Text: Isaiah 9:2-7 (NRSV)
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness
from this time onward and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
You will likely remember a movie that came out a number of years ago about a loveable character named Forrest Gump. Forrest’s time to pass into eternity eventually came and he went to heaven. When he got to the pearly gates St. Peter told him that heaven was filling up fast, and that they’ve been administering an entrance examination to everyone. To get into heaven he had to answer three questions: (1) Name two days of the week that begin with T (2) How many seconds are in a year? (3) What is God’s first name? Forrest thought for a moment then answered, ”The two days of the week that start with T are Today and Tomorrow. There are 12 seconds in a year, and God has two names, Andy and Howard.” St. Peter said, “OK, I’ll buy the today and tomorrow answer even though that’s not what I expected. But how are there 12 seconds in a year?” Forest answered, “January 2nd, February 2nd…” St. Peter replied, “OK, I give, but what about God’s first name?” Forrest answered St. Peter by saying, “Well, from the song….Andy walks with me, Andy talks with me, Andy tells me I am his own. Plus the prayer says Our Father, who art in Heaven, Howard be thy name….” St. Peter opened the Pearly Gates, and said: “Run, Forrest, run!”
Names provide identity and convey great meaning, don’t they? I’m sure we all know that Forrest was just a little bit out in left field, and the names Andy and Howard cannot be attributed to God, but did you know that there are over three hundred names for our Lord Jesus Christ in the Bible? These names are all fitting, yet being within the confines of human language and understanding we recognize that even they are not fully adequate in describing His awesomeness.
Today we’re going to consider four of the names prophesied in the Old Testament – those found in Isaiah 9:6: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. These names have been described as throne names, and they convey the majesty of Jesus – the one foretold of who would usher in the new covenant, bringing salvation to humanity, and whose birth we celebrate during this wonderful Christmas season.
The first of these names, Wonderful Counselor, speaks of Jesus’ wisdom and is echoed in Isaiah 28:29 which states: “This also comes from the Lord of hosts; he is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom.” In 1 Corinthians 1:24 Paul calls Jesus the wisdom of God, and in Colossians 2:3 he says that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are hidden in Christ. Jesus is our supreme teacher and advisor, for He is truly and properly God, all-powerful and all-knowing, and He is also truly and properly man, personally and completely acquainted with every aspect of the human experience except sinfulness.
Throughout history people have searched for wisdom, as well as knowledge, from many sources and in many ways. Many turn to universities and colleges where knowledge, critical thinking, discipline, and experience are developed. For financial solutions we look to the wisdom of certified accountants or financial advisors. In the realm of parenting we may seek advice from our own parents and grandparents, seek advice from a child psychologist, or simply switch on the television and see what some of the parenting and child experts such as Super Nanny have to say. For love and relationship advice some people turn to relationship experts, individuals claiming to be psychics, or the horoscope of the day in a local newspaper. And then for the recipe to live an exciting and fulfilling life some folks look to the lifestyles of Hollywood A-list celebrities in all their partying splendour.
Are these the sources of wisdom that we are to rely upon? Some of them are obviously beneficial and worthwhile and are actually sources of wisdom that God has provided for us. Some, however – and I think you’ve easily identified which ones – are sources of folly, not wisdom. The point for us is two-fold: first, that we must be cautious of where and how we seek wisdom, and second, that we must look to the wisdom of the Lord first and foremost.
There’s a story handed down that in the early years of automobile production Henry Ford asked electrical genius Charlie Steinmetz to build the generators for his factory. One day the generators ground to a halt, and the repairmen couldn’t find the problem. So Ford called Steinmetz, who tinkered with the machines for a few hours and then threw the switch. The generators whirred to life – but Ford got a bill for $10,000 from Steinmetz. Flabbergasted, the rather tightfisted car maker inquired why the bill was so high. Steinmetz’s reply: For tinkering with the generators, $10. For knowing where to tinker: $9,990. Ford paid the bill. If Henry Ford thought that the wisdom of the person who created those generators was worth its weight in gold, how much more should we value the wisdom of our Creator?
I believe that scripture is quite clear that the Lord’s wisdom is available to us, and that in fact we are even commanded to rely upon Him for it. In Luke 21:14-15 we find Jesus sharing this truth with His disciples: “…make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” God also promised Moses that He would help him speak and teach him what to say. It’s an absolutely amazing thing! Just think about it – we have the privilege of engaging the wisdom of The Creator to help us in life, just like the disciples and Moses; we have access to the supernatural wisdom of Jesus Christ.
