“The Prince of Peace”
December 1, 2013
In the midst of darkness and warfare, the Son comes to bring light and peace.
I. Darkness Ended (Isaiah 9:1-2)
II. Warfare Ended (Isaiah 9:3-5)
III. The Prince of Peace Given (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Well, welcome to December. This is the first week in our Christmas series, which I’m calling ‘Christmas in Isaiah.’ You may remember that for a hundred days last spring we read Isaiah together, and I preached about 15 key passages. But Isaiah is so rich that 15 passages is a small fraction of all the goodness, and I ended up not preaching some of the most familiar passages, including many associated with the coming of the Messiah. So this Christmas I’ve picked five passage, four from Isaiah and one from his contemporary, Micah, which reveal truth about the incarnation or about the joy of salvation in the Messiah.
You may also remember that a few years ago I did seven stories for the Christmas season set in a little town called Stokely in England in 1940. They were stories about a Free Church and the presence of Jesus among them as they went through the turmoil of that year. I’m hoping, soon, to turn those stories into a novel, and to do that I needed to know more back story for the main characters. So this year I’m going to tell those backstories, mostly as extended closing illustrations, for these Christmas passages. I hope you’ll enjoy this format.
We’ll start with Isaiah 9:1-7. Parts of this are very familiar, about light for the people who walk in darkness and a Son given to reign. The middle verses, while less familiar are also great, with promises of the end of warfare and oppression. In fact I think the summary idea for this passage is that in the midst of darkness and warfare the Son comes to bring light and peace. So, Isaiah 9:1-2 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. 2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
You can’t really get chapter 9 without chapter 8, in which Isaiah paints a picture of his peers who go running off after mediums and spiritualists and foreign gods to their own harm, even asking foreign nations to rescue the country. And Isaiah says ‘if you keep listening to people who aren’t speaking my word, you’re in trouble: Isaiah 8:20 “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn. 21They will . . . speak contemptuously against their king and their God, and turn their faces upward. 22They will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness.” So this is the prophecy against the nation, and it would be fulfilled in 732 BC when the Assyrians, the most cruel empire of the Biblical period, conquered Galilee.
But, God says, even into this darkness I will send rescue. Classic ‘but God,’ Isaiah 9:1 “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish.” God has planned to give his people light again. "The way of the sea" refers to the trade route along Israel’s coastline, and "Galilee of the Gentiles" is another way of saying Zebulon and Naphtali. Israel’s kings had already ceded much of this land to the Gentiles, and within a few years of this prophecy the Assyrians would carve up this region into three provinces.
But these lands, the first to feel the wrath of the Assyrian warrior's boot, would be the first to see the new and great light God would focus on Israel: “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.” This is called the prophetic past: to the prophet these events are so certain that they can be spoken of as already having happened, because they are divinely planned and revealed. Matthew, of course, saw these two verse fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus in Galilee, but Luke saw them fulfilled in Jesus’ birth. Zechariah prophecies that because of the tender mercy of our God, the sunrise shall visit us from on high 79to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”
This imagery of darkness and light is one of the Bible’s key ways of talking to us, to all men and women who because of the fall, are living in the darkness of sin and separation from God. Into this darkness, John tells us, that God has sent his light, the light of Jesus: “In him was life and this life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has been unable to extinguish it.” This is the imagery of Christmas: into our darkness the incarnation has brought light, and we receive that light, and the forgiveness of our sins, and new life by believing in the one God has sent. He says “I have come into the world as light, so that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.”
So in the midst of darkness the Son comes to give light and in the midst of warfare the Son comes to give peace. Verses 3-5 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
The sense of joy that entered the prophecy at verse 1, becoming stronger in verse 2, turns into praise as the prophet, looking to the future, rejoices before God. The multiplication of the nation pre-supposes peace and prosperity under the blessing of God. Both the farmer and the soldier have times of joy when their work goes well, and these illustrate the joy that will come to God's people.
The soldier one may strike you as blood-thirsty, but even in Isaiah 53, the description of the suffering servant who bore our sins, God promises that “I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” So this spoil is seen as the joyful fruit of sacrifice.
In verse 4 the pronoun ‘him’ refers, I believe, to the people of God, first to the nation of Israel and then to us, as the people Jesus frees from slavery to sin. We are the ones God has rescued from the yoke, the staff and the rod of our oppressor, from Satan and sin and death, just as Israel’s oppressor Midian was defeated in the days of the Judges. Isaiah may even have chosen this example because in Gideon’s day by the hand of a few a mighty oppressor was defeated. The same miraculous rescue would be needed from the Assyria, and an even more miraculous rescue is needed from our enemies who imprison us in darkness and despair. We are rescued by the hand of one man acting alone.
