December 15, 2019
Pastor Michael King
I don’t know if you know this, but this Friday is a really, really special day. I mean, really big. It is a globally important day this Friday. I would say, without irony, it’s one of the most important days in the history of the world. This Friday is something the world has been waiting on for over 40 years!
Do you know what it is? This Friday, Episode Nine of the “Skywalker” saga of Star Wars premieres in theaters around the globe. Star Wars. I’m so excited! How can you not be excited?
I don’t exactly remember when I saw Star Wars for the first time. I remember sitting in our living room watching Luke and Vader fight it out, hearing that new ones were going to get made, that George Lucas was going to come back and make prequels… (A lot of people didn’t like those; I loved them because they were my movies. I was the young kid. Then they were made for me.)
Then, years later, there were rumors that Disney was going to buy Star Wars and make new movies. And here we are at the end of a nine-film saga told over 40 years with all the same characters. One story. It’s exciting! I am pumped! I can’t wait. I bought my ticket already. I know what seat I’m sitting in… H7. I know what theater I’m going to be in… Theatre 2. It’s going to be great. Eleven o’clock, Friday morning.
There is this longing in me, this desire, this anticipation that I’ve been having, it seems, all my life. -to see the end of these stories. Maybe there is something you feel that way about. I don’t know. Well, I kind of do know, because it is Christmastime, and all of us were kids once. You remember waking up every morning, one day closer to Christmas, and there was that one thing you wanted. There was that one event you would get to go to. One day closer… one day closer… There is this thing built inside of us, this anticipation, this almost painful longing to make it to what we want.
This feeling is not new. In fact, it’s been around for a long time. It’s been a part of the Christian tradition since the beginning, really. It’s what Advent is all about. Advent just means arrival. Jesus is coming, so we call it Advent. God’s people have always been waiting, either for His arrival or for His return. And so, today we’re going to look at a passage talking about Christ’s arrival the first time.
Turn to Isaiah nine in your Bible. I’m going to do something, starting in January, and I invite you to join me if this sounds interesting to you. I’ve got one book in the Old Testament, and I’ve got one book of the New Testament: Isaiah and Romans. I’m going to spend the entire year just studying those two books. -twelve months reading them over and over and over again, getting everything I can out of them. I just bet that if I take intentional time to do that, I’ll be closer to God’s feelings and God’s thoughts than I was at the beginning of the year.
I invite you and challenge you. If you are the kind of person who wants to go deeper, do that. Pick a book of the Old Testament, and pick a book of the New Testament. Let’s just study them all year and see what we get by December.
Okay, here we go. Isaiah is a book of prophecy. Prophecy can be tricky, right? When we hear prophecy, we think of something that’s going to happen in the future, something that hasn’t happened yet. And while that’s true (there are things in Isaiah about what is going to happen in the future), we need to remember that Isaiah was a person talking to people at a place, in a time. It doesn’t just exist only for our benefit. There was a people that heard this, and it meant something to them. So, we need to look at how we got to Isaiah nine, so we can understand it.
If you remember, King David established the kingdom of Israel by God and had a son named Solomon, who became king. Solomon eventually dies, and 200 years later, we get to Isaiah nine. In that 200 years, crazy things have happened. The twelve tribes of Israel have split. Ten northern tribes are rebelling against God’s throne and against David’s lineage. They don’t want to follow the way they are supposed to. So, they form the nation of Israel, these ten northern tribes.
The southern nations, who are following after God’s way, form the nation of Judah. And Israel, to protect itself from foreign armies, forms a pact with Syria, to protect itself specifically against Assyria. It’s political intrigue gone mad. They want Judah to join with them to create this three-headed army that could probably take over the world.
But King Ahaz, the king of Judah, says, “No, we’re going to do things God’s way. And so Israel and Syria decide to kill King Ahaz, take over his throne, and install their own shadow government, so they could get done what they want to get done. It’s like if you took the plot of Scandal, the plot of House of Cards, and the plot of Designated Survivor, and you put them all together to get this mass political intrigue happening right here at the beginning of the book of Isaiah.
There is a problem with this plan, though. God has promised the people of Israel and Judah that King David’s throne will not be going anywhere. Nothing is going to happen to it. He won’t let it vanish. Their plan is doomed from the start. Isaiah tells us that back in chapter seven. He tells us, very importantly, there is no need to panic. God is with His people. In fact, that’s a good thing to write down:
There is no need to panic; God is with His people
That’s good for us to know in the daily doldrums of life. There is no need to panic; God is with His people. But also, when reading prophecy, it’s a good thing to remember. We read about doom and gloom and judgment and fire and all these awful things. There is no need to panic; God is with his people. And when we don’t know what’s coming next and we don’t see how God’s promises are going to come true, there is no need to panic; God is with His people. It’s going to be fine.
