Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
THE LORD CHALLENGES KING AHAZ TO BELIEVE HIS WORD.
II Kings 16:1-9
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
How far is your Christmas shopping? No, Iím sorry, I donít really mean that question. We humans are not able to focus our eyes on two corners of this building at the same time, and in the same way we humans are not able to concentrate our attention on two things at the same time. To get bitten by the Christmas shopping bug means that our focus invariably will be distracted from what Christmas is really all about. And that would not please the God who gave His only Son. Thatís why I donít want to say a thing that will encourage you to get into Christmas shopping.
What is Christmas really all about? Central to Christmas, of course, is the notion that our Lord Jesus Christ was born in the flesh, in order to pay for our sins. But Ėand this is the point that I need to draw out todayĖ will you believe that you needed this Saviour, that without Christmas you are eternally lost? You see, Christmas is more than remembering what happened so long ago in Bethlehem; ĎChristmasí confronts us with a test, a test of our faith. As the gospel of Christmas confronted King Ahaz years ago with the challenge to believe (else he would not be established), so this same gospel of Christmas confronts us today with the same challenge to believe (lest we be not established).
I summarise the message of our text with this theme:
THE LORD CHALLENGES KING AHAZ TO BELIEVE HIS WORD.
1. Ahaz needed the challenge
2. the Lord deeped the challenge
3. we are confronted with the challenge
1. Of the entire chapter we read from the prophecies of Isaiah, brothers and sisters, there is undoubtedly one verse that stands out to us due to its familiarity. That, of course, is vs 14, that prophecy about the virgin conceiving and bearing a son whose name shall be Immanuel. That verse is so familiar because Matthew quotes it in relation to Jesusí birth (Mt 1:23). This familiarity, together with the fact that this one verse is quoted in the New Testament, leads us to assume that the message of vs 14 is the central point of our chapter, is the hinge on which the whole chapter turns. As it turns out, though, it is not so. The prophecy about a young maiden becoming pregnant and bearing a son appears in a context, and that context is this: will the king of Davidís house Ėand his people with himĖ believe Godís Word or will not? As such, the focus of the sermon this morning cannot be a discussion of who the girl of vs 14 might be; instead this morning we are all to be challenged whether we actually believe what the Lord says.
The words of our text were spoken by the prophet Isaiah to king Ahaz. This king is told that he must believe, else he will not be established. To get a handle on this text, we need first to understand something of the circumstances prompting Isaiah to speak this word to the king.
According to what we read about king Ahaz from II Kings 16, Ahaz was crassly ungodly. Vs 2:
"he did not do what was right in the sight of the Lord his God, as his father David had done."
"...he walked in the way of the kings of Israel; indeed he made his son pass through the fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel. And he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places, on the hills, and under every green tree" (vs 3f).
He was but a young king Ė21 years old when he became king, and the events of Is 7 occurred in the first couple of years of his reignĖ he was but a young king, but (and this we Ėespecially our young peopleĖ must notice!) the Lord holds him fully responsible for his actions. He should have come to that stage when he could (and would) make profession of his faith in the Lord his God-by-covenant (and then, of course, live according to that confession), but he did not; he chose instead the gods of the Canaanites. Ungodly he was, with not a shred of faith in the Lord God, not an ounce of reliance on God. In the words of the Catechism as it explains the first commandment: King Ahaz did not
"...know the only true God, [did not] trust in Him alone, submit to Him with all humility and patience, [did not] expect all good from Him only, and love, fear, and honour Him with all [His] heart" (LD 34).
But faith, the Lord had said, is what this man had to have. For Ahaz was not just a somebody; Ahaz was king. And he wasnít king over just anybody; he was king over Godís covenant people, king in Jerusalem where the temple stood, where sacrifices were to be made for the forgiveness of sins, where the Lord dwelt with His people. In that city, over that people Ahaz the king had no regard for the Lord at all; he instead embraced the gods of the Canaanites.
And once more, beloved, Ahaz was not just any king over Godís covenant people. Ahaz was of the house of David, of the family of which the Lord had said ĖII Sam 7Ė that his throne would be established forever. More, from this family the Messiah would be born, the Prince of Peace who would bring salvation to mankind. King Jesus would come from king David: such was the promise. But between King Jesus and king David stood king Ahaz, and this king had no regard for God, acknowledged no need for the Christ. This is the man addressed in the words of our text:
"If you will not believe,
Surely you will not be established."
