Wonderful Counselor — Part One
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Wonderful Counselor — Part One

Isaiah 8:19–9:7  (ID: 2600)

During a tumultuous period in Israel’s history, the prophet Isaiah warned his contemporaries against seeking counsel apart from God’s law. When the Israelites did not heed his instruction, they found themselves entangled in sin and despair. Alistair Begg considers the Israelites’ condition and reminds us that truth is found in God alone. Only the Spirit of God can shine light into the darkness of our hearts and impart wisdom sufficient for all of our needs.

Series Containing This Sermon

Encore 2022

A Collection of Listener Favorites Series ID: 25918

A Child Is Born

Isaiah 8:19–9:7 Series ID: 25600

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to Isaiah and to chapter 9. We’ll begin reading from 8:19, and we’ll read through to the end of 9:7:

“When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward[s] the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

“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 … way of the sea, along the Jordan—

“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.
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.
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.
[For] every warrior’s boot used in battle
 and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
 will be fuel for the fire.
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.
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.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

Gracious Spirit of God, come now and be our teacher so that we might understand what the Bible says, that we might meet the one of whom the Bible speaks, and that all of the darkness of our sin and distress may be banished in the joy and light of that which Jesus brings. For his name’s sake we pray. Amen.

It’s not uncommon—in fact, it is increasingly common—to overhear someone saying, “I am seeing a counselor for that,” or “I am in counseling.” I’m old enough to remember when such a statement would not have been offered willingly; rather, it would have been seen as such an admission of need that you wouldn’t want to volunteer it either on your résumé or when you were engaged in an interview. And as the need for counselors increases and as the number of counselors increase, it is actually possible that we do a disservice to those whose needs are deepest, insofar as we recognize that each of us at some point in our lives will need to go to someone else, to somewhere else, in order to find wisdom, help, and encouragement. But such genuine cries for need, such necessary intervention, may very easily be obscured by a preoccupation with matters which are just particularly trivial.

I was thinking about it just this week as I listened to somebody try to speak to a living person by means of a telephone. It was clear as I was in the company of the individual that they were giving answers to electronic questions and were being responded to by electronic somethings. And I just stopped myself from saying, when the phone was finally disengaged, “You know, you should probably see a counselor for that.” Because it is so unbelievably distressing.

The complexities of modern life, both in public and in private, reveal very quickly to us our need of help. And as society becomes increasingly fractured, as relationships more and more disengaged, it is not surprising that Berman, a professor of law at Harvard, writes, “Our whole [society] seems to be facing the possibility of a kind of nervous breakdown.”[1] And when you listen to a twenty-four-hour bombardment of news, when you read your newspapers, when all of those little things pop up on your computer screen, you can understand why it is that someone as articulate and intelligent as Berman would make that kind of observation.

But we then might be tempted to believe that this is unique to our circumstances—that it is because we live in this cyberspace generation; it is on account of the fact that life has become increasingly complex for us, and we are distinctly unable to handle the affairs of time. And then, of course, we could just read history books and be corrected, and we could certainly read our Bibles and find that in every generation, men and women were in need of a counselor. Indeed, in every generation, men and women are in need of a Wonderful Counselor.

Isaiah writes to a people eight centuries before the Lord Jesus Christ who without newspapers would have been aware on a routine basis that they were confronted by war and by distress and by darkness. Indeed, they were aware—at least some of them—that this kind of darkness which sought to engulf them from outside was more than matched by the darkness which sought to undo them from inside.

And if we doubt my assertion, then we need only to turn to the Bible ourselves, and I want just to point this out to you by referencing one or two early pieces of Isaiah’s prophecy. And first of all, in Isaiah 3:6–7, we have an indication of a circumstance with which we’re not unfamiliar in our own generation—namely, a crisis in leadership. And somewhat cynically, the individual says,

A man will seize one of his brothers
 at his father’s home, and say,
“You have a cloak, you be our leader;
 take charge of this heap of ruins!”

In other words, the need for leadership is so deep that the fact that someone has a nice coat that they could wear to walk out into the community is used as a basis for suggesting that this person is perhaps the ideal individual to become the mayor or the governor. The crisis in leadership.

