"Joy to the World"
Last week, we investigated the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. We took a closer look at the prophecy from Isaiah 7.14 and it's fulfillment of the account in Matthew 1. We were reminded of the miraculous birth that could only be carried out by God himself.
I think that it was beneficial for us to get inside the mind of Joseph to recall how significant and mind-blowing this event truly was. We were able to get a better grasp of the cultural situation and the implications of a pregnant Mary before her marriage to her husband. We saw the compassion of Joseph and then his faith after the visit from the angel.
But we were also reminded of the sovereign plan of God and how such a significant occurrence could be spoken of hundreds of years prior to the angel visiting Joseph and the Holy Spirit coming upon the virgin Mary.
This week, we will look again at the prophet Isaiah and see how his continued prophecies point most specifically to the birth of Jesus that we celebrate this season. Please turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 9.1-7. Let’s read as we get underway. READ.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the sermon title that recalls a very familiar phrase this time of year. I’ve entitled the sermon Joy to the World. And I would like to look at a couple of reasons why this is true. And we will do so by looking primarily at a text that was written before this child was born.
We mentioned last week that when we look into the prophetic writings we need to understand that often times the prophets were given the words and visions without knowing the precise dates and times to which their prophecies would be fulfilled. We likened it to looking at mountain ranges where it can be unclear as to the distance between them. And so it is with Isaiah.
Isaiah writes primarily to pronounce judgment on the nation of Israel and is in the midst of declaring to the people how they will be overtaken and led into captivity. In the immediate context, he speaks of the nation of Assyria that will come and invade. And yet in the midst of these dark pronouncements, there are often glimmers of hope that are provided as well. Yes, their sinful rebellion against their God will come with significant consequences. In fact, things will appear so bleak that the people may begin to question God’s faithfulness to his promises. God is just and so has to bring discipline to his people and at the same time honor the things he’s told them. This is where we find our section for this morning. In the latter portion of chapter 8, Isaiah is calling the people to faithfulness and to remember the testimony of the Lord. He concludes by indicating that the time to come will consist of distress, darkness, the gloom of darkness. “And they will be thrust into thick darkness.” The curtain comes down. The end of this chapter.
But the curtain rises again to the next scene. And Isaiah begins the next section (chapter 9) with “but”. With this, Isaiah peers into the more distant future. Once again, Isaiah will point to the hope that is not the immediate future, yet is promised in the more distant. The words contain such assurance as he confidently can refer to the judgment to come as the things that happened “in the former time”. And he refers to that the fact that there will be no gloom “for her who was in anguish”. The judgment hasn’t happened yet. Isaiah seemingly projects himself into the future and looks back at the things which are to come.
The first point of the sermon is Darkness to Light. I love how Isaiah begins this thought! I didn’t catch it at first. Often when we read these texts, there is much that is unfamiliar and so we simply skip over what is not readily understandable and miss the significance. I hope to demonstrate the tremendous value of slowing down a bit and exploring culture and geography in the interpretation of the Bible. There are such great treasures that we miss because we don’t want to do a little bit of work.
In this first verse, Isaiah points to the portion of land who will be the first to experience the invasion of the Assyrian army. Zebulun and Naphtali reside in the northern portion of the land of Israel. It’s recorded in 2 Kings 15:29 29 In the days of Pekah king of Israel, Tiglath-pileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Janoah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali, and he carried the people captive to Assyria.
But notice what Isaiah indicates next. Again the thought begins with the word “but”. “But in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
So Isaiah looks first at the conquest and deportation of the land of Israel to Assyria. And then he looks beyond and says “but” after this, things will be much different. In fact, blessings will begin in the very territories where the conquest began. Listen to the words from Matthew 4:12–17 12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And so we see that the beginning of Jesus’ ministry takes place in the same region. God turned invasion into mission by making the people of Galilee the first ones to see the light of Jesus. And Matthew confirms that this is the fulfilled prophecy from Isaiah.
And then Isaiah elaborates on the hope that is to come in verses 2 and following. Because of their sinful rebellion, the nation of Israel would face the consequences. They would be overtaken by foreign nations and held dispersed outside their own land. This would be a dark time for them. Though the nation would suffer physically for their sin, the more concerning and significant matter is that they are in spiritual darkness. And they will remain there until their Messiah would come. Again Isaiah mixes up the tenses of the verbs and speaks as though the future fulfillment is certain. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined.” God’s people would see a day when the Light would come and rescue them from darkness.
Who or what is this Light that Isaiah speaks of? Luke records in the first chapter of his gospel that John the Baptist would go before this Person who would give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. Even more explicit are the words of John in his Gospel. Please turn to John 1. John 1:1–10 (ESV) 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. 6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him.”