What is it that this king had to believe? Was Ahaz told in our text to embrace in true faith the gospel of the sacrifices still burning in the temple of his city? In NT terms: the doctrine of Jesus Christ shedding His blood for the forgiveness of sins? To our ears, thatís what the word "believe" implies; we believe, and that means that we embrace the doctrine of Christ paying for our sins. But that, congregation, is not whatís meant by the term in our text. For notice that the prophet had just said some other things to the king, had given to the king a promise. That promise was this:
"Thus says the Lord God:
It shall not stand,
Nor shall it come to pass" (vs 7).
What would not come to pass? Vss 5 & 6:
"Syria, Ephraim, and the son of Remaliah have taken evil counsel against you, saying, ĎLet us go up against Judah and trouble it, and let us make a gap in its wall for ourselves, and set a king over them, the son of Tabeel.í"
That, says God, is what would not come to pass. The political alliance formed by the king of Syria and the king of Israel to put on the throne of Judah a puppet of their choosing would, said God, not succeed. Thatís the punch of vs 7: "Thus says the Lord God: It shall not stand, Nor shall it come to pass." Having said that the prophet challenges Ahaz with the words of our text: "If you will not believe, Surely you will not be established." That is: Ahaz must believe the Lordís promise to frustrate the efforts of those two kings so that their plan to overthrow Ahaz and install a puppet in Jerusalem will come to nothing. Thatís what Ahaz must believe.
Now, weíre further to know, brothers and sisters, that this challenge to the king to believe that the Lord will frustrate the efforts of those two kings lies in a wider context still. For consider: why was it that those two kings of Syria and Israel were threatening Ahaz in the first place? Nothing, Scripture insists, happens by chance, but all things come from Godís almighty hand (LD 10). None less than God Himself, then, had sent Rezin and Pekah to threaten Ahaz. Why?
Here we need to recall the promise of the Lord to David in II Sam 7. Said the Lord at that time concerning any son of David who would sit on Davidís throne:
"If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men" (vs 14).
Ahaz, weíve already learned, was a most ungodly king. It was then no surprise that his kingdom was invaded; according to Godís Word of long ago, the Lord Himself sent those two kings against Ahaz because of his ungodliness. Those two kings were the "rod of men" with which the Lord was chastening this unbelieving son of David.
Why might the Lord send those two kings against this son of David? This chastening from the Lord was not an expression of Godís hatred for Ahaz, and so some divine plan to do Ahaz in. For the Lord God had said in II Sam 7 that His mercy would never depart even from the ungodly kings of Davidís line (vs 15a). That God, then, sent against Ahaz the chastisement of those two kings was at bottom an act of mercy; God wanted to move Ahaz to repentance. God was not pleased that on the throne of David should sit a man who had no regard for the God of the covenant; God was not pleased that the road to the birth of the holy Son of David to be born in the days of Caesar Augustus should be blocked by a godless son of David who saw no need for the gift of a Saviour. So, in mercy to the house of David, God the Almighty chastened Ahaz with the rod of men.
In that light, the challenge of our text gains an added depth. Ahaz must believe Ėbelieve what?Ė must believe the word of the prophet that the efforts of the two kings shall come to nothing. By believing such a promise, Ahaz would need to concede that with this chastisement God was actually showing him mercy, was seeking to move him to repentance.
As it turns out, brothers and sisters, the mercy of the Lord to the house of David as revealed in the chastisements through the two kings was rejected by Ahaz; he did not accept the challenge of our text. Believe the word of the prophet that the two mighty kings would not succeed in their efforts to overthrow Ahaz Ė no, king Ahaz did not dare to do that. Believe that it was the Lord God who was busy chastising Ahaz with the rod of those two kings, chastising him in order to prompt repentance and so open the way for the coming of the Son of David Ė no, this son of David did not believe that there was any mercy from God to him in his calamities. In the face of the word of the prophet, there was with the king only hardened unbelief.
But we know how it goes (is it not?): rejecting Godís mercy in discipline, refusing to acknowledge the chastisements God sends for oneís good, that, beloved, leads to greater punishments from the Lord. Thereís our second point: the Lord deepens the challenge.
