1st Sunday of Advent December 3, 2023
2 Chronicles 28:1-15
55, 66, 62, 108
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Sermon Audio: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/ministrybymail
Prayer of the Day: Stir up Your power, O Lord, and come, that by Your protection we may be rescued from the threatening perils of our sins and saved by Your mighty deliverance; for You live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (NKJV)
In Christ Jesus, whose first advent we celebrate and whose second advent we anticipate, dear fellow redeemed:
One of the finest Advent/Christmas traditions we have as Christians and as Lutherans is that we celebrate the coming of our Savior in song. We like to sing the familiar hymns and carols of the Advent/Christmas seasons. We sing hymns which declare who our Savior is: “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, Great David’s Greater Son;” or we sing hymns which declare from whom Jesus came: “Of the Father’s Love Begotten;” or we sing hymns which concern the town in which He was born: “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem;” or we sing hymns which speak of what our Savior’s birth means to us and to the entire world: “Joy to the World, the Lord Is Come!”
If you take the time to review the Advent/Christmas sections of The Lutheran Hymnal together with those carols included in the Carols and Spiritual Songs section of that hymnal together with those hymns dedicated to Advent and Christmas in our Worship Supplement 2000, you will find a total of 73 hymns and carols. Of those 73 hymns and carols, 61 of them were written after the Lutheran Reformation of the 16th Century—at which time congregational singing was reintroduced to the worship services of the Christian church. One of the oldest of those remaining twelve hymns is the hymn the first stanza of which we just sang: “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” This hymn provides the theme for our midweek Advent meditations this year—OH, COME, OH COME with reference to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! This hymn, which has been sung by Christians for over 900 years as they celebrate the Lord Jesus’ advent, contains four pictures of our promised Savior, the first three of which we will consider in our midweek Advent services.
Today we will consider the picture contained in the name Emmanuel. Our theme, therefore, is an advent prayer—OH, COME, OH, COME EMMANUEL! We will consider, first of all, the source of the picture as we find it recorded in our text from Isaiah, and then we will review the meaning of the advent prayer expressed by the author in the first stanza of this hymn.
I would imagine that most of you in attendance today are aware of the meaning of the name “Emmanuel.” It means “God with us.” But there may be some, perhaps many of you here this evening, who may not know the context in which this name for Jesus arises within the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah lived during the second half of the eighth century BC. God’s people were divided into two kingdoms at that time—a northern kingdom known as Israel and a southern kingdom called Judah. Israel had been ruled by ungodly kings for almost two centuries at the time of this prophetic utterance. It would be destroyed by the Assyrians, a ruthless, powerful, and growing empire of that day. Judah had been ruled by descendants of King David. While some of those kings were faithful, at this moment in their history they were being ruled by an unbelieving king named Ahaz. Isaiah, who is thought to have been a member of the royal family—a cousin to the king, lived and prophesied on God’s behalf in Judah.
A political crisis arose for Ahaz at this time. The unbelieving king of Israel allied himself with the wicked king of Syria in a combined attempt to conquer Judah. One could only wish that Ahaz had turned to the LORD for rescue amidst this crisis, but Ahaz had turned his back on the LORD earlier in his life and gave no indication of returning to Him. In fact, instead of appealing to the LORD for help, Ahaz approached those ruthless Assyrians, who in another generation would set their sights on conquering Judah. Ahaz bought their alliance at a great price, asking them to attack Syria and Israel in order to offer relief to the armies of Judah.
At this point Isaiah came to rebuke his cousin, King Ahaz. He assured Ahaz that the LORD was fully capable of helping him, suggesting that the kings of Israel and Syria were but tiny firebrands disappearing in the night’s sky in comparison to the LORD’s might and power. He, therefore, urged Ahaz to turn to the LORD and to look to Him for deliverance from these earthly enemies, but Ahaz steadfastly refused. Even when Isaiah warned Ahaz that if he continued in his unbelief he would be judged by God, Ahaz would not listen. He was determined to pursue his ungodly alliance with Assyria. Even when Isaiah was later sent back to Ahaz by the LORD with an offer to provide Ahaz with a sign from heaven to demonstrate the LORD’s willingness to help, Ahaz foolishly refused.
