We received two new members today, Rachel and Hannah. One of the blessings of being around for a long time is that you can often see the way in which the Lord works in the lives of his people and that is certainly true with both Rachel and Hannah. They are very different in spite of the fact that they are identical twins and they have different gifts and talents. It was thrilling to welcome these young women into fellowship.
In the lead up to Christmas we studied a familiar Bible passage, Isaiah 9:1-7. It’s a passage that’s read a lot in churches at this time of the year and sometimes that can prevent us from giving it our full attention. The words are so familiar, they even form the basis for some well known songs, but they are packed with some of the clearest information with regard to Christ’s nature found in the Old Testament.
Isaiah prophesied in the second half of the eighth century BC and his ministry lasted for more than fifty years. At that time the people of God were divided into two kingdoms, Israel in the north and Judah in the south, where Isaiah was based. The whole area was under intense pressure from the regional super power of the time Assyria to the northeast and that pressure was felt most by the northernmost parts of Israel. The northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians around 720 BC about halfway through Isaiah’s time.
Light in the Darkness. Isaiah addresses “the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan” the very area that was under the worst pressure and may have already fallen to the Assyrians. God promises to honour the region, a promise that was fulfilled during the ministry of the Lord Jesus (Matthew 4:13-16).
The Lord Jesus is the light of the world. John informs us in his first letter that “God is light” (1 John 1:5) and in his gospel he quotes the Lord Jesus as saying that “men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). If rebellion against God is darkness then we live in a very dark place just like places that Isaiah was speaking of. The good news is that a light has dawned in the darkness, Jesus the light of the world. He has stepped into our darkness and that changes everything
Joy after Sorrow. Talk of rejoicing must have seemed impossible to people with were suffering oppression at the hands of a nation renowned for their cruelty. Isaiah uses two metaphors to describe the reasons for rejoicing, a harvest and a great victory (Isaiah 9:3). The only reason for rejoicing linked with a victory or a harvest would be if the work had already been done, to rejoice beforehand would be unusual. The rejoicing that Isaiah refers to is possible because Christ has done the work and won the victory. The example of victory used in the passage (Gideon from Judges 6-7) was the result of God’s direct intervention. We can rejoice because Christ has won the victory and done the work on the cross, it isn’t about our performance it’s about what Christ has achieved for his people. We wonder that the divine plan was to send something as fragile as a baby.
God became Man. In Hebrew poetry, a phrase is often repeated using slightly different words in order to emphasise the point. In verse 6 “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” we see this poetic style is used by the prophet but there is surely more to it. On the one hand, the Son is given. The Lord Jesus is given by the Father (John 3:16), he is and always has been the eternal word (John 1:1); he has come from heaven to earth. In the Old Testament he appears at creation and as the Angel of the Lord. He is equal with the Father.
The Son has been given, but the verse also states that a child has been born and this is a distinctly human experience. In the first chapter of John’s gospel we read that the eternal Word of God, the one who has always been with God and was God, became flesh (John 1:14). Something happened at a point in time and space when humanity was added to his deity without in any way detracting from it. This is the stuff theologians have pondered on and debated for hundreds of years but it’s also incredibly relevant to believers in the 21st century.
Christ shares our humanity, he knows what it is to be tempted, to weep, hunger and thirst. He even shares an experience common all, he was born, he could have appeared as an adult but he came as a baby. Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi puts this beautifully (Philippians 2:5-11). It was perhaps a song or poem used by the early church, its words are so familiar that it can be helpful to look at them afresh in one of the many paraphrases around, I like Rob Lacey’s “The Word on the Street” which though not available online is excellent. Here is the JB Phillips version.
“Let Christ himself be your example as to what your attitude should be. For he, who had always been God by nature, did not cling to his prerogatives as God’s equal, but stripped himself of all privilege by consenting to be a slave by nature and being born as mortal man. And, having become man, he humbled himself by living a life of utter obedience, even to the extent of dying, and the death he died was the death of a common criminal. That is why God has now lifted him so high, and has given him the name beyond all names, so that at the name of Jesus “every knee shall bow”, whether in Heaven or earth or under the earth. And that is why, in the end, “every tongue shall confess” that Jesus Christ” is the Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Righteous Ruler. There is some debate as to whether there are four titles listed here or five. Should we read “Wonderful, Counsellor” or simply “Wonderful Counsellor”, most commentators read one title “Wonderful Counsellor” as the other titles all have two elements, “Mighty God, Prince of Peace and Everlasting Father”. We shall take a very quick look at the titles.
Wonderful Counsellor, the word wonderful perhaps brings Judges 13:18 (margin note) to mind. The word is often translated to describe a miracle or wonder. One of the blessings of a meaningful relationship is that counsel and advice can be sought from those who are only interested in our good. Evil counsel is partly to blame for the fall and all that follows. In Christ we have a wonderful counsellor, one who knows the end from the beginning and desires the very best for us.
Mighty God, is there a clearer picture of the deity of Christ in the Old Testament? The tiny child is also the Mighty God. Some false teachers have tried to differentiate between the word mighty here and the word almighty, we back to the old chestnut “Jesus is a god”. I don’t wish to be unkind but this teaching just doesn’t stack up. The doctrines of the trinity and the deity of Christ may be hard to understand but we are dealing with the very nature of God. Most of us understand very little of the workings of a computer or the internet, that does not give licence to make up an explanation that’s easier to comprehend. The phrase Mighty God is applied to Yahweh in the next chapter (Isaiah 10:21). There are simply too many Bible references to the humanity and deity of Christ to list here. That the Lord Jesus is both human and divine is hard for us to grasp but it is the only view that can be held if we keep hold of scripture. If we take just two of the phrases here, Jesus is the child born to us and Jesus is the Mighty God.
Prince of Peace, John the Baptist’s father Zechariah, when looking ahead to the Messiah said that he would “guide our feet into the path of peace” (Luke 1:79), the song of the angels at his birth was “on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests”(Luke 2:14). Peace is possible because of Jesus, his death has brought it to his people. Our challenge is to live in peace, to let it rule (as an umpire) for we are called to peace (Colossians 3:15). It’s a peace that’s missing in the world. Peace in our lives testifies to the work of the Holy Spirit in us.
Everlasting Father, to read through the Old Testament can be frustrating in that the people of God move from obedience to rebellion on a regular basis. To be fair some of those who made vows to God may have been faithful to him, in some cases it was their children or grandchildren that rebelled as the story of God’s people unfold through hundreds of years. The tragedy is that lessons of the past are often forgotten and what is true of Israel is often true of the church.
The Lord Jesus is the Everlasting Father, his reign will never end and will go on increasing. The writer to the Hebrews in his wonderful picture of Christ as the Great High Priest writes, “one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.” There will be no change of government in heaven. Christ is and will forever remain the everlasting ruler of his people.
The birth of Jesus changes everything. It brings hope where there was no hope. His finished work means that we can have peace where there was no peace. His continuing ministry as the great intercessor means that all who trust in him can face the future with confidence.