this story sound familiar? The reports of shepherds going viral? But instead of a shiny cylindrical monolith standing in the desert, we’re talking about a child wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in the manger. Instead of something that was put there in 2016, we’re talking about someone who’s eternal. That instead of supposedly being a sign that we’re not alone in the universe and there’s life out there, this child literally is the sign that we’re not alone because He’s the maker of the universe and the source of all life. So this sign isn’t just for those heard the shepherd’s story last week and hiked into the canyons of Utah to see it for themselves; this is a sign for everyone to see because as the angel said to the shepherds-Luke 2:10,12. A most obscure sign in a most unlikely place-not a desert canyon but a manger in a stable. And tracing the thread of that sign is what we’re going to do as we continue our Advent series. What did the angel say to the shepherd-good news of great joy. That’s what this sign is all about-A Weary World Rejoices. This is a sign of rejoicing!
So open your Bibles to Isaiah 7 this morning-we’ll get to Luke-but we’re going to start at the origin of this sign. And it doesn’t start off with the shepherds, instead it starts off with a king who has an important decision to make. Take a look at Isa 7:10-11. Now that’s an interesting request from God. Usually it’s the other way around and we say-Lord, give me a sign. I don’t know what to do, show me something, anything, give me some direction, let me know you’re out there and you’ve got this. Who hasn’t asked the Lord for a sign before? I think we all have-and when do we most often ask God for a sign? When we’re clueless about what to do, or when we’re scared because all seems hopeless and uncertain. Lord, give me a sign this will work out-otherwise I’m done for-make it clear I’ll be okay! Again, words I’m sure we’ve all uttered. But how about this verse-when God says-Can I give you a sign? Why don’t you ask me for a sign-in fact, make it as high or as deep as you want, make it as grand as you want. Just ask me for a sign, anything. Wouldn’t we love to hear this request from God? Even more importantly, how would you answer it? Lord, can you give me a sign that I’ll be a millionaire one day? Can you give me a sign that this is the right job to take; that this is the right career path for me. Can you give me a sign that Covid will end and the world will return to normal? Isn’t this what we want to hear from God? But this is how He approached King Ahaz. It was like a blank check, just fill the amount-v. 11.
Now who is King Ahaz? Interestingly enough he was a wicked, evil king of Judah in his mid-30’s. Now Judah was the southern kingdom of Israel, which tends to be the more godly of the two kingdoms of Israel after they split. But even Judah had plenty of bad kings and it tells us in 2 Kings that Ahaz participated in the despicable practices of the surrounding nations. He worshipped false gods, he sacrificed to their pagan altars, even burned his own son as an offering to the false gods. So this was an evil king to say the least. And yet God’s grace runs so deep that it even extends to the worst of the worst. Don’t miss that! How can I give you a sign, King Ahaz? And why is God asking that? Because King Ahaz was facing the imminent threat of an invading army and he was scared to death. Take a look at Isa 7:1. So here’s Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel basically coming after their own people, the southern half of the kingdom that Ahaz was ruling. As he stands on his deck in Jerusalem, he looks out and sees this army ready to attack him and destroy his kingdom and city. Look at his response-Isa 7:2. They were petrified! And wouldn’t you be? You’re surrounded, half the army used to be your own Israelite people-and now they’re trying to invade you! But God calls the prophet Isaiah to go and encourage King Ahaz. Listen to this message-Isa 7:4, 7, 9. God has given this evil king all the reassurance he could ever want. God is telling him to not be afraid, to not be shaking with fear like trees in the wind, to trust Him-but he has to stand firm in faith-which is always the case. That message from God has never changed. When we’re shaking with fear, when we feel surrounded on all sides, when everything looks hopeless and disaster seems certain, God tells us to stand firm in our faith-and that isn’t some nebulous or foolish thing. By faith God doesn’t mean some desperate yearning that all will go right. He means faith in Him who’s in control of all things-so faith is always the wisest course of action, especially in moments of fear. That’s what He’s commanding King Ahaz-and that’s the context for his request-back to Isa 7:10-11. This is why God is offering a sign. This is the purpose of His sign. And that’s Pt1:The King’s sign: To not be weary but stand in faith. This sign will function as a clear, undeniable statement that God can totally be trusted, that He’s totally in control; that despite an army surrounding him and hopelessness on all sides-God knows what He’s doing. This sign will reinforce the validity and value of faith in Him. So King Ahaz stands at a crossroads-as we often do too. Will we trust or not? Will we stand in faith or not? Will we grow weary in fearful times-or rest in the fact that God’s got this? Who is our source of confidence? Is is the circumstance-or is it our Creator? Big questions.
