Sunday, 16 December 2018

Sunday Sermon: Emmanuel

Sermon by David Williams
Is 7:1-17, Matt 1:18-24

What is your preparation for Christmas? When did you start?  God started centuries before, as soon as the first sin occurred (Gen 3).  Do you raise the hype?  God gave many foretastes, prophecies of a coming Messiah. Many are in Isaiah (eg Is 9, 53 etc), a turbulent time when the message gave hope – is our situation too easy?

How is your knowledge of Old Testament history?  The kingdom was divided Israel/Judah after Solomon.  In the eighth century, Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Syria threatened Judah, wanting help against Assyria, the dominant power.  Judah needed help!  Are things ganging up on you? You need help!  They thought of appealing to Assyria; Isaiah said to trust in God.

The king, Ahaz, did not want to trust in God without reassurance, and demanded a sign.  God gave a message that God was with them, the sign of Emmanuel (God is with us).  When a young woman is with child, her deliverance is inevitable, and will be soon – so it will be with them, because God was with them.  Here there is no miracle – they were told to trust in God’s word.  It was a small sign, but with a big promise!

It was not enough for Ahaz, who appealed to Assyria, who indeed came and dealt with Pekah and Rezin.  But! A human solution became a problem, and Assyria then soon threatened Judah – was God indeed with them?  But God was indeed with them, and not so long afterwards, in 722BC, came a decisive defeat of Assyria by the angel (Is 37:33f).  But did they learn? Not long after that, the next king entertained emissaries from Babylon, the ascendant world power, which a century later conquered Judah and took it into exile.

Then came Matthew 1, another situation where salvation resulted, not politically, but from individual sin, and Matthew cites the same sign of Emmanuel.  Even after centuries, the Bible was still relevant – and still is.  But now the sign is upgraded!  This time it is really a virgin, who has conceived.  So there is a stress on GRACE!  (it must be noted here that the Hebrew word in Isaiah 7 definitely means “young woman” and not “virgin”, but the translators into Greek two centuries before Christ rendered it as “virgin”, a translation cited by Matthew.

But now the sign of Emmanuel carries a deeper meaning as it is applied to the incarnation. Jesus gives a deeper relation; God works within a person, not just outside in society.  He gives a fuller salvation, eternal life, not just temporary solution.

Interestingly Matthew then adds chapter 2, the response of worship.  It deals with three kings from the east, now coming in peace, not as the Assyrians.  They brought tribute, not taking it! They are often called “wise men”; here their wisdom led to Jesus.

So what is Christmas for you?  Matthew stresses that Jesus is fully God, now with us.  The book of Hebrews elaborates: The Son is superior to earthly power. The Son is superior to wisdom.  And the Son is superior to angels, even those who defeated the Assyrians!