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Sermon blog: The Righteous King

November 20, 2016

Image result for a son is given

Isaiah 9:1-7

Victory speech

A man stands in the Hilton Hotel in New York. His speech is one of victory.

Come January 2017 the government of the USA will be on the shoulder of Donald Trump.

In the euphoria of the moment he makes some big claims:

“Working together, we will begin the urgent task of rebuilding our nation and renewing the American dream”

“We are going to fix our inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals. We’re going to rebuild our infrastructure, which will become, by the way, second to none, and we will put millions of our people to work as we rebuild it.”

“We have a great economic plan. We will double our growth and have the strongest economy anywhere in the world. At the same time, we will get along with all other nations willing to get along with us.”

“America will no longer settle for anything less than the best. We must reclaim our country’s destiny and dream big and bold and daring. We have to do that. We’re going to dream of things for our country, and beautiful things and successful things once again.”

“All people and all other nations. We will seek common ground, not hostility; partnership, not conflict.”

The new world according to Donald Trump.

Familiar verses

It is unlikely that anyone here this morning will have never heard the verses we read together.

If you have spent Christmas Eve preparing the vegetables whilst listening to Carols from Kings, then someone will have read “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”.

If you have been to a church carol service then you will almost certainly have heard “for to us a child is born”.

If, like me, you have been a Christian for many years you will have heard these words over and over again. “wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting father, prince of peace”.

And to all of us, whether we are long term Christians or those who have found themselves in church rarely, there is no puzzle in these words. We know that the words are about Jesus. The child who was born, and gave Christmas its meaning.

As Christians we are so familiar with these words.

And even as a non-believer attending a carol service, the context makes it very clear.

Most of us here this morning will know that there is something remarkable about these verses, which might be lost on someone who only ever hears them in the carol service.

The point is that these words were written approximately 700 years before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem. This was no ordinary birth announcement.

This was a serious advance notice!

 

Isaiah’s audience

And I can’t help wondering, what it would have meant to the first people who heard these words?

As we have seen the words are taken from the first 7 verses of Isaiah chapter 9.

Isaiah, along with Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel are collectively known as the major prophets, not because they were any better than the minor prophets, but just mainly because the books in the Bible attributed to these major prophets were much longer than those of the minor prophets.

For example, Isaiah has 66 chapters, Habakkuk, being minor, has only 3.

Isaiah was a prophet living in Judah. We are told that he was a prophet in Jerusalem for some 40 years. During that time Judah had no less than 4 kings. They would have dreamt of the stability that we have had in this country for over 60 years!

Many of you will know when Isaiah’s ministry started, he records in the opening verses of his book that he prophesied through the reigns of Uzziah (otherwise known as Azariah), Jotham,  Ahaz and Hezekiah.

His amazing heavenly vision is recorded as having been in the year King Uzziah died.

In his time Isaiah got to see a lot of what the kings were up to. And just these 4 give us a small glimpse of what the kings of Judah and Israel were like.

A mixed bunch

They were a right mixed bunch!

Take Uzziah for example. He was a good king, but then his pride got the better of him. His son Jotham was a good king, though he compromised on worship of idols.

His son Ahaz was a horror, even sacrificing his own child. Hezekiah was a good king who listened to what Isaiah had to say.

There always seemed to be a pattern. Good king, bad king.

And even the good were flawed.

And so Isaiah spoke into many of these situations. And Isaiah warned the people of Judah that time was running out. The result of their rebellion against God would be the fall of Jerusalem. Hezekiah listened and avoided calamity.

Later kings did not.

Lights off

In chapter 8 Isaiah talks about distress and darkness and fearful gloom.

Utter darkness.

It is as if the lights are all going out.

But chapter 9 starts with a hopeful whisper “nonetheless”.

Chapter 8 paints a picture of gloom. But Isaiah now says “there will be no more gloom”.

There is hope “for those who were in distress”.

Still in that verse he talks of Zebulun and Naphtali. These were two of the tribes of Israel. And were some of the first to be overrun by Assyrian invaders. Their peoples were humbled, and the verse suggests this was part of God’s plan to deal with a nation’s disobedience.

Lights on

But a place called Galilee of the Gentiles was to be honoured. A place that had been home to the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun, with a mixed population, was to receive a prophet’s promise.

The gloom of chapter 8 is to be taken away. And so too is that utter darkness. As the people of Judah walk, or more likely stumble in the darkness, a light is switched on.

A great light.

“On those living in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned.”  It seems this light is more than mere light. It is life giving.

Gloom gone.

Darkness to light.

Death to life.

Victory speech 2

What is this great message of hope that Isaiah is bringing?

He describes a victorious scene.

A nation enlarged.

A place of Joy.

Freedom from slavery and oppression.

An end to war.

A thriving nation.

So what can this be? What is going to bring this about?

WHO is going to make this happen?

The promises don’t seem that different to Donald Trump’s!

A child is born

The key it seems is a child. Not some adult with extraordinary powers, but the hope Isaiah offers is in a baby boy.

A baby boy who brings light, joy, growth, peace.

He goes on to say that “the government will be on his shoulders”.

A king.

A human king?

As Judah looked at its mixed bag of kings, perhaps they thought “that’s it!” A king is going to change all this. A good king. A powerful king. A king who will defeat his enemies and get us our land back.

God is going to provide the ultimate king.

But if they listened on they must have been puzzled by the description of this king.

