A Baby in the Belfry Ralph Douglas West November 4 There are many people who make predictions about many things. Nostradamus would be one of them: He predicted that in 1792, Venice, Italy, would become a world power. (Venice is still waiting.) That same year, he predicted the Catholic Church would cease to exist because of the persecution in North Africa; he was wrong once again. In 1607, he predicted all astrologers would come under persecution; he missed it again. Jeanne Dixon made 100,000 predictions, all of which were wrong except for one: In a kind of serendipitous way, she predicted the death of John F. Kennedy;but some suggested it was a lucky guess. Unlike these, there is a certainty in the Word of God that whatever God says will come to pass. Charles Campbell holds the distinguished Peter Marshall’s Chair of Preaching at Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia. In November 2007, he visited Korea and toured as many sites as possible. While there, the guide took him to the base of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea, pointing upward to the hill’s zenith. Atop that mountain was a small chapel where the service members gathered and worshipped. Campbell was a Presbyterian preacher, and Korea was the place where Knox Presbyterians had infiltrated the land with the gospel. The largest Presbyterian churches in the world were on that particular terra firma. Campbell wanted to see this small chapel on top of this DMZ sight. Upon arrival, his attention was drawn to the way the pulpit was designed. To the back of the congregation was South Korea, and in front of the pulpit there was only glass. The congregation and the pulpit looked out on North Korea with its missiles or trained nuclear arms ready for battle at the command of their military leader. They worshipped, hearing the Word of God in the face of nuclear threat. Thatcongregation listened to God’s Word uninterrupted, with the possibility of war commencing at any moment. Campbell concluded there was nothing between the Word of God and the threat, oppression, tyranny and murders in North Korea. The only thing those worshippers had in the face of national threat were the promises, certainty and power found only in God’s living Word. Isaiah 7 paints that exact parallel. Here was a small nation, Judah in the south, being oppressed in an imminent confrontation from the north. The only thingJudah had standing between it and the northern aggressors was the Word of God and a little baby. Unlike Nostradamus or Jeanne Dixon, in the face of all kinds of human threats we can trust the irrefutable predictions and truths in the Word of God. Enoughhas happened to cause fear. Just the thought of mortgages, the New York stock exchange, melting ice and increasing oil prices can cause fear. Additionally, therecent study released on the exponential growth of AIDS in African and American communities, the various diseases that plague nations, and the lack of safe places to live primarily because of the evil lurking in the human heart is enough to cause fear for anyone. The reality becomes obvious: All we have is God and His Word in the face of everything threatening to us. If you can trust God, He can deal with everythingthat threatens you. In this passage, God offers the arsenal we need in just one word: faith. That is, if we can put our trust in God, God can deliver us from every tyranny and threat that comes against us. It seems so simple, yet so many miss that very point because of their search for hope in different places. The only thing God wants to know—in the face of national, international, personal and individual threats—is whether we can posture ourselves to trust Him to be our ultimate preserver in all that seems unstable. Life’s Battles Always Bring FearAhaz was the king of the small tribe/nation of Judah. Word had been circulating that Rezin from Syria and Pekah, son of Ramaliah from Israel, were preparing to join forces to contrive the perfect military storm to attack the people in Judah—a ratio of 10:2—huge military battalions gathering together against a small tribe. When the word came to Ahaz, the king of Judah, he was stricken with an infectious fear that he passed on to the people: “So the hearts of Ahaz and his people were shaken, as the trees of the forest by the wind” (Isaiah 7:2). There they were in the face of their greatest fears: national, personal and individual disaster. All of us know something of the possibility of disaster. America is at war in Iraq and Afghanistan. The past few years, Iran has been making its bid for a fight. Vladimir Putin is threatening the possibility of re-arming Russia. At one point, Venezuela perhaps was siding with North Korea. In all this, there is a senseof disaster. By one evaluation of what threatens us in America, we can empathize with Judah. Some fear a new Sept. 11, while others fear that every wreck is the work of a terrorist. Constant airport alerts have become normal. Security has been heightened to such a point that people now are required to remove shoes, coats andhats. We are as nervous as cats in water. These are the same fears Judah felt when the people’s hearts trembled like trees being blown by violent winds. They were nervous because of the aggressive disasters coming upon them. A perfectly collated storm of military influence was coming, but they were fearful beyond that. Like Isaiah’s generation, we also fear the inadequate defenses against approaching disasters. In our best attempts, we isolate and insulate ourselves from these approaching disasters, dreaming of a place where we can be protected. At the end of the 20th century, the Berlin Wall came down. We built walls between Israel and Palestine. We built walls on the American front on the West Coast in an attempt to block out the immigrants. Yet all these were inadequate defenses. We can install alarm systems and erect walls, but there is something about evil that inevitably circumvents everythingwe can create on a human level. As in Isaiah’s day, we see these approaching adversaries and wonder what God will do with them. Ahaz was camped out by the aqueduct because of his fear. He was down at the washer’s field, where the water would be cut off. There he was with his head in his hands, wondering: “Then the LORD said to Isaiah, ‘Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman’s Field. Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood” (Isaiah 7:3-4). In other words, God was saying, “Yes, they look like torches burning now—but in My sight, I see them as blown-out candles. Do not fear them.” From God’s point of view,what is the very end of our adversaries? In relation to every adversary we face, God gives us a determined destiny. Whether this is something that affects you emotional, mentally, psychologically, materially, financially, spiritually, morally or ethically, God has it all under control. God’s words suggest He notices you have a lot of fear. You fear disasters, inadequate defenses and the adversaries who march against you. But there is a fear greater than all those—the fear of unbelief. The only relief for your life is belief. It is amazing that there are so many difficulties in getting Christians to truly embrace these words: “If you can but believe.” This faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights” (Isaiah 7:10). To understand this, you must first revisit Isaiah 7:9: “If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.” The key word here is your—it is not our. That is, it is your faith alone upon which you stand. Many have a tendency to blame others for their own inability to stand. Many are upset with everyone around them simply for the sake of being upset. There is no need to be upset or angry about someone else’s faith. You cannot stand on the faith of those around you. You must stand on the faith God has given to you to understand that He is your impenetrable defense in the face of life’s terrors. The encouragement in these words is that we can stand firm in the faith He hasgiven to us by trusting what He says. After the establishment of faith, Ahaz was prompted to ask for a sign. This is one of the only places where an invited test appears. Malachi 3:10 says, “Test me.” God’s words to Ahaz were, “Ask Me whatever you want to ask Me,” and serves in the same way as those words in Malachi. What would you like to ask God that logic, reason and rationality have caused you to question? These very words are God’s way of prompting you to ask. What will you lose by asking? What are you willing to lose by not asking? In fact, God wants you to search the heavens to see if your mind can reach the celestial and come up with a question that is higher than the stars. Reach in the subterranean or break through the bowels of hell and ask God whatever you want to ask. God is able to do anything you can imagine because your finite mind cannot fathom the ubiquity of He who created all! Some have simply never asked God. Never ask people with limited resources before asking Him who holds the whole world in His hand. Ahaz did not ask. Like many Christians, he had a pompous pretense. “But Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test'” (Isaiah 7:12). He did just that—he asked for nothing. Even in the absence of a question, God will give a response. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son … He will eat curds and honey when he knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right. But before the boy knowsenough to reject the wrong and choose the right, the land of the two kings you dread will be laid waste” (Isaiah 7:14-16). In other words, God’s sign will be given in the battlements of Ahaz’ fears. Ahaz’ attention is directed down the streets through the village hamlets to a girl. She will be unmarried and a virgin. She will become pregnant, go full-term and have a baby. Before the baby is weaned off yogurt and honey, and able to make a decision between right and wrong or reach the age of accountability, God will destroy those who would come against him. That is, before the baby is grown, God will have wrestled the enemies out of Ahaz’ hand. Battles Always Bring Fear; Babies Always Bring Faith“Therefore the Lord himself will give a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). There is no description beyond that. Much has not changed since the day of Ahaz. In fact, we have the same tools Ahaz had: the Word of God and a baby. This is a ridiculous sight. Ahaz was speaking of battles, military and war; God promises a baby. In a battle, military machinery is what is needed: an Uzi, 9mm, or an AK-47. However, God’s words here are clear: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isaiah 55:8). God’s ways are higher than yours, as the heavens are higher than the thoughts of man. Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 1:25: “For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.” Man is looking for guns and nuclear weapons, but God is offering a baby. Harry Emerson Fosdick, pastor of Riverside Church in New York City, made a statement once about babies: “The solutions to the problems of the world arefound in the baby wards of the hospitals.” That is, God has an answer for the world hanging on the gossamer thread of a baby. Every believer should consider the possibility of a baby they know finding the cure for AIDS and cancer. A baby could and will make a discovery that will change the face of the world, altering the destiny of humanity. Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, was asked in an interview, “What is the next big invention? How will people make money?” His response was, “It is in the heart of a 12- or 13-year-old girl no one knows right now, who will come up with an idea that will change the way the world looks.” Today’s problem is not the lack of ability to discover but negativity toward babies. God’s answer lies in the hearts of babies. Every believer should put as muchGod, Jesus and the Holy Spirit into their babies as possible. On Feb. 12, 1809, in southeast Hardin County, Ky., no one knew that a baby born by the name of Abraham Lincoln would grow to become president and lead this nation through its greatest internal crisis, the Civil War. On that same day, no one knew that a baby born in 1769 by the name of Arthur Wellesley, the First Duke of Wellington, would win Waterloo and defeat Napoleon. No one knows what lurks in the hearts of babies. God’s words are clear: “All that I have is My Word and a baby who will be the hope for the future.” Every believer must know that all we have are our babies.In fact, they are the ones who will keep the church going. “The virgin … will call him Immanuel.” No further description was given. The baby will one day beborn and named, but His identity was not yet revealed. In 1814, during the Napoleonic War, troops invaded Italy. Those military mights came upon the small village of La Roncole, pillaging, sowing rape andbloodshed in their path. In the midst of all of that mayhem, there was a young girl named Luigia Verdi. She and other women of the village took refuge in the church of San Michele. As the slaughters began and screams were heard, Luigia climbed into the belfry with her baby in her arms. There, she hung onto the rope of the belfry in one hand with her baby in the other. She simply was trying to save her baby. She had no idea that in her arms would be the greatest Italian opera composer to ever live. With 32 operas to his credit, her son Giuseppe Verdi would one day give us Aida, Rigolletto, and La Traviata. She had no idea. She just hung on in the belfry with this baby. In another day and at another time, another poor woman had a baby. “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel,” which means God with us. On that day, when Mary gave birth, she pondered things in her heart. She had no idea that in her womb and in her arms, God had given her salvation. That is, redemption was wrapped in swaddling clothing; mercy was in the manger, and grace was growing. Mary did not know she was holding the Founder of the Christian Church and the Author of the Scripture. She had no idea that 2,000 years later, we would celebrate His life, death and resurrection by re-enacting His last supper. In the face of human fears, disasters and inadequate defenses, God has given a baby. You should get on board with this Baby. He is the Cosmic Christ and theLiving Lord. He is Immanuel: God with us. He is Jesus Christ.