Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6)

Shalom!

Most of us know the word Shalom as a Jewish greeting. Shalom Aleichem means "Peace be with you." It's a greeting. The problem with seeing Shalom as a greeting is that it soon becomes just another version of hello. Shalom means much more than that.

Shalom is one of the most significant theological terms in Scripture. More than that, it's one of the deepest desires common to people everywhere. It's not a greeting. It doesn't refer to the quiet that comes over the house when the kids are in bed. Peace isn't the absence of war. Peace is what we're all looking for.

Shalom is a word that appears all throughout Scripture. When Aaron was given a blessing to give to the people, this is what he was commanded to say:

The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)

"Give you shalom." This isn't just something external. The word means much more. It's the condition of everything being set right. It's about fulfillment, completion, maturity, soundness, wholeness, harmony, tranquility, security, well-being, welfare, friendship, agreement, success, prosperity. It's about the total well-being of the person and the community. It's one of the deepest longings of the human heart.

It's Christmas, and it's a time when we talk a lot about peace. With wars going on around the world, we long for peace. The news comes on the radio and it's sometimes overwhelming. We get news from the doctors and feel anything but peace. Tragedy, busyness, and just life has a way of knocking us off balance. A lot of the time we experience anything but peace. We long for more. We long to experience a sense of wholeness and healing inside.

In Scripture, you sometimes read of someone dying in peace. That isn't just dying comfortably with loved ones around. It means that you're dying, having lived a full and satisfying life. That's the ultimate: not just experiencing peace here and there in the craziness of life. The ultimate is getting to the end of life and sensing that your life is complete in the fullest sense of the word. It's getting to the end and being happy with where you've been. Shalom is what we long for in our lives.

Longing for Wholeness

For the past four weeks, we've been looking at a passage of Scripture that was written over seven hundred years before Christ was born. Isaiah was speaking to Judah at a very bleak time. The world situation was not positive. The country was being threatened by more powerful nations with huge armies. People were stressed. Isaiah called it a time of great darkness. Things weren't looking good, but Isaiah pointed to a note of hope. In a time of great darkness, a light was about to dawn:

For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this! (Isaiah 9:6-7)

Seven hundred years before Jesus is born, we have four names that describe what Jesus is like. He's the extraordinary strategist (Wonderful Counselor), the one with the power to carry out his strategy (Mighty God). He's a king who protects and cares for his people forever (Everlasting Father). Today, we come to the last of the four titles: Prince of Peace or Prince of Shalom. Jesus is the Prince of Wholeness. It's the result of the other titles. Because he is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, he brings us peace. This last title describes who Jesus is because he is the other things that Isaiah mentions.

According to Isaiah, Jesus is a king who isn't passive. If you read the passage, you see that he establishes his peace through military strength. Two of the titles are about that. He is a king, though, who brings peace to his people. He is the king who defeats the enemies, and who brings peace and prosperity to his people. He defeats his enemies, and brings Shalom - peace and wholeness - to his people.

This is what we long for. We long for the sense that all is well inside no matter what is going on around us. We want that sense that our inner world is experiencing health and healing even if the world around us is falling apart. I want to explore this in a couple of areas - personally, and then the bigger picture of what the Prince of Peace is accomplishing around us.

1. The Prince of Peace brings personal wholeness

Ted had just returned from a business trip and went to get his luggage at the baggage area of Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Almost everyone had gotten their luggage, but there was one man older than Ted slowly making his way toward his bags, which were just behind Ted's on the conveyor belt. Ted figured he could beat out the older man and grab his bags before they cycled through the canvas flaps into the back room.

Ted's health condition makes him a little shaky on his feet. As he reached for his bag, he became dizzy, lost his balance, and fell onto the stainless steel snake carrying his bag. So there he was, flat on his back, hanging tightly to the handle of his suitcase over his head, and riding the conveyor through the flaps into the darkness beyond. Several thoughts were going through his mind: I've been wanting to do this for years. I could get arrested. Now is probably not the best time to get off.

