The Sign of Immanuel for Africa

by LA UBF   12/27/2008     0 reads


The Sign Of Immanuel���

 The Sign of Immanuel

(The Sign of God’s Hope for Africa)

Isaiah 7:1-14

Key Verse 7:14

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.

Thanks and praise be to God for sending His one and only Son Jesus, Immanuel. 

Thank God for his hope for Africa. Unbelievers may ask, "Can anything good come out of Africa?" But we say, "Are you kidding? If the world still has a hope it will be because of the hope that comes out of Africa. For in the years, decades, and centuries to come, black Africa is going to be the center for the Lord's world mission!" To signal the emergence of this hope in the year 2008 the Lord produced Obama the President of the United States of America out of Africa! 

Nowadays as we look around ourselves we see a trend that an increasing number of people do not believe in the existence of God. Some might admit that God exists, but they do not believe that God can make any difference to the problems they have. 

Mr. Ahaz is one of them. He lived in Jerusalem of Judah about 8 centuries before Christ. Although he was born into a believing family, he did not think that faith in God would make any difference. On a fundamental level he had doubts about God's love for him and his people. Since he did not have a personal faith in the Lord, when he was faced with challenges he behaved like a sick chicken.

Knowing his problem the Lord set up a personal one to one bible study with him. Let us see how it went.

Look at vs. 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." 

Before we come to a one to one Bible study with a sheep it is important for us (as Bible teachers and shepherds) to know what is going on with our sheep. What then was going on with Ahaz? What exactly was Ahaz's problem? We can find the answer to this question in 2Ch 28:1-5. 

"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. Therefore the LORD his God handed him over to the king of Aram. The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel, who inflicted heavy casualties on him."

This passage gives out a cat-scan image showing exactly what Ahaz’s problem was. What was it? His problem was this: Ahaz did not have practical faith. He only had theoretical faith. So by sending him some troubles God wanted to teach him what it is to believe in God or what it is not to believe in God. If he believes, the Lord will promote him to an exalted state. If he does not, he will become part of the statistics.  

So let us think about King Ahaz a little more. In the first place, he was lucky because he had a believing father. His father's name is Jotham, which in Hebrew means, "God is perfect" (or "God is complete"). He became a king at the age of 20. He ruled the kingdom of Judah for 16 years. 

Growing up he must have studied the Bible. His father must have prayed for him that he would grow as a man of God. But other Bible records (2Ki 16 and 2Ch 28) indicate that he did not learn anything from the Bible. Rather he became cynical about God and God's teachings. Then he walked in the ways of unbelievers. Soon he got involved in idol worship, demon worship, and all other wicked practices. When one abandons God and goes astray, God sends him some troubles so he would learn practical faith.

So how did the Lord help him? Let us read verses 3-9, responsively. 

3 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. 4 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. 5 Aram, Ephraim and Remaliah's son have plotted your ruin, saying, 6 "Let us invade Judah; let us tear it apart and divide it among ourselves, and make the son of Tabeel king over it." 7 Yet this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “It will not take place, it will not happen, 8 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. 9 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."’”

At this point the Lord helped him by sending the Prophet Isaiah who in turn helped Ahaz to see the problems from God's perspective. Then the Prophet Isaiah encouraged him to meet the challenge by faith in God. "If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all." 

This turn of events then shows us that God sends difficulties our way so that God's children can learn faith. Without difficulties we cannot learn faith in a practical sense. At a divinity school we can learn faith in theory. But in order to learn practical faith we need field work training. And we can best learn when there are hardships. For us who believe then hardships are not just hardships; they are "opportunities" (or "challenges"); they are God's training devices, specially designed by God for his children, and the purpose of the design is for God’s children to learn practical faith (or working faith). 

So we have this to say: When there is a small difficulty we can learn a small faith. When we have a medium sized difficulty we can learn a medium sized faith. When we have a mega sized difficulty we can learn a mega sized faith. Through different sizes of faith we can overcome all different sizes of difficulties, hardships, and challenges. In this way we can grow to be a man of God.

Missionary Deborah Chung had a considerable amount of difficulties in child education. Last Friday evening she made a presentation on "home-schooling". I was deeply moved by her spirit of faith. What she said at the outset of her presentation struck me. She said, "Out of desperation I started home-schooling." Then as she met the challenge by faith the Lord God helped her to learn that God is living. It is not only she but her three children who came to know God better because the teaching materials were developed by Bible believing people, so children are exposed to Biblical principles. 

Surely, Africa, such as Botswana, has lots of difficulties. The fact that Africa has many problems means only one thing, that is, "Africa has many opportunities," particularly, opportunities to learn faith in God! So the problems African people are faced with are powerful signs that God truly loves Africa. Surely something good and noble will come out of Africa, if we all learn to meet the challenges by faith! 

