The Hope of Christmas
December 21, 2008 | Randy Smith
The Hope of ChristmasIsaiah 9:6-7
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith
It's been called the season of joy; however, most counselors will affirm that depression is at its highest during the holidays. Could it be the frantic pace in which we try to juggle an increase in shopping, wrapping, and socializing? Could it be that we often reflect during this time of the year and our minds are overwhelmed over the losses we've incurred and the disappointments we've encountered? Could it be that Christmas brings an unrealistic conception of an ideal world and things are not in line with our imagined fantasy? Let's be straightforward, we all have struggles in the home at the workplace and with the health. We all live in a trying age where our economy is unstable, our security is threatened, our morals are disappearing and our President-elect is untested. They claim we are promised joy, but is there any reason to find joy this Christmastime in the midst of the sorrow and disappointment we are all experiencing?
Maybe we need to journey back in time to that first Christmas 2,000 years ago where this promise of joy supposedly began. A time when a young girl living in a harsh civilization was pregnant with a child out of wedlock. Such an event resulted in great shame. The law permitted capital punishment. Even her soon-to-be husband at first was prepared to dismiss her. When it came time to give birth, since there was no room at the inn, they were forced to deliver the child in a quite unforgiving environment. And while this was happening, a paranoid ruler named Herod was preparing the slaughter of every male child under two in Bethlehem. Violence, poverty, sickness, political unrest. We know the angels proclaimed a message of joy (Lk. 2:10), but was there any reason to find joy in the midst of the sorrow and disappointment?
Let's give it another chance. I suppose we can even trace this promise of joy back even further. Let's go back in time 2,700 years (700 years before the birth of Christ) to the era when this prophecy of joy was foretold recorded in the book of Isaiah. It was a trying time for the nation Israel. From Hoshea in the north to Ahaz in the south, the leadership was corrupt. Idolatry was running ramped. The northern kingdom was on the precipice of being invaded by the savage Assyrians. Yet the people, while in the midst of the sorrow and disappointment, were again delivered a message of joy in a book loaded with agony and condemnation.
I'm reading from Isaiah 9, beginning in verse 1: "But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. Verse 2, "The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. Verse 3, "You shall multiply the nation, You shall increase their gladness; they will be glad in Your presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. Verse 4, "For You shall break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. Verse 5, "For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire."
Difficult times surrounded the original promise of Christmas, yet there was reason to have joy. Difficult times surrounded the first Christmas, yet there was reason to have joy. Difficult times are surrounding this Christmas. Again I ask you, is there still reason to have joy?
This morning we are going to examine what the Word of God says about the true meaning of Christmas. We are going to look at an ancient prophecy from the book of Isaiah that predicts the coming of the Messiah. We are going to see that even in the midst of the sorrow and disappointment that surrounds us, the people of God throughout the generations are not only able, but are expected to have great joy during this holiday season and throughout the year. Our passage in Isaiah 9 unfolds four reasons for this reality.
1. A CHILD IS BORN
The first reason for joy found in verse 6 is that a child has been born to us. This verse was written approximately 700 years before the birth of Jesus. The context surrounding this verse is one of gloom. Yet the hope, the great light, the cause for gladness that is spoken of in 9:1-5 is nothing other than a child.
When our new child was born he was a great joy for us. We are also thankful for this church as you entered into our joy and rejoiced with us. But I can say with great certainty that little Shane did not bring joy to all of America regardless of what the grandparents may think! So how does the message of a new baby bring reason for a whole nation to rejoice?
Obviously, this is one of those situations where we have an advantage because of the era in which we are born. Unlike the even Isaiah himself, we have the ability to look back in time having already experienced the unfolding of this prophecy.
We know who this child was. He was Jesus Christ. We know this child would live as other children do. He would grow and weep and hunger and laugh. We know what He accomplished some thirty years after His birth. He would lay down His life for our forgiveness. We also know what this little child has done for us. He has personally changed our lives. We know the solution to meet the deepest needs of the world was wrapped in that little child.
When it came time to heal a world of suffering God sent a child. Into this world of tyrannical and oppressive individuals, God did not send a bigger bully, He sent a child. Even in God's weakness, there is overwhelming power. And even in God's foolishness, there is great wisdom.
2. A SON IS GIVEN
Another reason for joy is the fact, also in verse 6, that a Son has been given.