Isaiah does not picture the resultant peace abstractly but, as is so characteristic, he uses vivid pictures. The boot of the soldier that had tramped Israel's people, his garment soaked with the blood of the slain would now be collected and burned as fuel. In chapter 2 God had promised that the Messiah would judge between the nations, and bring peace: “they shall beat their swords into plow-shares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” The horrors of war and blood will cease. But this is also personal peace, as Isaiah says in chapter 26: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.” That’s the promise to us who believe and trust. We have peace.
But Isaiah does something even more prophetically amazing in verses six and seven: he introduces us to the one who would be come to make these things so: 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. 7Of 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. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
A child will be born, a son will be given, the promised Messiah-King, to rescue from darkness and oppression. The key Old Testament idea about the messiah is that he will be the perfect ruler, who will establish David's throne forever. So Isaiah boldly makes the statement “a child will be born, a son will be given, not to me and my wife, not to Ahaz, not just to the Virgin, but to all of us.”
And he will be the Messiah-King; the mantle of government falls on him. So Isaiah gives him a series of titles which spell out his perfect suitability to rule. If you want good government, Israel, find a person like this. If you want someone who is perfectly suited to be your Lord and your Ruler, find someone like this:
First, he is Wonderful Counselor or Wonderful and Counselor: it's not perfectly clear in the Hebrew. This doesn’t mean Jesus is a psychologist, though he certainly helps people more than most psychologists. But it means that when the time comes to decide what to do, to make wise decisions concerning the rule of Israel or the rule of your life, He will always know what to do. His counsel is always perfect. As somebody once said, what we want in life is not so much to have guidance but to have a guide. Here is the guide for every life situation.
And He is Mighty God: Not one who is like a god, not just having the power of God - but God himself, and mighty. I'm not saying Isaiah had a full understanding of the Trinity. But we’ll see next week that Isaiah already prophesied “God with Us” It’s no surprise, then, that the same person who can be called "God with us" can also be called "Mighty God" When the Messiah chooses a course of action, He has the power, might, strength to see you through that course of action. No nation, person, or power can stand against him. Galilee, are you worried about Assyria? Don't be because the child who will be born to us is "Mighty God". And you, are you worried about your particular situation, your own darkness or lack of peace? Don't be, because the child who has been born to us is "Mighty God". What he chooses to do he cannot fail to do.
He is "Everlasting Father" I read a series of novels built on the legends of Merlin and King Arthur and all those. One of the problems they continually have is that whenever they get a good king, he is killed or dies or otherwise is removed from the scene. So they have no security because the king doesn't last. But here we have a Lord, a ruler who is everlasting. Nothing takes him from the throne. Now you might ask: how can the Son be called the Father? The answer is that here we aren’t talking about his nature, but his activities. The Messiah embodies for Israel and for us all that is good in the relationship of a father to his children. He is our provider, our guide, our authority. In a very real sense the Messiah plays the role of Father to the nation and to us as individuals.
Finally, he is the Prince of Peace. Where the Messiah comes to reign there is peace. The Longing of Israel through all this period and all the years of her exile was to be able to dwell in peace and safety. And that is our longing also - that our hearts would be at peace with ourselves, with our circumstances, and with our God. And the role that Messiah plays is to himself be our peace, and ultimately to rule and reign over the world so that it is at peace.
Verse 7 emphasizes the reign or Lordship of the Messiah. He will sit on David's throne. The promise to David and Solomon that an everlasting kingdom would be established from their line had never been forsaken. The Messiah would be that king who would far exceed every king in his justice and his righteousness. And unlike every other king and ruler and authority, this king would reign forever and ever. That too is the kind of King and Ruler and Lord that we wish to serve. One who will reign with justice and righteousness, who will establish peace forever. Jesus Christ is that kind of ruler, worthy to be our Lord.
Now, has all this prophecy been totally fulfilled? No. The physical fulfillment of his reign and his throne and his kingdom waits until he returns again and establishes it. The kingdom is not yet fully come. But it will come. The last phrase is our assurance: the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish it. This is a promise signed and sealed by God. He’s passionate about it and he always keeps his promises. The Kingdom comes. It cannot fail.
But the King - the King has already come. Jesus is already Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. He is the one who defeats the darkness in us and around us. He is the light to our dark souls and to the dark nights of our souls. He is our peace. He defeats the sin that oppresses us, the enemy that crushes us and the turmoil that tears us apart. He offers us life for death, light for dark, peace for turmoil through his incarnation, his sacrifice and his resurrection. In the midst of darkness and warfare, the Son comes to bring light and peace.