Now turn with me if you would to the prophecy of Isaiah, and the ninth chapter, and we’ll be reading together the first seven verses of Isaiah, chapter nine. Just by way of reminder, this is a series of sermons and themes based on the King's College, Cambridge, Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. We began it last Lord's Day and it will last through to the end of December.
Last week we were looking together in the morning at Genesis 3:15 and the promise of the seed that would be born that would crush the head of Satan, and then in the evening we were looking together at Genesis 22 and the promise to Abraham that from his seed would arise one who would be a blessing to the Gentiles also.
And now today, this morning and this evening, we’ll be in what has been called “the evangelical prophet”: in Isaiah 9 this morning, and Ligon will be in Isaiah 11 this evening. This is a famous passage. You will readily recall the words at the end of verse 6 of Jesus’ being called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father [or the Eternal Father], and the Prince of Peace”, and perhaps some strains of Handel's Messiah will be ringing in your ears as we read the passage together. But before we read, let's look to God in prayer. Let's pray.
Our Father in heaven, again we come to You as a needy people, in need of being fed and sustained. Come, Holy Spirit, and help us now to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is the word of God:
“But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulon and the land of Naphtali with contempt; but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light;
Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.
You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness;
They will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest,
As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the
staff on their shoulders,
The rod of the oppressor, as at the battle of Midian.
For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult,
And cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us;
And the government will rest on His shoulders;
And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.”
Amen, and may God add his blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now, every text, of course, in Scripture has a context, and this is certainly true of this particular text, familiar as it is to us, not the least from Christmas carols and Handel's Messiah. It is one of the great texts of the Old Testament, pointing forward to the coming of Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of that Seed of promise, promised in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 3:15–and Ligon took us through that text last Sunday morning.
Everything about the context here is dark. The closing verse of chapter 8 (it is actually the first verse of the Hebrew text, but it's the closing verse of our English text in chapter 8:22):
“Then they will look to the earth, and behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness.”
Now what is Isaiah talking about here?
Well, Isaiah lived at a time in the seventh and eighth century B.C. when there was the impending threat of the Assyrian Empire that would come down and ransack and destroy the Northern territory of Israel with its capital city in Samaria, in 721. B.C. Indeed, in chapter 8– chapter 8 is all about the coming of the Assyrian invasion, and one of the prophecies given to Isaiah is of his own son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz [isn't that a wonderful thing to call your son, by the way?], and that this little boy, Maher-shalal-hash-baz [I will repeat that several times this morning!]...that his son won't be old enough to say “Mommy” and “Daddy” before the Assyrians come down and overtake the Northern Kingdom of Israel with its capital in Samaria. Syria will, over the next century, threaten the Southern Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem, but it will be another empire, the empire of Babylon, that will eventually come down and ransack the city of Jerusalem and destroy the Temple of Solomon and take into captivity some of the young men of Judah and Jerusalem–Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, from the Book of Daniel–so right through to 721, right through to 586 B.C., right through to the emergence out of the Babylonian kingdom, the Babylonian invasion 70 years in the future, so the next 200 years as far as Jerusalem is concerned is darkness. It's like a land that is “always winter, and there is no Christmas.” It's a time of gloom, and a time of despair.
And into that despair and into that sorrow and into that darkness shines a light: a light that is going to grow and grow and grow until you turn from Malachi to Matthew, and you see its incandescent glory shining in the face of Jesus Christ. It is the fulfillment of a promise that God had spoken, that He will save His people through a Mediator, a Savior, a Seed born of a woman and made subject to the Law.
In the seventh chapter of Isaiah, we've already read [if we were reading through Isaiah consecutively this morning, we would have already read] the promise of the Seed that would be born of a virgin: a young virgin will be with child and shall give birth.
In the sixth chapter, the chapter before that, Isaiah, you remember, had seen a great vision of One who is high and lifted up, and seated upon a throne, who is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And the Apostle John will tell us in the tenth chapter that that vision of the One high and lifted up is none other than a vision of Jesus Christ, upon whose shoulders is the government of the universe. And slowly but surely, Isaiah is painting for us a picture of Jesus, of Bethlehem, of Christmas.
He's ministering in Jerusalem, in the capital city. He has access to the temple courts and precincts and liturgy. He has access to at least four of the reigning monarchs of his time. And the prophecy of Isaiah begins, you remember, by describing how the people of God entered into the outward rituals of worship...but their hearts were far from God. They went through the motions of worship, but in their hearts they did not know Him. They were still in darkness.
Now, I didn't have an outline...a handout. (I have an outline here, but I didn't give you a handout. You've been spoilt!) So let me make it easy for you; and I have three points, and they all begin with the letter “D”.
