Name above All Names
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Name above All Names

Isaiah 9:6  (ID: 2917)

Isaiah 9 tells us in familiar words that Jesus is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Alistair Begg encourages us with the reminder that these are not just titles of the incarnate Christ but roles He fills in the life of the Christian. In this Advent study, we discover the actions Jesus performs in each role and the very real difference they make in our daily experience.

Series Containing This Sermon

It is HIStory!

A Journey to the Heart of Christmas Isaiah 9:1–7 Series ID: 27101

Sermon Transcript: Print

In these Advent Sundays, we’ve been turning to Isaiah chapter 9, and we turn once again there this morning. It’s page 573, and we’re going to read just the two verses—verse 6 and 7. Isaiah 9:6–7:

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.


We pray, gracious God, that you will help us, in turning to words that are familiar to us, to understand what they mean and why they matter. For we pray in your Son’s name. Amen.

One of the lesser-known English Puritans, writing in the seventeenth century in England—a man by the name of Thomas Lye—sought to encourage his congregation by reminding them of this, and I quote:

God often brings his people into such a condition that they do[n’t] know what to do. He does this [so] that they might know what he can do. God is with his people at all times, but he is most sweetly with them in the worst of times.[1]

“God often brings his people into such a condition that they do[n’t] know what to do. He does this [so] that they might know what he can do.”

Now, we began this series on the first Sunday morning of December with the words of Paul Simon in our mind: “Hello, darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again,”[2] because we realized that darkness and oppression was the context into which Isaiah wrote and spoke this prophecy. And in the experience of Isaiah, there was a vision, if you like, that was “softly creeping”—creeping into his consciousness, allowing him to see what others could not see and making it possible for him to speak into the darkness a word concerning light. And we have, through these studies, tried to follow the line of recognizing that there has been illumination in the darkness; that that illumination had given way to liberation, setting the captives free; that that liberation gave way to celebration, a joy that was virtually unbounded; and that all of that was wrapped up in the reality of the incarnation—that the wonder of it all is that God’s answer to the dilemma then and now is in the person of his Son.

And last time, as we looked at the beginning of 9:6—6a—we considered the identity of this child and the authority of this child. And now, this morning, we look together at the activity of this child as it is conveyed by way of these four names. Most of us, if we have any knowledge of the Bible at all, will, if we’ve been around at Christmastime, have been familiar with the rehearsing of this statement, and some of us have enjoyed it when we’ve enjoyed the music of Handel. But our familiarity with the terminology may not necessarily be synonymous with a grasp and understanding of what is here for us to know.

Wonderful Counselor

So, we work our way through them, noticing first of all that this child, then, is “Wonderful Counselor.” “Wonderful Counselor.” He is a counselor who is wonderful, or he is a counselor who is supernatural, or he is a counselor who is an unparalleled counselor. Earthly kings, earthly presidents, and rulers of countries all are surrounded by advisors and by counselors. They are honest enough to recognize that the vastness of that which they are confronted with is such that they cannot possibly know everything about everything, and therefore, they need people to give them advice. The great distinction between those folk and this individual is that he is, in himself, the embodiment of wisdom. If you turn forward just a page in your Bible to 11:2, you will notice there that speaking of this same individual, Isaiah says,

And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
 the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
 the Spirit of counsel and might,
 the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

So in other words, he is wonderful because he defines wonder in himself.

One of the difficulties that we have with language is that it changes on us all the time. And often, it is devalued by the way in which we use it. So, for example, the word like awesome is no longer possessive of the distinctions of what would be awesome anymore because it is used of just about everything. “Oh, look at your shoes. They’re awesome.” I’ve got news for you: they may be nice shoes, but they ain’t awesome. And in the same way, the word wonder or the word wonderful is possessed of a particular purpose in language. As an adjective, certainly in the Hebrew, it means that which requires God as an explanation—that which requires God as an explanation—so that when we read of the wonders in the Old Testament, the wonder of the sea standing up in the crossing of the Red Sea, the wonder of the walls of Jericho coming down, the wonder of the people entering into the promised land, the wonder of the deeds of Elisha and Elijah, and so on, and the intervention of God in those contexts, those are the foundations of wonder.

And so, that is why when you read in the Psalms, you find that this is the recurring emphasis. You needn’t turn here, but it just occurs to me as I’m saying this. It’s Psalm, for example, 78. It’s a very long psalm; I shouldn’t even have turned to it. But it speaks there of how the Ephraimites “forgot [God’s] works and [forgot] the wonders that he had shown them. In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders in the lands of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.” And then it goes on and through, and it says, “He divided the sea,”[3] and he did all these things. And the problem for these people was that they had forgotten who God is and the wonderful things that he does.

