Now if you would please take into your hands a copy of God’s holy Word and turn with me to the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 9, on page 573 in one of our church Bibles if you’re using one. Isaiah chapter 9; page 573. As you may recall, we have been looking together over these Advent Sundays at some Old Testament prophecies related to the coming, the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Last time we were in Isaiah chapter 7, the famous prophecy of the birth of Immanuel, to the virgin who shall conceive and bring forth a son who would be the Lord Jesus. And today, we turn our attention to chapter 9 and the same circumstances and the same situation obtains as was being addressed back in chapter 7.
Let me remind you of the context. The Assyrian Empire is threatening the whole region. To the north – God’s people have divided into two kingdoms – to the north, the kingdom of Israel has formed a mutual defense alliance with Rezin, King of Syria, in order to protect themselves against the Assyrian Empire. Meanwhile, to the south, in the country of Judah, King David’s heir, King Ahaz, has been left alone and vulnerable. And chapter 7 and all of chapter 8 really do tell us or predict the fate, first of the northern kingdom of Israel, destroyed eventually by the Assyrians, the downfall of Ahaz for his unbelief, and the dire circumstances and sufferings that still will face the southern kingdom, the kingdom of Israel. If you look at the end of chapter 8 and notice some of the adjectives the prophet uses to describe the situation, you’ll see how dire things really are. Look at the vocabulary. He talks about “distress; hunger; rage; contempt of king and of God; darkness; and the gloom of anguish.” So these are very dark, very difficult days indeed, into which the prophet speaks the Word of God. And yet, into that context, into the gloom of that context, he comes with a bright word of Gospel hope and a promise of a child to be born who we will know as the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me quickly outline to you where we’re going to go so you see some of the logic of verses 1 through 7 of chapter 9, then we’ll pray together and read the text and begin to deal with its message. In verses 1 to 3, the prophet sets up a series of direct contrasts designed to address the dire situation in which the people of God find themselves. And so God is going to cause a great reversal one day, he’s telling them. The gloom and the anguish and the grief and the darkness will all be overturned. And in verses 4, 5, and 6 we’re told how-come. What are the causes for that extraordinary and glorious reversal? And each one begins, verses 4, 5, and 6, each one is indicated by the word, “for,” in our English translation. Do you see that? Verse 4, everything will change “for oppression will end.” That’s verse 4. And war will cease; “for war will cease,” verse 5. And yet behind all of that, at the root of it all, the great cause and foundation of every other blessing that will bring a reversal and fortunes to the people of God, verses 6, is the birth of this child. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulders.” He will be the ground and the basis of the marvelous reversal God will bring into the lives of His people. So do you see the logic and structure of the passage? The climax really rivets our gaze and attention on the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. What He does – He reigns. And who He is – those marvelous titles the prophet assigns to Him.
Now before we turn our attention, then, to look where he points us, to the Lord Jesus and the great reversals that He brings, let’s bow our heads together as we pray!
Our Father, we pray now that You would give us the help of the Holy Spirit. We confess that we are so inclined to fill our eyes with the bright, sparkling promises of the world, to seek to answer our fears with those promises, to seek to satisfy our longings with those promises. And yet, if we’re honest, we confess again and again the world has shown itself unable to deliver on those promises. So now would You help us as we read Your holy Word, and by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit to see Christ in whom all the promises of God are “Yes” and “Amen,” who alone meets our heart needs. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
Isaiah chapter 9 at the first verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time, he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace, there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
Amen, and we praise God for His holy, inerrant Word.
I remember as a fairly new believer attending the parish church in the village on the outskirts of Glasgow where I grew up for our midnight service one Christmas Eve. It has been a cold and gloomy night as I walked down the street from my family home to the church. We spent the next happy hour singing the praise of God, singing carols by candlelight, praising Him for the birth of Christ, sitting together under the faithful ministry of the Word. At about 11:58 pm, the minister led the congregation in prayer and then the “Amen” pronounced he opened his eyes and wished us all a “Merry Christmas.” And we all turned to one another and wished each other “Season’s Greetings.” And then with another group of young friends who, like me, had recently been converted in the congregation, we made our way to the doors to exit the building. And when the doors were thrown open, everything outside had changed; everything had changed. You see, while we’d been inside it had snowed and the dark, familiar streets – as familiar to me as the back of my hand – that drew not even a second thought as I trudged my way down to the church earlier that night in the gloom and cold and dark of a Christmas Eve in Glasgow, Scotland was now shining and pristine and beautiful under a thick blanket of snow. It was actually quite stunning. I hadn’t seen a single flake fall, and while we’d been in church, the world had been changed. It was magical. I’ll never forget it. Walking home with a heart full and soaring and praising God for the beauty of His world and thinking actually, about, a world to come where everything will be made right and beautiful forever.
