“The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” the Old Testament reminds us in several places. It is the beginning of wisdom. Life is a perilous journey, for our bodies as well as our souls. Knowing the boundaries. Having ingrained in our being a knowledge of what lines not to cross – that’s the beginning of wisdom. That’s the feahttps://ministrylink.orgr of God.
Having a healthy fear of your parents is along the same lines. Of course, there’s a difference between a healthy fear of your dad and being afraid of your dad. One is okay, one is not. It works the same with God. The fear God is the beginning of wisdom. The beginning. Not the end.
I remember being a high schooler and wanting God’s approval. But I knew I wasn’t perfect. I would slip up and do things that weren’t okay. If I had a lustful thought, or talked back to my parents, or skipped homework, things that might be pretty normal for teenagers, I saw God as being very sad or angry because of me, and would withhold blessings from my life.
Deep down, for whatever reason, I basically thought God was against me on some level. But it wasn’t God, of course, it was me. I saw myself as someone who was constantly disappointing God, personally put Jesus on the cross, driving the nails into his hands, that’s what came to mind when I was ashamed of anything. I don’t assume everyone has these thoughts, but I know a lot of people do.
One type of person lives in constant shame and guilt and fear when it comes to God, but they keep trying and coming back to God. And they just assume they deserve all the bad things God puts them through because they are bad and God is always teaching bad people a lesson. Another type of person stays as far away as they can from God and try not to attract his attention. “Just leave me alone, I’m in charge of my own life.” They don’t want God to interfere, and they don’t want to hear what God’s will is for them. It’s probably something they don’t like. If they serve God, they will have to give up x. God will send them to be a missionary in some jungle somewhere. God will make them live a life of poverty and suffering and loneliness. Because those people are the ones held up who are really pleasing to God, so that must be what God is looking for in people who try to get close to him. Both are the wrong type of the fear of God
It seems as though Ahaz was of that latter type. A fear of God, because he thinks God is against him, out to get him, that God’s plans are not as good as doing things himself. Life is scary enough without God interfering. Life was scary indeed. In Isaiah 7, Ahaz has just become king of Judah at age 20. His first major decision was not to join an alliance with these two other nations against Assyria, which made those two nations angry. With the change in leadership, those two kings decide to take advantage of the situation and put Jerusalem under siege, hoping to get Ahaz to surrender and they can put a more amenable puppet kind in Ahaz’s place. Everybody in Jerusalem was scared.
The prophet Isaiah meets Ahaz inspecting the city’s water supply in preparation for the siege. Isaiah tells Ahaz, “Hey, don’t worry about those guys. They are not people to be trusted or feared. They are all talk. They and their countries are not long for this world. But Ahaz, you need to not be scared. You need to stand firm in faith, or you won’t stand at all.”
Ahaz may have appeared indifferent or disbelieving, so Isaiah says to Ahaz, “Ask for a sign. God will show you personally. Anything you want to ask God for, God will give you a sign to back up the word I have just said, that it’s all going to be okay.” Ahaz says, “No, I’m not going to ask God for a sign. I’m not going to put God to the test.”
What’s going on there? Sometimes people ask for a sign when they aren’t sure about something. They want to believe, but they need a little help. That’s one reason to ask for a sign. If by now you should already be sure, and you need to go ahead and step out in faith, then you are putting God to the test. No more signs for you, bro, make a decision. There are other people, however, who don’t want to believe and want an excuse. Ahaz did not want to hear from God, did not want to know for certain what God wanted him to do, so he could have plausible deniability. If he didn’t know what God wanted, he could do what he thought was best. He was scared that God would mess things up, that God didn’t care about him, that he was better off on his own, working things out the way he knew best, than to trust God.
Isaiah says, “Ahaz, you’re driving me nuts. You’re driving God nuts with your hard-headedness! God will give you a sign whether you want one or not.” And this is the very ordinary sign: People are still having kids. They are the future. Even while the world seems to be falling apart, even while armies are trying to conquer our capital city, God’s chosen people will be making more chosen people. And through them, God will remain faithful to this people of Judah.
And Isaiah says the sign – a virgin, or a young woman, will conceive and have a son, and will call him Immanuel, which means, “God with us.” The child’s going to grow up, going to have to eat curds and honey that babies eat in times of duress, and by the time the kid knows enough to choose what is good and reject what is evil, those two threatening kings are going to be gone.
