Scripture Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14, Jeremiah 23:1-8, Matthew 1:22-23, 1 John 4:7-10, Revelation 21:3-5
“The only reason I will do this is if God writes it in the sky.”
From time to time, throughout my journey of faith, I have made this stubborn declaration. Once to my parents. Once to my husband. Most recently, to some friends. I knew God was leading me in a particular direction, but the risk was big, the stakes were high, the likelihood of failure was strong. I didn’t think it was possible, so I wanted to be sure. I needed a sign.
Even after being a Christian for a long time, it’s easy to reach this point in our faith journey where we desire a sign from God, perhaps even more than we desire Him. We want to trust in something concrete, clear, and undeniable. Something we can point to and believe that, “Yes, God is real, and I can trust Him with this.”
Wouldn’t faith be easier that way?
That’s what makes Isaiah 7 such an interesting story. In verses 10-14, King Ahaz of Judah is facing terrible odds. His enemies are strong and their armies are powerful. The fate of God’s people looks grim. And so, in a display of love and goodwill, God offers Ahaz a sign of His trustworthiness. Any sign Ahaz desires, God will do it.
However, rather than accept God’s generous offer, Ahaz does something startling: he rejects it.
Instead, Ahaz quotes Scripture back to God, as if he is holier and more knowing: “I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test” (v.12). It’s a stunning moment of human pride, which Old Testament scholar John Goldingay explains this way: “The offer functions to expose Ahaz as a man who did not want to trust God even if he had the evidence.”
God nevertheless promises a sign to His people: a child born of a virgin, called Immanuel (v.14). The sign, in short, will be Jesus.
This story is a prophecy foretelling the birth of Christ, but it also challenges us with two truths. The first is to beware of our desire for a sign. Too often, our hearts are like Ahaz’s. We aren’t earnestly interested in trusting God more, but in trusting God less. Even if the sign would come, our circumstances would still be difficult. The odds would still be tall, the risk great, the darkness deep. Faith would still be required. A sign changes nothing about the situation, or God’s character; it only clarifies the source of our trust. If we need a sign to trust God, then we don’t trust God.
The second lesson this story teaches us is that a sign has already been provided. In Christ, we have the definitive sign of God’s faithfulness and love. Immanuel, “God with us,” is God’s proclamation to the universe that His intention is always redemption. Jesus is all the evidence we need that God is trustworthy and good. No additional sign could possibly supplement the bright, blazing promise of the Messiah come near.
That’s not to say God won’t provide occasional signs of discernment to guide us toward His will, but our faith cannot stand on these things. When it comes to trusting God with our families, our futures, and our lives, the sign has already been provided, once and for all, and His name is Jesus.
Sharon Hodde Miller is a writer, speaker, pastor’s wife, mom, and she holds a PhD on women and calling. She blogs at SheWorships.com, and is the author of Free of Me: Why Life Is Better When It’s Not about You.