To Us a Child is Born (Isaiah 9:1-7)

If you were the Father Christmas and you happened to visit a few hundred thousand churches today on a pre-Christmas dry run, I suspect you would find a common theme running through many sermons preached this morning. The question is – how to achieve it? Reading the news this week it struck me that the assumption often made is that regime change will lead to peace and prosperity.  The Arab Spring blossoming across much of the Middle East brings the hope of freedom, peace and prosperity through regime change.   And this desire is not limited to countries with despotic rulers. Another eight countries wish to join the European Community in the belief that a regime change from Communism to Capitalism will bring peace and prosperity. But will it? It may bring EC subsidies but, as we have seen this week, it will also bring more centralised financial regulation. But before we think the problem is only in Europe or the Middle East, let’s remember how badly we sometimes long for regime change here in Britain.  Whether from one political party to another, or one leader to another, we are sold the idea that regime change in Parliament will bring lasting peace and prosperity, at least during the election campaigns every four years. And it is not only limited to the political realm. In the City, whenever there is a loss of confidence on the stock market or share dividends, Boardroom changes are inevitable.

The world of sport is the same. A seat in the chairman’s box or the coach’s bench is closely linked to goals, attendances and league performance. I could also mention the Church of England but let’s not get too personal. The desire for regime change affects us at every level of life. The mistake, however, is to imagine that if only we can solve the crisis in Afghanistan,  in Europe, at No 10, in the City, or even in Canterbury, we could then enjoy a peaceful Christmas this year.  The reason we can’t is because the desire for regime change goes much deeper. I suspect many of us have wondered whether regime change closer to home would bring us peace and happiness.  Think about your neighbours, your relatives, your spouse, parents or children. Ever been tempted to think that regime change would solve your problems? It won’t, because the problem doesn’t lie out there, but lies in here. The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. And nothing we do to change our circumstances, economics, marital status or social life will bring the peace we so badly need.

That is why the Christmas story is such good news. Jesus came, in the words of the Prophet Isaiah, to be the Prince of Peace. He came, as the angels proclaimed, to bring peace on earth, to those on whom his favour rests. How does Jesus bring this peace? By a regime change of our heart.  Only Jesus can bring peace because only he can bring about the regime change our hearts so desperately need. As we recognise him, receive him, submit to him, serve him, we experience a foretaste of that peace he will most surely bring. The peace he will one day bring to the whole world when every knee shall bow (Philippians 2:10).  Please turn with me to Isaiah 9:1-7 and let us meet Jesus. Let us learn from his names, his purposes for us, for our families, for our world and for the future.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan— The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” (Isaiah 9:1-2)

Let us note the context of this great prophecy. Despite Israel’s rejection of God’s message through Isaiah (8:11, 17, 19-20), God plans to give his people something more profound.
The humbling of the lands of Zebulun and Naphtali refers to the invasion and annexation of the northern parts of Israel by Tiglath-pileser III in 733/732 B.C. “The way of the sea” probably refers to the Mediterranean coast, while “Galilee of the nations” to the northern shore of Galilee and the Golan. These lands, the first to experience foreign occupation (v.5), would be the first to see the new and great light God would shine on Israel.[1]
And that light would come through a supernatural sign:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14).

Then in Isaiah 9:6-7 we are told more:

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Notice how the language is couched in the past tense. This is because the future is so certain, it is written as something which has already happened. Literally, “Look forward to it. It is certain. He has already done it”[2] Billy Graham has said,

“Many may have expected that, in manifesting the terror of his majesty and the greatness of his love, God would rend the heavens and cause fountains of fire to burst upon the world – but he did not. God works in mysterious ways his wonders to perform.”

God chose to reveal himself supremely by becoming a human being. God and man in the same person – the only person “equally at home in heaven and on the earth”. Of this unique person are given not one but four royal titles.

1. Wonderful Counsellor

The first word – ‘wonderful’ is most significant. In Hebrew it comes from a root word Pele, that is “almost exclusively used of the things that only God can do… something beyond human capability.”[3] His Pre-existence was wonderful. His Conception was wonderful. No ordinary child was this. “Wonderful in his conception, not of man but of the Holy Spirit.”[4] His Conception was wonderful. His Birth was wonderful. “When the angelic hosts called out “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will towards men.”