Look at how Ahaz answers-Isa 7:12. This is false humility to the core. And maybe you’ve known people who’s false humility has only landed them in trouble-but that’s where it’s landed King Ahaz. No, no, Lord-I could never demand a sign from you-that would be awfully presumptuous of me. He’s trying to sound spiritual-but it’s anything but spiritual. He’s trying to say that by asking God for a sign he’s somehow being arrogant or proud so he’s not going to do such a thing. But his false humility only reveals the fact that he’s not believing God and unwilling to look at the sign God wants to give him. As one commentator said-King Ahaz is intending to bet on himself and his ability to broker an alliance against his two foes. He thinks he can wiggle out of this, or talk his way out of this, or find a way himself. That instead of trusting that God’s got this, he’s thinking I’ve still got this. That even though he’s shaking in fear like a tree in the wind, he’s still betting on himself and unwilling to trust in God and the reassuring sign God wants to give him. And before we go any further in the story-have you been there before? Have you exhibited false humility and bet on yourself instead of showing real humility and trusting God? Have you felt overcome with fear, surrounded by difficulties on all sides, consumed by challenges-and somehow still bet on yourself to make a way instead of trusting in how God will lead you? This sign to King Ahaz is always the sign God wants to show us-back to Pt1. All across the pages of God’s Word we’re told this truth again and again-to trust God, to lean on Him, not trust in our own understanding, to be confident in the Lord and stand in faith. And God doesn’t treat it as a small thing when we don’t do that. Look at what God tells Isaiah to say to Ahaz-Isa 7:13. The irony is profound! Isaiah is saying-You’re making God weary by your lack of faith in Him when you’re weary! God’s reached out in grace, when you’ve least deserved, when you’ve hit rock bottom and are surrounded by disaster, God is promising to give you a sign of His great power and protection! Why would you turn that down? He wants to speak to you and show you His glory-why will you not listen or see it? God’s grace is so evident to Ahaz. But look at the sign God does provide-here’s where this is all funneling-Isa 7:14. Remember how God told Ahaz to ask for a sign as deep as the depths or as high as heaven? God’s sign goes far deeper and far higher than Ahaz ever would have imagined! It’s a sign that comes to us in fearful times. It’s a sign that comes to us when all is hopeless and we’re surrounded by disaster on all sides-but it isn’t the disaster of invading armies, it’s the disaster of our sin. It’s the spiritual darkness of our own souls that threaten to undo us-and so God’s sign comes just when we need it most. What does that name mean, who is this child to be born? Immanuel-God with us. And that sign is as clear and unmistakeable as it could be-because when does this sign show up? 700 years later.
Turn to Luke 2 where we’ll see this sign again-Luke 2:8. Some guys counting sheep, making sure they’re all there. Good shepherds don’t let any go missing-but instead of using helicopters to count them, they herd them with their staff, maybe there’s a good sheep dog out there too. But it’s just a bunch of guys doing what they always do, regularly patrolling the sheep. And on this night I’m sure they weren’t expecting anything different-just like the guys in Utah weren’t expecting anything different. They didn’t expect to see some shiny object on the ground-and these shepherds didn’t expect the sky to become all shiny-but it did-brilliantly-Luke 2:9. Who wouldn’t be filled with fear at this! It’s like flood lamps instantly lit up the nighttime sky. One moment it was pitch black the next moment everything is shiny and bright. And that brings us back to the angels words-Luke 2:10. This is a message for everyone. Not just the shepherds who happened to be there that night. Not just for Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. Not just for the people who lived back in Bible times-but for all of us for all time, even way back in King Ahaz’ time. And what’s the message-Luke 2:11. That message is an historical fact-something that happened on that particular day-that being the day our Savior was born who is Christ the Lord. And don’t miss the weight of that sentence. The eternal, infinite One-the 2nd Person of the Trinity who had no beginning and will have no end-the One who was with God and was God, who made all things and without Him there wasn’t anything made that was made-that One had an earthly beginning on planet earth. And a bunch of shepherds were the first to discover it. These guys who hung out in the fields, away from the city lights, who society may have forgotten about with all the hustle and bustle from the census in Bethlehem. These working class, uneducated, minimum-wage guys counting sheep were the first to discover the most transforming message our planet has ever heard-and what was the proof of the message-Luke 2:12. Not in a desert canyon but a manger in a stable. Something so massive and mighty from beyond our world-the Maker of our world-but with a sign so simple-a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes. And this sign is the fulfillment of the sign from Isaiah 7-the virgin shall conceive and bear a son. But instead of just being the prophecy of what’s to come in Isaiah, it’s now the reality of who’s arrived. Because that son is now here. The virgin Mary has given birth. Immanuel has come-God with us. What we lost at Eden-God used to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden until they sinned-now returns at Christmas. Immanuel has come! Pt2:The Shepherds’ sign: To not be afraid but go and see. Head there, follow the sign and see Him for yourself.
