“Wonderful Counselor” Isaiah 9:2-7 December 4, 2011
Christmas and Easter are two great celebrations of the Christian faith.
And of the two, Christmas has always been the greatest.
Just compare, for example, how many more Christmas carols and hymns there are
than Easter hymns. The incarnation is the greatest miracle in history.
God the Son took on human flesh and was born of a virgin,
to bring salvation and life to mankind.
Without Christ’s birth, his death and resurrection would never have happened.
As Christians, our celebration of Christmas,
our hope and joy in this annual feast, is a testimony of our faith.
When you are a child, it’s not hard to get excited about Christmas.
The decorations, the vacation from school, and most of all the prospect of presents
is enough to get you in the spirit—oh yes, and this is Jesus’ birthday too.
The older you get, it’s often harder to celebrate for many reasons.
The more you have to take yourself in hand and say:
Self, have hope, rejoice—Christ is born.
But that’s exactly what you have to do—stir up your faith and joy.
And that’s what we want to do at Christ Covenant this Advent season.
Let me tell you, very quickly, what we have planned.
I’ll start with Christmas itself, which is on a Sunday this year. What a blessing.
Every year we find ourselves pushing back against the materialism of Christmas.
Even worse the downgrading of Christmas into a secular holiday.
You hear stories about places where Merry Christmas is forbidden or frowned upon.
There is no better way to show that for you and your house, Christmas is about
Christ, than to come and worship him on the Lord’s Day.
But we are cancelling Sunday school!
Christmas Eve we will have our traditional candlelight service.
Great music as usual. And Scott has lots of special music planned
for every service this season.
December 17 and 18, Saturday evening and Sunday morning.
Dr. Dan Wilson, a counselor with the ministry of Harvest USA,
will be teaching a seminar called Amazing Grace vs. Sexual Sin.
This is a topic of tremendous importance to the body of Christ.
I wrestled with whether or not to have this seminar a week before Christmas.
Was talking to Dr. Wilson about it and he made a profound point.
The incarnation of Jesus Christ proves that God cares about our bodies,
he cares about what we do with our bodies, that Jesus came to save us body and
soul. The birth of Jesus changes everything, even the way we view sexuality.
You’ll be getting more information on this seminar.
And then, finally, my sermon series this season.
We’re going to focus our attention on one verse—Isaiah 9:6.
You all know it from memory.
“For unto us a child is born, unto 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.”
Let’s read Isaiah 9:2-7
INTRO: His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor.
When most people hear the word counselor, they think of a therapist—
a professional who deals with your psychological sense of well-being.
Many counselors specialize in treating particular psychological problems.
I recently heard humorous description of a counseling center answering machine.
Hello, this is the Sunnyside Counseling Center.
If you are obsessive-compulsive: Press 1—repeatedly.
If you are co-dependent: Ask someone else to press 2.
If you have multiple personalities: Press 3,4, & 5.
If you are paranoid: Do not press a button and stay on the line.
We are tracing this call.
If you are schizophrenic: Listen carefully.
A small voice will tell you which button to press.
If you have short term memory loss: Please call back later.
If you suffer from low self-esteem: Hang up.
Our operators are too busy to talk to you.
That’s not what this title of Christ is about.
It’s not saying that Jesus is a wonderful therapist.
The context of this passage is not psychological, it’s political.
It’s about nations and wars and kingdoms and thrones and governments.
And the government shall be upon his shoulder.
Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.
These four names of the Messiah are what historians call Throne Names.
They are names ascribed to a King
that speak of the extent of his authority and the nature of his rule.
All great kings and rulers surround themselves with wise counselors.
In times of peace and especially in times of war.
Historians say that one of the reasons Queen Elizabeth was such a great ruler
was the wisdom of her counselors.
She chose two men—William Cecil and Francis Walsingham.
They were astute. They were fearless.
They were utterly loyal to queen and country.
They always told her what they thought was best for the crown and for England,
even if it made her mad. She often let them have it with her infamous temper.
But when Cecil died Elizabeth said:
“No prince in Europe had such a counselor.”
Jesus Christ is the Wonderful Counselor.
He has a strategy for using you, your life, the circumstances of your life,
to advance the interests of his kingdom.
The name Wonderful Counselor is not so much about Jesus giving you counsel
and guidance for your life—although he certainly does—
But it’s about his perfect understanding and plan.
He knows what he’s doing. He’s making all the right decisions.
He sees the big picture and your little part in it—so you can trust him.
