Pastor Sherry’s message for December 18, 2022,

Scriptures: Isa 7:10-16; Ps 80:1-7, 17-19; Ro 1:1-7; Matt 1:18-25

In his book, Holy Sweat, Tim Hansel shares the following biking metaphor for how he came to trust Jesus:

“At first, I saw God as my observer, my judge, keeping track of the things I did wrong, so as to know whether I merited heaven or hell when I die. He was out there sort of like a president.

“But later on when I met Christ, it seemed as though life were rather like a bike ride, but it was a tandem bike, and I noticed that Christ was in the back helping me pedal.

“I don’t know just when it was that He suggested we change places, but life has not been the same since. When I had control, I knew the way. It was rather boring, but predictable…it was the shortest distance between two points.

“But when He took the lead, He knew delightful long cuts, up mountains and through rocky places at breakneck speeds. It was all I could do to hang on! Even though it looked like madness, He said, ‘Pedal!’

“I worried and was anxious and asked, ‘Where are you taking me?” He laughed and didn’t answer, and I started to learn to trust.

“I forgot my boring life and entered into the adventure. And when I’d say, ‘I’m scared,’ He ‘d lean back and touch my hand….

”I did not trust Him , at first, in control of my life. I thought He’d wreck it; but He knows bike secrets, knows how to make it bend to take sharp corners, knows how to jump to clear high rocks, knows how to fly to shorten scary passages.

“And I am learning to shut up and pedal in the strangest places, and I’m beginning to enjoy the view and the cool breeze on my face with my delightful constant companion, Jesus Christ.“

(Chuck Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, Word Publishing, 1998, p.586-587)

I think Tim Hansel captures the experience many of us have as we learn to surrender control over our lives to Jesus. It can be and often is a very difficult lesson to learn—to trust Jesus–but as Hansel says, it is well worth taking the risk.

Two of our lessons today relate to this issue of putting our faith and trust in the Lord:

A. In our Old Testament lesson, Isaiah 7:10-16, the prophet Isaiah relates for us the example of King Ahaz of Judah. He was a faithless idolater who is reported to have sacrificed his first born son to the fires of the pagan god Molech. He was 20 years old when he ascended the throne and ruled Judah for 16 years. A descendant of King David, he was a grandson of the good king, Uzziah, and a son of Jothem, another good king. But unlike his father and grandfather, he did not believe in the Lord, the one, true God. We are told in 2 Kings 16:3-4 that… he did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord his God.

The context of today’s lesson finds him, in 734 BC, surrounded by enemies who threaten to invade his kingdom: Rezer, king of Syria, and Pekah, king of Israel, have formed a coalition against him and are marching on Jerusalem. So a terrified Ahaz is thinking of aligning himself with either Egypt or with Assyria—both traditional enemies of the Jews–for safety. Since Ahaz is a godless king, we would expect the Lord to abandon him to his own devices. However, our God is not like that. Seeing an opportunity to gather Ahaz to Himself, God sends the prophet Isaiah to offer the king comfort. Because he is a nonbeliever—pedaling his bike on his own—it has never even occurred to him to ask God for help! (Some years back, I saw the film “Perfect Storm” with George Clooney. Clooney played a fisherman who is down on his luck and who needed a great catch to save his both boat and his livelihood. He succeeds in loading up his boat with fish, only to find himself in a dangerous storm at sea. His boat is swamped and he and his men know they are about to drown, and not one of them cries out to the Lord. I was truly dismayed, wondering if we as a nation have wandered so far from God that even when in danger of dying, we fail to ask for His help.)

Probably Ahaz similarly assumed that because he does not worship God, he cannot expect the Lord to help him overcome his enemies. Isaiah meets him at the source of Jerusalem’s water supply, in the place where the citizens of the city did their laundry, and informs him that God will not abandon him or Judah. Notice the rich symbolism God has set up: “Ahaz, despite your unbelief, and your heinous sins, I can wash you clean; I can sustain your life with living (flowing) water” (an image of Christ Who later will refer to Himself as “Living Water” in John 4). God has also told the prophet to take his son to this meeting, Shear-Jashub, whose name meant a remnant will return.