Over a page to your left, in 2:7. Eight centuries before Christ, materialism was alive and well. You look at what we read: “Their land is full”—2:7—

      of silver and gold;
 there is no end to their treasures.
Their land is full of horses;
 there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is full of idols;
 [and] they bow down to the work of their hands.

And the same thing is reinforced when you get to 5:8:

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. …

 “Surely the great houses will become desolate,
  the fine mansions left without occupants.”

And you see this repeated throughout history, don’t you? You live in Cleveland, and people say, “Ah, but if you’d been here at the turn of the century, you would have realized what an amazing avenue Superior really was.” It was well named as Superior Avenue. Doesn’t look particularly superior at the moment, even though some are endeavoring to refashion it. No, those great mansions have crumbled. They are now desolate.

Eight centuries before Jesus, the issues of wine and women and song and superstition were the issues of the day. Let me point it out to you—chapter 5 again, in verse 11: “Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks”—they don’t care if it is five o’clock somewhere, or if it isn’t—

who stay up late at night
 till they are inflamed with wine.
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.

Eighty-six-proof anesthetic crutches
Prop you to the top,
While the smiles are all synthetic
And the ulcers never stop.[2]

Women, 3:16:

The Lord says,
 “The women of Zion are haughty [or snobby],
walking along with outstretched necks,
 flirting with their eyes,
tripping along with mincing steps,
 with ornaments jingling on their ankles.”

Has a kind of contemporary ring to it, doesn’t it? Was this person just at Beachwood Mall? What is this? I love it when people tell me, “You know, the Bible is such an ancient book. It is irrelevant. I don’t know why anyone would ever read it.” The person who says that has never read the Bible.

Wine, women, and superstitions. Chapter 2 and verse 6; 6b:

They are full of superstitions from the East;
 they practice divination like the Philistines
 and clasp hands with pagans.

And you will have noticed, I think, in our reading, which began in 8:19, that that was the very emphasis of the prophet at that point: “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why [would you] consult the dead on behalf of the living?” That’s eight hundred years before Jesus! Now we are two thousand years beyond Jesus, and it’s not unusual—it’s quite routine—to have some individual on either morning television, which I see once in a blue moon, or talk shows, which I see infrequently, describing and clamoring for words of insight and wisdom and counsel that come from beyond the grave. What, have we learned nothing in almost three thousand years, this great, advanced generation, this great “man on the moon” country? Are we really just the same as they were—in need of a Wonderful Counselor? Yes. Absolutely so.

You see, the basic problem now, as then, was not the absence of information. It was not that there was no counsel to whom men and women might respond. It wasn’t that there was an absence of truth to which they may tune their ears. The problem was that they chose to listen to lies instead. In fact, that’s 8:20. The prophet says, “To the law and to the testimony!” It almost demands the addition of two words: “We go.” “To the law and the testimony we go!” In other words, “We’re going to pay attention to what God has revealed.” And then he says, “[But] if they do not speak according to this word”—to this law and this testimony—“they have no light of dawn.” The light won’t dawn on them.

The Bible never disguises how dark things are when God is left out. It states it very, very clearly.

It’s almost as if the person is brought up in the realm of the truth. They’re brought up under the instruction of God’s Word. Their parents have brought them up within the framework of the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord your God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and your mind and your strength,”[3] and so on. And that was their upbringing. And they knew that blessing was there: “Blessed is the one…” But they’ve turned from blessing. “Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the wicked but whose delight is in the law of the Lord.”[4]

Now, you may be here today, and that actually fits your picture. You may actually be making another sortie, as it were, around the truth of God and the Bible and Christmas. And my passing, throwaway line puts a finger right somewhere deep inside of you, because this describes you: confronted by this truth with frequency, but no dawning of it in your heart. Still dark in there. Still confused in there. Still empty in there.

“Well,” you say, “this is a sorry picture at the end of chapter 8, is it not?” Well, yes, it is, without any question at all. The Bible never disguises how dark things are when God is left out. It states it very, very clearly. And just at the point where we might anticipate that God would leave these people in their darkness—after all, they had chosen to reject him; they had been rebellious in their hearts—just when we might expect that he says, “Well, let’s just close the book on you folks. I’m tired of you and want nothing more to do with you. I’ll just consign you now to darkness”—at that point we read, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” Suddenly a light has shone across the darkness. Suddenly, just when it appears as though the wintertime of the soul is about to come in all of its crushing sadness, the light shines. And it is a dazzling light. And into the sorry predicament of these wanderers who are “distressed and hungry”—8:21—roaming through the land, “famished, … looking upward” to leadership and crying out in rebellion, looking down towards the earth and consumed with “fearful gloom”—just in that moment, God comes.

