December 10, 2000
Robert B. Ives, Ph.D., Pastor
The Grantham Church
One of the doctrines on which Christians have agreed over the centuries is the doctrine of the Trinity. This doctrine, which we do not completely understand with linear thinking, is as complicated as God himself. And its important to get it straight. I used to think that perichoresis was the way to understand this, while one of the other staff here would say, people understand a pretzel better, three parts in one whole. Perichoresis means the interconnection of personalities, and the problem with that is it makes Gods nature subject to psychology. What is true, however, is that when a church focuses on one member of the Trinity, be it Jesus or the Holy Spirit, then it breaks the link with the God of Israel and it becomes Marcionite. When Christianity was formed following Jesus resurrection and ascension, Christians didnt say, we have a new God, were done with Judaism now. Christians said, we have the one God who is the creator of heaven and earth and who delivered Israel from Egypt and Jesus is this God. What the Old Testament said God alone could do, Jesus did during his life. Christians began to look through the prophecies and history and poetry of the Old Testament and there they found all these hints about Jesus being God himself. That discovery is worked out in the New Testament documents.
To people who believed in one God, Isaiah in this passage in chapter 9 talks about a dark land, filled with gloom and utter darkness. (Chapter 8:22 and 9:1,2.) There are two darknesses:
1. The country is dark and in a shambles after the Assyrian army has overrun the countryside as God uses the Assyrian military power to punish his people for their lack of trust in him and his ways, and,
2. There is darkness within people caused by sin and the misery of departing from truth and justice.
Isaiahs message is that the very people walking in darkness see a great light. There is a choice here for them and for every person. We must each decide what reading of our experience we will live by. The darkness is real this is what influenced the existentialists like Sartre and Camus, but it is not the whole of reality. It is like the darkness that grows over Middle Earth when Sauron rises to power. Near Mordor it is very dark indeed, but all is not lost. In fact, we can measure in the Isaiah passage positive signs of some coming new thing that will restore justice and righteousness and hope: verse 2, light comes and verse 3, joy comes. Where do they come from?
Verse 4 begins the answer, light and joy come the way they did for Israel in Egypt when God liberated his people. This will happen when the yoke that burdens them is shattered. The Messiah will do this.
Verse 5 continues the answer, light and joy come when the results of former battles are recalled and Gods people follow a way of peace where war is no more. The Messiah will bring this about.
Verse 6 ends the answer, light and joy come at the birth of a male child. This child is Jesus. In verse 6 he takes on his shoulders the robes of government and he rules well.
In the few months I lived in Wales in 1986 I used to worship at the Anglican church next to the library where I worked. One Sunday I came early to the church and I watched as a stooped, older man came into the vestibule and moved slowly toward a door on one side of the chancel. Some minutes later he came out dressed in the robes of his office as the vicar of the church, suddenly resplendent. It will be like that with this child. Bowed under the weight of the cross, he is then raised from the dead and ascends into heaven, from whence he shall come in his robes of glory to judge the living and the dead.
Let me tell you another story about this child and king. In the 17th century the Spaniards put a small French town of St. Quentin under siege. There came a time in the siege when the city walls were in ruins, the people were racked by fever and famine. As the siege continued, the Spaniards shot over the ruined but still defended walls a shower of arrows to which they had attached little slips of parchment on which was written a promise that if the townspeople surrendered and submitted to the Spanish king, their lives and property would be spared. The mayor of the town was a devout Huguenot. For answer he tied a piece of parchment to a javelin and hurled it back at the Spaniards. On the parchment was a message: Regem habemus, we have a king!
Thats what Isaiah is prophesying. We have a king who is a child and who, according to verse 7, will reign on Davids throne. This is Jesus. Notice the child is born of human parents and the child is given by God. Already there are these hints of his human-divine nature. And then, as if to emphasize the birth, the child is named, like in Lukes story where the angel Gabriel tells Mary her child will be called Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. Here in verse 6 the child will be called four names. Names are important to Isaiah. He tells us a lot of names. For example, in chapter 7, the name of Isaiahs oldest son, Shear-Jashub tells a story of what God will do for Judah in the future. The name means, a remnant will return.
