from victim to victor

from victim to victor

Psalm 57 (CSB)

Psalm 57:1 [For the choir director: “Do Not Destroy.” A Miktam of David. When he fled before Saul into the cave.] Be gracious to me, God, be gracious to me, for I take refuge in you. I will seek refuge in the shadow of your wings until danger passes.

Psalm 57:2 I call to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.

Psalm 57:3 He reaches down from heaven and saves me, challenging the one who tramples me. Selah

God sends his faithful love and truth.

Psalm 57:4 I am surrounded by lions; I lie down among devouring lions– people whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

Psalm 57:5 God, be exalted above the heavens; let your glory be over the whole earth.

Psalm 57:6 They prepared a net for my steps; I was despondent. They dug a pit ahead of me, but they fell into it! Selah

Psalm 57:7 My heart is confident, God, my heart is confident. I will sing; I will sing praises.

Psalm 57:8 Wake up, my soul! Wake up, harp and lyre! I will wake up the dawn.

Psalm 57:9 I will praise you, Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.

Psalm 57:10 For your faithful love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness reaches the clouds.

Psalm 57:11 God, be exalted above the heavens; let your glory be over the whole earth.

We have been spending some time with the Psalms – particularly those psalms that emphasize God’s mission for us to reach the nations for him.

Today’s passage qualifies. Notice the chorus in the psalm – verses five and eleven. “God, be exalted above the heavens; let your glory be over the whole earth.”

It’s not immediately clear to every reader why an individual lament like this turns into a missions psalm. I pray the Lord gives me the ability to explain that.

David wrote this psalm about a time when he was a victim. That’s where we want to start when we examine the words.

How does it feel to be a victim?

If I stopped right now and asked some of you that question, I imagine some of your answers would scare me. All of us at some point in our lives feel this way.

Here’s how David described it. He talked about danger passing by, and needing to take refuge (1). I can remember being on top of a mountain and a storm coming, and having to rush down the mountain to take refuge in a shelter.

He talked about being trampled (3). I came close to being trampled by a panicking crowd on a ferry boat. When you are in the middle of a crisis, you feel your own fear and everybody else’s fear.

He talked about being surrounded (4). He mentioned being surrounded by lions. In his experience, the lions were not literal lions. But another Israelite was thrown into a lion’s den centuries later. I imagine Daniel sang this psalm a lot when he was down in that den.

He felt despondent (6). The word in Hebrew means to bow down. You know what it feels like to be brought down. Somebody says something and your heart deflates.

When you feel like a victim, it is okay to admit it. But God wants us to respond appropriately. David responded appropriately.

What can you do about being a victim?

David took refuge in the shadow of God’s wings (1). Psalm 46 says “God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble.” Isaiah told the Israelites that they had forgotten the God of their salvation and have not remembered the rock of their refuge (17:10). We have a God who is stable enough to deal with our times of instability.

David remembered God’s deliverance in his past (6). Some scholars treat this as a transition in the psalm where David now begins to celebrate his victory. I don’t think so. I think what David is doing is remembering a former event where he was a victim, and God gave him victory.

When we face periods of depression and challenges to our faith, we can gain strength by remembering former times when God brought us through.

David decided to praise God (7-9). Notice the words “I will.”

  • I will sing

  • I will sing praises

  • I will wake up the dawn

  • I will praise you, Lord, among the peoples

  • I will sing praises to you among the nations

Praise is not just a means of celebrating victory. Praise is a means of shifting from victim to victor.

  • A nation of former slaves getting ready for battle at Jericho. What do they do? They praise God by blowing trumpets, and he shows up there with them and knocks down the city walls.

  • Paul and Silas in prison, shackled and beaten. What do they do? They sing some praise songs to God, and he comes and sets them free.

When God hears our praises, he hurries our deliverance.

Why does God allow us to be victims?

By being a victim David learned that God can provide refuge (1). This is a lesson we can learn as well, but it won’t happen if we never face the ordeal of being a victim.

By being a victim, David fulfilled God’s purpose for his life (2). God wanted him to defeat Goliath. But God wanted him to lean on him to defeat this challenge. When he leaded on God for refuge, God got the glory.