You can follow him. You can do things his way.
Isaiah spoke these words at a dark time in Israel, both spiritually and politically.
Israel was divided into northern and southern kingdoms, on verge of civil war.
And there was an even greater threat. Far to the north, Assyrian Empire rising.
Powerful military machine and was starting to march south.
So all the little kingdom in the region making alliances.
Northern kingdom of Israel made an alliance with Syria.
Southern kingdom of Judah, house of David, pondering alliance with Egypt.
Through Isaiah the Lord said to his people:
Quit relying on other nations and political strategies to solve your problems.
Come to me. Depend on me. I’m not intimidated by superpowers.
I’m for you, I will deliver you and work this out for my glory.
Isaiah gave this prophecy of the coming Messiah, his reign and government.
And the response of Israel was. Thanks, but no thanks.
That’s nice. We believe the Messiah is coming. But what about today.
We need a Plan B to fall back on. We need these foreign alliances.
If we trust God and he doesn’t come through, then we’re in big trouble.
So we’d rather do things our way and keep our own counsel.
And they did, with disastrous results.
Here’s the point of this passage for you:
In the dark times, in the threatening times, when the clouds are gathering,
you must trust the Wonderful Counselor.
Will you trust Jesus? Do things his way? Or will you follow own counsel?
Look at this throne name of Jesus under three points:
1. The strategy of the Wonderful Counselor
2. Why we prefer our own strategies
3. How you learn to trust the Lord
MP#1 The strategy of the Wonderful Counselor
It’s a contrary strategy. Contrary to all your natural instincts.
It takes you out of the driver’s seat. It forces you to face your fears and trust God
In this prophecy, Isaiah compares the coming of the Messiah to a historical event
in Israel’s history. Look at verse 4. “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat . . .”
And then he describes that defeat in poetic language.
This is an important detail. Midian’s defeat is a picture of the Messiah’s victory.
It gives us a glimpse of the strategy he uses as the Wonderful Counselor.
What was Midian’s defeat? Let me remind you. It’s an wonderful story.
During the time of the Judges, before Israel had a king, they turned away from God.
So he allowed them to be dominated by the Midianites for seven years.
The Midianites were nomads. They covered the land with huge raiding parties.
They would sweep through farms and villages and take crops and livestock.
It was a dark time. The Israelites were reduced to poverty.
There was a man named Gideon. His strategy for survival was to keep head down.
Stay off the radar screen of the Midianites.
Secretly harvest enough for himself and his family. Take care of me and mine.
The Angel of the Lord came to him. Angel of the Lord appearance of Christ in OT.
He said to Gideon: The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.
Gideon said: If the Lord is with us, why have all these bad things happened to us?
Where are all the wonderful things our grandfathers told us about when God
brought the people of Israel out of Egypt? God had abandoned us to Midianites.
And the Lord said: Get up. Go in my strength and save Israel from Midian.
Gideon said: Whoa! Not me. I’m a nobody from a little family.
The Lord gave him some signs. Gideon was still afraid but he asked:
Who will go with me to fight the Midianites? Probably thought nobody would.
But word got around and before long 32,000 men had gathered.
For the first time, Gideon was confident.
It would still be 5 to 1 against the huge Midianite army, but things were looking up.
Then God said: There are too many men. You will attribute the victory to self.
Tell all the men who are afraid they can go home.
Gideon did, and 22,000 men left, just 10,000 remained.
Then the Lord said, there are still too many. Take them down to drink from river.
Based on the way they drank, God chose three hundred. Fight with these men.
Gideon was afraid again, but Lord encouraged with another sign.
When he and his 300 men arrived at the valley where the Midianites camped,
it says they were as thick as locusts. Their camels like sand of seashore.
That night, Gideon divided his men into three companies.
Went to three places in the hills surrounding the Midianite camp.
Each man had a clay jar concealing a burning torch and a trumpet.
At the signal they smashed their jars, held torches aloft, blew trumpets, shouted.
Midianites came stumbling out of their tents, saw the light in the hills.
Heard the echoing shouts and trumpets, convinced they were under attack.
And the Lord confused them. They grabbed their swords and began fighting.
Thousands were killed and the rest fled in the chaos.
And without the death of a single Israelite, God delivered his people from Midian.
That’s the example Isaiah chose to illustrate the Wonderful Counselor.
What’s his strategy? It’s a contrary strategy. Contrary to all your natural instincts.
It takes you out of the driver’s seat.
