Isaiah 9:1-7 (ESV)
9 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.
2 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.
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.
4 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.
5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult
and every garment rolled in blood
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 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.
7 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.
In order to understand this passage and place it within the light of the overall Biblical revelation I need to provide some historical background to this particular prophecy.
Isaiah ministered for more than forty years through the reigns of Kings Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. King Uzziah presided over a lengthy period of peace and stability. During the reigns of Kings Jotham followed by his son Ahaz, a war raged between Judah and the united kingdoms of Israel and Syria. In this war Ahaz, the king of Judah, was opposed by a coalition of forces led by Pekah, king of Israel, and Rezin, king of Aram (Syria). Ahaz responded with fear and unbelief. He refused God’s sign (in Isaiah 7:12) and tried to find a political solution by seeking help from the Assyrians.
Chapter 9 opens, then, with a prophecy in the midst of seeming political and worldly doom and darkness. In the North, the Kingdom of the 10 tribes of Israel, who broke away from the Southern Kingdom during the reign of Solomon’s son, are going to be conquered by the Assyrians.
The Assyrians were a bloodthirsty and cruel empire and they would eventually conquer the Northern tribes and leave the remaining people with little to no identifiable trace of being the Covenant people of God.
Not only this but the combined forces threatened the very existence of Judah and later Kings of Assyria nearly conquered her except that the Lord intervened during the reign of Hezekiah.
The passage we read now looks over the devastation of the Northern tribes from the vantage point of the South and sees the former Northern nation in gloom and darkness. Her land conquered. Her people in darkness.
There is seemingly, no hope, on a geo-political scale for these people.
And yet a Promise of Light remains.
The people of Isaiah’s day hear that, in the latter days, something glorious will occur beyond the Jordan.
Something glorious will occur is Galilee.
Into gloom and deep darkness a Light will shine.
The yoke of slavery will be lifted.
The rod of oppression will be broken.
The boots that stomped in triumph will be overthrown.
Those with blood on their garments will be judged in fire.
A child will be born.
One who is a Son will be given to us.
Upon His shoulders will be the rule of the nations.
You know, of course, of Whom this passage speaks.
Yet, do you understand how the people of Isaiah’s day and those who came after saw this in military and geo-political terms?
Do you see how the Jews of Jesus’ day might have missed that He was the fulfillment of this passage?
Isaiah is sometimes called the fifth Gospel because, in it, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ is so clearly pre-figured when looked upon with New Testament eyes.
Where the people of Isaiah’s time and the Jews viewed their political oppression and heathen nations and peoples in their holy land as the real gloom and darkness, this was not the real darkness in view.
Isaiah goes on in his prophecies to note that the real darkness was the spiritual blindness of the people.
Not only had the Northern tribes preferred idolatry to the service of the living God but the Southern Kingdom embarked on the same trajectory.
The Nation of Israel was to understand themselves to be heirs to the Promise and to have a relationship with the living God that He would be their God and they His people.
He warned them that if they became idolatrous like the Nations He had cast out for them that they too would suffer the fate of idolatry.
Where they were supposed to be a light to the world, a City on a Hill, they had become idolatrous in their worship and become blind themselves.
Where they had been redeemed by the power of grace, they strove by the power of the flesh and so the Curse of the Law of God abided upon them.
We have been studying Romans and have heard the curse of the Law upon the Jews as they considered themselves guides to the blind.
They thought they could see and yet, as Isaiah and the prophets the followed pointed out, they had become disobedient and blind.
Consider how Isaiah describes the state of spiritual affairs later in his prophecy.
Isaiah 59:9–15 (ESV)
9 Therefore justice is far from us,
and righteousness does not overtake us;
we hope for light, and behold, darkness,
and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.
10 We grope for the wall like the blind;
we grope like those who have no eyes;
we stumble at noon as in the twilight,
among those in full vigor we are like dead men.
11 We all growl like bears;
we moan and moan like doves;
we hope for justice, but there is none;
for salvation, but it is far from us.
12 For our transgressions are multiplied before you,
and our sins testify against us;
for our transgressions are with us,
and we know our iniquities:
13 transgressing, and denying the LORD,
and turning back from following our God,
speaking oppression and revolt,
conceiving and uttering from the heart lying words.
