A Child is Born
The country is in trouble. Superstitions abound. Materialism is rampant. There is a lack of good political leadership and there is the threat of social disintegration. Sensuality and idolatry are flourishing. Lives are destroyed by alcoholism. And arrogance is widespread. More could be said but that is enough.
You could be forgiven for thinking that I am describing life in 21 st century Britain! But I’m not. These are the conditions that were prevailing at the time when Isaiah prophesied to his nation, Judah, in the 8 th century BC.
The times were indeed bleak. Assyria had already invaded in the north wreaking havoc and destruction in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. Towns and villages had been wiped out and many of their inhabitants had been deported.
This state of affairs was a real historical disaster – everything seemed very dark indeed.
And this is how the Bible pictures the spiritual darkness in which the unbeliever lives!
Was there anything that could be done? Were there any grounds for hope?
As the storm clouds grew ever darker Isaiah had a message to preach and his message spoke hope into an otherwise hopeless situation. Although the first recipients of his prophetic message rejected Isaiah’s call to "walk in the light" (Is.2:5) he would go on and on preaching to them. His message proclaimed a remarkable change in fortunes that was going to be brought about by direct divine intervention. God had his plans and although the people might be walking in darkness they would find their predicament transformed by the shining of a new and wonderful light.
Isaiah had a message of deliverance to announce to the people of his day and yet his message was not confined to the 8 th century BC. Isaiah looked further ahead too, down through the centuries, to the birth of another even more remarkable child who would secure an even greater deliverance and transformation.
This morning we’re going to look more closely at this wonderful message Isaiah had to proclaim.
A Remarkable Transformation
When Isaiah looked ahead he spoke with such a confidence and assurance that what he said was true that he put it in the past tense as though it had already taken place! That’s how reliable God’s word is and we can trust it too.
The darkness that enveloped the folk living up in the dangerous northern regions of the country had been penetrated by the light and not just any sort of light. No, the light that shone there was a great light. It was a divine light because it was God who was at work to rectify the situation and to bring glorious fresh hope to a beleaguered people.
The NT leaves us in no doubt as to what Isaiah’s prophecy is all about. John, in the opening lines of his gospel, makes it clear that it is Jesus who is in view:
And when Matthew described just how Jesus began his public ministry he did so by mentioning the moving of his headquarters from Nazareth to Capernaum. Matthew wants us to get it so he goes out of his way to tell us is that Capernaum was in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. Then, to make absolutely certain that we follow his reasoning and identify Jesus as the one who fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy, he quoted the very words of that prophecy:
This is the truth of the gospel message. However dark our spiritual condition might be God is well able to transform our predicament. Jesus is the light who causes us to see clearly and who works salvation for us!
Now back again to Isaiah’s words. The shining of this great light would bring about tremendous changes in the life of the people. The believing element of the nation had shrunk in size until it was so small, just a tiny remnant, but God was at work and all this would change: the nation would be greatly increased in size and along with numerical increase would go a greatly increased experience of joy. In fact this new joy would be comparable to the best of anything the people had yet experienced. It would be joy such as people know:
When the harvests are safely gathered in with all their richness, prosperity and promise of safety for the future
When victory over hostile forces has been so complete that nothing is left to be done than to share out the spoils to be enjoyed in the luxury of peace.
Isaiah went on to further describe this joy by a series of explanations each introduced by the little word "for" in vv.4, 5 + 6.
In v.4 he tells us that joy is generated because God secures freedom for the people by breaking the bonds of human oppression that weigh so heavily upon the helpless victim. The power of the enemy may well be so great that any sort of deliverance appears unlikely in the extreme but how God delights to work in such cases of extremity! To illustrate his point Isaiah draws a lesson from history.
The mention of the destruction of the oppressor’s power "on the day of Midian" refers us back to the time of Gideon. Gideon was not a naturally strong man being by temperament rather weak and timid. He lived at a time when his own country was overrun by hostile foreign powers but God called him to fight. He began with an army of 32,000 which was whittled down to 10,000 when those who were afraid were told to go home. But God considered this army still to be too strong and he further reduced their number until a mere 300 were left.
But what could 300 men hope to do against an army well in excess of 100,000?
Well, they could break pots, hold torches and blow trumpets and that was all they needed to do because God wrought victory for them. They didn’t need to fight! Because God was at work!
When God fights on your behalf you have every reason to be cheerful! What can stop you rejoicing?
In v.5 Isaiah declared that the time had come for all the military debris of the old order to disappear. The invading armies are not only to be defeated but their discarded weaponry and uniforms are to be burnt up as well, utterly consumed. All things change, it sounds as though a new order is being installed -
So far we have seen that there are real and genuine reasons for rejoicing but then in v.6 Isaiah points us to not to what is being achieved but to the one who will be responsible for achieving it all. And everything begins with the birth of a child, the gift of a son. Ah but what a child and what a son he turns out to be!