It forces you to face your fears and trust God
And as you trust God you have to quit trusting other things.
Gideon’s first strategy was just to hunker down and take care of his own.
Trusting God took that away and put him in the spotlight where didn’t want to be.
His second strategy was to go in big with 32,000 men.
Trusting God took that away too. Even when it first seemed that was God’s plan.
But the Lord had a contrary strategy that led to a wonderful deliverance.
God’s kingdom was advanced. His people’s faith renewed.
What does this look like in practical terms? There are so many examples.
As a Christian, you sometimes go through dark times, just like Israel.
There are storm clouds gathering—financial, relational, physical.
And the Lord gives you counsel that is contrary to everything in you.
You’re facing a financial crisis and he says:
I still expect you to give me your tithes and offerings.
Brings a needy person to you. What? I can barely take care of my own.
You are dealing with a difficult and aggressive person at work.
Lord says: A soft answer turns away wrath. Do good to those who persecute you.
Everything in you says: If I don’t push back hard this person will flatten me.
You do something wrong to someone and your pride and position tell you
that if you say you are sorry and ask for forgiveness, it will hurt you.
But you know that’s exactly what the Lord wants you to do.
Let’s be honest. It’s rare that we really don’t know what God wants us to do.
His counsel is usually plain. The problem is our will. Do you trust him?
That brings us to the second point
MP#2 Why we prefer our own strategies
The reason we prefer our own strategies is because they seem so much more real
and practical and immediate than the counsel of God.
They seem to be much better for us and our interests.
Look at this prophecy of Isaiah—it’s so grand.
First he looks back in history to the story of Gideon and Midianites.
Then he focuses on their particular situation—the threat of the Assyrians.
Then he zooms out to the coming of the Messiah at some point in future.
Then he zooms out even farther, even to the Second Coming of Christ.
He speaks of things that we now know won’t be fulfilled till Christ comes again.
In typical prophetic fashion he packs all this together into a single message.
Trust the Lord. The Messiah is coming. He’s the Wonderful Counselor.
He has history in his hands. He set all things right.
And the response of the Israelites was—We believe those things.
We believe that God has delivered his people in the past.
We believe that some time in the future the child Messiah will be born—
and that the government will be upon his shoulder and all set right.
But until he comes, we need a strategy that is more immediate and practical.
We need our alliances with Egypt and Syria.
It’s not that we don’t believe in the Lord. We do. But we need another savior.
One of the repeated themes in many of Dr. Tim Keller’s sermons is something he
calls our functional saviors. It’s a helpful concept.
Dr. Keller means is that as a Christian your real Savior is the Lord Jesus.
And you know that. You believe Jesus died on the cross to save from your sins.
You believe you can’t get to heaven without Jesus.
But—when it comes to the nitty-gritty problems of life—you turn to other saviors.
He calls them functional saviors because they are the things you actually turn
to in order to get you through life.
Your job and career and money might be your functional savior.
Those are things you trust and use to get you through.
It might be some kind of fantasy or entertainment or sin that you indulge in
to take the edge off life so you don’t have to face things head on.
When you do that, you miss out on the wonderful counsel of Christ.
Miss out on him using you to advance his kingdom.
I’ll never forget a conversation I had with my dad some time in the late 70s.
I was only 13 or 14 years old but it made an impression on me.
Remember there were a lot of the same worries back then that people have now.
The economy was in trouble. The dollar was shaky. Gold prices were soaring.
There was talk among some about a total economic meltdown.
Soviet Union was rattling sabers in Central America. Armageddon.
An friend of my father’s was visiting. He was into all that.
He was sure that America as we know it was about to collapse.
He was buying gold and guns and stockpiling food. I was listening to all this.
When he left I asked my dad: Should we stockpile food?
He said: Imagine we had a year’s supply of food and everything collapsed.
One week later our neighbor came over and said. My baby is hungry.
Do you have any food? What would you do?
I said: I would give her some and tell her not to tell anybody.
Yes, but we would know that all of our neighbors are hungry.
If we didn’t share that food, we wouldn’t be loving neighbors as ourselves.
We wouldn’t be trusting God and wouldn’t be witnesses for Christ.
I know that’s an extreme example but it’s so illustrative of how our strategies
seem to solve immediate problems but the really contradict Lord’s wisdom.
I know Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor and he tells me that the rise and fall of
nations in his hands. He has taken care of his church through many upheavals.
I know he tells me that to love neighbor as self.
But these times are really bad. And my strategy is to take care of me and mine.
