The following is taken from Take Heart: Advent Devotional Series published by the EFCA. This advent season, the EFCA is focusing on the stories of taking heart and giving back with charitable giving. You may make an online gift here.
From Tribulation to Peace – The Prince of Peace: Redemption Promised (Isaiah 9)
In the early chapters of the Bible, the storyline is established: God created all to be very good, yet Adam and Eve sinned when tempted by Satan, and because of this sin they, and all their progeny, lived with a sentence of death and condemnation. Sin distorted and destroyed God’s very good creation. But God would restore and renew through the promise of an offspring as pronounced in the first mention of the gospel, the protevangelium.
Biblical Framework: Conflict Experienced and Peace Promised
This sentence of death and condemnation and this promise of blessing explain the biblical framework of the conflict between sin, strife and tribulation and the peace promised by God and experienced by humanity through His ordained means. For the people of God, the time between the Fall and God’s curse, and the promise made by God of life and the destruction of Satan and sin being fulfilled, seemed interminably long. Time and again, offspring would serve as a king, and one would wonder if this would indeed be the king through whom the enemy would be crushed and peace and blessing would once again be attained. But the number of those who served as king matched the number of failures ultimately to fulfill God’s promise. The enemy had not been crushed, and peace and blessing had not been attained.
There is only one way back to the Edenic experience with God, and it would only be through God’s ordained means. Any and all other means would result in death. God’s people wondered, had God reneged? Had He forgotten His promises? Was there any hope?
Promised Prince of Peace
Isaiah senses the burden of these questions. Added to this wait is the weight of Israel’s (the northern kingdom) sin, rebellion, defiance and idolatry. This would not and could not go unpunished. But even though Isaiah gives a message from God that purification was necessary, and this punishment and judgment would come through exile, God’s grace would triumph. Isaiah’s personal life and response (Isa. 6) become an exemplar for the nation of Israel. God, through Isaiah, not only reminds and carries out the punishment for sin (Israel was carried into exile by the Assyrians in 722 BC), but also renews the vision of hope and peace for sinners that would come through the Messiah (who would be born of a virgin, cf. Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23; Lk. 1:31-34). This was a time when joy, gladness and singing would be experienced, and sin and sorrow would be no more (Isa. 35:10; 51:11).
Isaiah captures this contrast. At the conclusion of chapter 8, he describes their plight: “they will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness” (8:22). Juxtaposed with this despairing existence is the promise of a new day. “The people who walked in darkness,” writes Isaiah, “have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isa. 9:2). Darkness, spiritual and otherwise, will be dispelled forever by the light of the Messiah. (Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” [Jn. 8:12]) Isaiah 9:6-7, a key text known by many, states this promise clearly:
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. Of 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.
Five key truths demand our attention at this point in redemptive history, the storyline of the Bible. First, a child will be born, a son will be given to us. This is the offspring promised years ago, immediately after the Fall, when God issued the promise in the midst of the curses. And this is no normal, average son, as Isaiah makes clear. Second, this son will be a king of a kingdom, as the government will be on his shoulder. Furthermore, this son is connected to David, his 9 throne and his kingdom (2 Sam. 7:1-17; 1 Chron. 17:1-15). This reminds us there are a number of fulfilments of God’s promise through redemptive history on the way to the ultimate fulfillment of His promise, which is made clear in the next point. Third, there will be no end to the increase of his government and of peace. This kingdom will not be contained, but the kingdom will expand and grow, a kingdom marked by peace, justice and righteousness. For most, kings and kingdoms come and go. What is needed is one perfect king who will reign forever, where “there will be no end.” That is the kind of king this son will be and the kind of kingdom over which he will reign. This also means all other kingdoms will be conquered and there will be no rival. Fourth, this son shall be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” These titles are descriptive of his person. This king will be divine. All of this finally and ultimately converges in Jesus Christ, the true Immanuel (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:23). Finally, through this child, the offspring, the promise given of the gospel (Gen. 3:15) to Abram to be a blessing to all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3) is realized in and through this Son (Matt. 28:18-20).
It is no surprise this was one of the truths which gripped Handel as he wrote his Messiah masterpiece. The greater surprise and sadness would be if this truth no longer grips us. May it be rekindled this Christmas.
1. Do you ever sense the conflict between the promises God has made and your own personal experience, between the conflict experienced and the peace promised? How do you process this?
2. Jesus is our king in the kingdom. This kingdom is marked by growth, peace, justice and righteousness. This is not a geographical location but the rule and reign of the king in a person and people wherever they are. It is not advanced by the sword. How does this compare or contrast with much of what we see and experience in the world today? How do you live in and work toward peace, justice and righteousness, specifically how do you respond in this peace-less culture? Are you tempted to use the means of the world to achieve it?
3. What is the significance of the names of the Son? Names are not just titles, but they also reflect the nature of the person. What does the truth of each of them entail in your life?
4. This king and kingdom will be marked by increase and peace and will have no end. This is God’s promise made before the first coming of Christ. What hope does this give as you await the second coming of Christ?
Silent Night! Holy Night! and sing or listen to Handel’s For Unto Us a Child Is Born.
Father, thank you that you are a promise-making and promise-keeping God. In the midst of distress and darkness, your light shines. Thank you that Jesus is truly the light of the world. We are grateful for the reminder of the names of the Son: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. We confess we quickly forget your blessings and frequently doubt your promises. We think and act as if we are the king seeking to establish our own kingdom using the ways of the world. Forgive us. We pray for your kingdom to come, that your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. For yours alone is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.