Lord of the Sabbath

I. Introduction

We’re in Luke 6 today, and yet again the Pharisees are trying to trip Jesus up, and yet again Jesus sets them straight. We’re going to read about 2 Sabbath days that the Pharisees because angry because Jesus was doing good.

But first I want to talk about who we are, or rather, who we think we are. Back in the old days, people used to shake hands. You might remember old people like that, unafraid to touch one another. We’d stick out our hand, they’d grasp it, and say, “How do you do? I’m Michael.”

And they’d usually say something like, “Hi Michael, what do you do for a living?”

Odd. After my name, what I do is the first piece of information we exchange about ourselves. In many ways, work defines who we are. And work is good – in Genesis 2:5, before God creates man, scripture says,

Now no shrub of the field was yet on the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there was no man to cultivate the ground.

Then God creates man from dust, and before God even creates woman, scripture says in Genesis 2:15,

Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and tend it.

God put man to work. Even before “go forth and multiply,” God put man to work. No wonder what we do defines us.
But it wasn’t God’s intent that we should become workaholics. And He set an example for us at the beginning of Genesis 2:1-3,
And so the heavens and the earth were completed, and all their heavenly lights. By the seventh day God completed His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because on it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.


But Michael, you say. I thought we were studying Luke.

Well, in man’s fallen nature, we’ve corrupted God’s plan for us. In Luke 6, this corruption is evident in the pharisees, and Jesus addresses the problem we inherited after Adam and Eve were removed from their work in the Garden of Eden. So let’s see the first Sabbath day and see the event , then we’ll study the details. Luke 6:1-15,

Now it happened that Jesus was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath, and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them. But some of the Pharisees said, “Why are you doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And Jesus, answering them, said, “Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?” And He was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

There’s a lot to digest here, so let’s look at each verse. Luke 6:1,

Now it happened that Jesus was passing through some grainfields on a Sabbath, and His disciples were picking the heads of grain, rubbing them in their hands, and eating them.

Sabbath is the biblical idea that we should set aside one day a week to rest and not work. Sabbath stands for the Hebrew verb, shabbat, which literally means “to rest from labor.” This concept of Sabbath can be traced all the way back to the creation account in Genesis 1 & 2 where God rests – or shabbats – after six full days of work. Sabbath is also the 4th of our Ten Commandments,

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11,

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the LORD your God; in it you shall not do any work, you or your son or your daughter, your male or your female servant or your cattle or your sojourner who stays with you. For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.

Israel was to treat the Sabbath as a holy day, one that was set apart, to follow God’s example and rhythm of creating, working, and resting.

But from the first two verses in Luke 6, we see that the Pharisees – the religious elite and scriptural scholars at the time – accused the disciples of violating the Sabbath.

Luke 6:2,

But some of the Pharisees said, “Why do you do what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”

Now, it doesn’t seem like a major infraction to me. Are the disciples were breaking the Sabbath by simply plucking off a few heads of grain and eating them? And why would somebody do that? This would be worse than those oat bran muffins, they’re just eating oats. Right off the ground.

The Pharisee had corrupted God’s plan for the Sabbath. The Pharisees had developed the Halakha. A comprehensive, overreaching, complex and ever-evolving set of laws that regulated everything – religious observances, daily life, and conduct of the Jewish people. It provided very particular scenarios and actions of what would and would not qualify as an infraction against God’s law. At the time, the Halakha prohibited 39 different forms of work on the Sabbath day, one of which was reaping grain.

The Pharisees lived by the Halakha and regularly added more and more addendums to God’s commandments. Originally I’m sure they meant well, just to help practically guide the Jews in their daily lives. Also, they imposed upon each other these new rules as a type of “hedge.” They neither wanted to break God’s laws themselves or let a neighbor do so. The Pharisees wanted to ensure God’s blessing on themselves and their community, so they kept adding addendums to God’s law to keep people further and further away from breaking them.

Jesus points out that they completely missed God’s intent with the law, Luke 6:3-4,


And Jesus answering them said, “Have you not even read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him, how he entered the house of God, and took and ate the consecrated bread which is not lawful for any to eat except the priests alone, and gave it to his companions?”

