Menu Close

“Immanuel in the Culture”

Isaiah 7-9
Bob DeGray
December 11, 2005

Key Sentence

Trust in Immanuel is the alternative to cultural correctness.


I. Trust in Immanuel, not man’s power (Isaiah 7:10-17, 8:5-10)
II. Trust in Immanuel, not the culture’s answers (Isaiah 8:11-22) marriage, new age, pc
III. Trust in Immanuel, who brings light and peace (Isaiah 9:1-7) pop psych christianity


        Satan always seems to be looking for a way to silence the voices of morality and truth. What approach might he use in a culture that is supposed to allow freedom of religion and speech? How about this: if you make ‘hate speech’ a punishable offense, and then define the Christian message that men are sinful and need a savior as hate speech, you can make that message illegal. Sound farfetched? It was tried recently in Sweden. In 2002 Sweden passed a hate crimes law which included jail sentences of up to four years for so called ‘hate speech’ in which you attempted to incite people against others on the basis of their race, creed or sexual orientation. The law explicitly included "church sermons". Swedish homosexual activists pledged to monitor sermons in order to detect any offensive preaching, arguing that religious liberty must not be used as a rationale for offending homosexuals.

        On July 20, 2003 Pastor Ake Green of Borgholm Sweden preached a sermon against homosexuality, using Scripture to argue that it was clearly a sin, but that those who practice it could be rescued by the grace of God. Pastor Green lamented that homosexuality was "a horrible cancerous tumor in the body of society." On July 29, 2004 Pastor Green was sentenced to one month in prison for "hate speech against homosexuals". A Swedish newspaper reported that the prosecutor justified the arrest of Pastor Green on these grounds: "One may have whatever religion one wishes, but this is an attack against homosexuals. Collecting Bible citations on this topic as he does makes this hate speech." Do you get that? One may hold to "whatever religion one wishes," so long as one does not preach Biblical truth.

        Fortunately Pastor Green was acquitted of this charge by two higher courts, including the Swedish Supreme Court. The 5-0 ruling maintained that Green’s sermon was protected by freedom of speech and religion. But this approach to silencing Christianity is not over. Satan will try this again, as well as any other pressure he can bring to silence God’s voice in society and culture. It’s all part of a culture war that has been going on since Genesis. Since the fall, Satan has been at work to draw people away from God’s ways and dependence on God’s strength toward the sovereignty of man and dependence on human wisdom and power. In Isaiah’s day Satan was trying to do it again, and that led Isaiah to make the great prophecy of Immanuel, God-with-us. In Isaiah chapters 7 to 9, which we’ll survey this morning, we can see that trust in Immanuel is the alternative to cultural correctness.

I. Trust in Immanuel, not man’s power (Isaiah 7:10-17, 8:5-10)

        Let’s begin by setting the context of Isaiah 7. After the reigns of David and Solomon, their kingdom divided into two nations, Israel and Judah. Israel was ruled by a series of bad kings and descended into idolatry. Judah was ruled by some idolatrous kings, but also by good kings who served the Lord and led revival.

        God sent prophets to both kingdoms to speak his word. One was Isaiah, whose long ministry extended from King Uzziah through King Ahaz to King Hezekiah. Ahaz, in particular, was one of the worst kings Judah ever had. He not only led the nation into more idolatry but into political and military disaster. Just prior to 722 b.c. Israel and Syria got together to attack Judah under Ahaz; and things looked bad. So even though Ahaz was a bad king, Isaiah came to him and said ‘don’t worry, these enemies are going to be destroyed.’ Then Isaiah gave this evil king an opportunity to really see God at work. Isaiah 7:10 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 knows that Ahaz’ faith is weak or non-existent, and he gives him the chance to name his own miracle, presumably something that would get him out of this crises. But, verse 12 Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test." That sounds pious, but it was really rebellious. Ahaz refused this sign because when God fulfilled it, he would be obligated to believe, and Ahaz had other plans. Scripture tells us he submitted himself to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, and invited Assyria to come and subdue his attackers. He depended not on God but on man. So Isaiah replies, verse 13 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? Will you refuse to trust me even when I give you an open door to see my power? Will you continue to trust in the power of men and governments?