1. First of all, in verse 6, this child will be called wonderful counselor. The two Hebrew words could be translated a number of ways, but the idea is he will counsel in a way impossible for humans to attain to. Thats what the adjective wonderful implies. The word could be translated marvelous. We might think of Jesus who was asked trick questions by the Pharisees and scribes and by the Sadducees; asked impossible questions by the people, and yet he replies with wisdom. And Jesus himself will say in John 14, I will ask the Father to give you a Counselor..., the Holy Spirit, who... will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
Isaiah spoke these words of verse 6 during the reign of Ahaz who was clever, but not wise, so he sought counsel of people like him. This is the political way. You seek people who think like you and the counsel you get agrees with you so it sounds good. This child to be born will be a wonderful counselor.
2. Secondly, this child will be called Mighty God. The adjective mighty is used to describe a warrior. It is the picture in Revelation 19 where the rider of the white horse, who is Jesus, rides against Satan and the forces of darkness and chaos. John describes this rider of Revelation this way: with justice he judges and makes war. Justice is what marks a mighty God. The fact that the child is called God is already a hint about who Jesus is. Let me repeat. The truest evidence of Jesus divinity is that the things that only God can do in the Old Testament, Jesus does in the New Testament. He heals people, he forgives sin, he judges people, he releases the captives, he controls storms. Those are things God does.
Lets expand on this idea. When the Psalms talk about God they say things like, (in Psalm 147:5) Great is the Lord and mighty in power and his understanding has no limit. Where we see that power in the New Testament is in what Paul says about Jesus in Ephesians 1, And (we know) what is the incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead. The mighty God points continually and unerringly to Jesus.
3. There is a third name by which this child is called. He is called, everlasting Father. Or, as we might translate the words, Father of eternity.
One of the most wonderful names the Bible uses to talk about God is Father. A father is concerned about the helpless, as God is described in Psalm 68:5, God is a Father to the fatherless. A father cares for his people, as God is described in Ps 103:3, As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. And in Isaiah 63, Isaiah is lamenting the rebellion of Gods people against him, but then Isaiah says in verse 16, as if to assure himself, But you are our Father.... And in those words lie much.
Perhaps you have had a good human father here . No human father is perfect. I thought a lot on that this past summer after my father died. He had been a good man. Unsure of his own abilities, always sorry he had never been able to go to college, he had been a good father. He worked hard. He took us to church and went with us, even though he hadnt been particularly religious. He tithed. I remember mother saying of him, he has been a good, gentle husband. It is a wonderful thing to have a good human father. But whether you do or do not, God is a good father in your life.
In the New Testament Jesus makes a point of speaking of himself as the Son. He does not call himself the Father, and yet, what God the Father does in the Old Testament, Jesus the Son does. Finally, in some way that lies deep in who God is, the Trinity is One and the coming Messiah is the everlasting Father.
4. The last name for this child is Prince of Peace.
One of the things that Peace means is that you achieve all that God has planned for your life. Have you achieved all that God the Father planned for your life? Are you trying? When Jesus said on the cross, It is finished, he meant, I have accomplished all that the Father intended me to do. God says to Abraham in Genesis 15:5, You will go to your fathers in peace. How does that happen? Because Abraham achieved in his life all that God had planned for him. So does Jesus, of whom it is said, Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. Jesus mission was to break down the dividing wall of hostility and then make peace between God and humans.
Since Isaiah 9 is a prophesy of who Jesus is, what should your response be? I was reading a recent Gallup poll about the attitude of Americans about God. One college student was interviewed and she said, Oh yes, I believe in God, but Im not nuts about him. 94% of the people in that poll said they believed in God, but from the evidence of the other questions about how their belief in God affected their lives, clearly a lot of Americans are not nuts about him.
And what about you? Is there not something in Jesus which draws you to trust him this Christmas time?
Nancy and I lived in Princeton for a year and during that year we went to a Christmas Eve carol service at the University chapel with Albert Einsteins secretary. Einstein died in 1955, so this was 7 years later. I heard there in Princeton a story about him, that one Christmas Eve a group of Princeton University students went to sing carols outside his home on Mercer Street. They had sung a carol or two, when the door opened and Einstein himself stepped out with his violin and accompanied the students. I like that picture. A man born as a Jew and one of the great people of the 20th century, brought out of his home by a group of carolers. But maybe that is also a picture of ourselves as we are being drawn out of our houses by the manger and the lights and what Christmas means. Something inside us responds to the birth of this baby and when it does, the whole world changes and we want to join in the prophets song, accompanying it with our violin, our voice, or our recorder. So that you, who were walking in darkness, have seen suddenly a great light and you found it was Jesus Christ.