So he rode the belt, still gripping his suitcase, till he and his bag passed through the flaps again into the light. At this point he looked up into the face of an official-looking woman who said, "You're not supposed to do that!" To which he replied, "Have you ever tried this?!" And she bellowed, "No!" And he said, "Don't!" Then he swung his feet to the floor, tightened his grip on the suitcase handle, stood on the edge of the conveyor belt, and walked off.

I don't know if you ever feel like your life is like falling on that conveyer belt: sometimes fun, sometimes out of control, a little chaotic. Maybe you get the feeling that you want to get off. Life has a way of knocking us off balance and taking us where we don't want to go.

Sometimes we slow down enough to want more. Maybe you can relate to what Henry David Thoreau was looking for when he moved to Walden Pond:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

You see some people who seem to have found that peace. It's not because their lives have been easier. They have often been through far worse things than I could imagine. When you look into their eyes, you see that there's a calm and a sense of wholeness there that's intact even in the middle of crazy circumstances.

Jesus came to be the Prince of Shalom. He came to bring wholeness and health and healing to us even in the most unbelievable circumstances. He has come to bring well-being and health to his people by destroying our enemy - Satan, who Jesus calls a liar and a murderer. He came to bring us prosperity and well-being and safety. He's come to heal our souls.

You are going to go through tough times. Nobody is immune. Maybe you are going through tough times today. Jesus is the Prince of Wholeness, who brings peace to us even in the worst circumstances.

Jesus said, "I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn't like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27). Paul wrote:

Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

Here's the thing about us. We want peace. We long for that sense of well-being and wholeness. But we are not capable of producing this for ourselves. People are incapable of getting what they long for the most.

Jesus is the Prince of Peace. His kingdom brings hope and health and peace to his people. We're going to see in a minute that his kingdom has started, but it's not yet fully present. Already, though, we can experience his peace. One of the qualities that the Spirit produced in us is peace. This is what Jesus came to this earth to bring to us. He came to give us peace.

2. The Prince of Peace brings wholeness to this world

Jesus is the Prince of Peace who is already bringing health and wholeness to people within his kingdom. This is just the start of what he is doing. You are part of a stream of wholeness and healing that is streaming across the entire world. The Bible talks about the earth's longing for this healing:

For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God's curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)

This world is longing for that peace right now. The Bible says that God will sweep this peace over the entire world. He will create a new heaven and a new earth. We're in the in-between period. We've seen the start of his kingdom, but it's not fully here yet. We're still waiting for this peace to come to the entire world.

But it's started. We get to be the beginning of seeing what the Kingdom of Christ will bring. But it is coming. "His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!" (Isaiah 9:7)

When Jesus was born, angels announced that this peace was coming to the entire world:

Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to all whom God favors. (Luke 2:14)

This is the message of Christmas. Jesus is the king who has come to bring peace to individuals and ultimately to the world. He did this through defeating our enemies. He did this by bringing health and wholeness and well-being to those who follow him. He is ultimately doing this by bringing healing to the entire world.

The message of the angels has two parts. First, "Glory to God in the highest heaven." Our first and main response to this message has to be praise. I read this week that there is a tendency to focus on what the birth of Christ means to us, whereas in previous years, the emphasis was on worshiping God as a result of the birth of Christ. We need to make sure that worship is our first response. The Prince of Peace is worthy of our worship and our praise for the arrival of Christ, and for the kingdom he has started.

The angels also said, "Peace on earth to all whom God favors." This peace is a gift from God. At Christmas, we can receive the gift of peace. This is a king who will ultimately receive our worship one day. One day, "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).

Not everyone worships him now. Not everyone joins his kingdom. But some do. I invite you to enter the kingdom of the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Shalom who brings healing and wholeness and health. Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those upon whom his favor rests.

The Everlasting Father (Isaiah 9:6)

Children were in the service this week, and the sermon was geared to them.

Everybody thinks it would be fun to be a king or a queen. Everybody. Kids, have you ever wished that you were a king or a queen? Absolutely. Everybody does. A lot of problems would be solved if you had the kinds of powers that kings and queens have. Adults, have you ever wished the same? Sure, maybe for a day. It would be amazing to be a king or a queen.

