Saturday, 4 December 2010
Isaiah 9:6-7 The Coming King
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.
These words from Isaiah 9:6-7, are probably amongst the best known and best loved words in all of Scripture, and form arguably one of the greatest pieces of choral music ever composed – Handles Messiah.
This morning I want to look in more detail at these verses, to try and understand what they might have meant in the context of Isaiah's day, and what they mean for us today as Christians.
UNDERSTANDING THE ORIGINAL CONTEXT
Isaiah is without doubt one of the most compelling, and powerful books of the entire Bible, and Isaiah one of the most influential of the biblical prophets. In terms of its theological significance, the book of Isaiah has been described as the 'Romans' of the Old Testament. It is in this amazing book that the big picture of God's purposes for his people and for his world are set forth. Isaiah is quoted 66 times in the New Testament, and is only exceeded by the Psalms. But what makes this book so significant for Christians is the way in which it bears witness to Jesus Christ.
Isaiah was writing during a very turbulent time in the history of the divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah, when they were being threatened by the expanding Assyrian empire. During Isaiah's early time as a prophet, Ahaz was king of Judah. Ahaz was considered by many to be a wicked and evil king. For example, when Jerusalem was threatened by the king of Israel and the king of Aram, Ahaz turned to the Assyrians for support, effectually making Judah a puppet of the Assyrian empire. It is also recorded that Ahaz worshipped the Assyrian gods, and introduced many pagan and idolatrous customs to Judah. But perhaps his wickedest deed was offering one of his sons as a human sacrifice. Ahaz's biblical epitaph reads: "He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel… following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites." (2 Kings 16:3)
It is against this backdrop during Ahaz's rule that Isaiah receives the wonderful promise, about the birth of a child that would change everything. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light, on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." (Is. 9:2) "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." (Is: 9:6)
Some scholars have suggested that Isaiah's prophecy merely predicted the birth of another one of Israel's kings, a good king to replace the evil Ahaz. But I don't agree with this view, because as we look at Isaiah's prophecy, we can tell that this is clearly a messianic prophecy, predicting the coming of the King of kings, which was fulfilled with the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, 700 years later.
IMPORTANCE OF NAMES
Names in the Bible are extremely important, in the Bible a name not only conveys who you are, but says something about your character. So for example God gave Jacob the new name Israel, which means "one who fought with God" because according to Genesis 32, Jacob "struggled with God and with men, and prevailed".
In Isaiah's prophecy he gives the coming King four important names, which I want to look at in turn: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The first name given to the coming King is Wonderful Counsellor.
The way we often use the word wonderful, is somewhat different to the way Isaiah uses the word wonderful. When we tend to use the word wonderful, we mean something is good or excellent, for example I might say 'I had a wonderful time last night', meaning I've had a good time. But when Isaiah describes the coming King, as wonderful he means more than good or excellent.
The Hebrew root for the word wonderful is pele. "Pele" is used in Ps 78:12 which says that "God did wonders in the sight of their fathers in the land of Egypt". In other words it means that God is a doer of miracles, of marvellous and wonderful things, which are beyond human ability, and understanding.
So Isaiah in calling this coming king wonderful, is making it clear that he be powerful, mighty, and glorious, a doer of great miracles.
Jesus is the fulfilment of this prophecy, because we can look to wonderful life, his wonderful teaching, his wonderful miracles, his wonderful love, his wonderful compassion, his wonderful mercy, his wonderful grace, his wonderful forgiveness, and his wonderful sacrifice for us on the cross. Jesus is the wonderful king that Isaiah prophesied about.
The other name given to the coming King is counsellor.
One of the key duties of a king was to given counsel and direction to his people. Anyone in a position of leadership is normally surrounded by a team of counsellors to advise and guide them on the numerous issues they need to deal with. But when speaking of the coming king, Isaiah said that the spirit of the Lord would rest upon him, "the Spirit of counsel and of power" (Is. 11:2). In other words, the new king would understand the will of God, knowing exactly what is right and what God's purposes are. And the Wonderful Counsellor of Isaiah's prophecy has no need of a team of advisers. He is able in Himself to know what is right and to make right decisions without resort to a second opinion. Later on in his book, Isaiah explicitly says that these are characteristics of God Himself: Isaiah 28:29 - "All this comes from the Lord Almighty, wonderful in counsel and magnificent in wisdom."
The role of a counsellor is impart wisdom and experience in order to lead people from darkness and confusion into light, out of danger into safety. This is what Jesus does for us, this is why he is the Wonderful Counsellor. He brings light into our darkness and guides and directs us.
In John 14:16 Jesus promised his disciples that he would send to them the Holy Spirit. "I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth." In Greek the word that Jesus uses is parakletos, which means 'one called alongside' – a counsellor, a comforter and an encourager. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus, which was poured out on the day of Pentecost and which is given to all Christians. It is the Holy Spirit, the Spirit and presence of Jesus at work within us, which guides and directs us through life, and leads us from death into life and light.
The question I have is where do we go for guidance when faced by an important decisions? Do we turn first to Jesus Christ, and bring the decisions we are facing to him in prayer? Do we seek his counsel, and search scriptures, or do we look for answers elsewhere?
I hope we turn to Jesus, because He is the one who understands us when no one else does, He is the one who stands by us when everyone else turns away. He is the one who really can help us confront the past and begin again. He is the only one who can lead us to God the Father. Because Jesus faced what we face, and therefore understands the experiences we go through, he understands our tears, and our deepest needs, and he also has the power to help us, which leads me on to the next name given to Jesus by Isaiah.
Isaiah also says that the coming king will be called Mighty God.