Jesus’ response sounds unrelated to the Sabbath, but the Pharisees understood. There was a complicated and confusing situation in 1 Samuel 21 that muddled the otherwise mechanical, simple framework of how the Pharisees understood and related to the laws of God.

In 1 Samuel 21, King David is running for his life, runs into the tabernacle, and eats the Showbread. What was showbread? Twelve loaves of bread, each weighing about 5 pounds, arranged in two piles on a special table. These showbread were always present and changed weekly, and represented a continuous offering to God. And David eats it.

David does what appears to be an act of deliberate disobedience. But God’s response is astonishing: God does not condemn him for doing so.

The Pharisees knew this story, but it didn’t fit. It didn’t agree with the way the Pharisees understood how rigid and demanding God was. They wrote their Halakha laws about the Sabbath, and just sort of ignored this story. Maybe they just didn’t want to think about because it just made many rules and regulations too complicated, even for the Pharisees. So… let’s just pretend it didn’t happen.

And yet, Jesus brings this story of David eating the showbread right in front of their noses. Not as excuse against the Sabbath, but as an illustration for better understanding it.

II. Misplaced Laws on a Misplaced Rest

Jesus prompted the Pharisees (and us) to think thoughtfully – not mechanically or legalistically or simplistically – but to think through this story. Was David in violation? Why was God’s response surprising?

God’s response to David when he ate the showbread in 1 Samuel 21 is that sometimes the Sabbath laws and worship laws can be set aside when there are more important things at hand. Not more important than God, but more important *to* God.

Not the moral laws – there’s no exception to commit adultery or to slander our neighbor. But 1 Samuel 21 shows us that there are times where the ceremonial, ritual and priestly laws can be set aside. Why is this the case?

It is because the ceremonial laws are provisional. They are meant to point us to the messiah. But when the messiah arrives, the provisional laws no longer have the same purpose. They are obsolete.

In other words, Sabbath laws, worship laws, priestly and sacrificial laws existed in Old Testament times to point to the Messiah who would come to fulfill those laws. Jesus.

Luke 6:5,

And He was saying to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Notice that Jesus does not say that He has come to take the Sabbath away; but rather, that He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus is telling the Pharisees, “I am the one to whom the Sabbath regulations all point. Everything that the Sabbath is designed to point you to for rest and restoration – I am. I am the Lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus is not advocating lawlessness or abolishing the law. He is actually advocating for the true intent of the Sabbath law that the Pharisees have clearly misplaced. He is reframing the Pharisees’ (and our own) sense of law and of rest. He is saying that the Sabbath law is not merely for following the regulation itself, nor is deep rest the reward for having kept the
law. The Sabbath is designed to lead us to where we can find true rest.

Jesus is saying that these particular Sabbath laws – which the Halakha outline in great detail – are obsolete because something greater is now at hand. Deep rest for the soul is found in Him and in His work for us.

What is deep rest, what does it look like, and how can we get it? Let’s look at the next part of Luke 6 verses 6-11,

On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching; and there was a man there whose right hand was withered. The scribes and the Pharisees were watching Him closely to see if He healed on the Sabbath, so that they might find reason to accuse Him. But He knew what they were thinking, and He said to the man with the withered hand, “Get up and come forward!” And he got up and came forward. And Jesus said to them, “I ask you, is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to destroy it?” After looking around at them all, He said to him, “Stretch out your hand!” And he did so; and his hand was restored. But they themselves were filled with rage, and discussed together what they might do to Jesus.

This story happens on another Sabbath where Jesus heals a man with a withered hand. Again, the Pharisees looked on, seeing what Jesus would do – whether He would violate a Sabbath law in the Halakha or not. Scholars say that the Halakha actually did include a provision for a doctor to work on the Sabbath if there were a great medical emergency. For instance, if someone was on the brink of death on the Sabbath, a doctor would not be condemned for laboring to save a life.