Kings and queens have nice houses. I know, I've been to a few of them. When you tour palaces, you go through and see how fancy everything is. Absolutely amazing. Lots of room, too, and you don't have to pay for any of it yourself. If we were kings and queens, we would have some pretty nice houses.

Then you have the guards. It would be cool to have some guards looking after you. When we were in Buckingham Palace one time, our daughter tried to sit on the throne. Alarms went off, and guards came running. It would be cool to have guards to protect you, who could look so imposing and stand on guard for you.

Then there are all the crowns and the scepters. I'm not talking about the fake crowns; I'm talking about the ones with real jewels and real gold. It would be nice to wear hats like some of the kings and queens do. Those scepters look like they could do a bit of damage too; it would be nice to have one of those.

Then there is the power. Have you ever wished you could say, "Off with their heads!" I have. I wouldn't let them actually chop anybody's head off, but it would be fun to say it.

There would be a lot of benefits to being a king or a queen.

The Problem with Being a King or a Queen

Everybody thinks it would be nice to be a king or a queen. Very few people look at the downside. Being a king or a queen is tough work. The bigger the kingdom, the tougher the job. There are lots of problems that come with being royalty.

The Bible has lots of stories about kings. There weren't too many queens mentioned; they didn't reign like queens do today. Mostly, we read about kings. There were some good kings, but there were an awful lot of bad kings as well.

The kings in the Bible faced a lot of problems. Today, I want to talk about just three.

Problem one: they couldn't always protect their people. They wanted to, but they often faced armies that were bigger than their own. A lot of kings were defeated by other kings. They had to worry about their enemies and which armies were going to attack them. Imagine having to always worry about going to battle to protect your people. Not a lot of fun.

Problem two: They couldn't always care about their people. Back then, kings settled a lot of disputes. The problem is that everybody knew who the king was, but the king couldn't keep track of everyone else. It was too tiring. The king would sit at the beginning of the day and listen to everyone's problems. He would start out okay, but by the end of the day, as person number 142 came in with a problem, it was hard to care anymore. They would say, "Remember me from last week?" and the king would answer, "No!" There were lots of things for a king to worry about, and he couldn't keep track of everyone's problems. It was just too much.

Problem three: Kings die. That's a big problem that kings face. All kings eventually die. Some were killed in battle. Some were murdered by their enemies. Some just died of old age. It was only a matter of time before a king would be dead and another king would take over. All the king's powers weren't enough to solve this problem.

That's why it's sometimes hard to be a king.

A Different Kind of King

At a time when kings were pretty disappointing, a man named Isaiah had something to say. Isaiah was a prophet, who spoke messages from God. One day, when a bad king was on the throne, Isaiah brought a message from God about a good king who was going to come:

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 it and upholding it
With justice and righteousness
From that time on forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
Will accomplish this.
(Isaiah 9:6-7)

Who was this king? Obviously, Isaiah is talking about a different kind of king. He is a king who reigns well, whose kingdom is secure, and who reigns with justice and righteousness. He is called a Wonderful Counselor - someone with an extraordinary strategy to deal with all the enemies that a king might have. He is called Mighty God - someone with the power that he needed to reign and to deal with all the problems. He is called Prince of Peace, someone who brings wholeness to the people and to the nation. This is a different kind of king.

We understand that Isaiah was talking about the Messiah. He is the one whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. He was born in a manger in Bethlehem, and he became a king like no other. He is the one that Isaiah is talking about.

Today, though, I want to look at the third title. Isaiah says that Jesus will be called Everlasting Father. This name has always confused me, and it's part of the reason I wanted to study what these names meant. What does this title mean?

Obviously, Isaiah isn't saying that Jesus is the same as God the Father. I don't think Isaiah was even thinking of the Trinity as he gave Jesus this name. Back then, the term father was often used of a king who protects and supports those under him with care and authority, like a father does his family. This is what Isaiah is talking about. Jesus will be a king who protects and supports his people. He will be just like a father to them. He will do this not just for a time, but forever.

