Before digging into the contents of these verses, let me remind you of what we have seen thus far. We have seen an engaged (betrothed) couple, Mary and Joseph. Before Mary and Joseph were fully married Mary was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit. Joseph naturally thought that Mary had been unfaithful to him so he planned on divorcing her quietly. As Joseph was contemplating on how to move forward with Mary an angel from God appeared to him in a dream and told him to take Mary as his wife, that she will bear a son, and that this son is to be named Jesus. The angel then tells Joseph why he is to name him Jesus, “for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). We learned that Jesus’ name literally means, “Yahweh (God) Saves.” This name tells us both about who He is and about what He came to do. He is Yahweh (God), and He has come to save His people from their sins.The birth announcement of this angel to Joseph ends in vs. 21. In vs. 22 Matthew goes on to explain how this birth announcement fulfills one of God’s promises, the Immanuel promise from the book of Isaiah. This morning’s sermon can be broken up into three parts:
1. We will look at this promise from Isaiah 7
2. We will consider how Jesus fulfills it
3. We will consider what it means for us today
1. The Promise (1:22-23)
Read vss. 22-23 with me.
 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel”
So Matthew tells us that “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken.” To what is Matthew here referring? All what took place? He is referring to everything that has happened thus far: Mary conceiving of a child as a virgin, the angel appearing to Joseph, etc. As we already know Matthew is extremely interested in showing us how all of the promises of God find their ‘Yes’ in Christ. So here he tells us not just what happened there 2000 years ago, but demonstrates how all of this is the fulfillment of a particular promise of God in the Old Testament. And there is no doubt that Matthew’s first readers would have been well versed in their Old Testament Scriptures. Part of my goal in preaching through Matthew is to spend a good deal of time considering how the promises of God in the Old Testament are fulfilled in the New. So this morning the majority of the sermon will be spent in Isaiah 7.
Turn with me to Isaiah 7. The particular passage that Matthew references is Isaiah 7:14. Although the promise is not found till vs. 14, I want to start in vs. 1 so that we can get an understanding of the context in which this promise is given.
Now the events recorded here in Isaiah 7 take place around 735 B.C. or so (that is, 735 years before Christ). I want you to see four things about the context in which this promise is found.
1. In vs. 1 we see that this was a time of battle.
 In the days of Ahaz the son of Jotham, son of Uzziah, king of Judah, Rezin the king of Syria and Pekah the son of Remaliah the king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to wage war against it, but could not yet mount an attack against it.
At this time Israel was a divided nation. Just as America was divided between north and south in the civil war, Israel was also divided between north and south. The focus here is on Ahaz (see Matthew 1:9), king of Southern Israel/Judah. Ahaz was not the best king in the world. In fact, he was an evil king. God has absolutely nothing good to say about Ahaz at all (see 2 Kings 16 and 2 Chronicles 28). Just as we saw with Manasseh a few weeks ago, Ahaz also offered up his children as sacrifices to foreign gods. He rearranged the entire temple. He gave much of the gold in the temple of God to the king of Assyria. He destroyed much of the temple to make it more acceptable for the worship of idols. Ahaz was an evil king. But here we see Ahaz king of Judah. Ahaz was facing a time of war. We see in vs. 1 that the kings of Northern Israel and Syria were combining their forces to wage full scale war on Judah. So here we see war brewing on the border of Judah. It is a classic game of 2 against 1 and Judah was outnumbered
2. In vs. 2 we see that this was a time of fear.
 When the house of David was told, “Syria is in league with Ephraim,” the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.
When Judah heard that Northern Israel and Syria were on their doorstep, ready to pounce, they were filled with great fear. The fear was so great that “the heart of his people shook like the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” Only with poetry can you get an image like that. You have seen trees before a big storm comes in. The leaves shake. This is what a person does when in shock. When I was in college I lived in a quad with three other guys. We used to play pranks on each other all the time. One night I went to bed early, which was my first mistake. My three roommates thought it would be a good idea to sneak into the room where our bunk beds were with the lights out, hold me down without waking me up, and then scream at the top of their lungs. They did so successfully. I woke immediately but couldn’t move. I literally couldn’t move my body. I couldn’t even yell. I just laid there with my body trembling without being able to say a word. It is no wonder why I have sleeping issues. But this is the picture. They were trembling like a leaf. They were terrified. They knew that they would never be able to withstand the combined strength of Northern Israel and Syria.