The medical case in our story was not great or urgent; it was a medical condition that had persisted for some time, likely since birth. It did not qualify for the medical provisions made in the Halakha. So, when Jesus, who was known for His many miraculously healings, approached the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath, the Pharisees looked on with condescending anticipation. They actually wanted to see Jesus break their own law. They were ready to accuse and to condemn Him. In the face of these hostile Pharisees, Jesus healed the man’s withered right hand. And in doing so, He also exposed the Pharisees’ withered souls.

Ironically, the Pharisees and the Halakha already knew there had to be provision because of the medical practice was acceptable as long as it was something important. But they missed the “something important” because they were only focused on the law itself, rather than what the law pointed to: Someone more important. The purpose of the law to to enable man to flourish under God’s care, but they focused on the law, not the purpose of the law.

The purpose of the Sabbath is to provide rest in Him. And this story from Luke 6 illustrates this purpose. He takes what is withered in our life, and He restores it.

Luke, a doctor himself, made sure the readers understood it was the right hand. What is interesting is that in the Hebrew culture, the “right hand” was the clearest symbol of “power” and “work.” So when Jesus restores the man’s withered hand on the Sabbath, Jesus also demonstrates that He has the right as the Lord of the Sabbath to restore our “right hand,” our “work,” our “power” to be free to do good on the Sabbath. The Lord of Sabbath works in our souls, our lives, and our daily work.

III. Restoring the Withered Soul

The Bible tells us that humanity ultimately cannot find deep peace and hope in this temporal life, what the Jews call “shalom,” not because we are overworked, but because we have all sinned against God and are separated from Him. God is the source of all peace and life. We feel this deep dissatisfaction because we are trying to fix what is wrong deep down by working at it, do fix this broken peace using our own ability and effort. But only God can restore what is broken and withered. God fixes it for us when we finally accept we cannot fix it on our own.

Remember in the Garden of Eden, before the fall of mankind and the introduction of sin, mankind was working. Work was a part of the paradise in which we lived. Work is good. Our sin, however, separated us from that paradise with God, it broke our relationship with the work He gave us to do. Work itself is not the problem; the problem is why we work, and for who we work. The problem is not that work exists, but the peace while work does not. We want to work and work and work to restore our peace, ease our turmoil, eliminate our insecurities and dissatisfactions.

Religious people often try to solve this deep dissatisfaction by their work for God. They think, “If I do many good works, then God will bless me.” Sometimes they even think, “God owes me.”

But non-religious people feel the same inner turmoil as religious people, but maybe they think, “If I do many great things, my self-image will be improved, I will have worth.”

Both religious and non-religious groups are working to prove themselves. We may think, “More work is what is needed. I can work my way up, I can work my way out.”

But how many good works is enough to be worthy? How much must I do for God to accept me? We will never know. Those religions that push good works can never answer this question. How much is enough? There is no rest; our soul withers under this unknown.

Jesus says, “I am the Lord of the Sabbath.” The gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that we cannot work our way through moral goodness back into right relationship with God. And we cannot work our way through worldly accomplishments to achieve deep feelings of acceptance, approval, and justification in our self-worth and self-image. A soul that has been forgiven and loved and restored can only happen when we trust in Jesus’ work for us on the cross, not our work for Him for ourselves. Our work will never be enough. His work is finished.

Matthew 11:28-30,

Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.

Are you looking to your “moral work” to give you a sense of deep peace and relief that God really loves you and accepts you? Are you looking to your “vocational work” to give you a sense of deep peace that you matter and are significant? Both moral work and vocational work will not save our souls from existential dread. Only Jesus on the cross can. To our withered souls, He is the Lord of the Sabbath. Jesus’ work restores our relationship with God, restores the way He relates to us, and the way we relate to Him. But His work also restores the way we relate to our work.

IV. Restoring the Withered Hand

How does Jesus’ work restore not only our souls but also our work? The gospel says we are not God, our identity is not in our work, and therefore, we can rest from our work. As Christians, we do not have the “rules” surrounding the Sabbath any longer, as the Old Testament or the Halakha outlines. But this does not mean we neglect the Sabbath altogether; after all, it is a moral law. It’s one of the Ten Commandments.

The question is not what laws we follow regarding the Sabbath, but how we follow the intent of the Sabbath. What is in our hearts? God gave us the Sabbath to restore our withered hands, bodies, and minds for a continued, renewed sense of work. We must employ a structure and follow disciplines in our own lives to ensure that we have a day off from our work.

