Four the next four weeks I want us to spend our study time taking a look at a section of the Prophet Isaiah. Isaiah was a prolific prophet in perilous times. He wrote 66 chapters that are filled with judgment, justice, love, and redemption. Throughout all 66 chapters, through the hard times as well as the seasons of peace and prosperity, there is a thread of hope. Some of the most vivid and awe-inspiring words of hope that have ever been produced are found in the pages of Isaiah. His brilliant and encouraging words are set against a backdrop of politically and spiritually unsettling and disastrous times. God moved upon Isaiah’s heart and he was able to write about God’s promises because he had his mind and heart fixed upon the sovereignty of Almighty God rather than the situations that the nation and the people found themselves enduring. You and I will benefit tremendously over the next four weeks if we will study this passage of Isaiah through and through, but for today we will fix our gaze upon one title that Isaiah gave to Jesus, our Messiah–He is the Wonderful Counselor.
We look back upon Isaiah’s words and see so clearly that the One Isaiah was describing was none other than the Christmas Gift – Jesus the Messiah. As we look back with 20/20 vision Isaiah looked forward with equal clarity to the coming One who would make things right once and for all. The four titles that Isaiah gives us are—Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. For those of you who know Jesus as Lord of your life then you have to agree with me that these titles, more than any other, capture the heart and ministry of Jesus in your life and mine.
I want to take a minute to take a paintbrush and dab it onto a pallet of despair, dejection, and desperation so that we can paint a canvas of utter darkness—darkness that was all too familiar to those who lived in Isaiah’s day. You might find some of the same dark hues and tones present in our own land or your own life this very morning. If that is the case then know that the same great light that was seen so clearly by Isaiah can be seen by your heavy eyes this very morning. Let’s begin our study. Take a look at Isaiah 1:1-2 with me to get us started.
1 The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. 2 Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. (Isaiah 1:1-2 NIV)
Isaiah tells us that the vision God gave him came during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah. Uzziah died in 740 B.C. after reigning as king for 52 years. Under his reign Judah was strong and many in Judah prospered. Jotham, Uzziah’s son, reigned for 16 years and his administration was remembered for its many building projects, material prosperity, and military successes. Jotham did something his father never allowed, the worship of idols, and the decline of the nation began. Ahaz, who was Jotham’s son, was known as an evil king and he ruled for 16 years. The idol worship permitted by Jotham was taken to a new level as Ahaz sacrificed his own son to pagan gods. Ahaz also nailed the temple doors shut and forged alliances with surrounding pagan nations rather than trusting in the Lord for the nation’s security. Last of all, Ahaz’s son, Hezekiah, is known as a great king and he reigned for 29 years. He reopened the temple and brought about much needed religious reform. Hezekiah destroyed the idol worship that had been permitted by his father and grandfather. Tradition tells us that Isaiah never saw the end of Hezekiah’s administration because he was killed by Hezekiah’s son, Manasseh, by being sawn in two.
As I mentioned earlier, the forty years of Isaiah’s ministry were difficult times for Judah. The truth of the matter is that after Uzziah died the nation was sick with prosperity, they had forgotten the Lord, and they were set on doing what they wanted to do. The Assyrians were getting ready to be a rod of judgment in God’s hand to get the attention of His people. It was in the year that Uzziah died that Isaiah had a marvelous vision of the Lord and it brought him to his knees. Read along with me in Isaiah 6:1.
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. (Isaiah 6:1 NIV)
It has been said that those who don’t learn from history are destined to repeat it. Well, we can learn so much from our lesson this morning. Under Uzziah and Jotham the nation was strong militarily; they were prospering financially, and there were building projects that dotted the landscape. These things would lead you to believe that everything in Judah was coming up roses and that the people were good and godly people. Things are not always as they appear. Turn with me to the very first chapter of Isaiah and let’s allow the Lord to look beneath the surface to the hearts of the people of Judah.
21 See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her—but now murderers! 22 Your silver has become dross, your choice wine is diluted with water. 23 Your rulers are rebels, companions of thieves; they all love bribes and chase after gifts. They do not defend the cause of the fatherless; the widow’s case does not come before them. (Isaiah 1:21-23 NIV)
The leaders of the city who were supposed to administer justice for the people were being bought for a price. They were neglecting the very people God had always held before them to protect – the widows and fatherless. The judge’s decisions were tainted by bribes and they were catering to the rich who found themselves in their courts.
The House of God was in no better shape than the court system in Judah. The people who had witnessed the power and grace of God over and over again had now forgotten. They didn’t need God with all of the prosperity they were enjoying. They continued to visit the temple until the days of Ahaz, but their visits were empty rituals and nothing more. Turn with me to Isaiah 1:12-17 and let’s peek beneath of the appearance of the beautiful temple.