3. In vss. 3-9 I want you to see a promise of protection and deliverance. In vss. 3-9 the Lord exhorts Ahaz through Isaiah the prophet to not be afraid, but to trust the Lord.
 And the LORD said to Isaiah, “Go out to meet Ahaz, you and Shear-jashub your son, at the end of the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s Field.  And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah.  Because Syria, with Ephraim and the son of Remaliah, has devised evil against you, saying,  “Let us go up against Judah and terrify it, and let us conquer it for ourselves, and set up the son of Tabeel as king in the midst of it,”  thus says the Lord GOD: “‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.  For the head of Syria is Damascus, and the head of Damascus is Rezin. And within sixty-five years Ephraim will be shattered from being a people.  And the head of Ephraim is Samaria, and the head of Samaria is the son of Remaliah. If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all.’”
Isaiah is sent to deliver this message to Ahaz at a particular place, “the conduit of the upper pool on the highway to the Washer’s field” (vs. 3) And the Lord exhorts Ahaz to be quiet, fear not, nor let your heart grow faint in vs. 4. Here Ahaz and all Jerusalem are terrified at the great military that is ready to pounce. And Israel had no chance of withstanding an attack from these two enemy nations. On paper—from a worldly perspective—Ahaz had reason to shake in his boots. And the Lord tells Ahaz what he often needs to tell us, “be quiet.” You can hear Isaiah telling Ahaz, “Ahaz, stop rehearsing all the possible scenarios. Stop it! Stop looking at the enemy on your border. Fix your eyes on the Lord!” We need to be told to be quiet sometimes as well. Sometimes we become so overwhelmed by the size of the enemy or by the size of the problem that we become paralyzed, and instead of trusting the Lord and His ability we become filled with an ungodly anxiety.
Isaiah then, in vs. 4, goes on to size up Northern Israel and Syria from God’s perspective. From an earthly perspective the combined forces of these two nations were a force to be reckoned with, but from God’s perspective they were “two smoldering stumps of firebrands.” You know what this looks like. You have been camping and you wake up to a fire that has gone out. There in the fire pit is a log that is still smoldering, but has absolutely zero fire making potential. It isn’t putting off any heat, just a small amount of warmth. But it is smoking. It has the appearance of being hot, but there is really nothing there. It is like a dog that is all bark and no bite. That is how God sees Northern Israel and Syria. They are no real threat to Judah. Now on paper—from an earthly perspective—that isn’t true. Judah has no hope of withstanding an attack against these two enemy nations. But the Lord is on Judah’s side.
Have you ever read Pilgrim’s Progress?
There is a point in the story where Christian is coming to the house Beautiful. In order to get to the house Beautiful he has to stay on the narrow road. You get to the point in the story where Christian can see the house, but right in front of the house is a large lion on both sides of the road. The lions were roaring and were ferocious. Christian knew that he would be a goner if he tried to walk on the narrow road to the house. But just as Christian was about to turn back one of his traveling companions, Watchful, tells him that although he cannot see it, the lions are chained. So Christian moves on down the narrow road right past the lions afraid for his life. And yet he presses on through the fear and finally makes it to house Beautiful. This is Ahaz’s situation. There are two roaring lions on the border of Judah. The Lord is telling him that he has nothing to fear—that they cannot touch him. That is just what he tells him in vs. 7, “It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass.” Syria and Northern Israel will be destroyed. God will protect Judah.
But then the Lord offers Ahaz a warning in vs. 9, “If you are not firm in the faith, you will not be firm at all.” In other words, if you are looking for strength in anyone but the Lord, you will be flattened. If Ahaz will not look to the Lord for strength and protection, Ahaz will be destroyed. And what you will learn if you read the rest of Ahaz’s story in 2 Kings 16 or 2 Chronicles 28 is that Ahaz was not firm in the faith, and because of that Judah suffered greatly under the thumb of the Assyrians (see 2 Chronicles 28:16-21).
4. In vss. 10-14 we see a time of unbelief. In vss. 10-14 the Lord offers Azah a sign confirming His promise of protection and salvation from their enemies.