By being a victim, David gave God the opportunity to reach down and save him (3). Sometimes God allows us to get in deep, because he wants to manifest his power over the stormy sea. He may appear to be sleeping in the boat, but he’s just waiting for us to cry out to him for rescue.

By being a victim, David glorified God (5,11). Let’s go back to that chorus:

  • God, be exalted above the heavens; let your glory be over the whole earth.

God allowed David to go through his period of being a victim because he knew that David would seek refuge in him. That negative experience was turned into positive praise, and resulted in his global glory. That is what God is doing in our lives as well. He’s turning our problems into praise. And he is using our bad experiences to reach the nations for him.

You see, everyone everywhere goes through tough times. We are all victims of something. But when we seek refuge in God, and trust him through the tough times, the world takes notice. They are looking for a God who can rescue them. They want a God who can reach down and pull them out of their depression and fear. Our God is the only God who can do that.

One day we are going to get together – a great multitude which no one can count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches in our hands; and we will cry out with a loud voice, saying, deliverance has come from our God who sits on the throne, and from the Lamb (Revelation 7:9-11).

You and I have the opportunity to do that now. We can look around for victims – there are plenty of them – and we can share our stories with them of how God restored us. We can share how he saved us from sin, how he healed our bodies, and rescued our marriages and helped us to clean up our communities.

God has a purpose for every bad thing that happens, and he causes all things to ultimately work together for good. He is for us, and even the things that we think are against us have to give way to his will.

You and I are going to be victims, but we can also be victors. That is what God wants.

Lord, by your grace, we choose to see all the bad things that we experience as opportunities to display your power to the nations.

are you ready?

are you ready?

Psalm 96 (CSB)

Psalm 96:1 Sing a new song to the LORD; let the whole earth sing to the Lord.
Psalm 96:13 … for he is coming– for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his faithfulness.

This is another one of those missions psalms. It challenges all the nations of the earth to turn toward God and get themselves ready, because God is coming to judge the world.

Nowadays, we know a lot more about how God is coming to judge the world than the ancient Hebrews did. We know that God sent his only Son to die on Calvary’s cross so that we could be forgiven of our sins and reconciled to him before he comes to rule the earth. We now know that God’s Son is going to return to the earth and set up his eternal kingdom here. We know he is going to restore the earth to the glory that has been marred by the presence of sin. We know that God is going to destroy sinners in hell, and reign in righteousness among the saved forever.

But with all our new knowledge about God’s plan, the world is still not ready for what God is going to do at the second coming of Christ. Getting the world ready for what God is going to do is what this psalm is all about. It is a challenge for God’s people to get the nations ready for the coming of God as a righteous judge.

I want us to look at each section of this psalm, because each section highlights a way we can get the world ready for what God is going to do.

The first section encourages us to get the world ready by acknowledging the uniqueness of God.

Psalm 96:1 Sing a new song to the LORD; let the whole earth sing to the LORD.
Psalm 96:2 Sing to the LORD, bless his name; proclaim his salvation from day to day.
Psalm 96:3 Declare his glory among the nations, his wondrous works among all peoples.
Psalm 96:4 For the LORD is great and is highly praised; he is feared above all gods.
Psalm 96:5 For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.
Psalm 96:6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.

One of the first things that any Jewish believer would ever learn is the Shema — It sounds like this: “Shema Israel, Adonay Elohenu, Adonay Echad. It is found in Deuteronomy 6:4 — Listen, Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!

What was so amazing about that? Well, all of the nations around them had their gods as well. Many of them, like Egypt — had a whole host of gods. How could God be one if there are all of these gods?

The answer is found in today’s psalm. Verse five says “all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” Our God is different. He is not an idol, a fabricated god designed and manufactured by a human being, and incapable of creation. Our God made the sky, and the birds in the sky, the sea, and the fish in the sea, the land, and the people on the land.

Because our God is real, and permanent, and powerful, we do not just sing about him, we can sing to him.

