Advent [Session 1]
It is a time for celebrating the birth of the Savior and to pause and reflect on God’s greatest gift. During Advent last year a group of men in our church completed a four session Advent Bible Study from J.D. Greear. This is a study not just for men, but for the whole family, and in the coming weeks an excerpt for each session will appear in this space. The material is available from Right Now Media; follow the link to join for free. Dr. Greear provides an excellent short video for each part of the study, and a family study guide is provided as well. What follows is excerpted from Lesson One “Emmanuel, God with Us.”:
Christmas is one of our most important and beloved holidays, but it takes place during the darkest time of the year. That is a strange contrast, but it’s not an accident. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us. It reminds us that God has entered our wintry darkness of sin to bring us light, love, joy, and peace. Jesus has come so that we might be with God now and into eternity.
Emmanuel, God with Us focuses on the names of Jesus in the book of Isaiah. These names were given during a very uncertain time in Israel’s history, when God’s people were threatened by all sorts of dangers. They cried out to God for help and he promised to send the Messiah, Jesus, to rescue them from their darkness. This promise is as relevant to us today as it was when Isaiah was written.
You may feel pretty distant from Isaiah and the ancient Israelites, but when we read God’s promises you will find that they comfort and encourage you, no matter what darkness you are going through today.
Read Isaiah 7:10–14.
Ahaz, the leader of God’s people, is facing down two armies, one from Syria and one from Ephraim. In the midst of this chaos, God promises Ahaz that neither army will overcome his people. It seemed like an unbelievable, even overly optimistic promise.
In verse 10, God goes a step further, offering to give Ahaz a sign to confirm his promise. Ahaz, surprisingly, refuses the confirming sign. He passes on God’s offer, thinking that he is being tricked into “testing the Lord.”
In the Old Testament, asking God for a confirming sign showed that a person didn’t trust God. If God made a promise, he kept it. Asking for a sign before trusting his Word was essentially like yelling, “Prove it,” to God.
But here, God offered Ahaz a sign—Ahaz’s choice of a miracle. God wanted Ahaz to have unshakable faith in his promise. All Ahaz needed to do was pick his miracle but instead he said, “I will not.” This doesn’t prove Ahaz’s righteousness; it shows us he didn’t think he needed God’s help.
God does not rescind his offer but chooses what Ahaz’s sign will be: a child. The sign is strange; Ahaz is asking for protection and God gives him a baby.
God was not playing a cruel joke on Ahaz. Instead, he was offering Ahaz and his people exactly what they needed: his presence. The child, Emmanuel, is a promise: God is with us.
The promise God gave to Ahaz in Isaiah 7 is extended to us (Matthew 1:22–23). God has seen us in our distress and darkness and sent us a miracle, a child called Emmanuel. He did not come to defeat the armies of Syria and Ephraim but our true enemies, sin and death. In Jesus, that promise is offered to us, the church. God has met our true need by wiping away our sin and offering us his presence.
No matter what you are going through today, God offers you his presence. He wants to be with you so that you can have peace and assurance of his goodness
In the dead of winter, when we are surrounded by darkness, we celebrate the light of Jesus. We gather in decorated homes to give one another good gifts as signs of our love.
This is Christmas: that in our darkness and spiritual coldness, God has sent light into the world and has given us the gift of his Son as a sign of his love. More than that, Jesus took on our sin, rose from the grave so that we might be saved, and promises to be with us until he returns.
Christmas is not just a sentimental holiday; it is the good news that for us a child is born, a Son has been given, and his name is Emmanuel, God with us.