“Wonderful counsellor”. That’s great – we could do with another wise king like Solomon.

“Mighty God”? No sorry I don’t get that for a moment.

“Everlasting father”. A king who is a father figure who everyone can look up to – that’s good. But everlasting?

“Prince of peace”. Oh how we could do with peace!

But as they thought of their kings, the bad ones, the good but flawed ones, the weak ones and the downright wicked ones, would they have wondered “how is any one human being going to fulfil all that promise?”

As we look at our own politicians now, whether Donald Trump or Theresa May – we hear the talk, but, we think,  if only they could guarantee their promises.

The God king

But we know they’re only human.

For no human being is everlasting. No ordinary man can lead us in this way.

And no mere man can be called mighty God.

Only God himself could meet those high standards.

Years before Isaiah , Israel had rejected God in favour of a king. Now full circle, they are perhaps realising that God was their king all along.

So Isaiah does not offer a prophecy which will avoid the destruction of Jerusalem. Rather Isaiah is looking beyond that now inevitable event, into the future when God will be king.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end”.

This is an everlasting kingdom. A king in the line of the great David, but so much more than David.

A kingdom of justice and righteousness.

The Lord Almighty is going to make this happen.

It’s a promise, but not one for those who listened to Isaiah so much. This was for future generations.

Jesus – the king

Who would be this king, who would restore the nation’s fortunes?

Around 700 years later a baby is born. Wise men look for him “the one who has been born King of the Jews”, in a palace, but he is born in humble surroundings and laid in a manger.

A man born into an ordinary family in circumstances people would nod and wink about.

A man who grew up and worked as a carpenter.

A man who it seemed had no home he could call his own.

A man who had a few followers over just a three year period.

And oh yes…

A man who died at the age of 33. Nailed to a cross of execution.

“The government will be on his shoulders”?

“Mighty God”?

“Everlasting father”?

What government?

But there were things he said. He claimed that he and God were one and the same.

He told people that their sins were forgiven. Something that only God was entitled to do.

He claimed to have existed before their great father Abraham.

He said that he was going to be killed.

And rise again.

Jesus as fulfilment

So how does Jesus fit the verses of Isaiah’s prophecy? What is the promise Isaiah brings?

A child is born. The gift of a son is given.

To Judah? To their future generations?

The verses we read suggest this is much bigger than that. Isaiah prophesies about enlarging the nation, but is this just about an earthly kingdom getting bigger.

When Jesus came he told his listeners that his kingdom was not of this world. He constantly spoke about the kingdom of God. And he challenged his followers to think big.

The good news that Jesus preached, was not just for the people of Judah – God’s chosen people, but was for all God’s chosen people, past present and future, throughout the whole world.

Jesus did not come into the world just for the Jewish people, he had in mind you and me too. Whoever will believe in him.

Sure enough this son is to be powerful. The government will be on his shoulders.

Not a political king

But Jesus at no stage in his earthly life held that kind of political power. He demonstrated his power by many of the things he did, and showed an authority that no one else could seek to claim, over sickness, sin and death.

On occasion the people would try to make him king, but that was not his plan. His kingdom was to be very different.

When the Romans nailed him to the cross the words of charge above his head seemed to mock him “Jesus – King of the Jews”, but actually Christians will tell you that Jesus is the true king of the Jews. The true king of all.

Government on his shoulder? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul tells us that the “in him all things hold together”. He is not just a powerful politician or a great king. He literally holds everything together. Think about that!

What’s in a name?

Verse 6 tells us some of the names that are given to this king of all kings.

It is debatable whether wonderful counsellor is 2 names or 1. Jesus is certainly a counsellor. He spent the largest part of his time teaching his disciples, sharing his wisdom with the crowds. It would be difficult to say that the words wonderful counsellor would not describe him.

Even his enemies had to acknowledge “no one ever spoke the way this man does”.

One of his closest followers Peter recognised that Jesus was not just telling stories. He exclaimed “You have the words of eternal life”.

A wonderful counsellor.

Mighty God.

We have already stated that Jesus claimed equality with God. Even evil Spirits recognised his deity.

On one occasion, the disciples asked each other “Who is this? Even the wind and waves do what he tells them!”

Power over nature.

Power over sickness and even death.

Power to forgive sins.

Everlasting father. The apostle John made it clear that Jesus the Word, was with God in the beginning, and indeed he was God. He was involved in every aspect of the creation.

And he promised eternal life to those who believed in him.

The prince of peace. When we look at the war and hatred and discord in the world we need someone who can bring peace. We can never seem to bring it about.

If we look into our own hearts there is anything but peace – hurt and bitterness and hatred. Religion is so often described as the cause of wars. But really if we were to follow the teachings of Jesus, the prince of peace. If only we could.

He though is the peace maker, through his death on the cross.

Kingdom growth

It’s this king’s government rule, it’s his kingdom which is going to grow and grow.

The people of Israel and Judah had been let down time and time again by their kings.

Our royals, our politicians, will break their promises and disappoint us.

A child is born

How this world, this advent, this Christmas, needs to know the one who was born to be king.

How you need to know him. You need to listen to the wonderful counsellor, you need to worship the mighty God, how we need the abundant life that an everlasting father can give us.

How we need a father who will never fail us.

How we need a prince of peace.

In our own hearts, in our relationships with others, with God himself.

For to us a child is born.

Let that child be born in your heart today.

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