That’s what a sign is all about-that’s why a sign exists-go and see what it’s pointing you to. There’s all sorts of signs on the interstate telling you what’s at the different exits-and if it’s a Chick-fil-a sign or Starbucks of course you’re exiting! The worst is when you take the exit and realize the sign didn’t tell you how far the restaurant actually is from the interstate-and there’s another sign saying it’s 5 miles to the right and you wonder-Why did I take this exit? I thought it was right here off the road-I don’t want to drive into town! Thankfully the shepherds were willing to take the exit and drive into town. They wanted to see what the sign was pointing to. Luke 2:15-16. They went immediately, without waiting or finishing off their work shift or taking a quick nap-but with haste they went to see it for themselves. These ordinary shepherds were the first guests at the Savior’s arrival. The first people besides Mary and Joseph to witness the miracle of God in the flesh. The first invites to see the tangible proof of God’s great salvation, which was promised so long ago but is now a breathing, living reality-the baby lying in a manger. Something so massive wrapped up so small.
I like what David Jeremiah says-Why the Nativity, 82. Don’t you envy their experience. I certainly do. Knowing what happened-if God would have asked me before I was born-You interested in being a 1st century shepherd working outside of Bethlehem? It’s low pay and long hours, lot of sheep-I would have said yes and jumped at the chance! What an opportunity to see the arrival of Jesus for myself! Just as I would have jumped at the chance to hike through the canyons of Utah last week to see the monolith for myself. But while the monolith has vanished-it was either stolen or beamed back into space (clearly I’m going with the latter option!) But while the monolith has vanished and the opportunity to see it is gone-the opportunity to see Jesus is just as available for you and me today. But what did God tell King Ahaz-Isa 7:9. It has always been based on faith and seeing God’s sign through the eyes of faith-which is how everyone else has responded to the shepherd’s news. Take a look at Luke 2:17-18. They couldn’t flock to the manger or descend upon Mary and Joseph. We don’t read about dozens of random people showing up and taking selfies with Baby Jesus to post on social media. But there certainly was a heart response. Luke uses this word amazed over 15 times-even at Jesus’ resurrection when the disciples saw the scars in his hands and feet-they were amazed, Luke says, and full of joy. Being amazed is a response of the heart; it’s really a forerunner of faith. It’s a heart that’s been kindled and stirred-ready to experience the Lord and only satisfied until you know Him and trust Him. That kind of response came from those who first heard the shepherds’ news, who heard about the sign the shepherds saw, and it ought to be the same response of our hearts too.
Do you remember why this sign was given to the shepherds-back to Luke 2:10-11. As we’ve been saying-this isn’t good news of great joy for those who had the chance to be there that first Christmas-this is good news of great joy for all of us. That’s Pt3:Our response:To not ignore Christ but rejoice and receive Him. Will you receive Christ into your heart? Will you see the sign of His birth that Christmas announces every year-and not just be a spectator but a participant? That through the eyes of faith you also see that sign for yourself-something so massive-the Son of God-wrapped up so small in swaddling clothes. We read about a King who had every reason to embrace the sign God wanted to give him. He was surrounded by fear and uncertainty-just as we are in 2020. He and his people were weary and worried that their kingdom might collapse and fall-a lot of those same worries are happening today. Just as the king was gripped with fear-so we’ve been gripped with fear-and yet somehow he foolishly ignored God’s sign. He bet on himself and said I’ll be okay, I’ll trust myself and figure this out. But we can’t do that. You can’t do that. God figured this out long ago and He sent His Son to save us because He knew that on our own we’re lost, dead in our sins. We couldn’t try our best, do lots of good deeds and ascend to heaven when we die. That’s impossible-we’ll never be good enough. That’s why His Son descended to earth. That’s why His Son was born to the virgin Mary, wrapped in swaddling and laid in a manger. He came to live the perfect life we never could-in order to die the death we deserved-so that we could be saved from our sins. Immanuel-God with us. What we lost in Eden now returns at Christmas! Is there a better reason to rejoice? I return back to Jeremiah, 71. Has there been a Nativity in your heart? I’m sure you’ll see lots of Nativity sets in people’s homes or set up in their front yards or even on the front of Christmas cards-it’s a common decortation-but will their be a Nativity in your heart? That the sign promised so long ago-that the shepherds went and saw-will be a relationship with the Savior who dwells within you? That’s what brings us to communion.