And I have something to tell you this morning: if you read the Bible, you will find this story repeated again and again and again. In fact, it comes from the very beginning of the Bible, when Adam and Eve turn their backs on God and decide to go their own way. At the very point where God might have said, “Have it your own way,” what does he do? He comes looking for them in the garden: “Where are you?”[5] He comes and discovers them in their nakedness, and what does he do? He provides clothing for them to cover their nakedness.[6] He is the God of grace, who comes into the darkness and emptiness of the experience of men and women to bring his light and his joy and his peace—a story which is so wonderfully conveyed to us in the celebration of lights that we enjoy at this time of year.

Now, I should tell you that this morning, this is the start of a four-part Advent series on the names in verse 6—to which you may say, “Well, you might want to hurry up, because we’re a long way from verse 6 at the moment.” And I understand that entirely. We’re going to waggle on the tee for a little longer before we hit the ball, as it were, and I hope you will agree that this is a purposeful delay. Incidentally, if you’re not thinking, you’re going to be in worse trouble than you are right now. But if you are thinking, then you’ll be fine.

You will notice that chapter 9 opens with a reference to the past: “In the past…” “In the past he”—that is, God—“humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.” What does that mean? Well, it’s a reference to the fact that God humbled his people by means of the invading armies of Assyria. That’s really all you need to know for the time being. “In the past” he has done this. And then you will notice, “in the future” he’s going to do something else. “In the past” he has humbled his people by the invading armies, and “in the future” he’s going to help his people. And the same context in which the humbling came, the same geographical area, will be the geographical area in which the help comes.

Now, this ought to set some of your minds to work. And it is one of the points in the study of the Bible that we’re able to say to each other, “This is the time that we say, ‘By reading our Bibles backwards we may understand the best.’” And because you’ve already thought of this but are not sure where to find it, let me tell you that what you’re thinking of is Matthew 4:12, which reads as follows: “When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun.” “Now, Zebulun,” you say. “Oh, I know Zebulun!” ’Course you do; we just read it! Isaiah 9, “Zebulun.” “And Naphtali.” “Oh, that’s that other place!” Yes, it is. Well, what was Jesus doing in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali? Well, he was actually taking care of Isaiah 9:1b. And in fact, that’s exactly what Matthew tells us; he was “fulfill[ing] what was said through the prophet Isaiah: ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’” So when you read Isaiah 9:1 and say, “What in the world does that mean?”—the answer is provided for us in Matthew chapter 4! And we needn’t be in any doubt at all. It’s fantastic. It’s helpful.

But those of you who are thinking will have already detected the fact that Isaiah writes about this using tenses that are in the past—that the appearance of this light has already come. But we just read Matthew 4, and we’ve discovered from Matthew that the appearing of this light in all of its fullness is in the arrival of Jesus. But we’re eight hundred years before Jesus, so why is Isaiah writing about it as if it had already happened? Answer: because it was so vivid, so clear, and so certain in his mind that he could use the prophetic perfect in order to make clear exactly what was going to take place.

That’s why Peter, when he writes about the prophets, said that the prophets themselves were, as it were, standing on tiptoe, looking to see the fulfillment of the things that they had written.[7] Isaiah was convinced enough of the reality of this to write as he did, but he never lived to see the fruition of it. He never lived to see the fulfillment of it. Nevertheless, in Isaiah’s mind, that which he describes, he describes as having already taken place: “The people walking in darkness have”—past tense—“seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.”

Now, how has this come about? How is darkness replaced by light? How is war replaced by peace? How is distress replaced by joy? Those are relevant questions, I think you would agree. You could get a conversation going on most of those questions in any decent spot where people are hanging around for any length of time at all: “How do you think you can take your depression and replace it with joy?” “I don’t know.” “Do you think it is possible to have peace in our world?” “Well, we could discuss that,” and so on.