14 Justice is turned back,
and righteousness stands far away;
for truth has stumbled in the public squares,
and uprightness cannot enter.
15 Truth is lacking,
and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey.
God had promised a Curse upon the people if they did not obey His statutes and yet they had sold themselves in slavery to sin and the Curse was imminent upon them.
Surely God would have to judge.
Surely there was no hope for the people of God and, if there was no hope for the people of God, then what hope existed for those of us who were outside the Covenant boundary of the Nation of Israel.
They had the words of everlasting life and yet they were blind guides.
This is very bad news, the Curse of the Law presses down upon the people of God.
Swift judgment is sure to follow.
Must not God be faithful to His Promise?
But then, somehow, the Story turns.
Isaiah 59:15-17 (ESV)
The LORD saw it, and it displeased him
that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.
17 He put on righteousness as a breastplate,
and a helmet of salvation on his head;
he put on garments of vengeance for clothing,
and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak.
The Lord Himself would raise up a Servant to bring true the Promises of Blessing.
The Lord Himself would be the Servant clothed in Flesh.
The Son of God would take on human flesh.
The Son of God would humble Himself not by subtracting from His divinity but by adding humanity.
He Who was God from all eternity would take on a real human body and a real human mind and become like us in every way except without sin.
He came to be the obedient Son of the Law.
He came to be the Servant that Israel was supposed to be.
Important for all humanity, He came to be the Second Adam as we have heard in Romans 5.
Where sin and disobedience and blindness abounded, Jesus had zeal for the Law and obeyed perfectly and superabounded with life and light.
We have heard the story of the birth of Jesus so much that we often lose sight of the cosmic significance that God would become man and be contained in a cradle to grow in favor and stature before God and man.
We fail to see it because we’re so wrapped up in the things of this world.
We lose track of our need that God would become man for us because we lose sight of the spiritual slavery that was our condition.
God gave us His son that a child might be born and that child would be given a Name.
In Isaiah 9 we learn that His name will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
The mystery of the Son of God becoming man is that Jesus both possessed these Names but He also was given these Names by accomplishing all righteousness.
It was necessary that He truly walk where we walk and, as a child and as a man, do everything that we could not.
He needed to represent us.
He needed to touch our humanity.
We cannot ascend to God.
We are creatures and bound to the things created.
If God’s majesty and holiness were to press upon us apart from Jesus then it would crush us and consume us in perfection.
That’s because, in our sinful state, we would only deserve His wrath.
And so God came down to us in full humanity.
He clothed His holiness and perfection in human flesh.
His flesh protected us so that the Person of the Son could reach out to us and touch us in our slavery and misery.
He was despised and rejected and hung on a cross for our crimes so that He might be the fulfillment of the death and judgment that we deserve.
He bore in His body our sin and became Sin in our place.
He died and with Him died the sin and the power of slavery that had held us captive.
He bore the wrath of hell and all its power in our place.
He rose again with indestructible life that we might rise again in newness of life with Him.
This is what we’ve been hearing in Romans.
Jew and Gentile alike dead in trespass and sin.
Blind. Dead. Without hope.
Yet Christ died in our place and broke the power of our bondage.
By faith we are united to this real humanity.
By faith we are transported from the realm of Adam’s condemnation.
By faith we are transported into the realm of Christ’s Kingdom where everything that is His now is ours.
We now see.
We now have everlasting life.
We now are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to righteousness.
And so what does it mean when we say that Christ’s Name will be called “Wonderful Counselor”?
Well, first it means that this Jesus is full of wonder.
We have trouble communicating things because we often throw around adjectives like “wonder” or “wonderful” in ways that make it hard to get a sense of a wonder for the power of God.
If I tell you that my vacation with family is wonderful it doesn’t get anywhere near the wonder that God produces in us.
We can get a sense of it in the ministry of Jesus when He walked on water and calmed the raging seas and caused great fear to come upon His disciples.
What manner of man is this?
We can get a sense of it when we read of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead.
There is a sense of holy awe and dread as we are joyful that it is really true that someone who has walked in our shoes is able to raise men from the dead.
But what about our sin?
Have you never felt the crushing weight of sin?
Have you never encountered the holy God and contemplated your sin in light of His holiness?
The Scriptures tell of men asking that the mountains would cover them to escape the wrath of God.
