In the absence of other content, I thought I’d post a short series I’ve done on Isaiah 9:1-7, focusing on the four names assigned to our Savior in 9:6. Here is the overview of Isaiah 9:1-7.
Joy to the world, the Lord has come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare Him room
And Heaven and nature sing
The miraculous events of Bethlehem took place over 2000 years ago now, but many of the promises attached to the birth of Christ have yet to come to fruition. The world we live in has not prepared room for the king, heaven and nature do not sing, and Jesus does not rule the world with truth and grace. The angels declared peace on earth and goodwill, but there is precious little of that to be found in this world.
The world we live in is full of wonder and things that amaze us. When I went into surgery for the second time this year, I asked them to wheel me into the operating room before they knocked me out because I wanted to see the Da Vinci robot that the surgeon used to do the operation. It looked like a giant robotic spider – it was actually kinda creepy. The doctor sat across the room with his hands inside a console like a giant video game and performed the surgery. Medical science is making great strides. I am able to hold a phone when I am in Senegal and talk to my family here in America over Facebook – for free. Technology does some amazing things.
But the world is also badly messed up. The political world is rife with division and continues to become more strident every year. Science can solve many problems, make life easier in many ways, and yet every advancement in technology is used to advance perversion as well. Poverty, disease, ignorance, and superstition continue to spread in this world in spite of all the advances that are being made.
The worldly balms we turn to seem to offer no permanent solutions. Science solves many problems but offers no answers to the deep issues of the soul. Medicine can fix the body but the issues of the mind and heart are more elusive. The old adage that money can’t buy happiness is being proven true in various ways on a daily basis. Education has been offered as the solution to almost every human foible but when you see the morass of dysfunction at educational institutions today you realize that promise has failed. Politicians from both parties promise solutions and present themselves in messianic terms as saviors of the nation but their promises turn out to be mostly empty.
There is a reason for that.
Electric appliances have to be plugged into an outlet to work. Wifi devices have to have a router feeding them a signal. Cars need gas. And we are designed for something more than anything this world can offer. This world can give us thrills. It can give us pleasure. But it cannot satisfy the needs of the soul, it cannot heal the heart, and it cannot give life its ultimate meaning.
That is why the Christmas story matters. I’ve watched a fair number of Hallmark movies about the magic of Christmas this week and will likely watch a few more next week during my convalescence. But these sappy movies miss the mark. Christmas isn’t just about gatherings of family, as wonderful as they are. It isn’t about great meals and gifts, and reconnecting with small-town values or finding love. Christmas is about something much deeper and more powerful, something uglier in some ways but more beautiful eternally.
Look at Isaiah 9:1-7.
Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations.
2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
a light has dawned
on those living in the land of darkness.
3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy.[a]
The people have rejoiced before you
as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
4 For you have shattered their oppressive yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as you did on the day of Midian.
5 For every trampling boot of battle
and the bloodied garments of war
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
6 For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
7 The dominion will be vast,
and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Armies will accomplish this.
It is summed up in verse 1. Where there was anguish there will be no more gloom. Where devastation had brought people under contempt – all of the horrible consequences of sin – there is now a “glorious way of the sea.” God made a way to something better where sin, judgment, death, and horror had reigned. The question we will ask in the weeks ahead is how God did this.
The answer is simple. In verse 2, God’s solution to human problems is made clear. It isn’t an educational degree or a scientific discovery. God didn’t solve human problems with an infusion of cash or some economic strategy. God simply turned on a light to fix the darkness of the human soul. “The people who walked in darkness saw a great light” and to those who dwelt in “deep darkness” a light shone. That is what God did. In the darkness, God shined a light.
Human problems are not caused by a lack of money or even by ignorance. It is sin that is at the root of our dysfunction. God is the source of life and we rebelled against him. We decided to turn from him and live our own way. We unplugged from the Creator. No wonder things don’t run right. We are spiritually unplugged.
Christmas is about God beginning the process of plugging humanity back into the source of life. Where darkness reigned, God shined a light. Where death reigned, God brought life. Where there was gloom and hopelessness, God brought joy. Verse 3 says he multiplied the nation and increased its joy. That is what God did.
How did God do all of this? Verses 4, 5, and 6 tell us three steps that God took in fixing the darkness of human hearts. Each begins with the same Hebrew preposition, “for,” and reveals three steps God took – not sequential – shining his light in our darkness.