The first is Darkness: an overwhelming, engulfing darkness, a darkness that destroys, a darkness that chokes, a darkness that robs you of your breath, and in the end of your life, “gloom (verse 1)...anguish...contempt”; (verse 2) “The people who walked in darkness...who dwelt in a land of deep darkness.”
Now, had you gone to Jerusalem in Isaiah's time you would not have drawn the conclusion that the land was in darkness. It was not as though the forms of outward religion were absent. They were very present, but they were going through the outward forms of liturgical worship...but their hearts were still in the dark. They still did not know God, nor did their hearts beat in tune to the notes of grace and harmony that echoed from the promises of the gospel that God had made.
There's a marvelous illustration of it in Jesus’ time: Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, a man who knew his Scriptures back to front; a teacher of budding seminary students, if you like. And Jesus says to Nicodemus ‘Unless a man is born again, unless a man is born from above, he cannot see, he cannot understand the kingdom of God.’ And you know what Nicodemus says? ‘I don't understand what You’re talking about.’ He confirms the very thing that Jesus is saying to him.
And these folk in Jerusalem are walking and living and breathing in the darkness, and into that darkness...you notice how in our English text the first verse of chapter 9 begins with an adversative: “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish...” That's the whole point of it. They may well be in darkness, but Isaiah is bringing a message of sweet, sweet grace. He's bringing a message of gospel tidings; into the darkness he's shining a light, into the engulfing cloud he speaks of One in whose face will shine the very glory of God Himself. They've seen a great light. He's speaking as a prophet, of course. They haven't seen that light yet. That light is in the distance, that light is down through the corridors of the centuries that will follow; but as a prophet he speaks in faith and he says ‘These people who walk in darkness, they have seen a great light.’
Now, I wonder this morning, is that your testimony? You've come here this morning and you can say in the very depths and recesses of your heart and experience and emotions, “I have seen the light! I've seen the light that shines in the face of Jesus Christ, a resplendent incandescence that glows with such glory that you want to hide your face from it.”
Darkness...and into that darkness, a light. Connie was telling me that sometimes when she comes early in the morning into the temporary sanctuary here, there are no windows, of course, and it's very dark. And it's like as though someone is putting on the lights–these lights. And Isaiah is saying ‘God has put the light on so that you can see your sin and your Savior, your need of God's provision.’ Darkness.
The second “D” from verses 4 and 5 is, of course, the “D” for Deliverance.
“For the yoke of his burden and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, You have broken as in the battle of Midian.”
The oppressor of course here is Assyria, and further down, Babylon, and further down there would be more oppressors.
But behind the historical oppression of Assyria, Babylon and others lies, of course, the oppression of Satan himself, the original oppressor spoken of in Genesis 3:15, and it's the oppression of Satan in the end that is to be broken. It is the crushing of the head of Satan that in the end will be achieved through this Seed...that slithery serpent in the garden in Genesis 3 that grows into that great red dragon in Revelation 12 seeking to devour the child as it is born of that woman in that glorious image that's portrayed for us in Revelation 12.
The means by which this takes place is a divine action, and the manner in which this takes place is as in the battle of Midian. Now what is that? And of course Isaiah is speaking about his own history, about the history of the people of God, about the history of Israel and Judah. He's talking about the battle of the Midianites who came down upon the Israelites. And what did God do? He raised up a deliverer. He raised up Gideon. And what did Gideon do? He gathered, you remember, an army of thirty thousand plus men–not soldiers so much...they were farmers. And what did God do? God whittled them down–not 22,000 men, not 10,000 men, but 300 men. And what weapons did they have? A machete? An Uzi, perhaps? Clay jars and little twinkly lights, and the yelling of their lungs–and that was all that they had.
And in that famous victory of the battle of Midian what is God saying? That it's ‘...not by might nor by power, but by God's Spirit, saith the Lord’; that God has put His treasure in earthen vessels (is that were Paul got that expression from?); that the whole course of our salvation, our entire future, rests on a little baby, a little infant, with a head and arms, and tiny little feet, and crying.... (Yes, I know one of our carols says “...no crying He makes”, but I've always had theological problems with that! I believe that Jesus could cry without it being a sinful cry. In fact, I absolutely and totally believe that He did cry, without it being a sinful cry.) The whole course of our salvation rests in a tiny little infant.
Why did King Herod, Herod the Great, why did he engage in that pogrom against Bethlehem, against the little infant children? What was Herod so terrified about in a little child? Because Satan understood the significance of the coming of that Child into the world, that's why. Because when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there was an earthquake in the kingdom of Satan that spelled his doom.