Remember the three problems that kings have? They can't always protect their people. They can't always care about their people, even if they want to. They eventually die.

Jesus, the Everlasting Father, doesn't have these problems:

Jesus, like a father, protects his people - Kings sometimes have a hard time protecting the people. A big army comes along, and kings are sometimes helpless to do anything about it. Jesus is a king who has no problem protecting his people. He protects them just like a good father protects his family. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, said this:

He has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David...to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear. (Luke 2:69.74 NIV)

Jesus is able to protect us today. There is nothing that he can't handle. He is able to protect us from anything. Romans 8:31-32 says, "If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since God did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won't God, who gave us Christ, also give us everything else?" Jesus, like a good father, is able to protect us.

Jesus, like a father, cares about his people - Jesus never gets tired by having to care for so many people. He never loses track of who we are. He is able to keep track of everything about you. The Gospels frequently speak of Jesus' compassion for people that he met. Jesus cares about you.

There is nothing in your life that Jesus doesn't know about. He cares for you, just like a good father cares for his family. That's what it means for Jesus to be the Everlasting Father.

Jesus, because he is eternal, will never die - They tried to kill Jesus. In fact, they did. The thing is, he came back to life. Jesus said, "I am the living one who died. Look, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave" (Revelation 1:18). Jesus conquered death. He is alive today.

Romans 8:34 says that not only is Jesus alive, but he is busy today praying for us: "He is the one who died for us and was raised to life for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us." Not only is Jesus alive today, but he is praying for us.

Every other king has three problems: they can't always protect their people, they can't always care for their people, and they eventually die. Jesus is different. He always protects his people. He cares for every one of us. And he has conquered death. This is what Isaiah meant when he called Jesus the Everlasting Father.

A king like this deserves our worship. On Christmas Day, we remember Jesus, who was born to be King of Kings. I invite you to worship Jesus the Eternal Father, maybe for the first time, by joining his Kingdom and serving him.

Let me tell you what I'd like you to remember, and then we'll finish. Jesus is a King who protects and supports his people forever. Let's say it together: Jesus is a King who protects and supports his people forever. I hope you'll worship this king.

Who Is He? Mighty God (Isaiah 9:6)

I wish I could take you away to Jerusalem today. It's only partly because the temperature is a lot warmer there than here. I'd love to charter a plane and take you to a location that is off the tourist maps. It's a place that no tourist looks for, and I'm not even sure you could find it. It's a significant place, though, and it's easy to miss the significance of what happens there.

This place in Jerusalem is only mentioned twice in the Bible. In this spot, two different kings were asked a question that is still significant for us today. I'd like to take you to this spot so I could ask you the same question that was asked of these kings thousands of years ago.

What is this place? It's the aqueduct of the Upper Pool on the way to the Washerman's field. I'll bet that doesn't ring a bell. Just like certain places get associated with key events, like the Alamo, this location gets associated with a certain question - a question that it is important for you to answer today.

How Ahaz Answered

The first king who faced this question was Ahaz. Ahaz was not a good king. 2 Kings 16:2-4 tells us about him:

Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. He did not do what was pleasing in the sight of the LORD his God, as his ancestor David had done. Instead, he followed the example of the kings of Israel, even sacrificing his own son in the fire. He imitated the detestable practices of the pagan nations the LORD had driven from the land ahead of the Israelites. He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the pagan shrines and on the hills and under every green tree.

The nation of Judah was at a low point. People weren't worshiping God. Ahaz, as king, was openly rebelling against God. Some of the kings started out okay and then blundered later. Ahaz started out bad and continued disobeying God his entire life. He also faced once of the biggest political crises in the entire history of the nation.

Verses 5 and 6 explain what happened:

Then King Rezin of Aram and King Pekah of Israel declared war on Ahaz. They besieged Jerusalem but did not conquer it. At that time the king of Edom recovered the town of Elath for Edom. He drove out the people of Judah and sent Edomites to live there, as they do to this day.

This sounds pretty sterile when you read it. The reality was anything but sterile. Ahaz faced impossible military odds, and he had to make a decision on how to respond to foreign powers. Ahaz faced three options on how to deal with the political events of that time.