 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz,  “Ask a sign of the LORD your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.”  But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the LORD to the test.”  And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also?  Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
It is amazing in vs. 11 isn’t that the Lord offers to do whatever Ahaz needs Him to do to be able to put his trust in Him. A sign is basically a basis for belief. God is saying to Ahaz here, “I want you to trust me, and I will go to whatever length you need Me to go prove to you that you are safe trusting in Me and in Me alone.” You will remember that Gideon needed a sign in Judges 6. He laid out a piece of fleece one night and it was sopping wet while the ground was dry. Then the next night he laid out the fleece and it was dry and the ground was sopping wet. Ahaz could have asked for something like this.
Ahaz could have asked for God to move the big dipper clear across the sky so that it looked like Orion was holding a frying pan. God was willing to do whatever for Ahaz to give him reason to trust Him. Ahaz could have asked for God to bring Jupiter within 10 feet of the earth and then remove it back to its resting place. He could have asked for God to cause a herd of pigs to stand up on their hind legs at the same time and do perfect line dancing to a chicken singing a Garth Brooks country western song. He could have asked for anything. And what is so amazing in this is the mercy of God. That God would condescend to a man like Ahaz. What is amazing about Gideon and Thomas was not their lack of faith in needing evidence or a sign. What is amazing, rather, is the mercy of God in stooping to their level. Here God is stooping to Ahaz’s level. God wants Ahaz to trust Him and is giving him every reason to trust Him.
And how does Ahaz respond to this offer? See vs. 12. He rejects it! But why does he reject it? On the face of it, it looks like he rejects it out of a heart for God. He said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” This looks so godly and so spiritual. Ahaz is too spiritually mature to ask God for a sign. But here’s the problem. Ahaz won’t ask God for a sign, but its not because he doesn’t need one because his faith is so strong. No. Ahaz won’t ask for a sign because he doesn’t want to trust God. He knows that if God gives him a sign that he will be obligated to trust Him. Imagine if Ahaz took God up on His offer and God brought Jupiter within 10 feet of earth. Wouldn’t that demand a response of faith on Ahaz’s part? Of course it would.
To make matters worse, God told Ahaz to ask for a sign. You never tell the Lord, “No.” Ahaz spoke as if he knew better than God. At the end of the day, Ahaz didn’t want to trust the Lord. Why? Because trusting the Lord is difficult. It is so much easier to trust a powerful nation like Assyria than it is to trust the Lord. Trusting the Lord takes faith. When you trust in Assyria to go to bat for you, you can see their swords, chariots, and fighting men. When you trust the Lord you can’t see His army or His arsenal. Trusting the Lord demands that you walk by faith, not by sight.
Look in vs. 13-14 at how the Lord responds to Ahaz. He rebukes Ahaz for wearing Him thin. God saw through Ahaz’s pseudo-spirituality. He knew that Ahaz was bent on not trusting Him. So the Lord basically says, “Ahaz, if you won’t ask a sign from Me, I will give one to you.” And the Lord promises to do something that is absolutely impossible, a virgin will conceive and bear a son, and the child this woman will have will be God incarnate. Imagine if Ahaz would have asked for this sign. “Lord I will believe you and trust you if you take on flesh—become one of your own creatures—in the womb of a virgin.” This blows all would-be signs out of the water!
2. How Jesus fulfills the promise
And this is where our promise from Matthew 1comes. The sign is the virgin birth. The virgin birth of the one named Immanuel. God gave this sign to Ahaz in a context of war, fear, and unbelief. Judah was surrounded by enemies. God wanted king Ahaz to trust Him. And he wanted to give Ahaz a reason to trust Him and not look to the Assyrians. Ahaz didn’t want to trust God and so God gave Ahaz a sign, the virgin birth. This promise was given in a context of war, fear, and unbelief. Judah was in need of God’s salvation and deliverance. What was the purpose of this sign—what was this sign signifying? It was signifying a God wrought deliverance—the fact that God would save His people.
Think of the context in which the promise was given in Isaiah 7. The sign was given to provide Judah a reason to believe that God was going deliver them from their enemies. So Jesus is born and He is given the name Jesus, which means, “God Saves.” That is the whole point of the sign of the virgin birth—to confirm that God will save His people. And He is called Jesus because “he will save His people from their sins.”
