Jesus: Messiah and King
We are in our third week in this Advent series, looking forward to the birth of Christ. The first week we spoke of the fact that Jesus has always existed as Lord and Savior; and last week Etienne brought to us the lineage of Jesus Christ, showing us how Jesus was born into a long line of people stuck in sin, in order to save them from their sin. And the amazing thing is that this perfect Savior—for them and for us—was foretold long before his coming. So today we’re going to look at just one of these prophecies, to see what exactly first-century Jews would have been looking for in their coming Messiah.
So in order to do that we need some context. Turn if you would to the book of Isaiah, in chapter 8. Isaiah was a prophet who lived in Jerusalem about seven centuries before the birth of Christ, and he brought a message to God’s people in Israel and Judah. God had given promises to the people of Israel that they would be his people and he would be their God; but God’s people, as usual, had rebelled against God.
So God tells them that their rebellion against him came at a cost; they have been disciplined for rebelling against God. God’s discipline in this context had taken the form of occupation from foreign powers: in this case, Assyria. If you know the Bible, you know how it often works with God’s people: they rebel against him, he gives them over to a foreign nation, then they come to their senses and call upon him, and he rescues them. That doesn’t happen this time: the people’s reaction to God’s discipline is not repentance and humility, but rather anger which leads to more despair. We see in chapter 8, v. 21: 21 They will pass through the land, greatly distressed and hungry. And when they are hungry, they will be enraged and will speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22 And they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.
This is a situation we can all identify with. Even if we’ve never lived under foreign occupation, even if we don’t live in a war-torn country, we can identify with the feeling of being thrust into thick darkness, a gloom of anguish over the state of things. A pastor friend of mine introduced me to the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell. And he did it by commenting on Russell in the context of Christmas. Russell wrote, “There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendor, nor vastness anywhere; only triviality for a moment and then nothing.” And here’s what my friend said: without Christmas, he is absolutely right to say that there is only darkness without and darkness within. Without Christmas, all people look at the earth, and see that it is broken; we see distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish, thick darkness all around. Which is why the first verse in chapter 9 begins with the word “But.”
9.1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. Now this is fascinating. It’s fascinating because the darkness that Israel is feeling is darkness that has come upon them because of their sin. It is their fault; they are being judged for their sin. It is God who delivered his people into the hands of Assyria, and later on, of Babylon. Now when we think of judgment, we always think of it in absolute terms—if we are judged by God, that is his final word on the subject. And sometimes that is the case: when we die and stand before a holy God and are judged for our rebellion against him apart from faith in Christ, his judgment condemns us. But for God’s people, his judgment is not final. Their just punishment is not the final word in the matter. The God who brought the judgment upon them is the same God who intervenes to free them from that judgment.
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. (Galilee is, incidentally, where Jesus began his ministry.) You see the parallel? He brought the land into contempt for their sin; and he would bring them out of it. He made the land a byword among the nations, and he would make the land a glorious blessing. The question is, how will he do it?
Isaiah explains this to us in three basic sections, which work backwards. He gives us the end result first; then he gives us the means by which he’ll bring that result about; then he gives us his motivation for doing what he does.
1) The Great Light (v. 2-5)
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. So this is the end result of what God would do; this is where he is bringing his people. Yes, there is darkness without and darkness within. Yes, you have been thrust into the gloom of despair. But you who once walked in darkness will see a great light, and I am so faithful to my promises that I’ll talk about it in the past tense, as if it’s already happened. 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.
Think of what it must feel like for a blind person to get their sight back. I don’t know if you’ve ever imagined what it must have been like for the blind man whom Jesus healed in the gospel of John—where he had lived in total blackness all his life, being suddenly able to see…it changed his life. That’s part of what’s going on here—light shining on a once dark place—but that’s not all of it. Because the light comes in the context of guilt: what they were going through was the fulfillment of what God had warned would happen if they didn’t turn back to him in obedience.
There’s a great film that came out of Norway last year called The Wave. In the film a mountain collapses into a lake, and the falling rocks send a tidal wave onto a small town nearby, completely engulfing it. Near the end of the film, when the waters start to recede, one of the characters looks out and sees what’s left of his home. The water came, buried everything, and when it was gone, left complete ruin in its wake.
So it’s not just a question of being blind and suddenly being able to see. When you’re living in darkness, you’re suffering immeasurably, but you can’t really see your situation for all it is. But when the light dawns, after the immense relief of being able to see, you look around and you take stock of your situation…and you see the ruins you’ve created by your sin.
And that is why God doesn’t stop at the image of a light shining on the darkness, wonderful as it is. The light comes; it opens our eyes; and it exposes everything our sin has broken. So God comes and says, “Yes, you are in ruins because of your sin…but don’t be afraid. I haven’t only come to shine a light on you; I’ve also come to fix what you’ve broken.”
So Isaiah continues, and for a couple verses actually turns his attention to God, speaking to him directly. 4 For the yoke of his burden [Israel’s 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.