Our God is unique among all those deities of the nations. Compared to him, all the gods of the nations are impostors. They have a time coming when they all will be gathered together and thrown into the lake of fire. The Bible says that they will all die like men, but our God will live forever.

The world is not yet convinced that our God is unique. It is our mission to teach them that.

The second section encourages us to get the world ready by teaching them how to worship God.

Psalm 96:7 Ascribe to the LORD, you families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.
Psalm 96:8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name; bring an offering and enter his courts.
Psalm 96:9 Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him.

Worship involves two things: adoration and respect. Adoration is the recognition of beauty and wisdom. Respect is the recognition of power and authority. We worship our God because his glory and holiness in unsurpassed. We worship our God because he deserves our respect.

There is something wrong with sacrificing to a stone. God wants the whole earth to tremble before him. He wants every nation to acknowledge his power, and adore his glory. The world is not yet ready to do that, and it is our mission to teach the world to worship God.

The third section encourages us to get the world ready by submitting to the reign of God.

Psalm 96:10 Say among the nations: “The LORD reigns. The world is firmly established; it cannot be shaken. He judges the peoples fairly.”
Psalm 96:11 Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice; let the sea and all that fills it resound.
Psalm 96:12 Let the fields and everything in them celebrate. Then all the trees of the forest will shout for joy
Psalm 96:13 before the LORD, for he is coming– for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with his faithfulness.

This text requires a bit of explanation. The psalm was originally written in Hebrew, and Hebrew only has two tenses. They don’t have past, present, and future. They just have perfect and imperfect. The imperfect tense can be translated as either present or future.

All the verbs in verse 10 are imperfect. So, verse ten could be translated like this:

Psalm 96:10 Say among the nations: “The LORD will reign. The world will be firmly established; it will not be shaken. He will judge the peoples fairly.”

The psalmist was calling on his nation (Israel) to get the other nations of the world ready for God because he is going to come and judge.

I will also have to explain the meaning of that word ‘judge.” We are used to judges presiding in court. But that is not the kind of judging that God will be doing. The judges in the book of Judges were military leaders who rescued Israel from oppression.

Now, what the psalmist is saying is that God is going to come to the world on a cosmic scale as a judge for all the nations. He will not just rescue the Israelites, but he will rescue people from all the nations.

So the psalm calls on everything and everyone to get ready for God – who is coming to rescue the universe.

It sounds like that song they used to sing back in the 70’s

“Joy to the world
All the boys and girls
Joy to the fishes in the deep blue sea
Joy to you and me.”

The psalmist’s point is that everyone and everything can start rejoicing now because our rescuer is coming. But he is coming to reign. We can only share in the joy of his rescue then if we submit to his reign now.

Jesus Christ is God’s rescuer-judge. Isaiah prophesied about him “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations” (42:1).

So, God’s people knew that the Messiah would come to rescue not only Israel, but people in the other nations as well. It was their mission to get the nations ready for when the Messiah was going to come.

That is our mission as well. Since Jesus is coming to reign, we have to convince all the people in all the nations to submit to his reign. We do that by submitting to his reign in our hearts today.

So, I ask you, brother — sister — are you ready? You cannot get the world ready for Jesus, if you are not living for him yourself.

We have a mission. Let’s teach people how to worship God. Let’s show them how to obey God. Let’s get them ready for the coming of Christ!

salvation from a smile


salvation from a smile

Psalm 67:1-7 CSB

Psalm 67:1 [For the choir director: with stringed instruments. A psalm. A song.] May God be gracious to us and bless us; may he make his face shine upon us Selah
Psalm 67:2 so that your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
Psalm 67:3 Let the peoples praise you, God; let all the peoples praise you.
Psalm 67:4 Let the nations rejoice and shout for joy, for you judge the peoples with fairness and lead the nations on earth. Selah
Psalm 67:5 Let the peoples praise you, God, let all the peoples praise you.
Psalm 67:6 The earth has produced its harvest; God, our God, blesses us.
Psalm 67:7 God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.

This psalm begins with an adaptation of the famous Aaronic Blessing from Numbers 6:24-26:

“The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.”

It is a prayer for God to smile upon a people.