Very clearly we see that the New Testament confirms that the hope that Isaiah speaks of comes in the Person of Jesus Christ. He brings light into the darkness and hope to those who are lost in sinful rebellion. More than this, he rescues from one domain and transfers to the other. 1 Peter 2:9 9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
And this leads us into our second point, which is Cause for Rejoicing. When the Light came into the world, God did a new thing. He also brought light to Gentiles. Throughout history, God has preserved a remnant of his people only to multiply them with the introduction of Jesus to the world. The end result of the good news of Jesus Christ is captured for us in the book of Revelation. Revelation 7:9–10 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
How could the salvation of sinners from every tongue, tribe and nation – so many that they are innumerable – do anything except cause believers everywhere to rejoice? One commentator says, “the triumph of God’s grace over our depressing failures is joy unspeakable and full of glory forever.” Well said! In the same way that the early believers rejoiced at the coming of Jesus and the salvation of souls, so should we today. Isaiah says that there is rejoicing and joy at the harvest and gladness when they divide the spoil. What a joy it is to be a part of sharing the good news of Jesus to those who don’t know him. And it should be joy unspeakable when those we encounter repent and turn to him in faith! For it is God at work in the world today! He multiplies his kingdom. And then he uses us in his mission to the world. You are used of God when sinners come to know Jesus as their Savior! Wow! There is cause for rejoicing in the salvation of the nations.
There is also cause for rejoicing in the deliverance from oppression. In verses 4-5, Isaiah refers to the yoke of a burden, the staff for a shoulder and a rod of an oppressor that will be broken. Actually, he says that God has broken these things as on the day of Midian. Why? Once again, he speaks in the past tense in order to assure his readers of the certainty of the future fulfillment.
The nation of Israel prepares to be led away from their homeland by their enemies, pagans who do not honor God. As we saw, they will dwell in a land of deep darkness for a long time. Isaiah wants to remind them that this is not permanent. It is to teach them a lesson, for sure. But at the same time, God still has a plan for his beloved people. He intends to rescue them from their oppressors. And these readers would have remembered the events at Midian. But perhaps we need a refresher.
In Judges 7, the Israelites are preparing to take on the Midianites under the leadership of Gideon. God says to Gideon in verse 2 that he has too many people for the job. And so he tells Gideon to tell those who are fearful and trembling to go home. The numbers decrease from 32,000 to 10,000 people. Interesting that the majority were lacking faith in God. Nevertheless, God says, “nah. Still too many. Let them go down to the river and whoever laps up water with his tongue like a dog, keep them and tell the rest to go home. 300. 300 out of 32,000 now stand with Gideon. God says, “ok. That’s enough.” Do you remember why the Lord had Gideon do this? So that He would get the glory. The Lord said in verse 2 that he did not want the Israelites to boast in a victory.
Now comes the military strategy. Gideon gathers us his 300 troops and puts them into three companies. Then he hands them trumpets… and empty jars… with torches in them. And he says, “when I blow the trumpet, you all blow the trumpets and shout ‘for the Lord and for Gideon.”
Let’s pick up the battle in Judges 7:19–25 19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20 Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. 22 When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army. And the army fled as far as Beth-shittah toward Zererah, as far as the border of Abel-meholah, by Tabbath. 23 And the men of Israel were called out from Naphtali and from Asher and from all Manasseh, and they pursued after Midian. 24 Gideon sent messengers throughout all the hill country of Ephraim, saying, “Come down against the Midianites and capture the waters against them, as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan.” So all the men of Ephraim were called out, and they captured the waters as far as Beth-barah, and also the Jordan. 25 And they captured the two princes of Midian, Oreb and Zeeb. They killed Oreb at the rock of Oreb, and Zeeb they killed at the winepress of Zeeb. Then they pursued Midian, and they brought the heads of Oreb and Zeeb to Gideon across the Jordan.” And so this would have provided Isaiah’s listeners with a remembrance of God’s power and his conquering of their enemies. This would serve for their encouragement in desperate times.
There will come a day (says verse 5) when the armor of a warrior will no longer be needed. There is a Child to be born and his birth will bring peace to his people. He is the Prince of Peace. And the angels will shout, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” The ultimate fulfillment will be the end of the age when this Prince will not only defeat the forces of evil, but he will put an end to conflict itself. And all the world will know is peace.
Our third point we will find in verses 6 and 7. It is Savior of the World. This is likely the more familiar section of the passage to us. But don’t let familiarity allow you to miss the significance. On the heels of explaining the conquest of the oppressor and the elimination of the armor of men, comes a statement that a child will be born. A child. Not just any child. But a son. And not just any son. We remember from last week that Isaiah prophesied just a couple chapters earlier the announcement that a son would be born of a virgin. And his name will be Immanuel – God with us. Here Isaiah picks up on the same promised son.
Notice a very important prepositional phrase in the first two lines of verse 6. “To us.” Luke helps us connect the dots when he records in Luke 2:11 “11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. John 3:16 16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
Now see how it relates back to verse 3. In verse 3, Isaiah says “they rejoice before you”. And the reasons for rejoices are pointed out by the word “for”. They rejoice because the yoke of his burden… They rejoice for every boot of the tramping warrior… Finally they rejoice for “to us a child is born, to us a son is given”.