And if my neighbor didn’t stockpile food in his basement, well that’s too bad.
If that’s your strategy, you won’t be talking to your neighbor much about Jesus.
You’re not going to let him in your house for fear he will see your beanie-weenie!
He’s going to bang on your door and say:
I don’t know what’s going on in there with you and Jesus, but I’m hungry.
But if your neighbor’s world is falling apart.
And if the world you share with your neighbor is falling apart.
But you’re not falling apart, your neighbor is going to want to know why.
That will only happen if you trust the Wonderful Counselor.
When you trust your strategies and try to completely insulate yourself from pain
and don’t take the risks that always come with obeying God,
then you miss the very things he uses to advance his kingdom.
What are your functional saviors? What’s your stash of canned food in basement?
What are the things you trust to save you from the contingencies of life?
Brings us to the third point.
MP#3 How you learn to trust the Lord
How do you learn to trust the Wonderful Counselor?
By gazing at him. By worshipping him.
By being motivated by his example and empowered by his Spirit.
Earlier in the service we read Philippians 2.
This passage tells us what Christmas looks like from heaven’s perspective.
It’s all about the contrary strategy that the Lord Jesus used for our salvation.
It starts with God the Son in heavenly glory. “Who being in very nature God.”
That is one of the strongest possible assertions of his divinity and glory.
But then this famous passage beautifully describes how he willingly veiled
his power and glory by taking on human nature.
Paul describes it so beautifully, so poetically, many scholars think a hymn.
Christ “did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped.”
He refused to grasp, he refused to assert, his equality with God.
He “made himself nothing.” “He made himself of no reputation.”
Not only refused to assert Godhood, even on a human level,
he refused to push himself forward.
Remember how he refused to accept praise of the crowds, their desire to be king.
How that frustrated his family and disciples.
“Taking the very nature of a servant.” He took the lowliest position of service.
Think of him taking a towel and washing the disciples’ feet.
“Being made in human likeness and being found in appearance as a man.”
This is a reference to his incarnation. When Christ became a man he was
condescended to us. He came down to our level.
He subjected himself to all of the pains and sorrows of life in a fallen world.
“He became obedient to death—even death on a cross.”
And here we have the lowest depths of his humiliation.
He embraced a death that was both painful and shameful.
To hang naked on a cross, was a sign of rejection by God and man.
Then there is an amazing shift in the passage.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What was his strategy—the cross and then the crown.
Suffering and then glory. Humiliation and then exaltation.
Obedience and then reward.
And what does Paul do with this hymn? You worship Jesus for this.
You gaze and sing and stand in awe of his humility.
And then you let that motivate you and empower you to do the same thing
in your dealings with one another.
“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than
yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests
of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”
There’s a PCA minister in Florida whose daughter was in a prestigious law school.
While there she got involved in the case of a woman from El Salvador who was
in the United States illegally and being threatened with deportation.
This woman had been kidnapped as a teenager by communist guerillas and
abused for years. She had escaped and made it to America.
If she was deported, her life would be forfeit.
So this young law student, young Christian woman took up her case.
Used this as an opportunity to share love of Christ.
She bought the woman a necklace with a pendant that said “Hope.”
When her law professor found out, he reprimanded her in front of the class.
He used it as an opportunity to lecture the class on why attorneys should not
become emotionally involved with clients.
But then he admitted that what this student had done was a wonderful thing.
Something he wouldn’t do, couldn’t do—yet couldn’t help but see was wonderful.
This law student, this young Christian woman was truly a wonderful counselor.
The reason she was able to follow this contrary strategy of humility and service
was because she worshipped the Wonderful Counselor.
I don’t know her thought process, but I know she’s a Christian.
And I’m sure she thought of Jesus serving and giving and dying—
then how could she do anything but buy that necklace when the Spirit prompted.
That may seem like a little thing.
But isn’t this the very sort of places where Jesus wants you to follow him?
Probably none of us will be martyred for our faith, stand before executioner
and make a dramatic stand for our faith—following Christ through fire and sword.
Instead it will be little things. How does he want you to speak to this person?
What does he want you to do about that strained relationship?
How does he want you to budget and spend your money?
How does he want you to trust him and obey him this week?
That’s how his kingdom grows. Little acts of obedience and faith.
This Christmas, stir up your faith in the Wonderful Counselor.
He knows what he’s doing. He guides the nations and he guides your life.
Follow him, and be a part of his strategy for advancing his kingdom.