Do you know nothing of the dread of the God of the whole universe being Your enemy for your sin?
If you do then is it not amazing that this man Jesus could say to a woman: “Your sins are forgiven you.”
Is it not wonderful that Christ could take the burden of your sin upon His shoulders?
This Jesus is a Wonderful Counselor.
Perhaps you’re like many today who think that this Jesus stuff is just a religious crutch.
We Christians are like other religious people.
We’re throwbacks to a pre-scientific age where we didn’t have scientific explanations to the weather or earthquakes or stars or planets.
We were fearful of starvation through draught or storm or pestilence and so we created gods as coping mechanisms.
Reality was too hard for us to face and so we imagine gods whom we can appease through our worship and they’ll take care of the scary things of life.
We can’t face tomorrow and what it will bring and so we imagine this man Jesus is the ultimate coping mechanism.
Is that all He is as a Wonderful Counselor?
We’ve got the world pegged now.
We’re modern people.
We know how the weather and earthquakes and the sun, moon, and stars work and we no longer need to lean on this religious crutch.
But this is not the Jesus of Divine Revelation.
This is not the God Who became man for us.
In real human history, this Man Jesus was born of a Virgin and became Man.
He is not a fact of human history that we need to sort out with our human wisdom.
No, beloved, as Paul teaches us in Colossians 2:3, in Christ are hidden all the riches of wisdom and knowledge.
We all know that we are created by God in His image.
In God we live, we move, and have our being.
Human philosophy, since the Enlightenment, has thought that it could describe the universe by beginning with human reason.
It is only when we understand who we really are as creatures that we learn that God knows everything.
It is only by understanding that He has all the riches of wisdom and knowledge that we can really sort things out.
I keep returning to this problem, however.
What if it is true that we are creatures created by an infinite, holy God?
If it’s true that all life, motion, and being is created by Him and in Him then we’ll only know anything correctly when we know Him.
We will only know ourselves as He has created us when we understand Him.
We will only know Him as we understand ourselves.
Yet, apart from Christ, we are blind.
Life in this world is full of unexplainable suffering and trouble.
The evil seem to prosper and many good people suffer.
Those we love die.
Our work and our daily lives do not satisfy.
We cannot get a perspective beyond our limited capacity.
If God remains shrouded in infinite knowledge and we remain blind in our creaturely existence then we cannot reach high enough to grasp Him.
Yet, Christ is both God and man.
We cannot lay hold of the hand of God because He is too far.
But we can lay ahold of Christ.
The God, in Whom are hidden all the riches of knowledge and wisdom, came down in human flesh and dwelt among us.
We who believe in Him are united to this Person.
We are united to God and man.
He doesn’t call us slaves.
He doesn’t call us acquaintances.
He calls us His friends.
He calls us brother and sister.
Why does God allow suffering?
Why does He permit a beautiful young woman to have chronic back pain?
Why does he allow us to suffer mocking and reproach from the world?
Why does He permit the dismemberment of babies?
Why does He see the martyrdom of His Saints?
Why does He allow earthquakes and tsunamis that kill thousands?
Beloved, I don’t have the answer to those questions.
I know, in part, that we are to blame for the Curse that is on the world because of the rebellion of our first parents.
I know that the world is groaning because of us and our sin explains why other’s suffer.
But I don’t have all the answers.
But I know Someone Who has the answers.
I know Someone Who has answers that I cannot comprehend because I’m a creature.
I know that He didn’t leave the world in sin and misery but came to save His people from the condemnation they deserved.
By faith I know Jesus Christ Who has the answers.
I know Christ Who has suffered and wondered just like I do because in His humanity He had to wrestle with God over the consequences of human sin.
I don’t know everything but the One Who knows everything is on MY side.
We who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
The great darkness is not political turmoil – though it is dark.
The great darkness is not the loss of liberty or the destruction of the economy.
The great darkness was our slavery to sin and death.
But God was not content to leave us stumbling.
Because of the great love with which He loved us, He sent His Son Who accomplished all righteousness and was given a Name above all Names so that, at the Name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and in earth.
Turn from your doubt.
Turn away from the darkness.
Turn unto Christ and believe upon Him.
Rest in Him in Whom are hidden all knowledge and wisdom.
Let us pray.