And as I was reading Isaiah chapter 9 in preparation for this morning, I was made to remember that experience in that moment because something of the wonder and the joy of that, actually something far more wonderful and joyful, even than that, ought to steal over our hearts as we transition from Isaiah chapter 8, into Isaiah chapter 9. Look at the very end of Isaiah chapter 8; the very last sentence in English. “They will be thrust into thick darkness.” Chapter 9 opens like the sunrise. The contrast is stunning. It’s like those doors of the sanctuary being thrown open and the dark streets are now shining and white and beautiful and everything has changed. A glorious new creation, a new reality, a great reversal has come about. And Isaiah chapter 9 really is promising God’s people that great reversal through the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ. And we’re going to spend the bulk of our time thinking about this child that Isaiah speaks of from whom this great blessing of renewal and redemption and new life shall come.
Before we do that, however, I want just to notice the dramatic reversal that the prophet promises in the first place. Here we might say, in verses, 1 to 3, are the consequences that flow from that first Christmas that are the result of the coming of this child who would be born. Verses 1 to 3 – usually, you know, when people talk about the consequences of Christmas they talk about something like the diet plan they must now undertake to deal with their greatly expanded girth because of overeating during the Christmas season. Those are Christmas consequences with which I suspect many of us are far too familiar. I, at least, certainly can confess to that. But here are Christmas consequences of great joy and marvelous good news.
Glory in Place of Gloom
First of all – Isaiah talks about three of them – first of all, he says there will come glory in place of gloom. Glory in place of gloom. Verse 1, “In the former time, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” The contempt of the former time will be swallowed up by the glory of the latter time and it will begin, notice, at the very spot where the first strokes of judgment fell. The Assyrian invaders would first have stricken at Zebulun and Naphtali and Galilee across the Jordan. And yet these are the places where the latter glory will shine brightly, the prophet says. And sure enough, Matthew chapter 4 verses 12 through 17 we are told these words, these very words were fulfilled in the Galilean ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whereas Ahaz, the king, and heir to David’s throne, was a failure in Isaiah’s day bringing judgment upon his people, the Lord Jesus Christ, great David’s greater Son and true and final heir, was obedient and faithful and through Him, great blessing comes to all. Glory not gloom.
Light in Place of Darkness
Then secondly, Isaiah says there will come light in place of darkness. Do you see that in verse 2? “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them, light has shone.” Darkness was how chapter 8 ended, remember. “They will be thrust into deep, thick darkness.” But one day, the prophet says, the sun shall rise; one day the day shall break and the shadows flee away. One day, the light of the world will come. The light will shine in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it. One day, with the birth of Christ, there will be light in all our darkness. Glory not gloom; light instead of darkness.
Joy Instead of Anguish
And then thirdly he says, as he describes this marvelous great reversal, there will be joy, instead of anguish; joy instead of anguish. You notice how in verse 1 he said: “there will be no gloom for her for who was in anguish.” They were in anguish. But verse 3, “You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy. They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest as they are glad when they divide the spoil.” Celebration, not sorrow, joy not anguish, will characterize the people of God when this great day comes at last. Isn’t that exactly what the angel told the shepherds in Luke chapter 2 when he announced the coming of Christ to the world? You remember his message, don’t you? “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of…” You’re so Presbyterian! “Fear not, for behold I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Great joy through Jesus Christ.
Is your Christian life characterized by great joy? Jesus is the joy-giver. That is precisely what He said He came to bring us. John 15:11, “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you and your joy may be full.” The great evidence, one of the great evidences of the world of Christ in bringing new life into a dead sinner’s heart is the presence of love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and gentleness and self-control. Joy is a fruit of the Spirit of Christ at work in the hearts of His people. He came to give us joy. Do you know anything of these realities as you examine your heart this morning? Light shining into the darkness giving you hope? Glory filling your vision not the gloom of this world’s drab and dreary realities? And joy, not anguish; joy unspeakable and full of glory. Joy untouchable by daily trials. Do you know anything of these realities?
The Sources From Which These Three Great Blessings Proceed
And while you’re thinking about that, do notice the reasons the prophet gives, the sources from which these three great blessings proceed. Part of the reason, he says in verse 4, is that oppression will end. Do you see that in verse 4? “The rod of the oppressor will be broken.” Another part of the reason, verse 5, is that war will cease. Verse 5, all the bloodstained paraphernalia of war is gathered up and thrown in the fire. And yet neither of these provides the ultimate answer, the final grounds of the glory and the light and the joy God’s people may know. For that, we need to go even deeper. And so Isaiah takes us at last, doesn’t he, directly to the source. Here’s where it all comes from. As you searched your heart and did some inventory in your life looking for glory, not gloom, light not darkness, joy not anguish, maybe you were left wondering where you can find these great blessings since, as you scrutinized your own heart you discovered that they are not natural residents there. Where do they come from? Where do you get them?