The problem is, Ahaz doesn’t believe that, or at least Ahaz doesn’t want to believe that. Ahaz is much more comfortable devising his own salvation. He’s lusting after the success of his own plan, rather than delighting in the victory of God. So, in chapter seven, Isaiah comes and delivers a sermon to Ahaz, this two-chapter sermon, and the point of the sermon is this: Who are you going to trust, Ahaz? (Also us; he’s speaking to us, as well.)
Isaiah tells him, “Ahaz, eventually God is going to take everyone through some sort of crisis, and at the end of that time, you are going to ask yourself, “Was it worth it to trust in God, or would I have been better off trusting in myself?” Isaiah’s answer is clear: Trusting in God is always the right way, but no one chooses that. Isaiah tells us God’s people never trust Him as they should, and they pay a price for it.
At the end of chapter eight, there will be distress and darkness. There is this great phrase, the gloom of anguish. People will be thrust into thick darkness, and the curtain will start to fall. Then, we open on chapter nine. Let’s dive into the first seven verses of chapter nine. Verse one:
Pause. That’s important. Don’t overlook small words (I know that’s cruel. We read one word, and we’re still out there. We haven’t started yet). “But” is a really important word. It’s three letters, and there might not be a bigger word in Scripture. Any time you see the word “but”, specifically at the beginning of a phrase, specifically when God is talking, you need to pay very close attention, because oftentimes, this is where God does miraculous things. It is in the word “but”.
And this is a pretty big “but”. -because here, God is telling us that in the midst of all this tribulation, all this darkness from chapter eight, the anguish of despair, God’s grace will have the last word. Even after all of that, God is not satisfied with where His people are. God’s grace will triumph over their failure. God’s grace will have the last word. That’s the second thing you can write down.
God’s grace will have the last word
1 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.
God is coming to His people first where they have suffered the most. And from that place, He is going to launch salvation into the entire world. Whenever foreign powers would attack this nation, they would come from the north because there are mountains, and there is an ocean. There is no way to get there except to come from the north. And they would always attack the same places: Zebulun and Naphtali (the cities in the north) and the Galilee of the nations (that just means the part of Galilee where the Gentiles lived).
These people knew pain. These people were constantly in slavery and were constantly in anguish. Every captor, every foreign army attacked there, coming right through their city, just like the Assyrians do here in Isaiah. But God is going to turn this invasion into a mission by making the people of Galilee the first ones to see the light of Jesus. This is how God ushers in a new era of triumphant grace. The same Galilee would be where Jesus does His work.
And you’ll see this common thread as we go: that we don’t make any contribution to this. The ones walking in darkness suddenly found themselves blinking under a new light that they had never seen before. They all deserved what happened to them, but God wasn’t satisfied. His zeal, as we will see later, brings a Savior. Let’s keep reading.
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.
What’s going on here? God is at work. That’s the third thing you can write down:
God is at work
He is spreading His light to more and more people. He is multiplying the nation. He is taking what was this nation of Israel and making it, as Revelation chapter seven tells us, a great multitude that no one can number, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne and to the lamb.”
This is where it’s headed here in Isaiah. And this joy of the multiplied people is not a meager, wimpy, happy-clappy kind of joy. This is no small joy like a 100% pay raise or the locker room after you win the Super Bowl. That would be a small joy compared to this joy.
God’s joy is eternal
See, the triumph of God’s grace over our depressing failure is joy unspeakable, unimaginable, unquantifiable, and incontrovertible. And it is full of glory, not just for a little while, but forever! God’s joy, unlike ours, is eternal. We can bank on it. It’s never going to end. It forever and ever!
And how is this going to happen? Well, now we get these three “for” statements.
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.
What is he getting at? He is talking about envisioning this salvation as a freedom fighter, a great warrior like Gideon. You remember Gideon from the Old Testament. He destroys the Midianite hordes. What do we learned from Gideon? Well, we learn that God does the work. It’s this stellar through-line here. You and I are not the subject of any of the verbs in verses four, five and six.
Why? -because true liberation comes from beyond ourselves. That is why Gideon is mentioned here. Gideon broke through the Midianite hordes. This was an unlikely hero. God reduces the size of Gideon’s army from 32,000 to 300. He has this audacious plan to have them blow trumpets and break vases and light torches. It shouldn’t work, but it does. And the Midianites slaughter themselves. They go into a panic. God is at work through his servant, Gideon, achieving liberation for His people that they could have never attained on their own.