So what should we do? Here are some ideas to make sure you have a Sabbath in your life that restores your soul, mind, and body –

A. Take the Sabbath religiously. Maybe you can’t be at church on Sunday or when most people would typically “Sabbath.” But set aside 1 day a week after the example of God to rest from your work. Makes sure your day off is truly a day off. Forbid yourself from working on your Sabbath. Work hard on work days. Rest hard on rest days.

B. Spend time in contemplation, reminding yourself who God is and who you are. Worship Him.

C. Unplug. Don’t structure your day. Let yourself be drawn into what you like to do instead of what you must do.

V. Conclusion

God wants to bless us through our work, but He doesn’t want us to be slaves to our work. We need a healthy balance of working hard and resting well. And that rest can only be found in Him, and recognize the work He did, He did it all. Our own efforts cannot fulfill us. Rest in the Lord Jesus Christ and the work He did can restore our withered lived.

Why did God create the Sabbath? Like so many precious things from the Lord, it’s a gift to us. Mark 2:27,

Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.

Jesus Christ is the Lord of the Sabbath. Receive the Sabbath as a gift to restore your mind, your body, and your soul.

To God be the glory.

Security in God

I. Introduction

I visited a coworker in the hospital this weekend. He told me he was at home watching tv when the doorbell rang. When he opened the door, there was a 6 foot cockroach standing there. Before he could say anything, the cockroach punched in the stomach and ran off.

The next night, he was sitting at home again. The doorbell rang. There was the 6 foot cockroach again. This time it punched him in the stomach and the karate-kicked him before running off.

The third night when the doorbell rang, my friend was a little more cautious. He cracked the door to peek out, and there was the six foot cockroach again. The cockroach kicked the door into his face so hard he saw stars. Then the cockroach came in and jumped on him and kicked several times so hard he nearly lost consciousness. He dragged himself over to the phone and called 9-1-1.

The 9-1-1 operator asked him what the emergency was. In a weak voice, my friend answered, “there’s a nasty bug going around…”

There are a lot of nasty bugs going around, from the H1N1 swine flu to job losses to the price of gas. It shouldn’t surprise you that “nasty bugs” have been part of our existence for thousands of years. Today, we’re going to look at Psalm 62 and see how David deals with one of life’s turn of events.

II. Psalm 62:1-2, Security in God Alone

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Let me give you some background on what is going on in David’s life at this point in time. David is much older now; his affair with Bathsheba is long in the past, and David has long since confessed his sins and placed his trust in the Lord. But if you recall during our studies the last few weeks, confessing your sins to Lord frees you from sin and gives you reason to rejoice. It does not, however, free you from the repercussions of your sins. When Nathan said, “You are that man,” in 2 Samuel 12, David finally ceased his self-deception and acknowledged his sin against the Lord. The Lord offers mercy and grace, but also tells David “Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you.”

David has several more children over the years, but the sword never leaves his house. As his children grow, David has to deal with children that are disrespectful to him. His son, Absalom, claims the throne for himself. David, not willing to fight his own son for the throne, flees to the desert. A very stressful time in David’s life, losing your job to your son who’s trying to killing you. My day doesn’t seem so bad.

And it is this time in David’s life that he pens Psalm 62 and gives us instruction for how to deal with life’s nasty bugs. David’s strength comes not from his position as king or from wealth or from power, but in the Lord.

My soul finds rest in God alone;
my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

We should have a single source of security, in God and God alone. David gives us three pictures of security in God –

• God is my rock. What images does this bring to mind? What qualities of a rock provide security?
o Steadfastness
o Stable
o Unmoving
• God is my salvation. If God is our salvation, why does that give us security?
• God is my fortress. What images of security does a fortress bring?
o Protection.

III. Psalm 62:3-4, Security that Withstands Attacks

How long will you assault a man?
Would all of you throw him down—
this leaning wall, this tottering fence?