        All of which leads to verse 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. God promises that through the son of a virgin his own presence will come to the people of Judah. In it’s ultimate fulfillment in Jesus this was a tremendous promise. But like many prophecies, this one had a partial near fulfillment as well. Verses 15-17: He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. 16But before the boy knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste. 17The Lord will bring on you and on your people and on the house of your father a time unlike any since Ephraim broke away from Judah--he will bring the king of Assyria. Oh Ahaz, bad idea to trust in Assyria, to trust in the schemes and power of men. Yes, Assyria will come and defeat your enemies, but it won’t stop there - you’ve opened the door to Assyrian domination of Judah, and Assyria is no benevolent master. The rest of Isaiah 7 and much of 8 document just how bad it will be under cruel Assyrian rule.

        Isaiah literally tells Judah that they are going to be up to their necks in Assyrians. Isaiah 8:6 Because this people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah and rejoices over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, 7therefore the Lord is about to bring against them the mighty floodwaters of the River--the king of Assyria with all his pomp. It will overflow all its channels, run over all its banks 8and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it, passing through it and reaching up to the neck. Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land, O Immanuel!

        But who was the Immanuel of this near fulfillment, whose life was to set the clock for these events? Scholars have proposed several solutions, most centered around someone who was a virgin - a queen Ahaz had just married, or a daughter of his who was about to be married, or some such. This newlywed was about to become pregnant and have a son and before that son was old enough to know right from wrong, the land in which he was born would be up to it’s neck in Assyrians. I don’t think we can be sure of much more than that about the near fulfillment.

        But the long term fulfillment is clear. We know this passage speaks of Jesus because the Holy Spirit says so through Matthew: “Behold, the virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel". We know this passage speaks of Jesus because it says a virgin shall conceive. Those who deny the virgin birth of Jesus like to point out that the Hebrew word almah, can also be translated as “young woman.” The idea is that Isaiah was simply saying that a “young woman” would give birth, not a virgin. While the near fulfillment may refer to a virgin conceiving by natural means, the New Testament reports of the ultimate fulfillment clearly point to a virgin miraculously conceiving. Finally, we know this text speaks of Jesus because he was ‘God-with-us’. As one commentator says “This was true of Jesus in fact, not only as a title. Immanuel speaks both of the deity of Jesus (God with us) and of his identification and nearness to man (God with us). The Gospel of John teaches that ‘the word became flesh and dwelt among us’.

II. Trust in Immanuel, not the culture’s answers (Isaiah 8:11-22)

        But in addition to seeing Jesus here, we also see the value of trusting in him, and not in man’s plans. Ahaz had a plan and it was a really bad one. He rejected the free offer of provision by God, and relied on the Assyrians, who predictably double-crossed him. So what are we relying on? Do you automatically turn to some human resource to get you out of a tight spot, or have you trained yourself to look for God’s provision? Chapter 8 teaches us to despise and reject the culturally correct solutions offered by an ungodly culture. Isaiah 8:11-13 The Lord spoke to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people. He said: 12"Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. 13The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.

        Isn’t that great? ‘Do not call conspiracy everything these people call conspiracy.’ Don’t get uptight about everything the culture gets uptight about, don’t fear everything the culture fears, don’t buy everything thing culture says is right or reasonable. The New Testament puts it this way: ‘do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Don’t take your cues from the world but from God. The application in those days was to the desperate fear Judah had of her enemies and her cringing submission to the Assyrians as the only way out. God is saying ‘don’t give in to those fears, don’t follow that thinking.’

        Instead, he says, there’s only one person you are to fear and regard as holy. This is an almost perfect statement of a Christian world view: every thought and attitude of the heart is to revolve around God as planets revolve around the sun. He is my center of gravity, my center of attraction. The fear of God - respect for God, awe of God, obedience to God and even true terror - should be so strong that I never want to put anything in his place. Fearing man’s fears while a sovereign God exists in the universe is like fussing over a sand castle while the tsunami roars ashore.

        The next few verses make this truth clear. Isaiah 8:14 “and he will be a sanctuary; but for both houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare. 15Many of them will stumble; they will fall and be broken, they will be snared and captured." The Lord is either your sanctuary or your stumbling block. You will fall before him, either in worship or in weakness. And if you don’t make God the center of your universe he will reveal himself to be the center by judgment. Peter used this verse to describe Jesus: the stone that makes men stumble and the rock that makes men fall, though Peter also says that the one who trusts in Jesus will never be put to shame. Isaiah emphasizes the same thing: trust. When the world around you is falling apart, when every scheme of man’s culture and government crumbles and falls, you have to consciously decide to trust God. Verse 17: I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob. I will put my trust in him. 18Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.