Jesus brought heaven and earth together… Heaven and earth … united by the Babe of Bethlehem.”[5] His Birth was wonderful. His Life was wonderful. Sinless yet a friend of sinners. His Teaching was wonderful. His Miracles were wonderful.  His Transfiguration was wonderful. His Death was wonderful.  He lived for others. He died for others. When they scourged him, he did not open his mouth… When they jeered at him, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34).  His death was wonderful because he died for you, to reconcile you to God, to redeem you, to set you free. His Death was wonderful. His Resurrection was wonderful. His Ascension was wonderful. His return will be wonderful. Jesus is wonderful. Linked with the word ‘Counsellor’ Jesus brings God’s supernatural wisdom.

If ever our world needed the wisdom of Christ, it does today. And this wisdom is ours for the asking. Charles Simeon explains, “His people too he endues with “wisdom from above,” enabling them to discern things hidden from the carnal eye, and guiding them in the way to heaven.”[6] As your counsellor Jesus brings God’s wisdom to you. As your counsellor He is always available. As your counsellor He gives you His undivided attention. As your counsellor He comforts you on the way to eternal life. As your counsellor He guides you into all truth. Yes, his name shall be called wonderful counsellor. Jesus is our personal Advocate, Counsellor and Defence. He is, as Billy Graham says, “equal to every emergency” the answer to every “problem in our lives.” Wonderful Counsellor.

2. Mighty God

The second title confirms the implication of the first – that this child will be divine. As the writer to Hebrews explains,

“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways,  but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. “ (Hebrews 1:1-3)

For orthodox Jews, practicing Muslims and secular skeptics, the belief that Jesus is God in the flesh is anathema. Indeed this was the very reason the religious authorities crucified Jesus – for claiming to be God. But as we saw in Christianity Explored based on Mark’s Gospel, Jesus left us with no alternative. In Scripture,

Angels and magistrates are sometimes called gods in a subordinate sense; but He is “The mighty God,” “God with us,” even “God over all, blessed for ever.” … Indeed, if he were not God, he never could bear upon his shoulder the government of the universe. He must be omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, or else he never could hear the supplications, and supply the wants, of all his people at the same instant.[7] He is indeed, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God.

3. Everlasting Father

This title refers not to his divine title but the character he bears and the manner with which he cares for his children with father-like compassion and tenderness. The title defines his relationship to his people. He is literally “father of eternity” for all eternity he will deal with his children as a loving father.[8] Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God. Everlasting Father

4.  Prince of Peace

The Hebrew word for peace is ‘Shalom’. It means so much more than simply the absence of war and conflict. The word signifies both prosperity and tranquillity. Jesus is literally the bringer of this peace, the Prince of Peace. It is his nature.  It is his passion. He is the bringer of this peace. In John 14 in the Upper Room, Jesus assured,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)

The desire for peace is universal. That is why at Christmas, we long for peace. But this kind of peace will only come to the world, one person at a time, when we recognise Jesus as the Prince of Peace, the bringer of peace, the one who has made peace, reconciling us to God. For “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Four names for one person. Wonderful Counsellor because we are lost and blind; Mighty God because we are weak and powerless; Everlasting Father because we are dead in our sin; Prince of Peace because we are deserve God’s wrath. Having introduced us to our Saviour, Isaiah concludes,

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” (Isaiah 9:7)

The Lord Almighty will indeed accomplish this. Taken together, the titles speak of a very special person who will instruct with wisdom which is divine, who will act in power as the mighty God, who will love and care for his children eternally, and whose coming will bring lasting peace and blessing.[9] I pray that Jesus will indeed be a Wonderful Saviour to you, that he will be your Advocate, your Counsellor and Prince of Peace bringing love, joy and peace, this Christmas and forever more. Amen.

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love,  may have power, together with all the Lord’s people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:16-21)

[1] Zondervan NIV Bible Commentary.

[2] Alec Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah (Leicester, IVP)

[3] Allan Harman, Isaiah, A Covenant to be kept for the sake of the church (Fearn, Christian Focus), pp. 98-99.

[4] Billy Graham, “When God’s Son came to earth” Decision, December 1989.

[5] Ibid.

[6]Simeon, Charles: Horae Homileticae Vol. 7: Proverbs to Isaiah XXVI. London, 1832-63, S. 527

[7] Ibid.

[8] Harman, op.cit., p. 99.

[9] Ibid.