Monday, December 21, 2009

Fourth Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 7, Rom. 1, Matt. 1

As we look forward to our celebration of the birth of Jesus, this last Sunday of Advent celebrates the faithfulness and justice of God in coming to His people as the basis for our faith today.

Immanuel: With or Without Us
Isaiah 7 has several similarities to Isaiah 36-38. In this case Ahaz is the king of Judah who is threatened by the Assyrians. This is prior to the final fall of Israel, and Pekah King of Israel has teamed up with Rezin king of Syria to threaten Judah (7:1-2). God promises deliverance (7:3-9) and says that the only requirement is for Ahaz to believe this (7:9). God asks Ahaz to ask for a sign presumably to demonstrate his faith, but Ahaz refuses (7:10-13). Recall that Hezekiah is the son of Ahaz of the line of David. Hezekiah does better than his father since when he is threatened, he repeatedly looks to Yahweh and when his life is threatened, he asks for a sign in the heavens above and is saved (38:7, cf. 2 Kgs. 20:8). Ahaz refuses to ask for a sign, and so God gives one Himself: a virgin shall conceive and bear a son and shall call his name Immanuel (7:14). He will eat “curds and honey” apparently because he is part of the remnant left from the Assyrian conquest (7:15-17, cf. 7:22). Notice that the name “Immanuel” is used twice more in the following verses: once apparently referring to the land of Israel/Judah (8:8) and once the reason why no counsel will stand against God’s determined purposes (8:10).

Romans: Justice by Faith
Paul begins by emphasizing what he means by the “gospel” – it is what he was separated to (1:1), what was promised (1:2), the birth of Jesus from the seed of David (1:3), the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God by the resurrection (1:4), and through all of this comes the authorization to call all nations to obedience to the faith (1:5), even the Romans (1:6), and so Paul addresses them with the grace and peace of King Jesus (1:7). Paul knows he is addressing Christians from the empire that currently runs the world, and yet it is their “faith” that is known throughout the world (1:8). And Paul prays for them (1:9-10). Paul hopes to come to them that they might be part of his harvest among all the gentiles (1:11-14). Paul says that this gospel is for all nations, and he is not ashamed of it (1:14-16). It is here that Paul gives his reason: the gospel is the display, the revelation of the justice of God (1:17).

Matthew: The Righteousness of God
Jesus is identified as the “Son of David, the Son of Abraham” and so begins Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ (1:1), recounting the 14 generations between Abraham and David, David to the Exile, and from the captivity to Christ (1:17). Matthew’s genealogy is striking for its inclusion of several women: Tamar (1:3), Rahab (1:5), and Bathsheba (1:6), all oppressed in various ways by faithless men. Joseph is a just man and unwilling to see Mary shamed, and determined to divorce her quietly (1:19). Notice that Joseph is also called “son of David” by the angel of the Lord (1:20). The prophecy of this son includes a name linking the extraordinary son with His mission (1:21), and Joseph signifies his faith by giving the name to the Son (1:25).

Conclusion & Applications
The same God who turns back armies weaves all of history together. It is the power of God to take failures and injustice and weave it into his righteous purposes. The gospel of Jesus, His Advent, is the great display of God’s justice, His justice in coming for His people, His justice in healing our diseases, atoning for our sins, and rising from the dead. Jesus is the faithful one, and God’s powerful justice is displayed in our stories as we live by faith in the sign that God gave Ahaz.

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