Through prayer, the study of God’s word, and with the illumination and direction of the Holy Spirit, we tap into the very same wisdom that guided the placement of each and every star in the universe, including the sun of our solar system which is the precise distance away from earth that is required to sustain life. We can access the wisdom that guided the creation of life itself in such an intricate and amazing manner that the most brilliant minds in the scientific community will never fully understand it. And we can partake of the wisdom that authored the plan of salvation which was set in motion in Genesis, invaded time and space with the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, and will culminate when He comes again. We are indeed blessed to have such a Wonderful Counselor to depend on as we journey through life.
The second name attributed to Jesus in Isaiah 9 is Mighty God. There are two aspects of this name that we’ll look at briefly, the first being Jesus’ deity. The proclamation of this name unmistakably places the identity and nature of the Messiah as God in solid union with the identity and nature of the human “child” to be “born for us”, the human “son given to us”, as written in the beginning portion of Isaiah 9:6. In the New Testament this fact is clearly evident in the Gospel of John. In John 1 the first verse reads, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”, and then in verse 14 that “…the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen His glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.”
God the Son, Jesus Christ, is the Word of God in the flesh. New Testament scholar Oscar Cullmann wrote that Jesus, the Word, “is the self-revealing, self-giving God – God in action.” Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of Mary, and in that miraculous event the divine and human natures came together in their respective entireties. Jesus is wholly human, yet at the same time wholly God. He lived as we live, ministered, suffered, died, was resurrected, promised to return in glory, and ascended to Heaven. Jesus atoned for our sins, taking on our punishment and paying the price we cannot pay, so that anyone who believes in Him may be saved and reconciled unto God. We claim Him as Saviour, mediator, brother and friend, and we look forward to His triumphant return. In John 20:28 Thomas declares to the risen Jesus, “My Lord and my God!”, and we declare the same today as well.
The second aspect of the name Mighty God is that of power. Jesus, as God, is omnipotent, or in other words, all-powerful. The universe was designed through His great wisdom, and we recognize that it was created with His mighty power. He holds that power today, He will forever, and exercises it at will according to His purpose. And just like we have access to His wisdom, we also have access to His power.
In Max Lucado’s book God Came Near Steve Blankenship shares this story. “One New Year’s Day, in the Tournament of Roses parade, a beautiful float suddenly sputtered and quit. It was out of gas. The whole parade was held up until someone could get a can of gas. The amusing thing was this float represented the Standard Oil Company. With its vast oil resources, its truck was out of gas. Often, Christians neglect their spiritual maintenance, and though they are ‘clothed with power’ [they] find themselves out of gas.”
The question for us is, do we petition Jesus – Mighty God – for His power and rely upon it along life’s journey, or do we settle for less and try to run on fumes? The fuel is readily available, it’s free, and it’s not taxed by the government, so go ahead fuel up!
Everlasting Father is the third name prophesied, and there are two lenses through which we’ll view it. Firstly, as Everlasting Father Jesus is, to say it a bit differently, Father of Eternity. Colossians 1:16-17 reads: “For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” Matthew Henry wrote that Jesus is “God, one with the Father, who is from everlasting to everlasting. He is the author of everlasting life and happiness…, and so is the Father of a blessed eternity. He is the Father of the world to come, the father of the gospel-state, He was, from eternity, Father of the great work of redemption: his heart was upon it; it was the product of his wisdom as the counselor, of his love as the everlasting Father.” To the Father of Eternity we can offer these words of praise along with the Psalmist: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”
Secondly, the use of Father in the name may also be viewed in context of the culture of Jesus’ day, referring to the fatherly care of His family. The patriarch in each family was to be loving and just, caring and a provider for those within his household. The same certainly holds true today as well. Jesus, described as a father, may then be seen as the everlasting source from which love, justice, care and provision flows. The evidence of Jesus’ expression of love in particular is found throughout the writings detailing His life. He healed the sick and caused the blind to see. He mourned the death of His friend Lazarus. He touched the untouchable and broke bread with the outcast. He taught and corrected His disciples with care and compassion. He was nailed to a cruel cross to save you and me.