As a Wonderful Counselor, God has a perfect plan. As Mighty God, he has the power to execute the plan.

So Isaiah, when he writes and continues in his prophecy, he eventually gets to Isaiah 40, and he says, “Who has understood the mind of the Lord or instructed him, that he should be his counselor?”[4] And the answer is, of course, nobody. And the mystery of it all is that now here we have “God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.”[5] And we discover that the Lord Jesus, then, embodies all of this—all of this and more besides. “They found him,” Luke says, as a twelve-year-old boy, “in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” And then Luke, with his eye for detail as a physician, says, “And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.”[6] They were amazed because he was a wonder. He was a wonder like no other wonder has ever been or ever will be.

Now, the people in Isaiah’s day knew that they needed counsel. The problem was that they went the wrong place for it. You go back and read Isaiah chapter 8, and you discover that in the darkness, in the oppression, in the disruption of their lives, in the prospect of war, in the reality of being separated as family members and so on, they know they need help; they know they need answers. The trouble is that they go to mediums. And Isaiah calls out to them, and he says, “Should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living?”[7]—people going to ask questions in the darkness and deadness and emptiness of things, in the hope that they might find that which would make sense of the living of their lives.

Now, nothing much has changed, despite all the passage of time. I said to you a few Sundays ago, and I say to you again, that the high streets of our towns and cities here in America are filled with opportunities and signs for you to go and inquire among the dead and with the mediums to see if you can make sense of your life. It will only take you into deeper darkness. But people know they need a counselor, because so much contemporary life is marked by feelings of indecision and anxiety.

Some of us—particularly those of us who are the baby boom generation—are nursing sore disappointments at the way that life has turned out.[8] We thought it was going to be very different from this, and here we are. Whatever the ceiling was, we banged into it. Whether it was a glass ceiling or a wooden ceiling or a concrete ceiling, we had set out, and we thought we would have so much more by this point. In a couple of days, the oldest baby boomers will turn sixty-six. There we are, with our miserable little retirements, frittering them away. All those little pots that we saved for ourselves to make sense of it all, and now we’ve got a horrible feeling that we’re going to last forever, and somebody’s going to have to look after us, and the money is running out, and the dream is closed. And it’s only a dark future. You say, “What’s wrong with you? Have you been eating too much Christmas pudding? Why are you so morose this morning?” No, I’m not at all. I’m just pointing out the reality that people are facing. Every time you turn around, they say there won’t be enough rooms in the senior citizens’ home for us to live in.

And at the other end of the spectrum, the ones that are coming through, what are they facing? All of the uncertainty and chaos. Constantly told in the Wall Street and the New York Times, “You’ll never have it like your uncle had it. You’ll never have it as good as your dad had it. Your grandparents took all the money from you and left the country and ran, and you’re absolutely stuck. Have a good day!”

No, you see, men and women know. Men and women know: either disappointed at what life has brought or anxious about what life will bring and in need of a counselor.

Well, let me say to you, this is what you need to say to your friends if you’re a believer: say, “I was studying the Bible the other day, and I came across this phrase about Jesus, that he is a Wonderful Counselor, and I wonder: Have you ever gone to him for counsel?”

And people will ask you, they’ll say, “Do you know anyone I can talk to?” They may say, “May I talk to you?”

You say, “Well, you can talk to me, but I need someone to talk to as well.”

“Well, who do you talk to?”

“Well, I actually ‘talk to Jesus every day,’ and ‘no secretary ever tells me he’s been called away.’”[9]

“Oh, you do?”

“Yes. You could talk to him about life. In him, you can have it in all of its fullness.[10] You can talk to him about stuff, materialism, and he’ll point out to you that it is an absolutely profitless exercise to try and gain the whole world and lose your own soul.[11] And you can talk to him about rest and security, and you will discover that he says it is found in him—that if you take his yoke upon you and rest in him and learn from him, you’ll find rest for your souls.”[12] All of this because he is a Wonderful Counselor.

Mighty God

And secondly, a Mighty God. As a Wonderful Counselor, he has a perfect plan. As Mighty God, he has the power to execute the plan. That’s very important, isn’t it? Because a plan in and of itself is no good unless you can execute it. So, he says, “Here is my plan.” “And who are you?” “I am Mighty God.” He is the one, as we’ve seen, who releases the captives from the burden that is on their shoulders, because on his shoulder represents all authority. His authority will never come to an end.

