The nation is at war. Cruel men conspire to destroy the peace and security all have enjoyed, and fear and uncertainty tear at the hearts of the people, threatening to undermine the fabric of their society. Many are asking, What will happen to me, to my family and friends? Will life ever return to normal, to the way it was before?”
In the midst of such terror God gives a word of hope, a promise to calm the hearts of all who listen and believe: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).
“Oh,” some may say, “I thought he was going to talk about what is happening today, not something that occurred thousands of years ago.” The point is, I am talking about today. As surely as the people of Isaiah’s day could take courage from a promise that would be fulfilled 725 years later, we can take hope from that same promise now fulfilled 2,000 years ago. The times may be different, but the situations are parallel and the principles remain the same.
Judah was in trouble. The mighty Assyrian army, known for acts of barbarism in war, was threatening the stability of the entire region. The northern tribes of Israel had formed an alliance with the nation of Syria to withstand Assyria and wanted Judah to join their alliance. But Ahaz, king of Judah, wasn’t interested. In fact he was looking to make an alliance of his own—with Assyria!
As a result, the kings of Israel and Syria were trying to overthrow Ahaz and install a new king in Judah, one who was sympathetic to an alliance with them, not with Assyria. The king they wanted to install was not from the line of David—he was an interloper. He posed a threat, not only to Ahaz, but to the entire line of Davidic rule.
Now Ahaz was not a godly king. In fact he was an idol worshipper. Many in Judah were, but some, like Isaiah, still believed and followed the Lord. God wanted to use this current crisis to give Ahaz and his people an opportunity to come back to Him. Through Isaiah He tells the king, “If you will not believe, surely you shall not be established…Ask a sign for yourself from the LORD your God” (Isaiah 7:9,11).
God was challenging Ahaz to trust Him rather than turning to Assyria for help. God had already promised that He would bless the descendants of David and preserve a King from David’s line on the throne of Judah. Ahaz didn’t need Assyria, he needed to believe God and stand on His promises. God was offering a supernatural sign to prove His promise. But Ahaz refused the offer. He had already made up his mind to trust in Assyria.
So Isaiah turns from speaking to the king, and instead addresses the entire house of David, giving them a sign God Himself chose—the promise of Immanuel. This son would establish the line of David forever, just as God had previously promised. God’s sign would be a supernatural event. This Immanuel would be virgin-born, a one-of-a-kind child. His birth would be proof that God is with us, a mighty foreshadowing of the divine nature of this King Messiah still to come. As far as Ahaz’s crisis, God deals with that, too. The prophet Isaiah goes on to predict that the plans of Israel and Syria would be defeated. But it was far more important for Judah to know that the promises of God concerning the King Messiah would most certainly be fulfilled, even if it meant waiting over 700 years for it to happen. In the interim, Judah would face a worse foe than the kings of Israel and Syria. Indeed, a mighty nation would eventually come and depose the king of Judah, taking his people captive. Still, there is the promise of Immanuel. Still, God will keep His word to His people. King Messiah will come. God is with us.
Now the United States is not the people of Israel. Still, the same principles do apply and we can take encouragement today in much the same way it was offered to ancient Judah.
Each and every crisis and conflict is an opportunity for people who know God to renew their trust in Him. Are we up to the challenge, or will we be like Ahaz and miss out on what God wants to show us at this time? It may be easier to put all our hope in the institutions of government, the military, the strategic alliances and coalitions with other nations, but however necessary these things may be, God still wants us to turn to Him in this hour.
Our Jews for Jesus staff in New York City reported that in the first weeks after the attack on the World Trade Center many people were eager to take our literature and speak with us. Normally hardened Wall Street “suits” were suddenly sensitized to greater spiritual realities. They wanted to talk. They welcomed our prayers. The national Day of Prayer that President Bush declared on that Friday was much needed. And many churches reported that the Sunday following the bombings seemed like Easter—with attendance up some thirty percent. Will this continue? Will God’s people continue turning to Him and calling upon others to seek Him?
I hope so. But whatever happens, no matter where the current crisis leads, we can be sure of one thing: God will keep His promises. His Word will not return void. Will we believe God’s Word over the prevailing sentiments of the day? This current conflict has definite spiritual connotations. Terrorists who attack America have a religious as well as a political agenda. Secularists in our country who want to ignore the religious overtones of this conflict invite further peril.
Some have already suggested that we have brought this terror on ourselves as a result of our nation’s stance in supporting Israel. No doubt many will challenge that commitment, claiming it will hinder our ability to secure the support of Arab nations against the terrorists. But God’s Word makes specific promises concerning the nation of Israel: “I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). I believe that God’s blessing on this great land of ours has been, in part, because of our willingness to stand with the nation of Israel. Woe unto us if we abandon that commitment out of fear or political expedience.
But God’s blessing has also been on this nation because we have proclaimed the gospel around the world. I’m not saying that ours is a Christian country—we certainly have our share of pagans and idol worshippers, and many of our leaders do not recognize the King of Kings. Yet there is a remnant of God’s people in this nation. Does any other country send more missionaries and evangelists out carrying the precious word of God? Does any other nation spend more to fund the work of the gospel around the world? Could that not be another reason, a hidden reason for the attacks? Were not Christians imprisoned in Afghanistan for that very reason when all of this began back in September?
Our real battle is not against flesh and blood. It is a cosmic conflict for all the ages. God has blessed us, in part, because we have a remnant here who are committed to carrying out Jesus’ command, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). We must remember that our Messiah told us, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14). How many nations do you think heard Billy Graham’s address in response to the crisis? Did he not preach the gospel? It may be that the end is very near, but we have a job that is not yet complete, a job that we must not turn from at any cost. We know who wins in the end and we are on the winning side. We don’t know how each battle will go, but Jesus will win at the last.
As you look back on that baby born in Bethlehem, look forward to His return. Because as surely as the promise of Immanuel gave hope to Israel, it gives hope to us. This month as we celebrate God’s faithfulness in sending His one and only Son, we can be confident that this same Immanuel will come again in power and great glory. Then we will fully experience God with us. Maranatha!