Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Prophets Foreshadow Messiah's Birth: Sunday School Lesson

International Sunday School Lesson
For Week Ending December 13, 2009

Purpose: To ponder how Isaiah's prophecy and Mary's choice have blessed all humanity.

Scripture Text: Isaiah 7:13-17 Luke 1:30-38 (NRSV)

Isaiah 7:13-17
(13)Then Isaiah said: ‘Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary mortals, that you weary my God also? (14)Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel. (15)He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.(16)For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted. (17)The LORD will bring on you and on your people and on your ancestral house such days as have not come since the day that Ephraim departed from Judah—the king of Assyria.’

Luke 1:30-38
(30)The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. (31)And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. (32)He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. (33)He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ (34)Mary said to the angel, ‘How can this be, since I am a virgin?’ (35)The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. (36)And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. (37)For nothing will be impossible with God. (38)Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’ Then the angel departed from her.

My Thoughts by Burgess Walter

Some historical background is essential to understand what was going on in Jerusalem at the time of Isaiah's prophecy. Remember that after the death of Solomon, the kingdom of Israel was split with Jeroboam ruling in the northern kingdom of Israel, and Rehoboam, ruling in the southern kingdom of Judah. Isaiah's prophecy is to the king of Judah at the time, who was Ahaz. Ahaz was a terrible king, he was only 20 years old when he became king, and practiced many of the pagan practices, including sacrificing his own son on one of the pagan altars. He was so enthralled by an Assyrian altar he saw in Damascus of the pagans that he ordered an exact copy built and he replaced the bronze altar in the temple with this heathen altar. No wonder God was fed up with Ahaz.

At this time in history there were two prominent powers, the Assyrians and Syrians, and it is easy to confuse who was fighting who. The northern kingdom had joined with the Syrians, hoping they would be the eventual winner. The southern kingdom of Judah was hoping for an alliance with the Assyrians. That is where King Ahaz had put his trust and faith, the prophet Isaiah on the other hand wanted King Ahaz to trust in the power of God and not any alliance with a heathen nation. Isaiah pleads with King Ahaz to believe that God can do the impossible and save Jerusalem. Knowing all of this helps us to understand Isaiah's pleading.

Isaiah's prophecy is about the lineage of David,(and also Ahaz) and how God will bring about a new kingdom, by the birth of a child. Isaiah wanted his prophecy to be enough for King Ahaz to believe that God could be trusted to bring this all about and save them from the invading Syrians and the northern kingdom of Israel. Unfortunately King Ahaz chose the alliance with the Assyrians over the sign provided by Isaiah.

In Luke's gospel we see Isaiah's prophecy of some 720 years earlier fulfilled. From the linage of David a Son will be born. What would seem harder to believe; the prophecy of Isaiah for Ahaz, or the proclamation of the visiting angel to Mary? Verse 37 reminds us “that nothing will be impossible with God.”

In the custom of the time Mary would have been available for betrothal at the age of 12, that could have lasted from 1 year to several years. We assume she was in the 12-16 year time frame when the angel appears. I find it interesting that Mary is very aware of where babies come from at this age and knows that what is being told is impossible since she is still a virgin. The angel offers Mary a sign of her own, in her cousin Elizabeth's pregnancy at this late stage of her life, something easily verifiable. Mary accepts everything the angel tells her and is a willing servant of whatever God wants of her.

Note the contrast between and evil King Ahaz, and the lowly virgin Mary. One has no faith or belief the other has only faith and trust and a willingness to serve. Mary becomes a type of Abraham, just as Abraham was the father of many different religions, such as Judaism, and Muslim as well as Christianity. Mary becomes the mother of all Christianity, from the Roman and Orthodox to all of the numerous branches of the protestant religion. Churches that fail to recognize Mary's position in Christianity are missing the proclamation of the angel. Mary was found favorable by God, and she was called in much the same way as Abraham. Her call required the same faith and obedience as Abraham's. Who of us is willing to say as Mary “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” How do you feel God's presence in your life? What are those holy moments that sustain you?

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