We would be wise to compare the wording here with the previous clause in verse 6. "A child will be born" Jesus, when he entered this world, came with the same humanity that marks each of us. He began His life as a child and as a child was born on a specific day. Yet the verse also says, "A son will be given to us" (cf. Gal. 4:4). While Jesus was fully man, He was also fully God. He was, as Isaiah also predicted two chapters earlier, Immanuel - God with us (Isa. 7:14). And as God, His existence did not begin that first Christmas morning in Bethlehem. He was without beginning. He was "begotten" which speaks not of an earthy origin, but an eternal relationship with God the Father. A child may have been born (speaking of His new humanity), but a son was given (speaking of His eternal divinity).
The apostle Paul captures this duel nature of Christ (this hypostatic union) well in the New Testament. "Although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men" (Phil. 2:6-7).
So why is it a joy for us that Jesus Christ entered this word fully human and fully God? Answer: Because the primary purpose of His arrival was to go to the cross and make atonement for our sins. It's our sins, our failure to keep God's holy law that separates us from God. We need a Savior! As the angels told the shepherds, "For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Lk. 2:11). As the angel told Joseph, "(Mary) will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins" (Mt. 1:21). And in order for Jesus to die on the cross for our sins as our savior, He had to qualify as our substitute. And in order to qualify as our substitute, one, He needed to live a sinless life Himself (thus the necessity of Him being God) and two, He needed to be one of us (thus the necessity of Him being human).
3. A LEADER IS ESTABLISHED
A third reason to rejoice is found in verses 6 and 7. This child will be a great leader.
Verse 6 indicates, "The government will rest on His shoulders." It's hard to imagine that little child in the nativity scene being the King of kings. Yet we must remember that baby Jesus was God in the flesh. And among that innocence of infancy dwelt the omnipotence of divinity - power not used to oppress, but rather power used to achieve peace. As verse 7 says, "There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace."
The day will come when Jesus will overthrow all His enemies and He will rule over His kingdom. The verse says He will rule "on the throne of David" as the fulfillment of God's promise to King David to preserve his royal bloodline. And this kingdom will be built on, as verse 7 indicates, the pillars of "justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore."
Though the Israelites looked around and it seemed like their world was out of control, Isaiah spoke of the time when a child would be born. At His first coming His purpose was to take away sin. And even though our world seems like it is out of control and we have experienced the birth of that child, we still await the greater fulfillment when He, one day at His second coming, will establish His kingdom and reign to be recognized by all.
Can we be certain that this will happen? Absolutely! There are hundreds of prophecies about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. All of them were fulfilled precisely when He arrived the first time. Likewise there are many prophecies still unfulfilled regarding His coming once again. With patience we wait with confident expectation for the unfolding of God's glorious plan. As the end of verse 7 guarantees, "The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this." We've got God's word on it!
So in one sense, the kingdom of Jesus is futuristic. Yet in another sense, as Jesus declared in the Gospels, the kingdom is already at hand (Mt. 4:17). The day will come when the lordship of Jesus Christ will be seen and experienced by all. Every knee will bow (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10), even those eternally separated from Him in hell. But the day has already come when people can enter His present kingdom. It's an invisible kingdom that we enter through faith and repentance. It's a kingdom where Jesus presently reigns and rules on His throne in our hearts as we fully submit to Him as King and Lord.
This same "realized" and "yet to be realized" ("already," "not yet") reality was experienced at the birth of Jesus too. To some He was just a little baby held in His mother's arms, to others He was the very One who held the world together. To some He was just a little baby nestled on Mary's shoulders, to others He is the very One who bears everything on His shoulders. From a baby in Bethlehem to the ruler of the world. From the realized Lord in our lives to the recognized Lord over all lives. From kingdom peace in our hearts to world peace for His followers. From a desired righteousness for His people to a universal righteousness in the world. As a mustard seed it starts small, but for those with eyes to see, the kingdom of God is already within our midst (Lk. 17:20-21).
In the life of Jesus, God has personally entered the stage of world history (Col. 2:9). This baby's birth is now at the centerpiece of all that is important (look how we date our years!). King Jesus has arrived. His followers are identified as those who have joyfully submitted to His rule (a kingdom of peace and righteousness that is entered by pursuing peace and righteousness - Mt. 5:6, 9). We are on His team in a kingdom that is forever enduring, progressing, and intensifying. I'd say that's a reason to rejoice!
4. AN IDENTIFICATION IS ANNOUNCED
A fourth reason to rejoice pertains to His name that is recorded in verse 6. This name describes who He is and what He will do. As someone once said, "Every name He bears is a blessing He shares." It is a name beyond the titles we'd ever assign to mere human and beyond the capabilities we'd ever expect from a human. It is a name for a man who will be doing the work of God. Let's look at this name by examining the four parts individually that reveal to us, even in this case, only a portion of His awesome character.