Well, notice the answer. The “you” of verse 3—“You have enlarged the nation”—is referring to God. This is what God has done. And this is very, very important. It lies at the heart of this prophecy. Who is it that has caused all this to take place? Answer: God, who is the source of light and in whose light alone men and women may see light. God, who is the source of light and in whose light alone men and women may see light.

I have to prevent myself from going off in evangelistic forays, but I will allow myself this brief step to the left. There is no intellectual road to God. That is not to say that our minds are irrelevant. They are clearly relevant; I just suggested to you the importance of thinking. But I have known a number of people—and I meet them with frequency—who have all kinds of questions and discussions and arguments about the Bible, and about Jesus, and about the doctrine of the Trinity, and about a million things, but the light has never dawned in their hearts. There is no way for this light to dawn upon a human heart and mind except that God does it. Except that God does it.

That’s why two people can listen to the same sermon; somebody can walk out with his friend and say, “You know, it was a remarkable insight that we gained there; I had never understood that concerning Jesus,” and the other person says, “You know, frankly, I haven’t a clue what that chap is on about. It was absolutely double Dutch to me.” Same sermon. Same IQ. What’s the difference? Well, you see, it’s something God does.

There is no way for this light to dawn upon a human heart and mind except that God does it.

What has he done? Well, we’re told what he’s done. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” And in verses 2 and 3 we have a description of the good things that are received, and then in verses 4 and 5 we have a description of the bad things that are removed. Incidentally, those are your points for the morning, if you like. I feel like the Puritan, this morning, who preached a sermon in the morning that had twenty points, and he was embarrassed by it, and he came back in the evening and said, “My sermon this morning had so many points that my sermon this evening will be pointless.” And for those of you who are looking for three words, all beginning with the same letter, you’re horribly disappointed this morning, which is why I said you ought to be thinking.

Good Things Received

But in verses 2 and 3, notice the good things that are received. What are the good things that are received? “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy.” I simply wrote down four words in my notes: “bigger numbers, deeper joy.” Bigger numbers, deeper joy. What is this?

Well, here is an opportunity for us to remind ourselves of the wonderful discovery we made some time ago that the story line of the Bible is anchored between two fixed points. If we keep these in mind, then we will be fine. One, in the first book of the Bible, where God makes a promise to Abraham, whom he has called as a pagan out of the land of Chaldea, and he says to him, “Abraham, through your seed all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”[8] And from that point on, as you read your Bible, you need to keep in mind that what God is doing is keeping his promise to Abraham. By the time you get to the last book of the Bible in Revelation 7, you have this wonderful picture of the completed promise of God to Abraham. And verses that we quote with frequency: Revelation 7:9, as John describes a “multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language.” So, what is the story of the Bible? It is the story of a God of grace who comes to men and women, and woos them and wins them, and includes them in this forever family that he’s putting together that is made up of differing personalities and succeeding generations and different nations and peoples.

Now, you see, once we understand that, we understand why it is that the Forty-Fifth Psalm, which was read for us at the commencement of our service this morning, ends with the statement “The nations will praise you for ever and ever.”[9] “What are you talking about, ‘The nations will praise you for ever and ever’? Didn’t you see CNN? Haven’t you read the newspaper? Don’t you take the Wall Street? Haven’t you seen the New York Times? What are you talking about, ‘The nations will praise you for ever and ever’? Half of the nations of the world aren’t remotely interested in this Jesus, would love to squash this Christmas, and so on. What are you saying?”

Oh, well, you see, you must read all of those things in light of these great anchor points. I mean, don’t tell your history professor or your humanities professor that your view of the Civil War is directly related to the promise of God to Abraham and the fulfillment in Revelation 7; they’ll think you’ve taken leave of your mind. Or try and explain the history of the rise and fall of nations in relationship to how it is described for us in terms of God’s ordering of the people and the planets in Acts chapter 17;[10] again, our friends and our neighbors will say, “You’re a strange and unruly customer.”

But the fact of the matter is, that’s why the psalmist in Psalm 100 starts out, “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.”[11] “What? Don’t you come out here and shout to the earth! If you want to go in your building there and do what you do in that building, whatever it is, and sing those songs or proclaim those things, you can stay in there and do it. But don’t come out here and say that.” Oh, but we have to! Why? Because, you see, this is the promise of God. He is the one who has “enlarged the nation and increased their joy.” “Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.” Why? Because the darkness of calamity and of ignorance and of fear and of death and of sin is overcome by light—a light that is engendered not from within as a result of man discovering himself by an inward investigation, but a light that is produced from beyond ourselves. Because the human heart is dark by its very nature, and only God can dispel the darkness.