Forget about the virgin Mary for a second. What Isaiah is saying to Ahaz in about the year 732 BC is not directly about that at all. Isaiah is not talking about any specific maiden, and is not referring to anything miraculous, but is giving a general timetable as to when the trouble will be over. Someone who is an unmarried maiden at the moment, by the time she gets married, has a child, and that child learns the basics of right and wrong, this trouble will be over. So, on the one hand, he could just come out and say, “In a few years, this will all be over.” But that’s not what he says. He’s a prophet, so he isn’t just saying facts about the future, he’s weaving a world to walk into, he’s poetically paving a path, he’s making meaning out of the mess. He’s saying, even in the midst of all this, a child will be born, and that child’s name will be “God is With Us.”
It's storytelling. A young lady. Having a baby. Eating curds and honey. Growing up. Learning right from wrong. You can see, almost like a film being shown with snippets of a life going by, and that’s what this bad time’s going to be. It will one day be just a memory. You know why? Because God is with us. God has always been with us. God always will be with us. We don’t always see it, but we’d better believe it.
Turns out that young woman who names her baby Immanuel is a better example than the King of Judah, because she trusts. Turns out the kid to be born is better than Ahaz, because he chooses good, and rejects evil. Unlike Ahaz. Isaiah comes to reassure Ahaz of God’s commitment to him, but Ahaz instead sought an alliance with Assyria. Ahaz loved their might and power, and Ahaz loved that they were winners. The big bullies on the block! He copied Assyria’s worship and politics. He even sacrificed his own son to a pagan god, after Isaiah had said all that about children being a sign of hope. And everything Isaiah said came true – those two nations were completely destroyed within about ten years. God did save Judah and the house of David and Jerusalem and the Temple. Some kid named Immanuel grew up to see better days than the time he was born into. But Ahaz was a sorry excuse for a king. He was so convinced that his way was better than God’s way. He was afraid to put his life into God’s hands. He was a disaster, and his good son Hezekiah took his place and tried to clean up his mess.
Fastforward to Ahaz’s great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandson, named Joseph, who is not a king, but has the right attitude. One day he discovers his fiancée is pregnant, and he knows it can’t be his. Mary could be killed for this, but let’s deal with this quietly. Obviously, Mary is in love with someone else, let her be with him, we can all move past it. He does not think God wants to make people’s life bad, and you can see that in how he treats someone else in a difficult situation. And God has news about God’s plan and purposes here. “Joseph, this is not what you think it is. This child is a Holy Spirit miracle, and I want you to take care of him and Mary.” Joseph never says a single word in the Bible, but his life is one big, “Okay, God.” God reveals things to Joseph in dreams, and he responds, entrusting his life into God’s hands, because in God’s hands is the best place to be.
Matthew records that this is to fulfill what is written in the prophet, “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Immanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” “Im” means with. “anu” means us. “El” means God. With us God. Or with us is God. We have a with-us God.
Isaiah, as any good Jewish Bible scholar would tell you, Isaiah is not prophesying that a virgin will conceive the Messiah. But a virgin did conceive the Messiah, who was a special sign, more than just a sign, that God is with us. And they looked back and saw that there were more layers to Isaiah’s prophecy than Isaiah ever imagined.
But the Virgin birth didn’t come about because it was prophesied that it would. Because that’s not what Isaiah said, and nobody was expecting that. The Virgin birth came about because God likes to mess with us (in joyous ways only!) In a patriarchal culture, no man is going to be able to say, “This is my seed.” And who knows what else God was thinking or why God did it that way? We just marvel. But it’s certainly not because there’s something dirty or sinful about the normal way of conception. That would be a weird way of looking at it.
The Old Testament is not filled with a checklist of things the Messiah is supposed to do and Jesus comes along in the New Testament and checks them all off. People who focus on that are missing the point. Jesus is to live a life that sums up and completes all that history of God working with God’s people that came before. He fulfills the scriptures, meaning, he fills it all in. The details of his life are constant callbacks and flavors and notes that give people biblical déjà vu. He went to Egypt. He went through the water. He was tested in the wilderness. He became the Lawgiver, the prophet, the psalmist, the shepherd, the king, the exile, the returned victor. His life was made up of building blocks from the Old Testament. You just have to have the eyes to recognize it.
And what a great find by the early church, this verse in Isaiah – A virgin will conceive and bear a son named Immanuel. Not exactly what Isaiah was meaning, but if there ever was a child born who symbolized that God is with us, for us, not out to get us. Not an object of terror. Not a punisher, a savior! If ever there was such a child, it’s Jesus.
The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God. The end of wisdom, the goal, is to love God. Jesus shows us how lovely God is, not just how fearsome. In God’s hands is the best place to be. You. Can. Trust. God. God loves you. God’s plans are better than yours. God is not out to rob you of pleasure. God will not pull the rug out from under you or leave you hanging. This is not a bait and switch. This is your creator who loves you trying to get you to just surrender to what is best. Let go.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness—on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child has been born for us, a son given to us, authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Luke 2:1-14 [15-20]
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So, they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.