12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—I cannot bear your evil assemblies. 14 Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. 15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.(Isaiah 1:12-17 NIV)
The court system was being bought, the temple was being trampled, but it didn’t stop there. Judean society as a whole had forgotten the graciousness and kindness of God. When we forget about God’s graciousness lavished upon us then we begin to feed our own wants and live with no rules, no boundaries. We set out to amass as much for ourselves as we can. Hording and self-indulgence were rampant in Judah. Turn to Isaiah 5 and let’s take a look.
8 Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. 9 The LORD Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. 10 A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine, a homer of seed only an ephah of grain.” 11 Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. 12 They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. 13 Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; their men of rank will die of hunger and their masses will be parched with thirst. (Isaiah 5:8-13 NIV)
It was absolutely the best of times and the worst of times in Judah. Material prosperity was enjoyed by the elite, but the hearts of the people were not right. All appearances pointed towards a long-lived prosperity, but underneath the appearances was a looming darkness that would one day spread throughout the whole land.
Shortly after Uzziah dies, the decline of the nation begins. The Northern Kingdom of Israel had already sold out and formed an alliance to try and protect themselves. They wanted Judah to join the alliance and when Jotham refused a war broke out. Unsettling times, tumultuous times, days and nights of uncertainty became more and more prevalent in Judah. It was in this setting that the prophet took his pen and wrote these comforting words of hope. Read along with me in Isaiah 9:1-7.
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan—2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:1-7 NIV)
In coming weeks we will take a further look at some of the details of this passage of Scripture as it relates to what was going on in the nation of Judah, but for the rest of our time together today I want to focus on the first title that Isaiah gives to the One who is on His way to set things in place and right all wrongs. Isaiah writes,
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 7:6 NIV)
His name shall be called “Wonderful Counselor.” What a glorious title! What a fitting name to be given to the One who came, born or a virgin, in the most humble of all settings. What a comforting phrase to be clung to by all who are weary of seeking answers and yet they all ring so hollow. He is the Wonderful Counselor whose wisdom is unmatched, yet dismissed by so many today. He is the Wonderful Counselor whose advice always brings hope and healing, and yet so many today choose to stay in the mire of hopelessness and brokenness. In just a few minutes I am going to give you the opportunity to cry out to the One who is called the Wonderful Counselor so that He might speak words of life, purpose, and salvation to your weary souls this morning. Before I give you that opportunity I want to take just a few minutes and examine the Wonder of all wonders.
The title “Wonderful Counselor” is made up of two Hebrew words that are rich with meaning. The Hebrew word for “Wonderful” means, “wonder, marvel, extraordinary, hard to understand, the wonder of God’s acts of judgment and redemption.” Most often the word is used of God’s acts, acts that can only be explained as the work of Almighty God on behalf of His people. There are lots of examples from Scripture that we could choose from but let me pick a couple of my favorites.
Moses was minding his own business taking care of the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro. Meanwhile, back in the mud pits, the Hebrews were still suffering under Pharaoh’s oppressive hand. God appeared to Moses and said, “I am going to use you to deliver the slaves out of Egypt.” After a discussion God tells Moses, in Exodus 3,
16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’ 18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. (Exodus 3:16-20 NIV)
I love that last line – “after that, he will let you go.” I guess he will! The wonders of God brought upon the Egyptians were to bring about the deliverance of God’s people. They had been slaves for 400 years, but at the appointed time, things happened in Egypt that couldn’t be explained by anything other than God did it – and He did it for His people!
The Hebrew slaves weren’t the only ones in history that found themselves in the pits, mired and muddy by life. David was a fugitive on the run for some 15 years. He was slandered, he was hunted as a common criminal, the king had turned on him and overnight he became evil incarnate to the leader of the land. David felt all alone, but he continued to put his trust in the Lord. Turn with me to Psalm 40:1-5 and let’s read together.
1 I waited patiently for the LORD;he turned to me and heard my cry. 2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. 3 He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear and put their trust in the LORD. 4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. 5 Many, O LORD my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. (Psalm 40:1-5 NIV)
I love verse 5 where David writes, “The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare.” God has a plan. He has a purpose for absolutely everything that happens in your life and mine. On a larger scale than that – He has a purpose for everything that happens in all of creation my friend. Our Scripture this morning testifies to this fact.
More than 700 years before Jesus was ever born, Isaiah was writing about One who would come one day and he would be called “Wonderful Counselor.” Kingdoms would rise and fall before He ever arrived, but He would arrive at the right time.
Isaiah, writing in chapter 53, describes this wondrous One with further detail. He wouldn’t simply come to make society right, but He would come to make us right with God. Turn to Isaiah 53:5-6 and read with me.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:5-6 NIV)
YHWH God has laid on this Wonderful Counselor the iniquity, the sin, of each and every one of us. When Jesus came to earth, He came with a purpose, to seek and to save the lost, those who are broken down and enslaved by sin. Paul wrote to the Romans and spoke about God’s perfect timing. Let’s read together from Romans 5:6-8.