Option one: Join Syria and Israel and form a coalition. This is why the kings of Israel and Syria besieged Jerusalem. They wanted to form a coalition against the world superpower of the day: Assyria. They figured that the three nations together might stand a chance against Assyria. Ahaz could have chosen to join this coalition, but it would have cost him. It wouldn't have been a coalition of equals. You can see in verses 5 and 6 that the method of persuasion was brute force. If Ahaz had joined this coalition, it would have been at the end of a spear. He would have lost his kingship. This was an option, but it obviously wasn't an attractive one for Ahaz.

Option two: Join Assyria. The second option was a bit tricky. Instead of joining Syria and Israel, what if Ahaz joined Assyria? They had all the power. It's better to make friends with your enemy rather than have your enemy attack you. This would have come at a cost as well. Ahaz would remain as king, but would be subject to the king of Assyria. He would have become a vassal, and it would have cost him financially as well. You'd rather have Assyria as your friend than as your enemy, though.

Here's what you need to know about Assyria. They had a massive military, and were known for their brutal style of warfare. Their armies were not only huge, they were superbly equipped with the world's finest siege machines, operated by specially trained engineers. They were known as well for their psychological warfare. They used public killings and other psychological tactics to get the upper hand.

I mentioned the size of their armies. In one battle alone, described in Isaiah 37:36, 185,000 Assyrian soldiers were killed in one battle. That is a huge army. To put it in perspective, the Canadian army has only 19,500 people enlisted. Okay, I know that we're only talking the Canadian army, but even by modern standards, the Assyrian army was huge. You can understand why Ahaz would be attracted to this option.

Option three: Trust God. This sounds like a good option, doesn't it? It's a lot harder to do when you're facing real armies with very good chances of wiping you out. Trusting God can seem so passive when you have other options. Yet this is the advice that Isaiah gave to Ahaz. Don't trust on a coalition to get you out of this mess. Trust God instead.

Here's where the location comes in. The question Ahaz faced is this: On whom can I depend, against impossible odds? Who am I going to trust when I get into deep trouble? Isaiah 7:3-4 records what happened:

Then the LORD said to Isaiah, "Go out, you and your son Shear-Jashub, to meet Ahaz at the end of the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. Say to him, 'Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood... (NIV)

At the end of this aqueduct, Ahaz faced a choice: who was he going to trust? Syria and Israel? Assyria? Isaiah told him, "Don't trust either. Don't even worry about them. Trust God instead." To reinforce the idea of trust, God gives Ahaz a sign: "Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel-'God is with us" (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah counsels him to trust God instead; in fact, trust a baby. Trust in the most unlikely of people to save you.

You can see why Ahaz wouldn't have been too excited about trusting the baby. I can picture him saying, "I like babies, but how is a baby going to help me against a massive army?" I can see why Ahaz didn't choose the option to trust God.

Ahaz chose the second option instead. He asked Assyria for help:

King Ahaz sent messengers to King Tiglath-pileser of Assyria with this message: "I am your servant and your vassal. Come up and rescue me from the attacking armies of Aram and Israel." Then Ahaz took the silver and gold from the Temple of the LORD and the palace treasury and sent it as a gift to the Assyrian king. So the Assyrians attacked the Aramean capital of Damascus and led its population away as captives, resettling them in Kir. They also killed King Rezin.

He became a vassal to the king of Assyria. He worshipped other gods, and stripped all the furnishings from the temple and gave it all away. He set up altars everywhere in Jerusalem for people to worship other gods (2 Chronicles 28:24-25). Instead of trusting God, he trusted in a foreign king to save him. On one level, it worked.

Who am I going to trust? That's a pretty real question. There are times when it looks like the only real place to trust is in our own plans. Trusting God looks pretty scary when we're outnumbered. When the odds are against us, it's hard to trust God. When it looks like bending a little in our convictions would really pay off, it's hard to trust God. It's easy to make the same choice that Ahaz did when we're under pressure. It's far easier to depend on ourselves when it looks like depending on God will cost us everything.