        Isaiah’s children were literally symbols: God instructed Isaiah to give them names like Shear-Jashub,which means ‘a remnant will return’ and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, ‘speed to the spoil, hurry to the plunder’. These names were a constant reminder to Isaiah, if nobody else, that God had a plan. So in the midst of the panic, Isaiah waited for the Lord, even when he could not see the Lord’s work. He says ‘I will put my trust in him’, using the Old Testament word for faith, the same faith by which we now come to Jesus for salvation. Notice the contrast: Ahaz didn’t trust God even when God offered him a miracle: he trusted in man, in a foolish alliance with Assyria. But Isaiah, after prophesying that Judah would soon be up to it’s neck in Assyrians chose to wait and trust God.

        Isaiah writes one more great paragraph about this distinction, verses 19 to 22: 19When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

        When men who tell you to consult ‘mediums’ and ‘spiritists’ or for that matter ‘psychologists’ and ‘sociologists’, should not a people inquire of their God. Whose words are you going to believe? The words of men or the word of God? Cultural correctness, the acceptance of a culture’s standards, leads only to darkness. But Isaiah points us to the law and to the testimony. What does the Bible say? Does this teaching grow from Scripture or is it some outside idea being imposed on Scripture?

        Much of what passes for Christian teaching in our day is cultural correctness sweetened by an out-of-context Scripture or two. The church too often buys in to our culture’s definitions of right and wrong, success and failure, reasonable and unreasonable, rather than allowing those definitions to grow out of our immersion in Scripture. Let me give you several examples, beginning with one that often troubles my heart, marriage. It is hugely discouraging that statistics on divorce are no different in churches than in the general population. Some recent surveys even show that the divorce rate among churched people is higher than among those who don’t attend church regularly. But believers, above all people should have both the commitment and the resources to make marriage work. Every Christian marriage that fails is a tragedy. Every time a couple buys in to the cultural norm - that some marriages just don’t work, that we have to break up because I no longer love you, that I’ll never find happiness if I stay in this marriage - every time one of us buys into that we dishonor God. I asked some people what they would ask given Ahaz’s opportunity, and I think it was Gail who said she’d ask that no Christian marriage would ever again lead to divorce - as a sign to our culture that God is with his people.

        Second, related, are Biblical gender roles. Culture has embraced for 40 years a feminist brand of equality not found in Scripture, one which says that men and women are interchangeable parts, and that anything a man should do a woman should do so that every role in marriage, family, church and society should be equally available to both genders. And this cultural norm has so invaded the church that there is a ton of pressure to not give male roles to men. We have to affirm that Scripture teaches both the absolute equality of men and women before God and differences in roles. Male headship in marriage and in the church reflects the clear teaching of Scripture.

        But the cultural impact is also more subtle. Our culture during these forty years has not just adopted a feminist agenda, but has also embraced a strong antagonism towards men, so that in popular media men are either so feminized as to be indistinguishable from women, or they are stupid or violent or sex-crazed. The result is that even in the church we are under pressure to never consider a man safe or reliable or even insightful. Those qualities can only be brought to the table by women. It’s influenced us to presume that in any relational issue, it must be the man who is sinful and hard-hearted. But Isaiah is telling us - don’t call conspiracy everything these people call conspiracy and do not fear what they fear. We need to make a conscious decision to take a Biblical view of all people, not a cultural view.

        Third, an obvious one, creation and evolution. The philosophy of evolution so grips our culture that to affirm the Biblical view of creation is considered ignorant. And this cultural pressure is so high that most people who claim to be believers in Jesus also hold some form of ‘God ordained’ evolution as the process by which the world was made and life multiplied. Many churches either teach theistic evolution outright, or they are totally silent on the subject of origins and never preach Genesis 1 to 11.

        In fact silence is a fourth symptom of cultural correctness. The culture teaches tolerance as the highest virtue, tolerance that means never speaking out to affirm the truth on any point of view or to criticize the practice of any kind of sin. Only our so-called intolerance can be condemned, and it often is. The incident in Sweden we talked about earlier is just the logical culmination of cultural correctness. Say again what the Bible says about sin and you’re jailed for hate speech.