I want to reflect upon the psalm today, and I want to do so by asking three questions:

The first question is “What does it mean to pray for God to smile on us?”

It means God’s grace. If something comes from grace, then we cannot get it any other way. We cannot work our way into God’s smile. Lot’s of people think that they can, but it does not happen that way. The psalmist didn’t say, “Hold on, Lord, wait till we obey your commandments, and then we can expect your smile.” No, the smile comes first, then the obedience. That is why a lot of people will never come to faith. They want to work their way there.

So, a prayer for God’s smile is a prayer of repentance. It sees God’s frown on our sin, and it asks for forgiveness, so that we can experience his smile instead.

Praying for God’s smile means praying for God’s blessing: his empowerment. This is the opposite of a curse. A curse is the loss of protection, resulting in something terrible happening. A blessing is empowerment, resulting in something wonderful happening.

The Israelites knew all about blessings and curses because they included both in their visual aid on Mount Gerazim and Mout Ebal. They were holding themselves accountable to keep their covenant with God by pronouncing blessings on those who obeyed, and curses on those who disobeyed.

Or to put it another way, God would smile on those who followed his way, and he would frown on those who rejected and abandoned his way.

Praying for God’s smile means praying for the ability to please God. It is not a pompous prayer that says “God, look at how good we are.” No, it is the desparate prayer of a people who know they are not good enough. They are not fortunate enough to always walk in God’s way, so they do not always please him. But they want to.

Brothers and sisters, we should want to please God. If we have not because we ask not, then we cannot afford to avoid asking for the ability to please God. But what does it mean to please God?

We please God when we walk in his way. When Penny and I hiked the big hike in 2018, we were constantly reminded to stay on the trail, not to wander off. Wandering off could be dangerous for us, and it might cause confusion for others, because they might be tempted to follow our path instead of the actual trail.

We please God when we trust in his Son. 1 John 5:11 says that “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” There is no way to please God if you do not trust in Jesus. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Him.

The second question is “Why should we pray for God to smile on us?”

We should pray this because we need his deliverance. Deliverance and salvation are the same thing. It is odd that so many people are willing to ask God to save them, but then are reluctant to let God change them. That is like asking someone to rescue you from drowning, but insisting on staying in the water. God wants to be more than our fire insurance for eternity. He wants to deliver us from the mess we are in, and we need him to do that.

We should pray for God to smile on us because we need his power. Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7, we often find ourselves wanting to do the right thing, but doing the wrong thing. We should pray for God to smile on us because with his smile, comes his power. With his smile, comes his miracles. With his smile, comes his godliness

We should pray for God to smile on us because the nations need our witness.

I chose this psalm for today’s message because it reflects the mission of the people of God. The people of Israel were not just saved so that God could love them and bless them alone. They were intended to draw the other nations to him. Note verse 2: “so that your way may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”

We believers in Jesus Christ have the very same mission. Jesus commanded us to make disciples of all nations. He told the apostles that the Holy Spirit would come upon them, and they would be his witnesses “both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

The third question is “Why should we expect God to smile on us?”

We should expect God to smile on us because he promises to answer our prayers.

Jesus said “what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11).

Our prayers are not answered on the basis of our worthiness, but on God’s willingness. If we pray for God to smile on us in order for us to reach the nations with the gospel, God will move heaven and earth to answer that prayer.

We should expect God to smile on us because God wants the praise of all nations. Note verse 3: “Let the peoples praise you, God; let all the peoples praise you.” Human beings were created to reflect God’s goodness back to him, and one of the ways we can do this is by praise.

You and I can come together and praise God because of his goodness to us. But we can also spread that praise like a contagious virus. We can infect others because in each heart there is a God-shaped void, an empty place that can only be filled by a relationship with our creator.

But unfortunately we have been treating praise like the COVID-19 virus. We isolate ourselves from others when we do it, and we muffle our praise. It’s hard to sing in these masks!

We should expect God to smile on us because God wants to make his way known. God’s plan of salvation is his way, and he wants that plan known all over the earth (note verse 2). His smile empowers us to be different, and that difference is supposed to draw others to us, so that we can explain why we are different.