Now, again, you see, when you take this and you fast-forward into the New Testament, and you take the Gospel records, you realize that what the writers are doing there is recording for us the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus. They’re not simply writing history, although it is historical. They’re not simply writing biography, although it is biographical. What they’re actually doing is writing a Gospel. In other words, they are presenting Jesus as they had discovered him, in all of the fact and reality of his personhood. And they discovered him to be a Mighty God.

That’s why we read the Gospels, and we discover that he is walking on water, that he is healing sick. What is this? A kind of first-century David Copperfield? A magic show? No, it’s not. It is the declaration of his majesty. He is establishing the fact that he is powerful over all the forces of nature, that he is not only the agent of creation, as John says in his prologue—“Without him nothing was made that has been made”[13]—but he is also the Lord of creation.

I wonder: Have you thought about this? Or have you been tempted to dismiss Jesus as just another figure in history? But if you think about it, there is a certain logic to it, isn’t there? Who would you expect to feed the five thousand with five loaves and two fish? Only he who declared himself to be the Bread of Life.[14] Who would you anticipate could open the eyes of a blind man called Bartimaeus except he who said, “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will [never] walk in darkness”?[15] Who else could stand at the grave of his friend Lazarus and call him out of the tomb except he who said, “I am the resurrection and the life”?[16]

And the wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, is that this God has entered into our circumstances, that the Creator assumes the frailty of the creatures, that the eternal enters into time, that the powerful embraces weakness, that “the Immortal dies. Who can explore [this] strange design?”[17] And because he is Mighty God, “he is able to save,” says the Bible, “to the uttermost”[18] all who call upon God through him.

Everlasting Father

So, he has a plan, and he has the power to work it out. And then, thirdly, he’s Everlasting Father. So you move from his plan to his power to his paternity.

Now, “Everlasting Father” here is not a reference to the first person of the Trinity. Some people read their Bibles, and they get all confused at this point: “Well, I thought the first person was the Father and the second person was the Son. How can the second person, who is the Son, be the Father?” and so on. Well, it’s not a reference to the first person of the Trinity. What it is saying is this: that Jesus as Messiah is like a father to his people. He is like a father to his people. So you have the verse in the hymn that begins, “Praise, my soul, the King of heaven,” and then you have the verse:

Fatherlike he tends and spares us;
Well our feeble frame he knows.
In his [arms] he gently bears us,
[And] rescues us from all our foes.[19]

In other words, having adopted us into his family, he’s not going to abandon us. He hasn’t gone to the extent of seeking us out and winning us and forgiving us and embracing us and in taking us to himself in order that he might just leave us at the side of the street. If we, being earthly, know how to give good gifts to our children, how much more will he who is the Everlasting Father give good things to them that ask him?[20]

And I wrote in my notes just for my own encouragement—and it may be of help to you—I wrote, “He forgives us completely.” He forgives us completely. You see, “Everlasting”—“Everlasting”—is not a reference to his eternal being. It is a reference to the never-ending dimension of his care. You understand that distinction? He’s not an everlasting Father because he comes from everlasting and lives to everlasting, but it is his fatherly care that never comes to an end. He never says, “Oh, get out of here!” He never says, “Oh, go up into the bedroom, and play by yourself.” He never says, “I’m going away, and I’m probably never coming back.” He doesn’t do that, because he is Everlasting Father. And when he says he forgives you, he forgives you. He forgives us completely. Completely. That’s partly why we did that little reading this morning. We have a hard time believing that—a very hard time believing that. And that’s why we need to affirm it again. God forgives us completely.

In Psalm 103, it says that he puts our sins out of his recollection; he chooses not to remember.[21] In Micah chapter 7, it says, “You will cast … our sins into the depths of the sea.”[22] It’s a wonderful picture, isn’t it? You ever try to look for anything in the sea? You ever drop your snorkel? You ever dropped a bracelet in the ocean? How much fun was that? Virtually impossible.

Somebody sent me a little anecdote in the last month concerning Tom Morris, the father of golf in some ways, in St. Andrew’s. Tom Morris, who was capable in golf course design as well—he designed a golf course in Ireland, in the South of Ireland, called Rosapenna. And on the occasion that he was designing that golf course, history records that on a number of occasions, he went to a certain spot on the grass, and he hit golf balls into one of the largest lakes in the region of Donegal in the South of Ireland. As a result of that, it became a sort of thing to do. And year after year after year, people have gone, stood on the same spot as old Tom Morris, and hit their golf balls into the lake—mainly Americans. Scottish people do not do that unless they have found golf balls that were somebody else’s. And as they hit them in there, of course, it became an opportunity for the divers to dredge for them, and everybody’s done it. So Jack Nicklaus has done it, and Gary Player has done it, and Rory has done it, and they’ve all done it. And so they’re all in there looking for those golf balls, because if they can get them and they can identify them, then they’re going to be able to sell them again. And they have looked in vain—in vain—for any of the gutta-percha golf balls hit in there by old Tom Morris. They are apparently buried forever—the way your sins are buried if you are in Christ. You need not spend a nanosecond to go and dig in there and look, ’cause you will never find them. He has buried them in the depths of the sea.