To Us A Child is Born
Well here’s where you get to come, according to the prophet. Look at verses 6 and 7. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Now here, at last, we’re at the nativity scene, aren’t we? Gathered around the manger looking together at the Christ child, and the prophet Isaiah standing there with us, perhaps off in the corner as it were, quietly explaining to us why this baby makes all the difference, why it is that this marvelous reversal the prophet is promising will come about through Him. Glory not gloom, light not darkness, joy, not anguish all is of Him, and he’s about to tell us why.
What This Child Will Do
First of all, he tells us it all is a result of what this child will do. It is as a result of what this child will do. He will, we are told, He will reign. He will be God’s universal King. The government shall be upon His shoulders. Now that is great news for Isaiah’s suffering peers in his own day, unlike failed King Ahaz. And great news for us, unlike the often failing leaders of our world with their broken promises. Jesus’ kingdom never ends. It does not crumble, Isaiah says, under the last of the oppressor or give way to military conquest. When the waves of this world crash over it in hatred and malice and anger and violence, the kingdom of Jesus Christ is immovable. So verse 7, “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.” The reign of Jesus is not simply indestructible; it is unstoppable and triumphant. He will preside on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. Nothing can thwart the rule of King Jesus. He will build His Church. He will fulfill His purposes. He will establish His kingdom until at last at the end of the ages the glory of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
The Triumph of Christ
That’s precisely what we saw if you were with us Sunday evenings recently as we worked through the book of Revelation together. Over and over again, what was the message, you remember? The Lamb wins! Jesus Christ triumphs. He is the King of kings and the Lord of lords. And so when the angel, Gabriel, told Mary that she, in fact, would be the virgin of whom Isaiah spoke who would conceive and bear a son called Immanuel, Gabriel appears and uses the language of this very passage to explain to her who her son would be. Luke chapter 1 verse 32, he said of Mary’s child, “He will be great and called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever and of his kingdom, there will be no end.” Now Christ’s kingdom, as we know, is not political or military or economic in its character. It is spiritual in nature. Yet it is immovable and unstoppable nevertheless. And so glory, not gloom, light, not darkness, joy, not anguish are yours through faith as you trust in, as you bend your knees to this great King who rules over all; the child born to reign. That’s the first thing Isaiah says. This is what He will do. He will reign and rule over all.
Four Titles for Jesus
But then he says, even more, basic than that, these great blessings, this marvelous reversal flows not just from what He does but from who He is. Look at the four titles Jesus is given in verse 6. “His name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” He is, first of all, the Wonderful Counselor. That speaks to us of His wisdom. Perfect wisdom inheres in Jesus so that He is a Wonderful Counselor. In Him, there is perfect wisdom for all our confusion. That’s how you have joy, not anguish, light not darkness, glory not gloom because, Jesus’ wisdom from God for all your confusion, God’s answer to all your questions, truth amidst all the world’s idle speculations. But wasn’t this baby that was born, this child that was given, isn’t He the one who grew up to be crucified, brutalized, and killed at the hands of the Roman death squad? It doesn’t look like wisdom to me. It looks like foolishness, in fact. It looks like failure.
The Sufficiency of Jesus
Sure enough, as Paul reports it in 1 Corinthians chapter 1 verse 23, when he went around preaching Jesus Christ crucified that’s exactly what people said. The Greeks, he said, call it foolishness – this idea of a crucified Savior. But take a closer look, Paul would say. It was the wisdom of God that united deity to humanity in the womb of the virgin. The wisdom of God that marked and characterized His growth in maturing. The wisdom of God that dripped from His words and informed all His works. And the wisdom of God that fitted Him to be a perfect substitute and Savior of sinners. No other way could be found to match the just demands of the Law of God and the longing heart of the love of God that both might be satisfied and sinners might be saved. But by the cross of His Son and the death of the God-Man, the Lord Jesus Christ, here is the wisdom of God. So that what looks like folly and failure, the cross is the great wisdom of God securing salvation for the world. Jesus Christ crucified, therefore, has become for us wisdom from God. That is righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. In other words, Jesus is all the wisdom we need. All the answer we need. A sufficient Savior for us all. A Wonderful Counselor.