We should expect God to smile on us because God wants to produce a harvest. The result that God is looking for is mentioned in verse 7: “all the ends of the earth will fear him.” That ties back into Acts 1:8. The Holy Spirit is given to us as a blessing — a smile from God, so that God can produce a harvest of new believers through us.

Lord, smile on us, and bring the nations to you.



fighting the temptations of fatherhood

fighting the temptations of fatherhood - 1

fighting the temptations of fatherhood

Genesis 48:1-16 Christian Standard Bible (CSB)

1 Some time after this, Joseph was told, “Your father is weaker.” So he set out with his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. 2 When Jacob was told, “Your son Joseph has come to you,” Israel summoned his strength and sat up in bed. 3 Jacob said to Joseph, “God Almighty appeared to me at Luz in the land of Canaan and blessed me. 4 He said to me, ‘I will make you fruitful and numerous; I will make many nations come from you, and I will give this land as a permanent possession to your future descendants.’ 5 Your two sons born to you in the land of Egypt before I came to you in Egypt are now mine. Ephraim and Manasseh belong to me just as Reuben and Simeon do. 6 Children born to you after them will be yours and will be recorded under the names of their brothers with regard to their inheritance. 7 When I was returning from Paddan, to my sorrow Rachel died along the way, some distance from Ephrath in the land of Canaan. I buried her there along the way to Ephrath” (that is, Bethlehem). 8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” 9 And Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons God has given me here.” So Israel said, “Bring them to me and I will bless them.” 10 Now his eyesight was poor because of old age; he could hardly see. Joseph brought them to him, and he kissed and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see your face again, but now God has even let me see your offspring.” 12 Then Joseph took them from his father’s knees and bowed with his face to the ground. 13 Then Joseph took them both—with his right hand Ephraim toward Israel’s left, and with his left hand Manasseh toward Israel’s right—and brought them to Israel. 14 But Israel stretched out his right hand and put it on the head of Ephraim, the younger, and crossing his hands, put his left on Manasseh’s head, although Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 Then he blessed Joseph and said: The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, 16 the angel who has redeemed me from all harm— may he bless these boys. And may they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they grow to be numerous within the land.

What do we know about Jacob?

He was the grandson of Abraham, the second son of Isaac. He spent most of his life fighting. He fought his twin brother — Esau — even in the uterus of his mother. His name in Hebrew — Ya’akov — apparently means he who grasps the heel. He and his mother were convinced that he was supposed to get the family blessing, and conspired to trick their father into giving it. That didn’t sit very well with Esau, so to avoid more conflict, Jacob left home, and set off for Haran. On the way he sees Jacob’s ladder. He works for his uncle Laban for seven years to marry Rachel, but is cheated and gets her sister instead, so he has to work another seven years. He fights an angel. It was in this altercation that Jacob gets an injury that will be his identifying mark– a fighting injury — a limp.

Now, I chose Jacob because this passage seems to indicate some of his inner struggles, and these are the same kinds of things that many Christian fathers struggle with today.

First, fight the temptation to hide our weakness.

My father was apparently a very strong man when he was young, but I never knew him then. In my teen and adult years, he struggled with emphysema. He tried not to let it show. No father wants to appear weak in front of his children.

I think Jacob had come to grips with the temptation to hide his weakness. There was lots to hide. But Jacob was still learning that his weakness was an avenue of blessing. Like Paul, he was coming to a place in his life when he could say “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:10).

Our children don’t need Mr. Perfect. It’s better if they see Mr. Real. They are going to have weaknesses as well. We would do well to demonstrate reliance on God instead of self-reliance.

Secondly, fight the temptation to hide our faith.

Of all the events of Jacob’s life, he chooses to highlight a personal encounter with God, and a covenant similar to the one God had made with Abraham. I think it bears mentioning that this testimony that Jacob makes is not politically correct for the time and place that Jacob lived. He and his family are living in Egypt. But he testifies that God had given him the promised land. It would be centuries before the Israelites actually go there.