And the scene there in verse 3 is a wonderful scene: “You[’ve] enlarged the nation … increased their joy,” and “they rejoice before you” like people at a harvesttime, going, “Have some more of this watermelon. It is really fantastic. Wouldn’t you like some of this corn? Let me heat it up for you. Have some more potatoes. Here’s a turnip,” and so on.” The wonderful experience of the tattie howking, as they call it in Scotland—as the carts come down through the streets of the villages with all of these people hanging off the side and potato dust going everywhere. The harvest has come, and we rejoice in it! People are going, “Isn’t this terrific?” Or the victory in battle and the plunder that we can now share. It’s basically the picture of the victorious team’s locker room after the World Series. That’s the picture! Exuberant joy.

Those are the good things that are received.

Bad Things Removed

Verses 4 and 5 tell us about the bad things that are removed. You’re now looking at your watch, going, “There is no possibility of ‘Wonderful Counselor’ anytime this morning.” You’re absolutely right; I’ve also deduced that myself.

Verses 4 and 5. Verses 4 and 5 describe the bad things that are removed. Here is a description of liberation and peace. Again, you will notice it comes from beyond the people themselves. They do not bring about this. Only God brings about this victory.

That’s the significance, surely, of the way in which verse 4 begins: “For as in the day of Midian’s defeat…” What’s that about? This isn’t Isaiah filling in his essay, you know: “Well, I gotta put in… I’ll put something in here. I didn’t know how to start the first line.” No, this is purposeful. He’s under the direction of God: “Remind them about Midian’s defeat.”

Who were the Midianites? Well the Midianites were the ones who were opposing the people of God when Gideon was raised up as a judge. Gideon—little fearful Gideon. Gideon with the 32,000 troops whom God decided should be reduced by the number of 31,700, so that with 300 he would defeat Midian. Why? What’s that about? So that the Midianites would be absolutely amazed, so that Gideon would be absolutely clear, and so that God’s people would be in absolutely no doubt that they weren’t particularly special. God said, “Let me show you how I’m going to do this.”

For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
 you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
  [and] the bar across their shoulders.

The picture of the people of God oppressed and burdened—a picture reproduced throughout the series of history. God lifts the oppressive yoke.

You remember I told you what I wrote down: just four words to try and help me remember the good things that are received. You say, “No, tell me them again. I already forgot them.” Well, I wrote down “bigger numbers, deeper joy.” And under “The Bad Things Removed,” I wrote down “burdens lifted, bonfire lit.” “Burdens lifted, bonfire lit.” “Jesus, your name is power. And Jesus, your name is light. Jesus, you’re the one who can overturn the captives.”[12]


Every warrior’s boot used in battle
 and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
 will be fuel for the fire.

I can imagine Bob Dylan reading this and going, “I like this one.” And if you lived through the ’60s as I did, you know that you like this one too. Is the answer really blowing in the wind? How many times must the cannonball fly before they’re forever banned?[13] How long will humanity do this to itself? Is peace a notion that we ought to pursue? Is the liberation of oppression a reality that can be enjoyed? Is there an answer beyond the events in Annapolis this past week? Isaiah 9 says yes. But the answer is this answer: because Jesus is “Israel’s strength and consolation.”[14] Jesus is “Israel’s strength and consolation.” Jesus is the only consolation for Jew and for Arab. Jesus is the only Savior. Jesus is the only King. Jesus is the only Lord. Jesus is the only one who may lift our burdens and light this bonfire, as he will.

And again, if you lived in the ’60s and went to folk clubs, if they had them here, you sang all these songs. Maybe it was easier for us, because we didn’t have the Vietnam War going on, and we didn’t identify ourselves by the length of our hair. But we sang these songs. That’s why I know them all.

Last night I dreamt the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before.
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.

I dreamed I saw a mighty room,
And the room was filled with men,
And the paper they were signing said,
“We’ll never fight again.”

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made,
They all joined hands and bowed their heads,
And grateful prayers were prayed.