The Mighty God
Then Isaiah says He is the Mighty God. That speaks to us of the omnipotence of divine power. John 1:1, you will remember, says of Jesus that “He is the Word who was with God, who was God, through whom all things have been made that was made.” John 1:18 calls Him “the only begotten God who is in the Father’s side.” He is the God of omnipotent might and so omnipotent power belongs to Him. He is the Mighty God, and yet here is perhaps the deepest mystery of the Christian faith – Mighty God come to us nursing in the arms of the virgin, a helpless baby. Omnipotent deity trudging the streets of Jerusalem, betrayed by a kiss, nailed to the tree. Here is the Mighty God made flesh and again when the moment of that divine might appears most hidden, least operative, when Jesus seems His weakest – emulated and crucified and torn and hung between those two thieves – there we see the power of God at work in Him securing by His blood your redemption.
So that means now we can sing in the words of the old hymn to the Lord Jesus, “Strong deliverer, strong deliverer, be thou still my strength and my shield.” He is mighty to save and has all the strength you need in all your weakness, in all your frailty, in every trial. Jesus Christ is sufficient for you so that you can say to Him, “When I am weak, then I am strong. Your strength is made perfect in my weakness and Your grace is sufficient for me.”
The Everlasting Father
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God – He’s also Everlasting Father and I think speaks a word to us about His love. He is one with the Father in the unity of the blessed Trinity. Relates to us, unlovely in our sin, with the love of the Father for precious children. A love that will not let us go, can never be broken, everlasting love. From which nothing in all creation can separate us. In Jesus Christ, the Father, as it were, comes running out to welcome us as prodigals when we come home. In Jesus Christ, the Father demonstrates His love for us in that while we still shook our fists in hatred and rebellion in the teeth of God, Christ died for us. Glory not gloom, light not darkness, joy not anguish because Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor – all the wisdom we need. The Mighty God – all the strength our weakness can require. And He is the Everlasting Father who loves us in our unloveliness in the ugliness of our sin.
The Prince of Peace
And finally, He is also the Prince of Peace, the shalom, the peace that speaks about the way things ought to be but, are not marred and broken by sin. He is the one who embodies it and gives it to all who trust Him, who presides over a realm characterized by peace. He Himself is our peace. We were once, remember, hostile and alienated from God but He has made peace, taking in Himself the enmity and judgment we deserve, making peace by the blood of the cross. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself so that today, in the Gospel, the Lord Jesus speaks the same word He spoke to the disciples that night in the Upper Room after His resurrection. You remember? Here they were, filled with fear, quaking, trembling, scared, and He came and stood among them and what did He say to their hearts? “Do not be afraid. Peace be with you.” Peace. Jesus gives us peace not as the world gives. He leaves us His peace so that we need not let our hearts be troubled, neither, let them be afraid. He is with us as our Prince of Peace who shall keep us secure in the embrace of His love. That’s what He gives us – peace, security, rest. That’s what He’s accomplished for you.
Light, not darkness, joy not anguish, glory not gloom, because whatever trial we endure, whatever fears strike at our hearts as we face the end of one and the beginning of another, in Jesus the peace of God that surpasses understanding can guard our hearts and minds because He is the Prince of Peace. Look at those titles for Jesus one more time. It’s almost as though the prophet were inviting us whether there is any need in our hearts for which Jesus is not a suitable Savior and answer, whether there’s any lack in Him that cannot respond to the deepest needs of our souls. Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace – what a Savior He is! All-sufficient, able to save to the uttermost all who come to God by Him. There is no lack; nothing missing in Jesus, so that the deepest longing and need of your soul may be answered and satisfied by turning to Him.
I like how the prophet speaks to his people. “Unto us, a child is born. Unto us a son is given.” As though he were holding Christ out to them for the taking. This One, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, altogether sufficient for your hearts, your souls, your need, your pardon, your answers, your comfort, your hope, your heaven, this One is for you if only you would come and bend your knee to Him upon whose shoulders rests the government and of whose kingdom there shall be no end. You are today invited to King Jesus, to come bend your knee to Him and to find in Him all, all, all that your heart truly needs. Let’s pray together!
O God, we confess to You that we have glutted our appetite for spiritual things with the white bread of empty entertainments and sinful pleasure. Then we wonder why, having glutted ourselves, we remain empty and hungry when You have Christ for us, the Bread of Heaven, the fountain of living water to satiate our thirst, satisfy our hunger. Help us please now as Your Spirit works to turn to Him, to the great and infinitely satisfying banquet You have prepared for us in Him and to look nowhere else, having found satisfaction at last. For we ask it in His precious name, amen.
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