They fully intend to topple him
from his lofty place;
they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless,
but in their hearts they curse.
Selah

Our security is attacked many ways. Job loss, personal conflicts with others, sometimes with many others. Satan does not want you to have security and will deceive you that your security is misplaced. He wants to topple you. And he will keep this up for an unfairly long time – “How long” will he assault a man.

• What sort of things threaten our security and make us feel unsafe?

If our security is based on our circumstances, in people, in ourselves, in wealth or relationship, our security is fragile. But David repeats himself – we do not find security in anything but God and God alone. Verse 5-8 –

IV. Psalm 62:5-8, Security in God Alone, Still

Find rest, O my soul, in God alone;
my hope comes from him.

He alone is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.

My salvation and my honor depend on God [a] ;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.

Trust in him at all times, O people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge.

Selah

The Lord God is still our rock, our salvation, and fortress. The Lord is also described as a refuge. Like a fortress, we can run to the Lord for safety when we feel threatened.

David reminds the people of Israel that the Lord is not just a fortress of safety for him, but for all people. We can trust in Him. More than that, verse 8 says that I can also pour out my heart to God. God knows our thoughts and feelings, he knows our pain, our hopes and desires. When we are in need, in trouble, in fear, trust in Him at all times and pour out your fears to Him.

I change my wallpaper on my laptop monthly with various Christian wallpaper, usually with a calendar on it, always with a Christian saying or a piece of scripture. One of them by Charles Spurgeon a few months back was very thought-provoking. “If we cannot believe God when circumstances seem to be against us, we do not believe Him at all.”

We have security in God because He tells us so. And if God is for us, who can be against us?

V. Psalm 62:8-10, Security Nowhere Else

Lowborn men are but a breath,
the highborn are but a lie;
if weighed on a balance, they are nothing;
together they are only a breath.

Do not trust in extortion
or take pride in stolen goods;
though your riches increase,
do not set your heart on them.

Where else can we possibly put our faith, we else can we find security but in the Lord? David lists several places where we look for false security –

• In relationships. What sort of relationships do we try to find security in?
o Parents
o Children
o Friends
o Spouses
o Politicians
o Government
o Church
o Ourselves
• In what ways can these relationships fail us?
• David also cautions us against placing our faith in things, especially ill-gotten gains. What sort of things do we use to seek security?
o Money
o Property
o Jobs
o Insurance
• In what ways can things fail us?
• Why are we tempted to add other forms of security like wealth or relationships, rather than rely on Christ alone?

In Psalm 44:6, “For I will not trust in my bow, neither shall my sword save me.” Psalm 20:7, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God.” And in the exact middle of the bible is Psalm 118:8, “It is better to trust in the Lord
than to put confidence in man.”

Jesus, of course, knew all this. There is no security anywhere but God. Matthew 6:19, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal.” Instead, we can trust in God because of who He is. He is unique, one of a kind. Let’s look at the final two verses of Psalm 62.

VI. Psalm 62:11-12, Security in God Because He is Unique

One thing God has spoken,
two things have I heard:
that you, O God, are strong,

and that you, O Lord, are loving.
Surely you will reward each person
according to what he has done.

• What are some of the attributes of God that give us security in Him?
o His Power
o His Love
o His Goodness
o His Mercy
o His Justice
o Fulfilled prophecy

VII. Conclusion

God knows we have fears and concerns about our security. He is training us for something better, something that requires us to learn to trust in Him. If God is so powerful, why is it that we are scared? Is God really in control? That’s what we ask ourselves, and what God wants us to know, even when we don’t see Him at work. It’s precisely at those times God is at work in us.

C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity, “Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

Act on Revealed Truth

An Antebellum era (pre-civil war) family Bible...
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Introduction

Last week, Michelle taught from Isaiah 6. This week, the lesson covers Isaiah 7-23. When I first started studying, I though, whoa, we’re supposed to cover 16 chapters?

I spoke to Fred about this last Saturday; he said there was no problem covering all 16 chapters, he would enjoy a thorough lesson. So I thought we’d cover chapters 7-10 first, then break for lunch. Come back and read chapters 11-20 and then break for dinner. That would leave us plenty of time to cover 21-23 this evening.