As plainly evident in the life of Christ, and as revealed throughout scripture, God’s primary attribute is love; or as stated in first John 4:8, “God is Love.” This love, a steadfast, unconditional love, was at the core of Jesus’ nature and His teaching, and it is what should consume the hearts and fire the actions of us too. In 2009 the media around the globe carried a story about a phenomenal discovery made by astronomers using the Hubble telescope. Using infra-red imaging the scientists discovered the farthest star system to be discovered to date. They calculated the galaxies to be 13 billion light years from earth. Keep in mind that one light year is equal to just under 10 trillion kilometers, so if you’d like to do the math please be my guest. To help put it in perspective, the light seen by the scientists left the stars in those galaxies 8 billion years before our Sun and Earth were formed. Distances such as those are beyond our comprehension, but illustrate well the infinite boundaries of our Lord’s steadfast love. Psalm 103:11 reminds us: “For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.”
The fourth and final name we’ll touch on is Prince of Peace – a royal name. Prince of Peace was a name associated with the Messiah in both Judaism and early Christianity. The Prince of Peace that the Jews were awaiting, however, was in stark contrast to the Prince of Peace that Jesus really was. Within Judaism the expectation was for a conquering Messiah who would free God’s people from Roman bondage and usher in a new era of peace. But Jesus came as a suffering Messiah, dying on the cross to free the whosoever from the bondage of sin. Through this He is the source of our peace with God and our peace within.
In Colossians 1:19-22 we read these words about the work of the Prince of Peace: “For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him God was pleased to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of His cross. And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before Him – provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.”
It is when we accept Jesus Christ into our lives, when we respond to God in faith, that we can know personal peace with God. Romans 5:1 spells it out for us like a clarion call: “…since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” When we accept Jesus as our saviour and ask for forgiveness we are justified, or pardoned, through our faith, and God in His great mercy and grace sees us as righteous. I’m sure you have heard the expression “You’re looking through rose-coloured glasses”, essentially saying that you think something is better than it really is. Well when we become saved, God looks at us through scarlet-coloured glasses, seeing us through the blood of Christ, and it’s at this very moment of salvation that we become at peace with God.
Having entered into a right relationship with God we then begin to experience peace within. Like peace with God peace within is also a direct result of the cross. There was once a young lady who was dying, and one scripture which she had heard in healthier days came to her at this time: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed,” and she was led by the Holy Spirit to rest in Him of whom it spoke for salvation. A friend said to her one day, “You suffer much, I fear.” “Yes,” she said, “but,” pointing to her hand, “there is no nail there. He had the nails; I have the peace.” Laying her hand on her brow, she said, “There are no thorns here. He had the thorns; I have the peace.” Touching her side she said, “There is no spear here. He had the spear; I have the peace.”
When the young lady accepted Jesus at that point of grace she became at peace with Him in an instant; and from the way she spoke, you can also sense that she was blessed with His peace within at the same time. John Wesley aptly pointed out that “the immediate effects of justification are the peace of God, and a ‘rejoicing in hope of the glory of God’ ‘with joy unspeakable and full of glory.’” With the indwelling of the Holy Spirit peace and the other fruit begin to spring forth and blossom within us. Romans 8:6 also says, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” As we yearn for and grow into holiness we must cooperate with the Holy Spirit and yield control. Peace is part and parcel of the Spirit’s ministry in our lives. He makes us like Jesus, and the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control – are nothing less than characteristics of Christ, the Prince of Peace.
A number of years ago a story appeared which told of a man who picked up a beautiful rock from a North Carolina stream bed and used it as his cabin doorstop. Years later, a geologist who was hiking in the area stopped at the cabin and noticed the doorstop, which he immediately recognized as a huge lump of gold. In fact, it proved to be one of the largest gold nuggets ever found east of the Rockies. The names prophesied by Isaiah highlight the glory of Jesus Christ. Do you have a full sense of Jesus’ grandeur today, or have you overlooked it like the man who failed to recognize the precious gold that was right under his nose?
Friends, Jesus, the Son of God given as the child of Bethlehem so long ago, is waiting and wanting to give you so much. There are many joys in life, many wonderful moments and experiences. But we also encounter challenges, heartaches, and pain. Perhaps you’re facing difficult decisions in your life right now. Seek the wisdom of Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor. Perhaps you’re facing what seems to be a hopeless situation, or you feel so weary that you don’t know how you’ll make it through the days ahead. Seek the power and love of Jesus, Mighty God and Everlasting Father. Are you experiencing inner turmoil? Do you need peace with God or peace within? Seek salvation or the reassuring peace of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Or maybe you’re overwhelmed with gratitude for the unconditional love Jesus has for you, and all the blessing He has provided. Give thanks and bless the holy name of Jesus, the Everlasting Father.
May the divine counsel, power, love, and peace of Jesus Christ be upon you this Christmas and always.