- God Broke the Oppressor’s Rod v. 4
The great theologian Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” There are many issues of injustice and oppression in this world. War. Poverty. Human trafficking. Racism. Abuse. Perversion. The world is filled with wicked people who do wicked things to people. And we often act as if all of our problems are caused by other people.
She did it. It’s his fault. If only they would change. If she would stop. If my circumstances would change. We love to point the finger and assign blame. But ultimately, the oppressor in my life is sin. It is Satan’s rebellion that has sown lies in this world and cause my heart to choose evil. We must stop looking to blame everyone else and realize that our own hearts are the real issue.
And God has broken the power of sin. God has broken the power of death and hell and all of those things that oppress the human soul. God worked in history to break the hold of the oppressor over us.
- God Burns the Oppressor’s Boots for Fuel v.5
Our God never runs away from a fight. He takes the very best that Satan can throw at him and he uses Satan’s schemes to fuel his work of grace.
Consider the ultimate work of Christ – God played Satan like a pipe organ. Satan pulled out all the stops and got Jesus betrayed by one of his own men. He marshaled the Jewish leaders to break their own rules to try Jesus illegally and manipulated the Romans to get him crucified. It was his greatest work in history. And the best Satan could do with his greatest work of lying, scheming, and manipulating in history was to ensure his own defeat.
What has been one of his greatest tools in history? Racism. Satan makes us think our kind is better than other kinds and makes us scared of those who aren’t like us. We think people from South of the border or those from Muslim countries or those with skins with different pigment are worth less in God’s kingdom. And you know what God is doing? He is busy building a people from every tribe and language on earth to spend eternity with him unity in worship. Racism will die but there will be a rainbow-hued gathering for all eternity worshiping the Savior. War? The enemies of God will unite against him but a sword will come out of Jesus’ mouth and strike them down.
Every tool of war that Satan has becomes fuel in the fire for Jesus!
- God Birthed a Child to Rule the World v. 6
This brings us to our key text and the amazing strategy of God to fight the great cosmic battle. God’s ultimate strategy – and what an odd strategy is was – did not involve an army or a political maneuver some brilliant theological idea. God sent a baby. “A virgin will conceive.” “For unto us a child is born.” The God of heaven took on flesh. Some have pointed out that the dual nature of Christ is hinted at in the parallelism here. A child is born – human. A son is given – divine. But the key is that God’s answer to the problem of the world’s sin and rebellion was not to send a solution but to send his Son.
In eternity past, the Godhead devised a plan within itself, a counsel of wisdom, sacrifice an love. On Christmas day, God deployed his troops, well, his troop, sending his son to Bethlehem to be born among men. At Calvary God dealt the death blow to the enemy. Satan may still be going about on earth like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, but that lion has already received the wound that will eventually end his reign of terror. At the Second Coming, Jesus will display the glory of God and culminate God’s plan in total victory.
We will examine the treasures of this verse in depth. Kings were often assigned names when they ascended the throne in the ancient world, names that were meant to characterize their rule. Our King, born as a baby, was assigned four names, each couplet – a name with a modifier. The child who was born is a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Everlasting Father, and a Prince of Peace.
There are so many things about Christmas that have become mythological and in which our common ideas may not be totally accurate. Our views of these names may fall into that category. We tend to see Christmas as a sentimental holiday in which parents posed a pastoral scene with cute animals, kneeling shepherds, and gift-giving Magi, while a star lit the night sky. But there is a truth behind the words in Isaiah 9:6 that turns our attention in a different direction.
Christmas, rightly understood, is an act of war. It was D-day in God’s eternal plan to fight human sin and rebellion, the invasion, the implementation of God’s eternal purpose. Counselor is commonly used to refer to a war advisor to a king or general. Jesus leads us to victory in a way that leaves us in awe. Mighty speaks of one who conquers his foe. Jesus is the divine son who conquers those who oppose him and defeats the foes of those who trust him. He is our eternal Father, caring for and watching over his children, and he is the Prince of Peace, the one who brings peace through total victory, uniting the world in peace by defeating every foe and being the one to whom every knee will bow.
Christmas is Jesus saying to all his enemies, in the words of Bugs Bunny, “I guess you know, this means war.”
He rules the World with Truth and Grace,
And makes the Nations prove
The Glories of his Righteousness,
And Wonders of his Love.