True liberation comes from beyond ourselves
That is why Gideon is here. But Isaiah is actually looking forward to a liberator who is even greater than Gideon!
For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
This liberator that God is sending, He’s not coming just to defeat our enemies. Armies can defeat enemies. Armies can set captives free. That’s easy. God has come to do the hard thing. He is getting rid of the concept of strife itself!
Every Mechanism of tyranny will go into the bonfire of God’s grace
Every mechanism of tyranny, every one, will go into the bonfire of God’s grace. Every fight, every struggle, every pain (and not just those specific things, but the idea of pain, the idea of strife, the idea of struggle, the idea of oppression), it all gets used as fuel for the fire of God’s grace that purifies everything.
And again, don’t miss that this is passive voice. It will be burned. This is not a victory that we win. It is a victory that God has already won. In fact, we’re not even there. We step onto the battlefield well after the war is over. We celebrate God’s victory. Not that anyone should boast. It’s only through His power. And here you can almost hear the Israelites asking, “Who then, Isaiah? Who will be this powerful figure striding across the world stage? We have been hearing about Him since the beginning of time. Through what magnificent person does the zeal of the Lord renew the world forever?” He tells us in verse six:
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.
This is God’s answer to everything that has ever terrorized us as a child. God’s power is so far superior to the Assyrians and all the other big shots of the world and bullies of all time. He’s so much more powerful that He can defeat them by coming as a baby.
God’s answer to our pain is Jesus
God’s answer to all the bullies swaggering throughout history is not more swagger. It is not to become a bigger bully. God doesn’t need swagger. God’s answer to our pain is Jesus and Jesus alone. And when we finally get close enough to the secret of world peace to actually see it clearly, do you know what we find? Against all of our assumptions and all of our expectations, we find weakness overwhelming power and foolishness out-foxing wisdom.
The Apostle Paul said it best. In 1 Corinthians 1, he says this:
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach[b] to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
What is Paul saying? Every human attempt fails. There is no one strong enough to do what this Savior can do. There is no human wise enough to save us and redeem us. It can’t happen. However improbable, the Gospel must be true. God does not need our strength or our brains. Jesus Christ crucified is the only Savior and King of the world.
And don’t miss this. Verse six is a super important verse. It’s one of the ones we know best from Christmastime, obviously, and it’s the center point of this prophecy. It is where all this is going. If you’re a good student of your Bible, you’ll notice something else here. Way back in Genesis three, this idea of a Redeemer who will come to set us free begins.
God tell Eve that out of her offspring, one will come who will crush the serpent’s head with His heel. And then later on, He’s raising up a prophet even greater than Moses and a warrior even greater than Gideon. But here, for the first time in the whole Bible, God is finally telling His people who is coming. It’s not just some person He is indwelling with power. It’s not just some man that He has found. It’s Himself coming to rescue His people!
No one has the name Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace except for Christ Himself, God Himself. Every other time, God is raising up a prophet or a warrior. But here, it is God in the flesh. Finally, a Redeemer we can actually trust. -not someone who can fail and will fail and changes his mind like we do, but one who cannot change and cannot fail.
So, in our fear and our failure and in our sin, this disease that each one of us has from birth that has killed us and will continue to kill us over and over, what are we to do? The answer is clear: We look to Jesus. We look to Jesus as Wonderful Counselor. He has the best ideas and the best strategy. So, let’s follow Him. We look at Jesus as the Mighty God. He defeats His enemies easily. So, let’s hide behind Him. As Everlasting Father, He loves us endlessly. So, let’s enjoy Him. And as the Prince of Peace, He reconciles us while we were still His enemies. So, let’s welcome His dominion.
This is the great thing about the Jesse Tree. Every night, if you’ve been following along, what you’ve been doing is tracing who Christ is through all of these stories. Here in Isaiah, he’s finally telling us, “By the way, this man is not only a man; this man is Jesus.”
Yes, Christ is the “reason for the season”. We say that often, but do we actually believe it? Is Jesus actually the center of everything we do at Christmastime? Is He a helpful addition or the center of the universe? Isaiah is going to tell us exactly what He is. Verse seven:
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.
This child is the King of all Kings, saving us from our miserable failures, lifting us into His own justice and righteousness. He is Jesus Christ, the Lord. -our crucified, risen, reigning and coming-again Savior.