Actually, I’ve noticed that the bible is an amazing book in that the closer or further away you get, there are different lessons. Isaiah 7-23 has many, many lessons for us. Isaiah 7-12 is a warning to political leaders; chapter 7 talks about hope, chapter 8 is a warning of judgment, 9 is a promise of mercy, and so on. Chapters 13-23 are prophecy and fulfilled prophecy, showing that the Lord is in control. Yet we can also focus on a single sentence and get a life-changing lesson from it, the Word of God is that powerful.

We’re just going to focus on Chapter 7 this morning. In Chapter 7, Isaiah reminds us that we are to trust in God in times of stress. We are God’s people, and we are to do things God way. God’s will be done; we can participate, or God will do His will without us. Yet, stubborn as we are, we often choose to be controlled by our circumstances rather than listen to the Lord. And that’s the lesson from the Lord today – to have faith in Him and not things of the world.

It’s time to make a decision. You can go one way, or you can go another. You can ask for help, you can go it alone. You can help a friend, but it means breaking a confidence. You can accept a new job, but it means moving away from church. What are some difficult decisions we face today, as a nation, as a church, as a class, or as a family?

Here’s a story from Los Angeles City College. In a class teaching public speaking, students were given an open assignment in public speaking. Here’s an excerpt from the news article –

On Nov. 24, 2008, Los Angeles City College speech professor John Matteson reportedly interrupted and ended Jonathan Lopez’s presentation mid-speech and called the student a derogatory name in front of the class for speaking about his faith, which included reading the dictionary definition of marriage and reciting two Bible verses.
Instead of allowing Lopez to finish, Matteson reportedly told the other students they could leave if they were offended. When no one left, Matteson dismissed the class. Refusing to grade the assigned speech, Matteson wrote on Lopez’s evaluation, “Ask God what your grade is.”

One week later, after seeing Lopez talking to the college’s dean of academic affairs, Matteson told Lopez that he would make sure he’d be expelled from school.

What are Mr. Lopez’s options? How would you respond?

Obviously anti-Christian, the teacher inadvertently asked a very appropriate question. “Ask God what your grade is.”

In Isaiah 7, King Ahaz is faced with a similar dilemma. He’s faced with a threat and has to make a decision. David’s kingdom had long since split in two after the death of Solomon. Israel to the north had routinely strayed from the lord. Judah to the south, sometimes followed the Lord and sometimes they didn’t, depending on the king at the time. Northeast of Israel was the nation of Aram (also called Syria), and north of that was the rising Assyrian Empire.

Under King Uzziah, Judah flourished. Aram and Israel had wanted to form an alliance with Judah, but Uzziah had resisted. Isaiah preached that the Lord would save, and Judah should remain neutral. Uzziah was dealing with raids from the Philistines from the west and the Edomites to the south, and if Uzziah moved troops to face the Assyrians, the southern attacks would succeed. Uzziah stayed neutral, and under King Uzziah, Judah flourished.

Uzziah died, and his son Jotham took over. Jotham was also a strong leader and kept Judah neutral, but died young. And Ahaz, 20 years old, took over. It’s now about 735 B.C.

Isaiah also spoke to Ahaz about relying on the Lord to save, but Ahaz didn’t listen. Ahaz was not a righteous king; in 2 Kings 16:2-3 we’re told Ahaz offered sacrifices to Baal and pagan idols. As a weak king, Israel and Aram gave up on the alliance idea and decided to attack Judah. Their goal was turn Judah into a puppet kingdom and become large enough to defend themselves against the Assyrians. Isaiah brings Ahaz a message to depend on the Lord and remain neutral. Isaiah tells Ahaz that Israel and Aram are too weak to be a threat, and that the Lord will protect Judah. Instead, 2 Kings 16:8 says Ahaz gave away treasure from the temple of the Lord to the Assyrians as a bribe to protect him from Aram and Israel.

Instead of listening to Isaiah’s word from the Lord, Ahaz tried to appease evil. How well did this work out? Assyria used the treasure to finance the war to conquer Aram and Israel, and then in 2 Chronicles 28 we’re told the Assyrians continued their march and conquered Judah, too, with the help of the Edomites from the south.