6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6-8 NIV)
Can you imagine? The One who came as the Wonderful Counselor, with words of life and salvation, is rejected by those He came to offer eternal life. He hangs on the cross scorned and ridiculed by those who are dying their own death, not at the hands of men, but because of their own sin. Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote,
But see him die. Come O my brothers, you children of God, and gather round the cross. See your Master. There he hangs. Can you understand this riddle: God was manifest in the flesh, and crucified of men? My Master, I cannot understand how you could stoop your head to such a death as this—how could you take from your brow the coronet of stars which from old eternity had shone resplendent there; how you could permit the thorn-crown to gird the temples astonishes me far more. That you should cast away the mantle of your glory, the azure of your everlasting empire, I cannot comprehend; but how you become veiled in the ignominious purple for awhile, and then be bowed to by impious men, who mocked you as a pretended king, and how you should be stripped naked to shame, without a single covering, this is still more incomprehensible. Truly your name is Wonderful. Oh your love to me is wonderful, passing the love of woman. Was ever grief like yours? …Here is matchless love—matchless love to make him suffer, matchless power to enable him to endure all the weight of his Father’s wrath. Here is matchless justice, that he himself should acquiesce in his Father’s will, and not allow men to be saved without his own sufferings; and here is matchless mercy to the chief of sinners, that Christ should suffer even for them. ‘His name shall be called Wonderful.’ (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “His name shall be called Wonderful” September 19, 1858)
What wondrous love is this that stooped to become one of us so that we might be at one with the Father? He is the Wonderful Counselor who speaks to our hearts this very morning and invites us to come to the foot of the cross where we can not only hear His words of forgiveness and grace, but where we can see for ourselves His nail scarred hands and pierced feet that were nailed to the cross so that we might be freed from the shackles of sin and eternal separation from God.
At this time of year each year, I see so many become so busy that they run right by the manger and the cross. They are seeking something, but their passion isn’t for the Savior. They are pursuing something, but rarely is it the counsel that only He can give. I want to urge you this day, as the mad dash of Christmas comes upon us like a flood, to stop and be still. Listen to His voice of heavenly counsel calling you. Listen to His counsel of life and purpose and meaning. Listen…He alone has the words of life. There was a time in Jesus’ ministry when those who listened found His words too hard to bear and some of them decided to leave. John tells us the story.
66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. 67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69 NIV)
Peter might be well known for putting his foot in his mouth, but in this case he spoke with such wisdom that we would do well to always remember his words: “Where could we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
I don’t know what kind of situation you find yourself in this Christmas season. For some, Christmas is a reminder that you have wandered away from the Lord. Like those in Judah we have forgotten the wondrous blessings of the Lord while we’ve been living it up. You may have been so busy this past year indulging yourself and living the high life that you never even stopped to give God a thought, but you can’t get through Christmas without the Spirit of God reminding you that it is His grace that has carried you, provided for you, and sustained you through another year. I want to invite you to come home this very morning. Don’t wait until the collapse or tragedy comes, now is the time to come on back home and give Him thanks as you renew your commitment to the Lord.
For many, Christmas is a difficult time. Loved ones have gone home to be with the Lord this past year and your Christmas will never be the same again. For others, this will be another Christmas spent hustling kids between homes because of divorce, and you never dreamed it would be so difficult. For others, this has been a difficult year because you’ve lost your job, money has been tight, and you are wondering how you will find the funds to provide what the kids are hoping will be under the tree. Some of us will spend Christmas in the hospital with loved ones who are struggling. Others will wonder if they will live to see next Christmas. The list of worries, anxiety, and sorrow is longer than any child’s Christmas “Wish List.” My friend, please don’t miss this: The Wonderful Counselor has come to lead us, counsel us, and comfort us in all of our worries and fears. He says
8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you. (Psalm 32:7 NIV)
Let me share one more nugget from Pastor Spurgeon before we go. Spurgeon speaks to our troubles with these comforting words of hope.
And now, brothers and sisters, you shall all find, every day of your life, whatever your trials and troubles, that he shall always be made the more wonderful by them. He sends your troubles to be like a black foil, to make the diamond of his name shine the brighter. You would never know the wonders of God if it were not that you find them out in the furnace. “They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep,” and we shall never see the wonders of God except in that deep; we must go into the deeps before we know how wonderful his power and his might to save. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “His Name Shall Be Called Wonderful” September 19, 1858)
If you find yourself lurking and languishing in the deep waters of sorrow and suffering this Christmas Season then know that the brilliance of His wonder shines the brightest on the darkest night my friend. Be still this Christmas and know that He is more than Wonderful!
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
December 2, 2012