2. You will have noticed, dear brothers and sisters, that our text includes a promise: "If you will not believe, Surely you will not be established." The point here is that the only way Ahaz can survive in his kingship is by believing; any other response to Godís chastisements will result in his downfall. Yet if Ahaz would fall, it would not be just this one king as such who would fall; with Ahaz would disappear also Davidís dynasty. But hereís now the thing: God had promised that Davidís house would receive an eternal throne, would last forever (II Sam 7:13,16). If Ahaz would refuse to believe so that in turn he could not be established, itís Davidís dynasty as a whole that would not be established. And that in turn means that the throne of Christ was threatened; that Son of David cannot be born. How much, then, beloved, hinges on Ahazís unbelieving response to the Word of God through Isaiah!
Here is now, beloved, where that familiar prophecy of the virgin conceiving a son fits in to the whole chapter. Given the Lordís pledge in our text to destroy Ahaz if he does not respond with faith to the chastisements God sends, the Godly of Jerusalem could easily despair of salvation itself. For Ahaz rejects the challenge of our text with unbelief, and so his future was on the line, more, the future of the whole house of David was therefore on the line.
In that circumstance the Lord makes mention of a most marvellous sign for Ahaz and Jerusalem, a sign infinite in depth and eternal in height for splendor (vs 11). True, godless Ahaz doesnít want a sign (vs 12), but God insists on giving it anyway. Itís the sign of the virgin:
"Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel" (vs 14).
And No, that sign does not refer in first instance to the virgin Mary and her Son Jesus. If this sign referred in first instance to Mary and her Son Jesus, it could not be a sign for Ahaz; Mary, after all, conceived and bore her Son centuries after Ahaz died. Besides, vs 16 speaks very specifically of the land being delivered from the threat of the two kings before the child in question knows the difference between right and wrong. We are, then, to understand that a young woman, now yet single, would shortly marry, conceive, bear a son, and call the boyís name Immanuel. How this would be a sign for Ahaz? The sign would not be that a virgin woman would fall pregnant; that happens regularly after the young girls marry. Nor would the sign be that the child would be a born; that also happens regularly. Would the sign then be the uncommon name "Immanuel", and the faith expressed in that name Ė "God is with us"? That might be so, but itís not likely since names signifying reliance on the Lord were common; even the name of Ahazís own son Hezekiah involved a confession of faith in God Ė Hezekiah means "Yahweh strengthens". No, the sign involved in the birth of this child lies elsewhere.
What the sign is? This: vs 14 makes mention of a mother but not of a father. A young woman, presently unmarried, now still a virgin, shall conceive and bear a son. Thereís a man involved, no doubt of that. But the man receives no mention. The child receives a name, but again the father plays no role in naming the child. The father is totally ignored here, pushed into the background, forgotten.
Who that father is? Isaiah is speaking to "the house of David", that is, to king Ahaz. To king Ahaz the prophet speaks of "the virgin". That use of the word "the" means that Ahaz knew very well who the young woman in question was. More than likely, she was Ahazís fiancee; shortly 21 year old Ahaz would take a wife, sheíd conceive and bear a son, and she would call his name Immanuel.
But father Ahaz receives no mention. Why not? That, beloved, is because of the Lordís words in our text: if Ahaz would not believe the word of the Lord through Isaiah, he would not be established. Well, in vs 14 the Lord makes clear how Ahaz would not be established: though father of a prince in the house of David, he as father would not even receive a mention; because of his refusal to repent, he does not rate in any discussion about the future of Davidís line.
See there how the Lord deepens the challenge to Ahaz in our text. On the spot the Lord makes clear to Ahaz what the consequences of his unbelief would be. Ahaz is so concerned to preserve his throne from the attacks of his two enemies, but the Lord makes clear that unbelief has no future; the ungodly have nothing to contribute to the next generation, theyíre forgotten. As the psalmist said it:
"The face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
To cut off the remembrance of them from the earth" (Ps 34:16; cf Ps 1).
As long as Ahaz refuses to believe what the Lord has said, he has no future; he will not be established. His son will have a future, though, for God will be with that son, Immanuel.