Up until now Isaiah has been telling us about what will be/has been achieved but now his focus shifts to focus upon the one who actually brings it all about.
The child is a gift and a gift of divine grace at that. The description of this child is both preceded by a list of his exploits and followed by a description of his remarkable triumphs.
But who is this child? He is most certainly no ordinary child!
Did you notice how the text puts it? Did you notice the passive forms of the verb?
A child is born
A son is given
Theologians like to call these "divine passives" and they are right, for God is at most assuredly at work. It is God who causes this child to be born and it is God who has given this son to us for our benefit.
The child born does not remain forever a baby but grows to assume the purpose for which he was born and to carry out the tasks he was sent to achieve. And that meant that he had to take the burden and the responsibility of ruling and reigning upon his own shoulders. The NT picks up and develops this theme as it relates the joyous welcome that was afforded to our Lord when he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a lowly donkey. It was a picture of a king coming, not to wage violent and destructive warfare, but to extend his peaceful reign. This is how the crowd shouted their appreciation and welcome:
Mt.21:9 "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"
Matthew closes his gospel narrative with the Great Commission which follows Jesus’ declaration of his power to act:
Mt.28:18 "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."
Although Isaiah lived seven centuries before Christ he nevertheless knew a great deal about this impressive One who was to come. He was to go on in his prophecy to ascribe four great titles to him and these titles were not honorific, they corresponded to the reality of the situation.
Listen again to that sequence of titles and then we will briefly consider them in turn:
Is.9:6 "Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace."
Isaiah begins by declaring that the child will grow to become a wonderful counsellor, or we could put it like this he would be a wonder of a counsellor. All of his advice, every bit of it, would be good, apt, perfectly adapted to the situation in the hand. Everything about his counsel would be upright and impressive – what a counsellor he would be! He would have all that was necessary to make wise plans because, as Isaiah adds a couple of chapters later:
Is.11:2 "the Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD."
And the NT explains how this was indeed the case. Writing about Jesus the apostle John said:
Jn.3:34 "For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure."
How remarkable this One is! Not at all like the foolish king Ahaz to whom Isaiah had to speak!
The second name by which this child, this son, would be known is a title that belongs to deity. The title is used four other times in the OT and each time it is used to describe the Lord himself. Isaiah wants us to understand that the importance of this child, this son, is to be attributed to the fact that he is no mere human infant – this One is God himself and as such he possesses along with his full deity absolute power. He truly is a marvel!
Now for those of you who are familiar with Christian doctrine you might find this title somewhat confusing. In the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity God is declared to exist One God in three persons and these three persons are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. If you think in a Trinitarian way about this title of Everlasting Father then you’re going to struggle when you find it applied to Jesus as it is here in Isaiah’s prophecy. The Trinity is a Biblical doctrine but it was not clearly revealed until centuries after Isaiah’s day. When Isaiah spoke about a father he was thinking of the role the father plays as the benevolent protector of, and provider for, his family. At the time the ideal king was thought of in terms of such a father who cared for and made provision for his subjects. The child of Isaiah’s prophecy was to be just such an ideal king to his people. This idea of the fatherhood of God is repeated in Isaiah’s writings and is also to be found in the Psalms.
Prince of Peace
This child of Isaiah’s prophecy would surpass by far even the noblest and best of the kings descended from great King David because he would secure the greatest peace that it was possible to secure. Some of David’s line could secure political peace and rest from their enemies for a time but this child would secure peace with God for his people and that not just for a limited period of time but forever and forever. His kingdom reign and influence indeed know no end. What a wonderful thing it is to belong to this Prince of Peace!
Rom.5:1 "Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ."
When we stop and think about these names and titles that belong to the child, the son, the Lord Jesus Christ we have reason to worship for we will find ourselves thinking about no ordinary person but about One who is uniquely divine, full of compassion, authority and power. We will not find ourselves thinking about One whose kingdom will peak and then begin to fail before fading completely away but we will be thinking about One whose kingdom simply grows and grows in one great never-
Do you know this King, King Jesus? His birth was still seven centuries away in the future as Isaiah exercised his ministry yet he came! He fulfilled and continues to fulfil the words of Isaiah’s prophecy. Have you understood the importance of the baby born at Bethlehem? He did not remain a baby but grew to mature manhood and perfectly accomplished the mission for which he was sent forth.
As Christmas approaches you must realise that it is all about the coming of the magnificent person, this great and awe-
To God be the glory.