Why do we rejoice over this child yet to be born? First, “the government shall be upon his shoulder”. This son possesses all authority. All the world is subject to the rule of this child. And Jesus himself declares him to be the very one. In Matthew 28:18 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Matthew 11:27 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. ”
At this point in time, world powers were threatening the very existence of the people of God. The government that belongs to the Child is not the physical kingdom that so many expected. But it is a spiritual kingdom that he inaugurated with his birth and his life and ministry. It is a kingdom that surpasses any worldly kingdom. Worldly kingdoms are restricted by geography. Jesus said in John 18:36 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Isaiah then lists his names that demonstrate his character. His name shall be called “Wonderful Counselor”. Let’s begin with what this doesn’t mean. When we think “wonderful counselor” we are not thinking wonderful like adorable. This isn’t the sensitive guy who has the office with the couch. He’s not the guy wearing the argyle sweater holding the notepad while you tell him all your problems and how life is unfair.
When you think “wonderful” I want you to think of someone who works wonders. This is the One through whom every part of creation was brought into being. This is the One who raises the dead, feeds multitudes, casts out demons, forgives sins, sustains all things. This is the One who can go to the cross and pay the debt in full for all the sins for all time! This is what “wonderful” means.
Now why do you seek a counselor? Often times we seek out a counselor because something is broken and we need help fixing it. Whether we are in a struggling relationship, dealing with financial or employment issues, sinful patterns, what we come to a counselor for is wisdom. We come believing that the counselor will have some insight into our condition and will apply some knowledge that we can use to help us deal with these things.
Now, let me ask you, who might be the best source of counsel (or wisdom) for mankind? Would it be the one who has existed in eternity past and knows all things regarding all things? One commentator remarks, “He, in concert with the Father, formed the stupendous plan of man’s redemption, a plan in which are contained all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge... His people too he endues with “wisdom from above,” enabling them to discern things hidden from the carnal eye, and guiding them in the way to heaven, so that a wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein. Who that has known ever so small a part of his ways, must not exclaim with amazement, How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
Isaiah says that this Child is also Mighty God. If he were not God, he could not bear the government upon his shoulder. “He must be omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent, or else he never could hear the supplications, and supply the wants, of all his people at the same instant. However strange therefore it may seem, He who was a little child, was at the same time the mighty God.”
The next description is a bit tricky. I think that this is largely because we don’t often use the term “Father” to refer to Jesus. But I think that any tension can be alleviated when we realize that we are not speaking Trinitarian concepts here. We are not speaking of the relationship of Jesus to God the Father. Rather, this description speaks of a paternal benevolence that a perfect Ruler would have over a people that he loves as his children. We would not want an authoritative and cold-hearted ruler. We would want one that loves us as children. The words of Psalmist communicate this in Psalm 103:13 13 As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. And what is more reassuring than to know that he maintains this attitude towards his children for all of eternity?
And he is the Prince of Peace. I believe that this is a multifaceted understanding of peace. The first thought that comes to our minds when we think of peace may be “world peace” or “peace of mind” or something to that effect. I do think that peace comes in many forms and will also come differently through the ages. Let me try to explain this. At the writing of Isaiah, what would be significant for his readers to know is that despite the turmoil that they would soon face, is that there was a promise of peace to come. It would be disconcerting if there was no reassurance that God would act on behalf of his people. So Isaiah can point to a time when yokes of burdens and staffs and rods of oppressors will be broken. And weapons and armor will be done with. There will be peace.
And Jesus comes to the earth and lives a perfect life and dies as a sinless sacrifice on behalf of his people. And he does this so that people can have peace with God (Romans 5.1). Then as he is departing from earth, he tells his disciples “peace” I leave with you.
In addition, we are told that when we trust in Jesus Christ, we have unique privileges and blessings. In Philippians we are commanded not to be anxious but to pray with thanksgiving to God. The result is that we will be recipients of the peace of God that surpasses all understanding and will guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. And finally, we anticipate a day when we will no longer wrestle with our sinful flesh nor the Enemy and his fallen angels. But we will be in God’s presence forever and experience eternal peace. He is the Prince of Peace.
Lastly, verse 7 reminds us of the authority of the Child. His reign is eternal. Isaiah mentions the eternal nature of Jesus a number of times in this short passage.
Dr. Young adds this: “The empire of grace will forever expand. If we will live by faith in him now, accepting his weakness as our strength and his folly as our wisdom, we will be there to enjoy his triumph, forever ascending, forever enlarging, forever accelerating, forever intensifying. There will never come one moment when we will say, “This is the limit. He can’t think of anything new. We’ve seen it all.” No. The finite will experience ever more wonderfully the infinite, and every new moment will be better than the last.”
And he will possess the throne of his father, David. There can be no doubt that Isaiah speaks only of the Messiah that is to come. He will be the hope of Israel, the hope of all nations. And when we can see him more clearly and when we can see that he is truly the Savior, we can boldly proclaim Joy to the World! Let’s pray.