In other words, Lord, thank you, because the war is over! Our oppressors have been defeated; those who have worked violence against us have been brought low; their instruments of war have been broken and there is nothing left to threaten. Again, when Isaiah wrote this none of it had happened yet; Israel was still under oppression. But the promise is so sure that Isaiah writes in the past tense—it’s such a dependable promise that it’s as if it has already come to pass.
This is the great promise—the end of darkness, the end of war, the end of oppression. On the darkness a great light will shine, illuminating what we can not see. The enemy will not surrender; he will be beaten. The war will end; oppression will end; peace will reign. That’s the promise. And now Isaiah will tell us how it will happen: what the means of light and peace will look like.
2) The Son’s Coming (v. 6)
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. It’s hard for us to grasp the impact of this promise to Isaiah’s first readers. In this text, God is promising a king. A child who will be born, and who will inherit his government. The people of Israel had long since had a king, but every king they had was more disappointing than the last. They constantly looked back to the glory days of King David, when the kingdom was prosperous and the king was righteous.
Isaiah is talking about a king like this, but infinitely better; and we know this from the names he predicts this child, this future king, will have. And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor… Israel had long since been led astray by their foolish leaders. Even Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, ended up an idolator whose son caused the dividing of the kingdom in two. This king would not be that way: the counsel he would offer, the guidance he would provide, would go far beyond that which an ordinary human king could give. Imagine if, by some miracle, you were able to see exactly what a new president would do before he took office. What would it be like to know before the term of a new president that every decision he made would be a good one; every law he would set up would be exactly what is best for his people? Can you imagine how reassuring that would be? The kind of peace of mind that would offer? This is exactly what the Wonderful Counselor will provide.
Next, he will be called Mighty God. So the king that is promised is God himself. In other words, God is not saying, “I’ll GIVE you a king.” God is saying, “I’ll come and BE your king!” Talk about reassurance and peace of mind! What would our country be like if God himself were the president? The perfect justice we would see! The kind of injustice we’d never see again! The child who will be born, upon whose shoulders the government will rest, will be God himself.
He will be called Everlasting Father. He’s not talking about the Trinitarian title of “Father” here, as in “God the Father.” He’s talking about the character of the king to come. A father is a protector, someone who cares for his children and provides for their needs. This king will not be tyrannical; he will not be cold or distant. He will love his people, and provide for them, and protect them. And his protection will be everlasting. Which of course makes his next title very logical.
He will be called Prince of Peace. His reign will bring complete and perfect peace, because all nations will depend on his counsel and bow to his authority. What would it be like for a war-torn people to hear that a child was coming, a king who would reign with perfect wisdom, with divine authority, with everlasting love, and would establish perfect peace?
This is the child God is promising through Isaiah; this is the Son who would be born, and this is what he would do (v. 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. In other words, he will do exactly what his various names suggest. The Wonderful Counselor will know how to make his government prosper; the Prince of Peace will bring about eternal peace; the Mighty God, both God and man, born of the line of David, would establish his kingdom; and the Everlasting Father would uphold it with justice and righteousness forevermore.
3) The Lord’s Zeal for His Kingdom (v. 7b)
Now, there’s one tiny sentence at the end of verse 7 that should not be overlooked, because it is the final nail in the proverbial coffin—the final statement of why this promise is trustworthy and true: The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. This is perhaps the most significant sentence in this whole passage, because it gives us the reason to believe that this promise is absolutely trustworthy—what God has promised, he will bring about. And here’s why: the Lord’s own zeal will drive him to do what he has said he would do.
This word zeal in Hebrew speaks of passion—and it’s not passion like we usually speak of it, like the excitement I felt this week before the opening credits rolled for the new Star Wars movie, because I’m passionate about Star Wars (even if I am passionate about it, and even if I was really excited). It’s the word used for a husband’s jealousy for his wife’s affections (Prov. 6.34), the thing that drives someone to work harder than he ever has because he cares so intensely for what he’s doing (Ecc. 4.4), the love a husband and his new bride have for one another on the day of their wedding (Song 8.6), the intensity of a just man fighting to protect those whom he loves (Is. 42.13). So think of this kind of burning, white-hot passion, applied to God. When God sees his people threatened, he is capable of frightening zeal: The Lord goes out like a mighty man, like a man of war he stirs up his zeal (Is. 42.13). He revs himself up like a race car about to take off at a green light.
Do you remember that one time Jesus got angry? The one time in the gospels we see him lose it? He’s in the temple, and he sees people in the threshold of the temple itself shamelessly bartering and offering payment for sacrificial animals. John tells us that he makes a whip out of cords and goes nuts on them—turning over tables, whipping all the animals out of their pens. He basically causes mass hysteria in the temple, because he sees his Father’s house being dishonored. And do you remember the Scripture that John says came to the disciples minds at that time? John 2.17: His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will CONSUME me.”