Jesus is the only one who is able to mediate between our lostness and God’s holiness.

As a boy in Scotland, I learned to sing a song that went,

You ask [me] why I[’m] happy,
So I’ll just tell you why:
Because my sins are gone.
And when I [look at others]
Who ask me where they are,
I say, “My sins are gone.”

They’re underneath the blood,
On the cross of Calvary,
As far removed as darkness is from dawn.
In the sea of God’s forgetfulness,
That’s good enough for me.
Praise God, my sins are gone.[23]

Some of you are here this morning, and you are absolutely trapped by guilt. You go to counselors. They’re able to ameliorate in some fashion the elements that you face, but they will not be able to assuage you of guilt. There is only one place that it can be found. And it is found at the cross of Christ, it is secured in the work of Christ, and it is conveyed by the love of Christ. All you need to do is tell him. He forgives us completely. He knows us thoroughly. He knows our frame. You’re not the last four digits of your Social Security number to God. You’re not worthless. You’re not plankton soup. You’re not molecules held in suspension. He knows you thoroughly, and he loves you endlessly.

From everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear him[24]—a love that takes the initiative. And he who is so vastly different from us comes and joins us, not just as “a stranger on the bus”[25] but as a friend and as a Savior. So when you think about him: Wonderful Counselor, with a plan that is absolutely perfect; Mighty God, with a power that may execute the plan; his paternity as a Forever Father. You want to deal with your guilt? Deal with it here. You want to deal with your sense of identity? Deal with it here. You want to deal with your unfulfilled longings? Deal with them here.

Prince of Peace

And finally, he is the Prince of Peace. He is the Prince of Peace.

Every generation in history that has confronted strife (and disharmony, decay, futility) legitimately, necessarily looks for and longs for peace. And we are no different. Despite all the advances of science and technology, despite the increases in our understanding of so much in our universe, despite our interest in health and safety, we still live with a sense of frustration and with alienation. My friend David Wells, in an amazing metaphor, says that our culture is “sagging beneath the burden of emptiness.”[26] “Sagging beneath the burden of emptiness.”

So what are we to do? Well, let’s take a leaf from the book of Lennon and McCartney. Here are two options for us. Option number one: “We can work it out.” “We can work it out.” “Think of what I’m saying. Do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on? We can work it out.”[27] In other words, life is just a do-it-yourself project. And particularly, spiritual life is your own project. And essentially, the word that is out there on the religious front that is reinforced by all the self-help books, all the things that gush at us today—six thirty this morning on National Public Radio, I was listening to the thing as I drove in here, and it’s just the same story again and again: “Just look inside yourself. You can fix it. You’ll find God within you. He’s in there somewhere, if you just root around for a while. And if you manage to lay ahold of him, then he’ll sort you out.” “We can work it out. We don’t need anybody from Nazareth. We don’t need any baby from Bethlehem. We don’t need any Mighty God. We don’t need any of that. We can work it out.” Let me ask you: How’s it going? Let’s just be dead honest about stuff. Do you think we’re working it out culturally? Individually? No, I suggest you don’t go with that song. Go with the 1965 song: “Help! I need somebody, not just anybody.”[28] “Help! I need somebody, not just anybody.”

No, you see, the one we need is the one who has come to us, the one who is described for us here in the second half of verse 6—a peace that is found in him alone, for he is the only one who is able to mediate between our lostness and God’s holiness. He is the only one who is able to take the place that we deserve to take because of our mess.

Sin spoils things. It spreads like weeds in a garden. It separates us from one another and from God. And “God was in Christ, reconciling the world [to] himself.”[29] And you know what I love best about this story? And with this I’m going to stop. What I really love best about this story is that the more I study it, the more I think about it, the more I read it, the more I have the chance to tell others about it, I’m able to say, “Listen, this is not about personal achievement. This is not about us fixing ourselves. It is rather about our personal acceptance of what God in Christ has achieved.”