In the course of time Ėfor Godís Word always comes to passĖ the young woman bore her child and called his name Immanuel: "God is with us". Did Ahaz, in the light of the fulfilment of Godís promise, now repent and believe? From the books of Kings and Chronicles we know that he did not. He rather persisted in his sinful way, serving the gods of the heathens. Despite the evidence on his doorstep that Godís Word is true, this son of David persisted in his unbelief. The result was that the prophecies of the rest of chap 7 were fulfilled on Ahaz too; he escaped from the two kings of Syria and Israel only to fall under the terrible tyranny of the king of Assyria. And the land was decimated as a result. In truth, Ahaz had no future, none because of his unbelief.
But Davidís line continued, and so the way to Christís coming remained open; God sovereignly saw to it that in Ahazís house a child was born, a child whose fatherís contribution was meant to be forgotten, a child though who would testify that God was always present with His people.
3 And what now, beloved, of ourselves? The Word of the Lord to king Ahaz is included in Holy Scripture for our instruction. More, the Holy Spirit saw fit to move Matthew to write that the sign given to unbelieving Ahaz was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Says Matthew:
"Now all this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying:
"Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel..." (Mt 1:22f).
In Christ is fulfilled, then, the sign which the Lord was pleased to give to Ahaz and to his house. That is: at the birth of Jesus Christ "the virgin" conceived, bore a son, and called His name Immanuel. This time truly, even more so than in the days of Ahaz, this sign was infinite as the depths, eternal as the heights. For this time the Father of the Child was not to be forgotten, was not unworthy of mention; this time the Father was very much there. Vs 18: before Mary and Joseph came together, Mary was found to be "with child of the Holy Spirit". This mother was a virgin in fact, not only before she conceived, but also after she had fallen pregnant. God Almighty sovereignly directed events in such a way that Mary became pregnant without the involvement of a man.
And why? Why did the Lord God direct events in such a way that a virgin conceived without the aid of man? This act of God, beloved, confronts us with our depravity; so depraved was the human race that we could not generate a holy Child. Not only is our memory as father to be forgotten; we could not even be father to this Son of David. If Ahaz was humiliated in that his role as father was to be forgotten, how much more are we humiliated in that we are replaced as fathers; Another, holy God Himself, fathered the Child in the womb of the virgin because we had to be excluded on account of our sins. No, here is nothing flattering for us; here is only failure on our side, our sinfulness, our depravity.
But now, beloved: do you believe this? Do you accept as true that humiliating sign of Christmas: none in the human race Ėand so none of us eitherĖ can be father for Jesus Christ, none can be because of our sins? For Yes, the sign is humiliating; here weíre confronted with our depravity, told that at bottom weíre no better than Ahaz. Do you believe this sign of Christmas? So much, beloved, so very much hinges on what you do with that sign! For the words of our text apply to us as much as to Ahaz: "if you will not believe, Surely you shall not be established." We might not like it that the Lord God has directed circumstances in our lives in such a way that we are excluded from being fathers of the Saviour. But we shall need, beloved, to accept Godís way with us here, lest we perish eternally. Without the conviction that Yes, God did well in excluding us, we shall face a future more disastrous than Ahaz faced; because of his unbelief he was promised the chastisements of the king of Assyria, in the face of our unbelief we are promised the chastisements of hell eternal.
And what if we recognise this humiliating sign for what it is? What if we, in child-like faith in God, acknowledge that Yes, weíre too depraved to father the Saviour, we need the humbling chastisement of being excluded as fathers? To ask the question differently: what if we, in child-like faith, acknowledge that God did right in leading the circumstances of our personal lives in such a way that we could not father the Saviour? The promise of the text is clear: such a one, my brothers and sisters, shall be established! To such a person apply the words of vs 4: "...be quiet; do not fear or be fainthearted...." This Christ ĖSon of God Almighty that He isĖ has triumphed over the enemies of every Christian, has defeated the devil, the world, our own flesh. In fact, this Christ has "established" His elect as children of God, sinners forgiven by His blood so that we might reign with Him eternally over all creatures!
Christmas approaches, and weíre told from all sides to fix our attention of gift giving. So our attention is distracted from what Christmas really is; itís a test, a test of faith: do you believe the sign God gave as evidence that He frees His people from bondage to Satan?? Do you believe your own depravity, and therefore the riches of Godís free grace in Jesus Christ??
"If you will not believe,
Surely you will not be established." Amen.