We rarely think of God as being intensely passionate, but he is. The Bible tells us that the thing which causes God’s passion to rise up and direct him is his zeal for his own glory. I hope you follow a Bible reading plan to read through the Bible in a year. If you do, I have a challenge for you: as you read through the Bible next year, make a note of every time God talks about doing something for his glory. Every time the Bible says, “for my name’s sake,” or “for the sake of my praise,” or “for my glory,” it is affirming God’s zeal for his own glory. And it is everywhere. God’s zeal for his glory is more predominant in the Bible than any other motivation he has.
Now at first glance this seems like bad news, because we’ve become so conditioned to think that the most important thing in God’s mind is us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,” right? Yes…but why did he love the world to such a great extent? Because of his zeal for his glory. Later on in the book of Isaiah, in chapter 48, God says very clearly why he saves his people from his own righteous anger (v. 9, 11): 9 For my name’s sake I defer my anger; for the sake of my praise I restrain it for you, that I may not cut you off… 11 For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it, for how should my name be profaned? My glory I will not give to another.
Now there’s a lot of good news to be drawn from the truth that God does all things for his glory, but here’s the most fundamental: if God’s glory is the most important thing in the world to him, then nothing will ever cause him to waver in making his glory seen. In this text God speaks of incredible promises he is giving to his people: the end of war, the establishing of peace, the reign of a king who will love his people with a father’s paternal affection. And he says, The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this. God’s people can count on his fulfilling his promises because he is driven by an unimaginable passion for his kingdom: that all might see his glory and know the joy of being his children, and worship him for his goodness forever… This is what drives our God. Which means that he will surely do it.
And he will do it through this child who is to be born, Jesus Christ, the king upon whose shoulders the government would rest, this light to the world, this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
4) Living Under the Son’s Reign
Now let’s look at it from our end. We know whom Isaiah is speaking of: this child he is promising is Jesus Christ, who was born in Bethlehem 2,000 years ago, whose birth we celebrate on Christmas. This child is Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life and took on himself all of our sins and was punished in our place, in order for us to be reconciled to God. Isaiah’s prophecy is not meant to merely encourage those who hadn’t yet seen Christ; it is also meant to show us today how to live under Christ’s reign. He is the Savior we need, so how do we live under the reign of our Savior?
First of all, we remember that Christ is our light. Light does not only illuminate darkness, so we can see where we’re going; it also exposes that which is hidden. If you shine a light into the corner of a room, you can see all the dust and grit that has gotten stuck there. Jesus came not only to illuminate what is there (but may be fine), but also to expose what needs fixing. In John’s gospel, Jesus says a lot about the light, but makes the surprising observation that although the promised light has come, people have run away from it because they don’t want their evil works to be exposed. He said in John 3.20-21, Everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. God calls us to come to the light; see that you are a sinner; confess that you are a sinner. It’s painful, yes; but it is the only way to be free from that sin which is keeping us from God. If you are in the presence of the only one who can cleanse you of your sin, which will kill you, there is no safer place. Come to your Light.
Secondly, Christ is our Wonderful Counselor. Christ isn’t just a trustworthy counselor because he is wise; he is a trustworthy counselor because he created us. Who is better equipped to tell us how we might flourish than the one who created us as we are? No one. So listen to your Wonderful Counselor. Go where he tells you; come to him when he calls you. There is no safer place. Come to your Counselor.
Thirdly, Christ is our Mighty God. He is our God; he is our King. The government is on his shoulders. We are his subjects. He deserves our absolute obedience and allegiance, and none of us have obeyed him as he deserves. And this, despite the fact that being God, he created us—and thus no one is better suited to tell us what will make us happiest. So know that your obedience will be your joy. Christ our God and King has given himself to save us from our disobedience and to enable us to obey him and rejoice in him forever. No one else could have offered such a firm salvation. There is no safer place. Come to your God.
Fourthly, Christ is our Everlasting Father. A good father takes care of his children; he provides for them and loves them. But he can’t do it forever. Eventually nature takes its course and he dies; eventually children grow up and don’t need their parents anymore. But he is a Father whom we will always need, and who will always be there to take care of us. There is no safer place. Come to your Father.
Lastly, Christ is our Prince of Peace. We are war-torn people. Most of us haven’t gone through the ravages of political warfare, but we all wage a battle for our hearts—every minute of every day. And it’s exhausting, isn’t it? It’s exhausting to be torn in two different directions, torn between the things we want on one hand and what God calls us to do on the other. And the only way to have peace from that battle is by faith in the Prince of Peace. The battle will not be over; but peace will reign, for we will no longer live under the assumption that we can lose. Christ is the victorious King, who has brought peace, and who one day will establish his peace in our hearts and on this earth, forever. We cannot lose the war for our hearts, for he cannot lose the war for our hearts. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
So come to your King. Come to your Light. Come to the only safe place. You can get there, for the zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.