That's what Isaiah is saying to the people of God: the future looks bleak; the future looks terrible; the future is about war and devastation in this world, but look again, and a light is shining, and in that light will be deliverance: deliverance from sin; deliverance from the consequences of sin; deliverance from hell; deliverance from the wrath of God; deliverance from the downside of the judgment to come, so that we can stand on that Day of Judgment and be assured that our sins are forgiven and that we have peace with God.
Not only Darkness; not only Deliverance; but my third “D” is Dominion. And look at verse 6: “For to us a child is born, and to us a son is given, and the government [the dominion, the rule, the authority] will be upon His shoulders.” We think of those magnificent words of Jesus: “All authority in heaven and in earth is given unto Me”; “I and My Father are one.”
And what does His name tell me? What are you going to call Him, this light that shines, this Deliverer who comes, this One who has all dominion in heaven and earth - what are you going to call Him?
“Wonderful Counselor.” Now, the word wonderful in Hebrew is about as close as you can get to ascribing deity because He's one who elicits wonder, He's one who elicits awe. And He elicits that wonder and awe through the way that He counsels. He understands your condition, He really does. He understands what your needs are this morning. He understands the deepest recesses of that psyche of yours and mine. There is no situation, there is no context, there is no pain, there is no hurt, there is no problem, there is no difficulty that He doesn't understand. And He's able to minister, and He's able to give words of wisdom and words of enablement and words of strength. He's able to reach down into the depths of that problem and give help and succor and relief, and a peace that passes all understanding. He's a Wonderful Counselor.
But He's also the “Mighty God.” He's the Lord of glory! This little child: He's the eternal word of God! He is the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He's the sustainer of all things. He possesses all of the attributes of deity. He's just as much God as the Father is God; He's just as much God as the Spirit is God. The One born in the manger contracted–remember Wesley's great metaphor in one of his carols? “God contracted to a span....” - that distance. The word was made flesh and dwelt among us, but He never ceased to be the eternal word. He veiled His glory, but He never ceased to be that glory.
And He's the “Everlasting Father.” Not in the trinitarian sense, not that He's the first Person of the Trinity. Isaiah isn't speaking of that technical way. He is saying that He has Father-like attributes and Father-like qualities. And what are they? That He cares for you; that He provides for you; that He sustains you; that He nourishes you and grows you, looks after all of your needs, provides for every exigency.
And He's the “Prince of Peace.” What did the angels sing? “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace....” Peace.
My very first sermon that I ever preached in public (I'd preached to myself a couple of times, but this was the first public sermon that I'd ever given), was in 1971. It was in a little village outside of Aberystwyth in West Wales. It was a Sunday afternoon service. It began at three o’clock. There were three people there. One was the organist, and she was behind me, so I only had two people in the congregation, and I gave them the full thing! The whole sermon from beginning to end! And what was the text? This was my first sermon, this was my first text, and I wanted it to be a memorable text, I wanted it to be a gospel text, so I chose Romans 5:1: “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
What does it mean to have a relationship with this Seed of promise? It means that we are reconciled to our heavenly Father. It means we have peace, now and forever, so that there will never come a day when He will abandon us, there will never come a day when His wrath will be poured out upon us because of our sins. Our sins have been forgiven. They've been washed away. Though they be red like crimson, in Jesus Christ they are as white as snow. They've been removed from us as far as the east is from the west, never to be remembered, no more, forever.
“Of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.” And Isaiah now almost loses himself as he looks down this corridor and he sees the coming of Jesus, and beyond that he sees the growth of the kingdom of Jesus, and he sees beyond that: King Jesus ruling and reigning in all of His resplendent glory with His children that God has given to Him and that He has purchased with the great price of His own blood.
Ah, my friends, we're coming close to Christmas, when it's all about the tinsel and the Christmas cards, and the food and the Christmas tree, and all of the rest. But, my friends, make absolutely sure that it's about Jesus Christ: Jesus born in Bethlehem, dying at Calvary, rising from the dead, sitting at God's right hand in glory; Jesus — the first and middle and end. And oh, may God hide this treasure in our hearts, so that the light that shines in the face of Jesus Christ might also shine forth from our hearts as we prepare for this Christmas season.
May God bless His word to us. Let's pray.
Our Father in heaven, again we thank You for the Scriptures, and for these familiar, beautiful Scriptures. And, we pray, hide these things again within our hearts that we might not sin against You. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: All Praise to Thee, Eternal Lord]
Now receive the Lord's benediction.
Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
© First Presbyterian Church.
This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.
Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.