How else did the Lord help Ahaz? Look at verses 10-11. 

"10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 "Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights." 

God is the God of miracles. A week ago in LA it rained cats and dogs. In Downey UBF there is a very old rundown mini-van. Around 5 p.m. I drove this mini van to the Norwalk Superior Court to secure a form for a missionary. On the way however, right in the middle of the heavy afternoon traffic, the engine stopped all of a sudden. I was stuck. It was raining hard. I did not bring an umbrella. The cars behind me kept honking. I was totally embarrassed and said to myself, "Oh my God, what shall I do now?” At that very moment, my car radio was tuned to AM 980, and the anchor man said, "The engine is cold and wet. So start out the engine again." I got the message. I started up the engine. And the car started running. Was it a miracle? I don't know. 

We need to remember that God is living and active. He cares for his children. So when necessary he can perform miracles. 

How did Ahaz respond to the Lord's request? Look at verse 12. 

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

His response sounds spiritual. But the truth is that he already came up with his own idea, that is, to go and ask Assyria for help. Would someone rise and read for us 2 Kings 16:7? 

"Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, ‘I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.’" 

God sent Isaiah to Ahaz, whose name in Hebrew means, "The Lord is my salvation." But Ahaz said to the Assyrian king, "I am your servant and vassal [meaning, slave]." "Please save me." That was ridiculous. He made a truly stupid decision for, according to 2Ch 28:20, Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria came to him, but he gave him trouble instead of help. Instead of relying on the Lord, his truest friend, he relied on a heathen king, his worst enemy. 

Finally, the one to one Bible study between Isaiah and Ahaz came to a dead end. Isaiah finally ran out of patience. At that moment what did Isaiah do? Did he say, "Hey, you! You are a hopeless case. From now on you are on your own. I am not going to deal with you any more"?  

Let us read verses 13 and 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." 

Isaiah did not become angry. Although Ahaz was a rebellious sheep, Isaiah still loved him. Then for the first time in God's redemptive history the Lord enabled him to share with Ahaz the first Christmas message entitled Immanuel! 

Let us all read verse 14 once again. 

"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." 

Let us focus on the word "you" [as in "...the Lord himself will give you a sign..."]. Let us turn to our neighbor and say, "This sign is for you!" 

It is interesting to note that it was Ahaz who became the first recipient of the good news on the Savior to come called Immanuel. In the history of the Israelites, there came out 44 kings (4 kings before David's kingdom got divided, 20 kings who ruled Northern Israel, and 20 kings who ruled the southern kingdom Judah). Ahaz was the 12th king of Judah. 1 and 2 kings and 1 and 2 Chronicles give out the report cards on the 44 kings. Some kings got A's or B's, and even F's. Not all kings got all A's, not even King David. Some kings screwed up big time, so they got a lot of F's. But at least a lot of them got B's, C's, or D's. But it was not so with Ahaz. He got all F's. During his leadership he instituted in all the streets, hills, and country side idol worship, demon worship, and all the heathen practices that promote carnality and a flesh-oriented lifestyle, that he virtually locked Judah into an irreversible course of destruction so that even though some good kings like Hezekiah came after him and tried to reform, they could not reverse the course. So eventually they went into exile. In this way since, Ahaz did so poorly that when he died they chose not to bury him in the royal tomb (2Ch 28:27).

An amazing truth though is that the Lord God still cared for a man like Ahaz, so he gave him the sign of Immanuel. 

This Ahaz can be anyone: he can be our sheep or our children. He can be even each of us, for on so many occasions we behave like Ahaz did. Or this Ahaz can be the people of the present day America. Originally, the Lord God established America as a City on a Hill. About 2 centuries ago the Lord established her on the foundation of Biblical principles. Yet what has she now become? Very quickly she has become no different, if not worse, than unbelieving nations. The situation of the U.S. has gone so bad that once upon a time Billy Graham said, "If God does not judge America immediately, the people of Sodom and Gomorrah will rise and sue God for mal-practice."  

The same can be said of Africa. The first night of the conference Msn. Mark Yoon made a book report saying God blessed Africa so much as to shape the African mind according to Biblical principles and doctrines. God blessed Africa through the good examples of St. Augustine's monastery movement and much more. And she did receive the gospel "ahead of western civilization." But what did she become? Or, to put it another way, "Is she better than Ahaz?" One missionary I know used to say, "Christianity in Africa is a mile long but an inch deep." Thank God that she has faith that is at least an inch deep. Yet she has a lot to repent of. 

What is truly amazing is the way God thinks of her. As shallow as her faith may be, God still has a great hope for her. 

"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." 

Let us then all pray that the people of this continent, the missionaries and shepherds who are gathered here, all renew our faith in the Lord, and by faith in Him, stand up to meet the challenges we have, particularly the challenge to establish Africa as a missionary sending continent. 

One word: Immanuel!