Isaiah told Ahaz to trust in the Lord. As Christians, we’re also taught to trust in the Lord. Like Ahaz, though, we attempt to resolve problems using our own human strength. Ahaz made several mistakes we can learn from.

I. Misplaced Focus

Let’s look at Isaiah 7:1-2.

When Ahaz son of Jotham, the son of Uzziah, was king of Judah, King Rezin of Aram and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel marched up to fight against Jerusalem, but they could not overpower it.

Now the house of David was told, “Aram has allied itself with Ephraim”; so the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest are shaken by the wind.

Ephraim was the largest of the ten northern kingdom, and is used here to represent all of Israel being united. Ahaz gets word that Israel and Aram have become allies, and Ahaz is scared, shaken by the wind. Ahaz has been given the word of the Lord, but he fears men. He has misplaced focus.

Oswald Chamber wrote, “The remarkable thing about fearing God is that when you fear God you fear nothing else, whereas if you do not fear God you fear everything else.” We face many fears in a world of sin and uncertainty. Finances, disease, natural disasters. We may face danger. We may face fear that someone we love will be hurt. Something may challenge our emotional or spiritual strength. We are tempted to give in to fear, to find a worldly solution.

Our focus should be on the Lord. What would the Lord have me do in this situation? How do I obey His commands in this time of trouble? When we turn to the Lord, fear of the world is replaced by faith in a faithful God. Our God is a powerful God. Why should we fear anything else? In Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus teaches us to remember that the Lord knows our needs, that He will take care of us. Do not worry about what we eat or drink, or what we should wear. Put the Lord first, and He will provide what we need.

What was Ahaz’s fear? Was his fear justified? Have you ever been in a circumstance where you were afraid? Have you ever asked for someone’s advice and wish you hadn’t? At what point did you turn from your fears and turn toward the Lord for strength?

II. Misplaced Confidence

Isaiah 7:3-9 –

Then the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood — because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah’s son have plotted your ruin, saying, “Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it.” Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

“‘It will not take place,
it will not happen,

for the head of Aram is Damascus,
and the head of Damascus is only Rezin.
Within sixty-five years
Ephraim will be too shattered to be a people.

The head of Ephraim is Samaria,
and the head of Samaria is only Remaliah’s son.
If you do not stand firm in your faith,
you will not stand at all.'”

The Lord says to Ahaz that the attack from the north will be unsuccessful. The leaders of those countries are only men, and He is the Lord God. The Lord knows the plans of evil men, and the Lord tells Ahaz that He is in control. The Lord says that these two countries are like sticks that have burned up, and there’s nothing left of them. Their flame may have once been bright, but now they’re dying. Both kings would be dead within two years.

Isaiah’s specific prophecy was that within 65 years, Israel would be too shattered to be a people. In 722 BC, Assyria conquered Israel and deported the people. 2 Kings 17:24 says foreigners came into the land to replace them, and Ezra 4:10 says later even more foreigners arrived.

Ahaz had misplaced confidence. His confidence is in himself. Ahaz puts his trust in a political alliance with Assyria. God is with Judah, but only if Judah is with God. Ahaz is trusting in the strength of an enemy to save him from other enemies. Where is Ahaz’s faith in God?

If we do not place our faith in the Lord when times are tough, then we have no faith at all. That’s what the Lord says – if you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all. But God is infinitely stronger than any problem we face. He is aware of our needs, and He is aware of those that plot against us. And God will help, but we must place our faith in Him first. Our primary confidence must be in Him, not ourselves, not other people, not worldly wisdom. God allows us to be tested in order to increase our faith in Him, and we demonstrate that faith when we give Him control and do not worry.

I notice also that Isaiah the prophet is faithful to share God’s word. But I also note fulfillment of prophecy that Michelle taught last week in Isaiah 6. Isaiah’s message falls on deaf ears, and Isaiah’s vision is unintelligible to blind eyes.

III. Missing Integrity

Isaiah 7:10-12,

Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

In Matthew 4, Satan tempts Jesus. Satan takes Jesus to the highest point of the temple of Jerusalem and tells Jesus to throw himself off. Satan says this will prove Jesus is the Son of God because scripture says angels will protect Jesus from any harm. And Jesus answers, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

Why is Ahaz’s response wrong, but Jesus’ response was right? Ahaz was exhibiting false religiousity. Ahaz wasn’t testing the Lord; the Lord was testing Ahaz.