You will see in vs. 23 that Matthew takes the time to give us the meaning of the name Immanuel. This tells us that Matthew thought it was important that his readers know and mark it down. The name Immanuel literally means “God with us.” And that is who Jesus is. He is Yahweh in the flesh. He is God incarnate. This is one of the most important passages to point to in demonstrating the fact that Jesus is God, not a demi-god, but God Almighty in the flesh. And this is how we know that our salvation is secure, because it is the work of God. God didn’t save us from afar. No. He took on flesh and dwelt among us. He became one of us to save us from our sins.
3. The promise for today
I think we have to ask what this means for us today, because we live in a completely different period in God’s plan on redemption. God is no longer with us in the person of Jesus. Does this mean that God is no longer with us? Immanuel, you see, ascended to heaven over 2000 years ago. Does this mean that God is no longer with us? Absolutely not. Turn with me to Matthew 28:18-20.
 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Notice the promise at the very end of vs. 20. Jesus commissions His disciples with a massive task, worldwide evangelism. And then He promises His disciples, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” You see, God is still with us. It’s not like Jesus exited stage left at His ascension, leaving us with the tools to build the church and figure it out on our own. “I have taught you all I can teach you, now it is up to you.” No! If anything, our situation has improved since Jesus left the earth. Jesus, speaking of the Holy Spirit, says in John 14:17, “He dwells with you and will be in you.” Do you see how Matthew 1:23 and Matthew 28:20 are bookends for the Gospel of Matthew? God was with us in the person of His Son, and He remains with us by His Spirit. Jesus ascended to heaven, but He is with us in the most intimate way possible, by indwelling us by His Spirit. You see, Jesus didn’t stop His ministry when He ascended to heaven. No. He continues His ministry through His people.
So we can encourage and exhort one another with the very words that God exhorted Isaiah with, “Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint.” Why? Because God is with us! He is with us! He hasn’t left us as orphans. “What have I to dread, what have I to fear, leaning on the everlasting arms? I have blessed peace with my Lord so near, leaning on the ever lasting arms!”
Friends, this is why you need to come to Wednesday night Bible study.
I know some of you can’t make it because of work. But you need to come if you can. I am not saying this to brow beat you. I am saying this because you are missing out on the presence of God. I am telling you that Wednesday night is like a free steak at Longhorn. Why wouldn’t you come? Why would you rob yourself of the presence of God? Sure,Matthew 18:20 is first and foremost about church discipline. Nonetheless, there is a principle in it, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20). God with us! And there is a special presence when God’s people gather together for worship and prayer and to sit under the teaching of the word. I am just like you. I work a 10 hour day every Wednesday. I am beat at the end of the day every Wednesday. When I come to Bible Study I am just as tired and worn out as you. Usually my goal for Wednesday night—of no fault to the teaching or music or praying—is to not fall asleep. And yet no matter how tired I am, somewhere along the line—usually when the word is taught—God fills me up to overflowing. Sure, I leave the church building just as tired as I was when I got there, but my heart is filled with joy and thanksgiving. Why? Because God is with us. There is a special presence of God when His people gather under the preaching of His word. My friends, God is still with us today. He is with us this morning. He is here right now! He will be with us to the end of the age. What a blessed reality!
You see, in the Old Testament God lived in a building, the temple, in the midst of His people. Things changed when Jesus came. When Jesus came God took up residence in the person of Jesus. But when Jesus ascended to the Father, what did He do? He poured out the Spirit. And now God no longer lives in a building, a literal temple, but in His people. Thus the church is referred to as “God’s temple” because “God’s spirit dwells in you” (1 Corinthians 3:16). So God is still with us, but in a more intimate way than ever before in the history of God’s dealings with man. God is no longer outside of us. He is no longer in a location outside of ourselves. No. He indwells us by His Spirit.
Jesus says, “I am with you always, to end of the age.” And He is with us by His Spirit, both as individuals and corporately. And so Jesus tells us that our situation is better now that He has gone. “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). No. God is no longer with us in the physical person of Jesus. But He is with us by His Spirit. He is with us in the most intimate way possible. God sent His Son to die for us to make payment for our sins. But God did not stop there. No. He has actually taken up residence within us by His Spirit.
*An unedited sermon preached by Pastor Jimmy Snowden at Sovereign Grace Fellowship in Boscawen, NH on June 29, 2014. Click here to watch or listen to this sermon.
I am always glad to hear from readers. Just write me at jimmy.snowden [@] gmail.com.