Jesus is the King of kings, and lord of Lords. There is no one greater than Jesus Christ. The Apostle Luke reminds us that "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) And Paul writes that one day "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth." (Phill. 2:10)
Two weeks ago, there was a lot of excitement surrounding the news that Prince William and Kate Middleton are to get married on April 29th next year. For all of us here, we will have to make do with watching the wedding on television, but for a lucky few people they will have the privilege of attending this special wedding.
But as Christians we have an even greater privilege, because we are invited to join Jesus' heavenly banquet. Through Christ's sacrifice on the cross, we are adopted into God's family.
Billy Bray was born in 1794 in Cornwall. He had an awful reputation, he drank and was constantly getting involved in fights, and being unfaithful to his wife. At the age of twenty-nine he became a Christian, and his life was transformed, and he became a new person.
Crowds of miners would come and hear him preach, and there were some remarkable healings. Billy Bray described himself as 'a young prince'. He was the adopted son of God, the King of kings and therefore he was a prince. There is no status in the world that even compares with the privilege of being a child of the Creator of the universe.
In the opening verses of John's Gospel we are reminded that Jesus was involved in the creation of the universe. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men." (John 1:1-4) It is extraordinary to think that as Christians we have access to the mighty king, creator and sustainer of our universe.
But although Jesus is indeed the Mighty King, in whom all authority in heaven and earth has been given, he turns on its head our understanding of what it means to have power and authority.
When Queen Elizabeth II visited America she took with her 4000 pounds of luggage, including two outfits for every occasssion, and a mourning outfit in case someone died. She also brough along her own hairdresser, two valets, and a host of other attendants, the cost of the visit was estimated to be around 20 million dollars. But in contrast, when the King of kings, and Lord of lords visited the earth, it took place in an animal shelter, with no attendants present, and nowhere to lay the new born king but a feed trough. And although Jesus is the Mighty King, he declared that "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Mark 10:45). So Jesus has set an example for us to follow, a mighty King who reveals himself to us in love and humilitiy.
The next title Isaiah gives to the coming King is Everlasting Father. We read that the government will be on the shoulders of this Child, and yet His kingship will not be like an earthly kingship, because He is not just a ruler, but an Everlasting Father as well. In the time of Isaiah, when this was written, the kings were known as oppressors of the people.
But the government of the Everlasting Father will be quite different. In Isaiah 9, verse 4 says that this ruler will not burden His people, but will break the yoke off their backs and free them from oppression. We see this fulfilled once more in Jesus who declared "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
A lot of people's perception of Christianity is that it is nothing but a bunch of "do's and don'ts" and that God wants to burden us with rules. Nothing could be further from the truth. God's rule frees us from the things that burden and oppress us, and He protects and blesses us as our Everlasting Father. This is why Jesus said he came to bring life in all its fullness (John 10:10).
God the Father, has revealed his love to us through Jesus his Son, our Saviour. As our heavenly father, God offers us compassion, loving care, protection, guidance, support and encouragement. And as our everlasting father, he inhabits eternity. He is not caught up in or restricted by time as we are. Therefore, He does not change; He does not get older or slower or frail; nor does He need to mature, or grow or learn. He is the way He is, forever. The writer to Hebrews declares that Jesus Christ, is same yesterday and today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
Prince Charles has many titles. He is the Heir Apparent to the Crown, his Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales, Duke of Cornwall, Knight of the Garter, Colonel in Chief of the Royal Regiment of Wales, Duke of Rothesay, Knight of the Thistle, Rear Admiral, Great Master of the Order of Bath, Earl of Chester, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Great Steward of Scotland. We would address him as 'Your Royal Highness', but to William and Harry he is 'Dad'. As children of God we have an special intimacy with our heavenly King, and we have the incredible privilege of being able to call him 'Abba', 'Father'.
PRINCE OF PEACE
Finally Isaiah declares that the coming King is the Prince of Peace.
What a magnificent and emphatic exclamation mark this name is in Isaiah's prophecy! Remember that it was spoken to a people who were at war and whose king did was not handling the situation well. The people of God were under threat, both from enemy nations and also from the ungodliness of their own leader, Ahaz.
That is why, at the end of Isaiah 8, God's people at the time are said to "see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom." To them is the promise that they will see a great light, that their warfare will end because "unto us a child is born" and his name will be PRINCE of PEACE!
Jesus is the Prince of Peace because through his sacrifice on the cross, we are made right with God and can experience peace with God. Ultimately it is only through Jesus that we can experience the peace that surpasses all understanding. The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom, Shalom means more than just peace; it means completeness, wholeness, health, peace, and harmony. It means to bind together the fragments of life into a meaningful whole. Peace is not about the absence of trouble from our lives, but the reassurance that no matter what we face in life Jesus is with us, and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. This is why Paul wrote "For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39) This is the root of true peace.
But sadly for many people in our world today, peace seems to be such an ellusive thing. They chase after it, expecting to find it in relationships, marriage, children, hobbies, careers, posssesions etc. But it is only through Jesus that we can find true peace, because in Him we discover our true selves, in Jesus we discover love, acceptance and forgiveness, this is why Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
Isaiah's prophecy of the coming King was a message of hope for the people of Israel and Judah in a time of great distress. But it is also a message for all of us to rejoice in, because it is was "For to US a child is born, to Us a son is given."
We are at the moment in the season of Advent. The word Advent comes from the Latin word for coming, it is a time of waiting and preparation as we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas. But Advent is also the time of year when we look forward to the time when Jesus will come again in power and glory.
In the busyness that accompanies the run up to Christmas, I want to encourage you to take time to think about how you can prepare to welcome the coming King afresh in your life, and rejoice that we can know this King of kings personally, as our Lord and saviour. That we can know him as the Wonderful Counsellor, the Mighty God, our Everlasting Father and our Prince of Peace.