Both Ahaz and Jesus quote Deuteronomy 6:13. There’s a difference though – God wants to protect Judah, and all Ahaz has to do is place his faith in the Lord. Here is the kind of man Ahaz was, from 2 Chronicle 28:1-4 –

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.

The Lord commanded Ahaz to ask for a sign. Ahaz refused. Ironically, Ahaz probably had been asking for signs from Baal and other deities; the Lord God says, “ask for a sign from me.” When Ahaz said he wasn’t going to test the Lord, what he was really saying was that he wasn’t going to trust the Lord. Ahaz used scripture to keep from obeying the Lord; he had missing integrity. While calling for Isaiah’s counsel, Ahaz had no faith in the Lord. To ask for such a sign from God required a faith from Ahaz that he didn’t have. He gave the appearance of being a religious person, but he was willing to sacrifice to idols, sacrifice his sons, make political alliances with enemies, anything at all. He had no integrity.

Integrity is the opposite of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is saying you believe or feel one thing, but then do something else. You are two different people; you do not practice what you preach. Integrity is being one person. You are the same person on the outside as you are on the inside. When we are a hypocrite, we are not being honest with God. We’re not even being honest with ourselves.

IV. Misplaced Faith

Isaiah 7:13-14,

Then Isaiah said, “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? 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.

Through Isaiah, God challenged Ahaz to ask for a sign, but Ahaz refused. Pious, fake religiosity; Ahaz refused to test God. In truth, Ahaz didn’t want a sign from God, because then Ahaz would have to be obedient to God or expose his own hypocrisy. Ahaz had already decided to place his faith in men; Ahaz had already requested help from Assyria.

God’s answer is to the entire house of David. Notice also that Isaiah refers to “my God,” perhaps recognizing that Isaiah’s God is not Ahaz’s god. God provided a sign anyway, even though Ahaz would not ask. God’s ultimate sign of His authority will be His Son, Jesus. The Hebrew word for virgin is complex; for Isaiah’s time, it probably means, “young woman of marriageable age.” In the next chapter, Isaiah chapter 8, Isaiah is talking about his own child, Maher Shalal Hash Baz, which meant “Quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil.” Partial fulfillment of this prophecy meant that Assyria would plunder the Aram and Israel before the child was old enough to know right from wrong.

We know there’s more to the prophecy, though. There is partial immediate fulfillment, but there is eventually ultimate fulfillment. Isaiah’s wife, the prophetess, was probably a real nice lady, but she wasn’t a virgin. She and Isaiah already had one child together. Also, Isaiah’s prophecy is not given to Ahaz, but the House of David, and he uses the plural “you”. The literal and ultimate fulfillment of this prophecy is in our Lord Jesus in Bethlehem. The apostle Matthew 1:22 says that “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 will call his name Immanuel, which means ‘God with us.”” The Greek word used here is not ambiguous; it means virgin, a woman who has never had sexual relations.

Our faith should be in the Lord, not in people, places or things. In 2 Samuel 7:16, the house of David was assured that David’s house and kingdom would endure forever, yet Ahaz placed no faith in that promise. God teaches us through trials to trust in Him and Him alone.

God will work out His plan, whether we participate in His plan or not. Ahaz certainly didn’t; Ahaz had faith in himself and in the world, and placed no faith in the Lord. As a result, Judah eventually fell and was plundered by the Assyrians. But look at Matthew 1:9 at the genealogy of our savior. The lineage of Jesus begins with Abraham through the line of David, then through Uzziah, Jotham, and Ahaz. God provided a savior; God fulfilled prophecy. God is faithful, even when we are not.

When a crisis comes, don’t misplace your faith; learn to place your faith in God. Don’t misplace your confidence; our God is bigger than any crisis that comes. Be honest with the Lord, ourselves, and other; when we respond in faith, it pleases the Lord and encourages others when they see how the Lord responds in our lives. If we do not stand firm in our faith, we will not stand at all.

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