One of the best things that we can do for our children is declare your faith in Almighty God and his promises to us in Christ. Jesus says he is going to make all things new. That means that all losses are temporary. We will be tempted to hide our faith, because it will be challenged. Fight that temptation.

Thirdly, fight the temptation to hide our emotions.

Jacob’s love for Rachel was never a secret.

One of the best things we can do for our children is to show your love for their mothers. Children need to learn faithfulness, and a father’s love for his wife is a powerful teacher. When I was a boy, there were times when I angered my dad, and I was not too sure of his love for me, but I never doubted his love for my mother.

Finally, fight the temptation to hide our influence.

Even now, in one of the last acts recorded of Jacob’s life, he insists on having a say in the lives of his two grandsons. Joseph thinks he is just making a mistake when he crosses his hands and places his right hand on the head of Ephraim and not Manasseh. But Jacob knows.

Sometimes our culture glorifies and magnifies youth. One of the results of that is that we lose the valuable insight we can get from our elders. It can also intimidate our elders into hiding their influence — assuming that nobody really cares what we think. We are tempted to confine ourselves to golf courses or nursing homes.

The Proverbs (4:1) tells children to “listen … to a father’s instruction, and pay attention so that you may gain discernment.” The book teaches us to respect gray hair, comparing it to “a crown of glory” (16:31).

Jesus tells us all that we are meant to have an influence, like light shining in the darkness. We influence people that we have a relationship with. Fatherhood is one of those influence relationships.


So, to sum up this little message today, let me just encourage all those who still have fathers, appreciate them. They are a gift from God. In fact, even if our fathers is gone, we can still thank God for them. I still do. For those of us who are fathers, or father-figures — step up to the plate! It is now our time for our light of influence to shine. And, happy Father’s Day.

[This message was preached at a virtual service for Windsor Congregational Church, Windsor, Massachusetts, June 21st 2020].

Immanuel – part 2

201912151030 Immanuel - part 2 (Matthew 1 18-25)


Immanuel – part 2

Matthew 1:18-25 (CSB)

18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.

19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.

20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”

24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her

25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.

I want to begin with a recap of what we saw in Isaiah 7, the story of Ahaz.

That story contains the prophecy that God gave king Ahaz – the prophecy of an unmarried woman who would give birth to a child whom she would nickname Immanuel.

God had given Ahaz a choice. Ahaz could have obeyed God by refusing to seek help from Assyria, and trusted God to rescue the nation of Judah himself. Ahaz chose to ignore God’s offer of help, and disobey him. God still gave the sign. That sign was the nickname that this young woman gave to her child. The sign – the name Immanuel – became a symbol of God’s plan to rescue his people another way, at a different time.

Now let me restate this. God gave Ahaz a choice to make, and he made his choice, but it was the wrong choice. Then, God intervened again and offered to prove that Ahaz could trust him by granting him a supernatural sign. Ahaz refused to ask for a sign, but God gave the sign anyway, not specifically to Ahaz, but to his dynasty – the house of David. So, we have three elements to the story of Isaiah 7: a human choice, divine intervention, and a supernatural sign.

It just so happens that those same three elements are part of today’s story, which takes place seven centuries later.


Matthew 1:18 The birth of Jesus Christ came about this way: After his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, it was discovered before they came together that she was pregnant from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:19 So her husband Joseph, being a righteous man, and not wanting to disgrace her publicly, decided to divorce her secretly.

The Christmas story begins with the discovery of an unwanted pregnancy. In this culture today, if someone discovers an unwanted pregnancy, the choice seems to be between letting the child be born, or terminating the pregnancy.

But Joseph’s choice was not to abort the child. He knew that he had been responsible toward Mary, so he concluded that Mary must not have been faithful to him. But since he did not want to shame her, he decided divorce was his only option. In his culture, engagement was legally binding, so he decided to divorce her secretly.

The reason Joseph felt this was his only option was that he did not know the whole story.

Many times in our lives, we are going to be faced with decisions that are crucial and significant, but we will not have all the pertinent information we need to make the right choice. That is why we need to regularly seek God’s guidance through prayer. We also should be careful not to make judgments based on mere appearance.