You see, to quote Calvin, all that Christ has done for us—in his coming, in his living, in his dying, in his rising, in his ascending—all that Christ has done for us is of no value to us so long as we remain outside of Christ.[30] In other words, simple intellectual awareness of facts do not in themselves transform. Education in itself does not bring about change. We need to, then, enter into the reality of it. Some of you are engineers, and those formulae that you use are simply scribbles on a page until you apply them to the circumstance that you face. And the truth that is conveyed here about this same Lord Jesus Christ is in order that we might then accept what he has achieved.

So, we end where we began: God often brings his people to the place where we don’t know what to do so that we might discover what he can do or what he has done. Even a superficial reading of history reveals the bankruptcy of our states and our nations and our kingdoms. Look at us this morning. We tell ourselves all the time, “It’s the greatest nation on the earth!” Okay, fine. Whatever you want to say, it’s fine. You know, I’m good with that. Got to choose something that we are. Might as well hit high, you know. “The greatest nation on the earth,” bankrupt. The greatest nation on the earth with a bunch of well-meaning people, sitting around now with pencils and erasers and scribbling around and determining whether we just go “Woo!” right off the cliff together, whatever that cliff is.

Without Jesus, possessing everything, we really have nothing; and with Jesus, possessing nothing, we really have everything.

But listen. Read your Bible, and figure it out, and what will you discover? The incurable sickness of our world—the incurable sickness of our world—is not about economic incompetence, nor is it even about economic inequity. The incurable sickness of our world, the Bible says, is about the fact that we have ignored the Maker’s plan, we have rebelled against his power, we have rejected and denied his paternity, and we have distanced ourselves from his peace. And we are like the individuals described in one of C. S. Lewis’s books, where we’re so stuck on ourselves and so foolish that he says we are like children who are making mudpies in the rain-sodden streets of England, unaware of the fact that their father has prepared for them a wonderful holiday at the ocean.[31] So it is not that we’ve overreached. It is that we have underreached and settled down in the mudpies when God looks down and says, “But I have a place for you at the ocean—so peaceful, so restful.”

And as Isaiah looks forward here in Isaiah 9 to the coming of the Savior, so we look forward to the coming of Christ, triumphant as King and Lord. And God’s desire for his people is that we might be contented in his Son. Without Jesus, possessing everything, we really have nothing; and with Jesus, possessing nothing, we really have everything.

Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you that we can read it, that we can go home and think about it. Thank you that we can trust your promises and take you to ourselves. Fulfill your desires and designs in each of our lives today. Come to us, Lord, in our sense of alienation, and help us to see that in you is peace. In you is a fatherhood such as we have never known. In you is a might to banish and to disentangle all the knotted threads of our rebellion. And in you we discover all the counsel that we could ever need. Help us, Lord, to be able to say on this final Sunday of the year, “If I have Jesus, then really, I have everything.” For we pray in his name. Amen.


[1] Thomas Lye, “How Are We to Live by Faith on Divine Providence?,” in Puritan Sermons 1659–1689 (Wheaton, IL: Richard Owen Roberts, 1981), 1.381–97, as paraphrased in Voices from the Past: Puritan Devotional Readings, ed. Richard Rushing (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2009), 1:185.

[2] Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence” (1964).

[3] Psalm 78:11–13 (ESV).

[4] Isaiah 40:13 (paraphrased).

[5] Charles Wesley, “Let Earth and Heaven Combine” (1745).

[6] Luke 2:46–47 (ESV).

[7] Isaiah 8:19 (ESV).

[8] Dan Barry, “Boomers Hit New Self-Absorption Milestone: Age 65,” New York Times, December 31, 2010,

[9] Glenn Douglas Tubb, “I Talk to Jesus Every Day” (1971).

[10] See John 10:10.

[11] See Matthew 16:26; Mark 8:36; Luke 9:25.

[12] See Matthew 11:28–29.

[13] John 1:3 (NIV).

[14] See John 6:35, 48.

[15] John 8:12 (RSV).

[16] John 11:25 (ESV).

[17] Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be?” (1739).

[18] Hebrews 7:25 (ESV).

[19] Henry Francis Lyte, “Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven” (1834).

[20] See Matthew 7:11; Luke 11:13.

[21] See Psalm 103:12.

[22] Micah 7:19 (ESV).

[23] Napoleon Bonaparte Vandall, “My Sins Are Gone” (1934).

[24] See Psalm 103:17.

[25] Erik Bazilian, “One of Us” (1995).

[26] David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 178.

[27] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “We Can Work It Out” (1965). Lyrics lightly altered.

[28] John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “Help!” (1965).

[29] 2 Corinthians 5:19 (KJV).

[30] John Calvin,Institutes of the Christian Religion 3.1.1.

[31] C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” inThe Weight of Glory and Other Addresses(1941).

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.