It was at that point that Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit uttered the words of our text: “The Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel.” The purpose of the prophecy was to show Ahaz that God was both capable of and willing to provide deliverance for His people. If Ahaz was not interested in hearing about a sure and certain temporal deliverance of Judah from the kings of Israel and Syria, God would then remind him of the much greater deliverance He planned for all the peoples of this world from much worse enemies—the enemies of sin, death, and Satan. After all, while earthly armies may in fact at times succeed in defending themselves against other earthly armies, there is no escape from sin, death, and Satan for any human being relying upon himself or other earthly allies!
My dear friends, from the time that sin first entered the world, God has revealed that the damages done by sin in all its forms could only be resolved by the direct action of God Himself. Human beings are not capable of dealing with sin or its consequences and removing them in a satisfactory manner. Only Emmanuel—“God with us”—can do that. Thus Isaiah directed Ahaz’ attention, as well as our own, to the fact that one day the LORD Himself in the person of Jesus Christ would be born, take on human flesh, and through His marvelous work of redemption, deliver us all from our greatest enemies.
Ahaz at that moment had a choice to make—a choice between unbelief or faith. He could be driven by unbelief to continue to entrust himself to an earthly power for possible temporal deliverance. Or he could in faith entrust himself to Emmanuel, who would deliver him from physical enemies in time and from his spiritual enemies for all of eternity. The Book of 2 Chronicles documents Ahaz’ unfortunate choice (cf. 28:1-15). Ahaz remained committed to his improper earthly relationships which ended in national and personal disaster. The armies of Syria and Israel defeated Judah in battle killing 120,000 of Judah’s soldiers and capturing 200,000 of Judah’s women, sons, and daughters to be taken into slavery in Israel. The LORD in His mercy intervened, sending one of His prophets to warn the people of Israel that if they did not care for their captives and return them safely to Judah, God would bring down severe judgment upon them. The people of Israel responded by doing exactly what the LORD had instructed them to do. Unfortunately, King Ahaz did not learn the lesson God intended him to learn. Instead of repenting of his many sins, he hardened his heart against the LORD and fell even further into unbelief, adopting the worship of the Syrian gods whom he assumed had defeated him. Sadly, Ahaz was permanently weakened—a result of his continued unbelief, and his weakness further weakened the land of Judah and the kings who followed him.
My dear friends, by God’s grace we have been led to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and to rejoice in the fact that He was, is, and always will remain our Emmanuel—God with us! The words of our text were fulfilled by Jesus when He was born of the virgin Mary in Bethlehem so many years ago. For that first advent we praise and magnify Him. Jesus has through His life and His death delivered us from sin, death, and Satan just as our LORD God promised to do.
Despite that, curiously enough we find ourselves confronted by the same choice that confronted Ahaz so long ago. How is that, you may ask? Simply in this way, that in each of our lives we are confronted by a variety of problems—some large and some small. To whom do we turn when those problems arise? Do we turn to ourselves, or to our friends, or to the medical or financial experts, or to the political leaders we elect in this world, or do we turn to the LORD and commit our cares to Him? Now, so that I am not misunderstood, let me say that it is imperative that we, under the guidance and with the blessing of God, deal with the problems that confront us in life using the very best human advice and help we can find. What we are talking about is the attitude with which we proceed. Do we put our supreme trust in people or in God? Let me provide an example of exactly what I mean. Some years ago, a friend of mine went into surgery. Before going into surgery, she was assured by her doctor that he was very capable, and that she should not worry for he had performed similar surgeries successfully many times. Her response to the doctor, was that she had asked the Lord to guide his hands, and that she was confident that the Lord would do just that. Some time after the surgery, her doctor mentioned to my friend that her comment had made such a deep impression on him, that he had gone into surgery every time thereafter with that prayer in mind.
Let us entrust ourselves to our Emmanuel in time and for eternity. Let us ask Him to come—to ransom us, His Israel, from the captivity we experience in this world because of sin. While we have been freed from the punishment of sin and from its consequence eternal death, we are still subject to the temporal consequences of sin and the pain associated with it including the physical death of our bodies. When Lazarus died, we are told that our Savior wept—not because Lazarus would never live again. He would arise, and in fact was raised, but the hurt associated with that death…the loss experienced by the family was real! Jesus groaned within Himself at the havoc in our lives caused by sin. And so, we pray Lord come, we are waiting for You to appear. In the meantime, let us rejoice! Why? Because our Emmanuel, who came once in lowly submission to the will of His heavenly Father to be our Savior, will come for us in glorious exaltation to deliver us from this sinful world and take us to heaven. OH, COME, OH, COME EMMANUEL! Yes, come quickly! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.