And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round,
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground.[15]

Now, we didn’t know how that was going to work out, or if it ever could work out. But let me tell you this:

Every warrior’s boot used in battle
 and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
 will be fuel for the fire.

In that day, all the weapons of mass destruction—ours included—will be consumed in a bonfire lit by God’s grace. The accoutrements of war will be disposed of. They will be unnecessary. They will be completely obsolete. Why? Because God has purposed that it will be so.

He “is working his purpose out,” says the hymn writer,

As year succeeds to year;
[He’s] working his purpose out,
And the time is drawing near;
[And] nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that will surely be,
When the earth [will] be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.[16]

That’s why in the heart of man, understandably, all of these songs and poems arise. “And we ain’t gonna study war no more. We ain’t gonna study war no more.” “Thank God Almighty, peace at last!” That’s why the heart of man cries out in that way. But the answer to that fundamental crisis—the darkness and the oppression and the despair and the ignorance and the death—is all found in Jesus; not in Jesus an example, but in Jesus a Savior, who reconciles man who is at war with God and God who is at war with man, and who reconciles man who is at war with his fellow man—in his time.

And how’s he do this? With a baby. Now we’re in verse 6; we’re getting close. Verse 6 all of a sudden slips in silently, doesn’t it? It’s as if after all of the cacophony and description of drama and harvests and plunder and boots and bonfires and… “For unto us a child is born.”[17]

“‘A child is born’? Don’t you think we need a warrior—I mean, the warrior of warriors? Don’t we need a colossus that will stride human history, that will straddle the affairs of time? Don’t we need the great bully of all bullies so that we can beat all the bullies that have ever lived—whether it is Alexander the Great, or Hitler, whoever it is—can beat them all into submission?”

“No, we don’t need that.”

“Well, God, what’re you going to do?”

“I’m going to send a baby.”

“What! You can’t send a child to do a man’s work.”

“Watch me.”

[Imitates knocking sound.]

“We’d like to speak to Herod, please.”

“Well, Herod’s a king. He’s very busy.”

“Yeah, but we are wise men. We’ve come a long way. Herod, please.”

“Okay, I’ll give you five minutes.”

“Well, we would just like to know where the King of the Jews has been born.”

“The king and the what?”

“The King of the Jews. We saw his star in the east, and we’ve come to worship him.”

“And Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”[18] Troubled? Troubled by the birth of a baby?

Oh, you see, this baby, this baby is Prophet, who speaks from God; this is Priest, who bears our place in his sacrifice; and this baby is King. In one sense, this child is trouble—this child that “laid to rest on Mary’s lap is sleeping.”[19] Because this child is the child with the four names, the first of which is Wonderful Counselor. Which is the title for this morning’s study—a study which has just ended.

Let’s pause and pray:

O God our Father, it is amazing to think that your answer to all of this tyranny and oppression and darkness and distress and war and sin is to be found in a child, in Jesus—that the deliverance which brings joy to the people of God isn’t some vague notion but something brought about by a birth in history, on earth, at a definite time and at a definite place. Bring us, then, we pray, O God, out of the darkness and distress and warfare of our own rebellious hearts. Oh, may your truth dawn today, and may we discover that you are a beautiful Savior. For it’s in your name we pray. Amen.

[1] Harold J. Berman, The Interaction of Law and Religion (London: SCM, 1974), 21.

[2] Ray Stevens, “Mr. Businessman” (1968).

[3] Deuteronomy 6:4–5 (paraphrased).

[4] Psalm 1:1–2 (paraphrased).

[5] Genesis 3:9 (NIV 1984).

[6] See Genesis 3:21.

[7] See 1 Peter 1:10–11.

[8] See Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18.

[9] Psalm 45:17 (NIV 1984).

[10] See Acts 17:24–28.

[11] Psalm 100:1 (NIV 1984).

[12] Claire Cloninger and Morris Chapman, “Jesus Your Name” (1990). Paraphrased.

[13] Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1962).

[14] Charles Wesley, “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” (1744).

[15] Ed McCurdy, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” (1950). Lyrics lightly altered.

[16] Arthur Campbell Ainger, “God Is Working His Purpose Out” (1894).

[17] Isaiah 9:6 (KJV).

[18] See Matthew 2:1–3.

[19] William C. Dix, “What Child Is This?” (1865).

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.