First of all He will be called "Wonderful Counselor." All we need to do is take a brief look at the narratives of His earthly ministry. Always time to meet genuine needs. Forever compassionate and kind and patient. Responses with perfect wisdom and insight. Knowledgeable on when to correct and when to encourage. He is the One full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14, 17) able to bring light to those in darkness (Lk. 2:32). The One who sees our heart and loves us immeasurably is the wonderful counselor we need as He speaks to us through His Word.
How can we not have joy in the midst of our sorrow and disappointment when we are united to the Wonderful Counselor?
Second He is called "Mighty God." From the tenderness of a counselor to the strength of a "God warrior." From One who makes the plans as a counselor to One who makes the plans work as a mighty God. He can do the impossible. He can fight your battles. He can forgive sin, redeem people, disarm Satan, answer prayer and restore broken souls because He is God with us - Immanuel (Mt. 1:23), the great "I AM" (Jn. 8:58), one with the Father (Jn. 10:30). Using the title reserved for Jehovah alone, the baby predicted to be born will be God Himself, the second Person of the Holy Trinity.
How can we not have joy in the midst of our sorrow and disappointment when we are united to the Mighty God?
Third, He is the Eternal Father. This title might throw us off a bit. For how can a "son" also be a "father?" Yet it shouldn't be too confusing. Many of us in this sanctuary are both sons and fathers at the same time! Of course God the Father is separate from God the Son. But God the Son also carries with Him the attributes of a good father. He has a father's heart of tenderness and compassion. He has a father's strength of creating and sustaining the world (Col. 1:15-17). He has a father's responsibility of providing. He is the perfect image, the exact representation, of our heavenly Father. As he said, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (Jn. 14:9; cf. Col. 1:15; Heb 1:3).
How can we not have joy in the midst of our sorrow and disappointment when we are united to the Eternal Father?
Prince of Peace
Lastly, He is called the Prince of Peace. Without using the weapons of this world, Jesus Christ has brought true peace to the world. As we already learned, His final kingdom will be one where peace reigns. And for those who have submitted to Him now, peace that surpasses all understanding reigns within their hearts (Phil. 4:7). For as Paul told the Ephesians, "He Himself is our peace" (Eph. 2:14). As the angels declared at His birth, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased" (Lk. 2:14). And with whom is God pleased? Those who have yielded to His authority by submitting to King Jesus. They and only they have received the peace of God (Rom. 1:7; 15:13, 33; Phil. 4:7; 2 Jn. 1:3), peace with God (Rom. 5:1) and peace with others (2 Cor. 13:11; Eph. 2:14; 1 Thes. 5:13).
How can we not have joy in the midst of our sorrow and disappointment when we are united to the Prince of Peace?
As it's been said, to the confused, Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. To the weak, Jesus is the Mighty God. To the orphaned, Jesus is the Everlasting Father. And to the troubled, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Based on this four-fold title, Jesus is profound, powerful, personal and peaceful.
There are a lot of people without joy this time of the year. I believe the reason is because people don't understand the true meaning of Christmas. When we get our beliefs from talk shows and horoscopes you can only imagine the confusion that's out there.
It reminds me of a story I read this week: A little girl came home from Sunday school waving a paper for her mother to see. "Look Mommy," she exclaimed, "Teacher says I drew the most unusual Christmas picture she ever saw!" Her mother took one look and had to agree with the teacher. Hoping her daughter could explain her creation, the mother asked, "Why are all these people riding in the back of an airplane?" "Well, Mommy, that's the flight into Egypt." Accepting that, mother asked another question: "Who is this mean-looking man in the front?" Her daughter answered quickly and knowingly: "That's Pontius, the Pilot." Looking at the picture even more closely, the mother said, "I see you have Mary and Joseph and the baby. But who is this large man sitting behind Mary?" "Can't you tell?" the little girl asked, beginning to shake her head in disappointment. "That's Round John Virgin" (Excerpted from: John MacArthur, God With Us, p. 13-14).
Like this child we are confused about the true meaning of Christmas because we have adopted a secular mixture of pagan ideas, superstition, commercialism and plain ignorance. We must go back to the Scriptures to recover its true meaning. And when we read the Scriptures, we realize that God has given a gift. As verse 6 in our text says, "A child will be born to us, a son will be given to us" (Isa. 9:6). Have we accepted God's present or are we rejecting His offer? For those who have received Jesus Christ still experience sorrow and disappointment at this present time, but by God's grace, through God's promise and with God's provision we can and must experience a joy that transcends all circumstances. For that is the hope of Christmas that has proven true throughout the age. We can rejoice because a child has been born, a son has been given, the government will rest upon His shoulders, and His name is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.