We lit the candle for love today. Do you see how loving and generous the Lord is toward this sinful reprobate, Ahaz? God tells him, through Isaiah, that He will protect him and he can even ask for a sign that this will be so. Ahaz acts pious Far be it from me to ask God for a sign…I would never test God like that! Somewhere along the way, he had learned not to test the Lord. However, he is in a national emergency and God has offered. Nevertheless, he doesn’t trust God enough, even given the encouragement of this very trustworthy, accurate prophet.

Ahaz is looking to the current crisis, but the prophet predicts a long-term solution, Jesus: A son—Jesus–will be born to a virgin. He will be Immanuel, God with us. He will eat yogurt (curds) and honey, the food of poor people in that day (available during drought or poor agricultural years). By the time He is 11 or 12 years old, the kings you fear will have long been taken over and deported by the Assyrians. Scholars believe there might have been an Israelite princess then (perhaps Isaiah’s 2nd wife?) who would give birth to a son in Ahaz’ time. There is, however, no record of a child born to Isaiah named Immanuel. However, this side of the Incarnation, we know this is a prediction of Jesus. Ahaz is graciously given a sign, but he still refuses to believe. He is entirely faithless!

B. Now contrast Ahaz’ response to that of Joseph in our Gospel, Matthew 1:18-25. Luke describes the circumstances of Jesus’ birth from the perspective of Mary, while Matthew emphasizes Joseph’s response. Notice Joseph’s trust in God. He has learned that Mary is pregnant and knows he has never slept with her. Instead of demanding that she be stoned, as he could have done by law, Joseph [v.19]…was a Righteous man [who] did not want to expose her to public disgrace, so he decides to quietly divorce her. God, however, intervenes by sending him a dream. In the dream an angel tells him [v.20] Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 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. Unlike King Ahaz, Joseph is a man of God and so he believes the angel’s message and is obedient. He marries Mary and cares for her. He does not consummate their marriage until after Jesus’ birth, so there is no question of Jesus’ divine paternity. And Joseph does name the baby Jesus, which means God saves.

What a great opening for Matthew! Remember, Matthew wrote his Gospel for the Jews, writing to demonstrate to them how Jesus fulfills the Messianic prophesies from the Old Testament. He immediately references our Isaiah 7 lesson [vv.22-23] all this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to son and they will call him Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” The current day New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop, N.T. Wright, claims that until Matthew wrote his Gospel, no one had ever thought of this Isaiah passage as referring to the promised Messiah. But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Matthew asserts it, attesting to the supernatural origin of Jesus. Jesus is both human (born of Mary), and divine (born of the Holy Spirit). Furthermore, in Jesus, God Himself is here, God Himself is with us, as the fullness of God is present in Christ.

John Ortberg, a Presbyterian pastor and author, writes in his book, God is Closer Than You Think, The central promise in the Bible is not, “I will forgive you,” though of course that promise is there. It is not the promise of life after death, although we are offered that as well. The most frequent promise in the Bible is “I will be with you.” This promise is spoken in Scripture over and over again: to Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, King David, the prophets, the Virgin Mary, and the Righteous Joseph. They all heard the comfort, the love, and the promise: Don’t be afraid, I am with you.

Ahaz was afraid and mistrusted God. He did not accept God’s sign to him. Instead, he aligned himself with an untrustworthy human ally—Assyria—against his northern enemies. And in 722 BC, (12 years later) the Assyrians overran Syria and Israel, and made Judah a vassal state. Joseph was also afraid, but God told him not to be. In fact, God made him the same promise he had made to the old, idolatrous king: “The Child will be a sign, Immanuel, God with us.” Joseph believed and was comforted, protected, and blessed.

So, our Scriptures today poses the question: How are you doing with regard to trusting Jesus? Is your faith going to look like that of Ahaz or like that of Joseph? Are we going to trust in our own plans and schemes to save us? Or, are we going to trust–like Joseph did and despite our fears– in the God of love? In Immanuel, the One who promises to be with us, no matter our fears, our trials, or our difficulties. As Christmas Day draws near, let us put our faith and trust firmly in the hands of our loving Savior…come, let us trust Him and adore Him. Let’s let Jesus drive our tandem bike.

©️2022 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams

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