Now, I am highlighting the fact that there are some major similarities between the stories in Isaiah 7 and Matthew 1, but there are also some glaring differences. Ahaz and Joseph are both prepared to make wrong choices, but that is where there is a change.


Matthew 1:20 But after he had considered these things, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

Matthew 1:24 When Joseph woke up, he did as the Lord’s angel had commanded him. He married her

Matthew 1:25 but did not have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. And he named him Jesus.

God had sent a prophet to Ahaz, and Ahaz chose to ignore Isaiah, and make the wrong choice anyway. But God himself appears as an angel to Joseph in a dream. It is vitally important for the history and salvation of humanity that Joseph not make the wrong choice.

This is divine intervention. I find it interesting that the message God gives to Joseph starts out the same way his message to Ahaz did. God had told Isaiah to tell Ahaz:

Calm down and be quiet. Don’t be afraid or cowardly because of these two smoldering sticks, the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram, and the son of Remaliah” (Isaiah 7:4 CSB).

The Lord tells Joseph in the dream “don’t be afraid.” This is something that God has to keep saying to us when he intervenes in our lives because when stuff happens to us, anxiety is our first response.

God chose to send his Son into a family that was this close to disintegrating before it even began. There was an unwanted pregnancy, a difficult trip to Bethlehem at the worst possible time. There was no place to stay. There was an evil king who wanted to kill the child. All of these things had to weigh heavily on the hearts of Mary and Joseph. They would have been tempted to give up on their marriage, on their faith, and write themselves off as hopeless.

But what I see in this story is that it is just at that point when the anxiety level was the highest that God intervened. He didn’t fix all their problems but he did remind them that they were in his will and encouraged them not to be afraid but to trust in him.

If you have lived any time at all, you have experienced times like that. Some of you are probably going through such times right now. What does it take to get through times like that? We are stronger than we think we are, so it really doesn’t take a miracle to get us through our tough times.

But it does take a message from God, assuring us that he’s got this. God told Joseph that Mary’s pregnancy is not in conflict with his plan; Mary’s pregnancy is God’s plan. Of course, we can understand that today. We have the advantage of 2000 years of hindsight. But for Mary and Joseph, they had to trust God and not give in to fear.


Matthew 1:22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

Matthew 1:23 See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us.”

There are some similarities and differences between this part of the story and Isaiah 7 as well. I want to draw attention to one of the differences.

In Isaiah’s story, the supernatural sign was the name Immanuel. It was apparently a nickname that this young woman would give her baby boy. It was a sign given not to Ahaz alone, but to his dynasty, the house of David. That sign basically said that Ahaz gave up on his God, but his God has not given upon his family. One day, God was going to rescue Judah, and he’s going to do it through another descendant of David.

We know today that the descendant of David who would rescue his people was Jesus. In fact, in the Matthew passage, it is Jesus himself who is the supernatural sign, not his name.

Matthew declares that Jesus’ virginal conception was the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. In Isaiah’s prediction, the birth of the child was to be natural, but the name the mother gave him was the supernatural sign.

When Matthew records the Isaiah 7:14 prophecy, he changes the pronoun.

  • a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14 NASB).

  • the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” (Matthew 1:23 NASB).

Immanuel was not going to be his parents’ nickname for Jesus. It was going to be his nation’s title.

Joseph was not told to name the child Immanuel. He was to be named Jesus, because he was God’s chosen savior. But his nation would come to recognize him as the sign of Immanuel – the sign that their God had not deserted them. God was still with them in the person of his Son.

The gospel message to you and me today is that Jesus can also be our Immanuel. This same Jesus who was born supernaturally came to die a death he didn’t deserve so that we can have a chance to live an eternal life that we do not deserve.

Jesus’ resurrection proves that God accepted that substitutionary death. And Jesus promises to come again and give us eternal life. Until then, Jesus being our Immanuel means this:

  • Jesus is with us “always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20 NASB).

This message was preached by Jeff on Sunday, December 15th, at Lone Star Advent Christian Church in Clifton Forge, Virginia.

The video stream of the service can be watched here.