        Fifth, and this is an important: the influence of psychology and sociology on the church. I’ve read way too many books in recent years that took some popular psychological or sociological or even business construct and tried to paste a few Bible verses on it and pass it off as Christian truth. In our pastor’s group we’ve read ‘Break-out Churches’, which I wish was good, since a church pastored by one of my friends is featured. But the methodology is ludicrous. They read a secular study of business success and were so impressed they said, ‘this must be true of churches’. So they looked at data from 50,000 churches and found a statistically insignificant 13 that seemed to fit this break-out model Then they pasted a few Scriptures on and said ‘do things the way these churches do.’ Another example: ‘Your Best Life Now’, best-seller by Joel Osteen. I’m sure there are good thoughts in it. But do these section titles sound like Scripture or pop psychology? ‘Develop a healthy self esteem’, ‘It’s okay to like yourself’, ‘Put on God’s approval’, ‘Don’t give up on yourself’, etc. Folks, if I’d never given up on myself, I’d be the most miserable of men. We’re not supposed to trust in ourselves. We’re supposed to trust in God.

        The culture keeps telling us ‘look out for number 1', ‘take care of your own needs’, ‘set boundaries’, ‘guard your self esteem’, But that’s not what Jesus teaches. Didn’t he say ‘Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.’ The teaching of Scripture is that delight and life are found when you give yourself up entirely, and become a servant, seek first his kingdom, and fix your eyes on Jesus. All those phrases come from what I’ve been calling life transforming verses, key passages that should be having a major impact on every Christian. As part of the heart preparation for the Russia project we’ve been wrestling with these verses. Scriptures like these should dominate your life and thinking, not the shallow truths of popular culture.

III. Trust in Immanuel, who brings light and peace (Isaiah 9:1-7)

        To reject cultural correctness we have to be immersed in Scripture, and we have to trust the author; his works and his goodness, revealed in his Son. That’s the message of chapter 9, verses 1 to 7: Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan– 2The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4For as in the day of Midian's defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5Every warrior's boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, fuel for the fire. 6For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

        The previous verses described the gloom and darkness of those who reject God’s word and turn to mediums, spiritists and other worthless spiritual counterfeits. Now Isaiah offers hope in the darkness, a hope that comes in the future from Galilee of the Gentiles. In Isaiah’s day Galilee was part of Israel, but Israel would soon be gone. Isaiah prophesy is of the future, a time when Galilee will be dominated by the Gentiles, which it was for the last seven centuries before Christ. And he says ‘into that darkness will come a light’. In verses 6 and 7 he describes that light in terms of a child: ‘for to us a child is born, to us a son is given’. I think there is good reason to conclude that this child and the virgin’s son, Immanuel of Isaiah 7:14 are one and the same. They are book ends of a single thought process Isaiah has walked us through from chapter 7 to chapter 9. And Isaiah repeats many of the words and phrases of Isaiah 7:14 a son, given by God is born and we are told what to ‘call his name’. In both cases this name includes the name of God. The element of "with us" in the first name parallels the repeated phrase "to us" in Isaiah 9:6.

        So there is a verbal and textual link between ‘Immanuel’ and the child born to us, this child who dispels the darkness. In the New Testament Zechariah echoed the words of this prophecy when he said that Jesus would “shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.” The Gospel of John calls him ‘the true light that enlightens men.’ And Jesus calls himself ‘the light of the world’. This same child is revealed by his name to be God incarnate. He is ‘Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ All of these names have overtones of deity, especially ‘Mighty God’. But it’s deity incarnate for us: as Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace. When you trust in cultural correctness or man’s wisdom, there is no peace. Assyria brought no peace, but this Prince of Peace would, because he was the promised eternal ruler from the line of David.

        Verse 7: Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. What did the angel say to Mary about Jesus? “the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." This is Jesus and he himself defines a new cultural correctness consisting of justice and righteousness, and peace. And all of us should experience the increase of his government and of peace.

        So what have we said? About Jesus we have said that he is Immanuel, the God with us of Isaiah 7:14. He is the one who dispels the darkness, the child named in Isaiah 9:6. And because he is these things, he is the one we can trust. We cannot trust in man or the wisdom of our culture, but like Isaiah we can trust in God in the midst of a corrupt culture, and we can resist the cultural correctness, the erosion of marriage, the loss of male headship, the inroads of psychology and sociology into the church, the philosophy of evolution, the idolatry of self that emasculates the domination of Scripture in our lives. We cannot trust cultural correctness, but we can trust Immanuel, because the culture he creates in his people and the culture he will create for his people is a culture of righteousness in which there is peace. We can receive that righteousness now, forgiveness, new life by trusting him. We can celebrate the day we call Christmas, when the promise of Immanuel began to be fulfilled, and we can look forward to his second coming in power to rule and reign on David’s throne. Trust in these things, trust in Immanuel is the alternative to the Biblical poison of cultural correctness.