He will return with a massive correction of all systematic evil forever
And get this: He will not come back just to tweak this problem and make this thing better. He will return with a massive correction of all systematic evil forever. It is not easy what He’s doing. He’s doing something bigger than we could ever imagine.
That’s the best part! I’ve read this verse wrong my entire life until just this past couple of weeks, getting ready for this. I always thought it was His government and His peace that never ends. That’s not what it says. It’s the increase of His government and peace that never ends. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s really important.
This empire of grace will not only just not end, but it will forever expand. If we will live by faith, trust Him now, accepting His weaknesses as our strength, His folly as our wisdom, we will be there to enjoy His triumph, forever ascending, enlarging, accelerating, and intensifying. And there will never come a day when we are not surprised and shocked by the merits of God’s grace.
He will always find ways to surprise us with the goodness of His mercy. There will never come a day when we find the end of that. The finite will experience ever more wonderfully, the infinite. And every new moment will be better than the last. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.
This is great news, because for so many of us, this season (and a lot of seasons) can be difficult, because we don’t see the end in sight. Whatever pain, whatever strife that we see happening, we don’t see the end. Advent is very difficult. All the waiting, all the anticipation, like a child on Christmas Eve, hoping that the next time I wake up, that present will be there, hoping the next time I wake up, my life isn’t in shambles.
We have kin with these people in Isaiah, because they were the same. Their lives were a mess, completely enslaved, attacked all the time. And remember, these are real people who heard this prophecy somewhere around 730 years before Jesus was even born. That means, no one who heard this in person made it to see Jesus’s birth. They just sat in pain and waited. And now, we wait.
For 2000 years, we’ve been waiting for Christ’s return, to finally set the score His way, this promised fulfillment when He finally overthrows evil forever. And so, we have to live in this reality. The last thing you can write down is the reality that hope has come, and hope will come again.
Hope has come, and hope will come again.
And in the midst of the struggle of life, this painful recurrence that we call day, hope came once, and hope is coming back. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. He is in the business of making all things new, taking what was dead (us) and bringing it to life. And here’s the amazing thing: Look back at verse six. We don’t want to miss small words, “For unto us a child is born.”
It is reminiscent of another famous Christmas passage when the shepherds were told by the angels, “Fear not, for unto you in the city of David is born a child who is Christ the Lord.” That word is important, because it’s not “unto some other people”, Jesus is born. The Christ came for you, to redeem you! -not some better version of you, not some future version of you that’s got it figured out, not some future version of you who has finally started to live correctly. No, Christ has come for you.
Jesus has come for the exact people just like us. He wasn’t expecting something better, and He doesn’t have any buyer’s remorse. Jesus knew exactly what He was getting into when He got on the cross, and He’s not asking for a return.
That can land on us like a rock, because we think that we are not good enough. At Christmas, we get to evaluate why Christ came. -to set us free, to raise us to life, not just to make us better and not in hopes that we would be better.
It’s entirely possible that you are someone who has never trusted in Christ, and graciously, for some time now, the Holy Spirit has been convicting you, pulling on you. I beg you not to run away from that. Trust in Christ. Hope has come. Hope will come again. If you surrender to Him today with the empty hands of faith, He will be faithful to forgive you. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this.
Or maybe you do know Christ, and you are trusting in Him, but you are acting more like King Ahaz. You’re planning your own salvation. You’re expecting that, “With my work plus Jesus’ work, everything is going to turn out okay.” I challenge you this morning. A light has shone on us; we didn’t turn it on. Trust in Christ. Hope has come, and hope is coming again. We’re not living a life of panic, but trusting in the promise of God. He is with us.
- Today I see that I need to trust in Jesus to be released from the gloom of sin.
- Today I see that I have been trusting in my own plan and not the zeal of the Lord, today I repent and trust in the promise that hope will return.
- Today I realized that I need to be involved in a community of people who will help me trust in Christ and not myself. I want to join this church or a LifeGroup.
- Read a few of these other Old Testament prophesies regarding Jesus: 2 Samuel 7:12–13, Isaiah 7:14, Micah 5:2. Compare them to Isaiah 9:6. Why is it important that we know that the Messiah will be “Almighty God”? Think about characteristics of God that will help you answer this question.
- What event in your life did you feel the most anticipation for? Describe the feeling you got when it finally happened. Why do you think we don’t always feel that way about the return of Christ?
- Read 1 Corinthians 1:18-25. Do you ever think that you are wiser or stronger than God? Why do you think that is? What should you do when that happens?
- Do some personal study. What happened to King Ahaz? Where else do we see him in Scripture?