It's in this context that Isaiah says these words:

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 9:6 NIV)

The nation is defeated. Judah is at a low point. They are subject to a foreign king. Trusting Assyria has bought some time, but only temporarily. People are feeling the stress. Nobody is worshiping God. Isaiah predicts doom because of the bad decision Ahaz has made, but I the middle of this darkness, a child will be born. This child will be someone you can trust in. Last week, we looked at the first title: Wonderful Counselor, which means Extraordinary Strategist. The second title is one that speaks of the child's power to carry out the strategy: Mighty God. It was sometimes common to speak of a king back then as being God. Here, you have the idea that a king will be born that will be mighty, who will lead the nation to victory as if he is God himself.

We understand this prophesy to refer ultimately to the baby that was born in Bethlehem, the baby whose birth we celebrate at Christmas. He is the Mighty God. He seems like the most unlikely person to trust. Isaiah is telling us, though, to put our trust in the baby that was born. Babies look like they're not going to be much help. It certainly doesn't seem that trusting in a child that was born two thousand years ago is going to do much. But trusting that person makes all the sense in the world if that child is the Mighty God. You can put your faith in that child because he has all the power in the world.

How Hezekiah Answered

Fast forward another 33 years to another king: Hezekiah. The place is the same. The question is the same. The king is facing a military threat, this time from the nation that was supposed to protect it: Assyria. 2 Kings 18:17 says:

The king of Assyria sent his supreme commander, his chief officer and his field commander with a large army, from Lachish to King Hezekiah at Jerusalem. They came up to Jerusalem and stopped at the aqueduct of the Upper Pool, on the road to the Washerman's Field. (NIV)

Notice the place? Same place that Ahaz faced the question of who he's going to trust, and failed. The Biblical writers were sophisticated. This is no fluke. The place is becoming associated with the question: who are you going to trust? Two different kings, two different times, same threat, same question. Who can you trust against impossible odds?

In this case, the question comes from a spokesperson for the Assyrian army:

This is what the great king, the king of Assyria, says: On what are you basing this confidence of yours? You say you have strategy and military strength-but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man's hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him. And if you say to me, "We are depending on the LORD our God"-isn't he the one whose high places and altars Hezekiah removed, saying to Judah and Jerusalem, "You must worship before this altar in Jerusalem"? (2 Kings 18:19-22 NIV)

This was an even worse situation. Assyria was right there - over 185,000 strong circled around Jerusalem. Hezekiah could look over the city wall and see the odds against him. Same place, same question: whom could he trust against impossible odds?

Hezekiah made a very different decision. Instead of relying in his own strategy, he went to the Temple and asked Isaiah to come. He cried out to God: "Now, O LORD our God, rescue us from his power; then all the kingdoms of the earth will know that you alone, O LORD, are God" (2 Kings 19:19). Same question, different answer. Hezekiah chose to trust God.

The result was one of the greatest military victories ever. God went to combat on behalf of Hezekiah. God did what no human army could do:

That night the angel of the LORD went out to the Assyrian camp and killed 185,000 Assyrian troops. When the surviving Assyrians woke up the next morning, they found corpses everywhere. Then King Sennacherib of Assyria broke camp and returned to his own land. He went home to his capital of Nineveh and stayed there. One day while he was worshiping in the temple of his god Nisroch, his sons Adrammelech and Sharezer killed him with their swords. They then escaped to the land of Ararat, and another son, Esarhaddon, became the next king of Assyria. (2 Kings 19:35-37)

Judah's army didn't stand a chance against Assyria, but God took care of it for them. Hezekiah answered the question of who to trust by trusting in God, and God delivered him.

How We Answer

We've seen how Ahaz answered. We've seen how Hezekiah answered. I wish I could take you to the same place to ask you this question, a question that is just as important as ever: on whom or what are you going to depend against impossible odds?

Here's what I know about you.

You face impossible odds - I've talked to enough people around here to know the odds that some of you are facing. Some of us are okay right now. Some of us are facing incredible business pressure. Some of us are experiencing huge relational tensions: marriages under pressure, other family relationships that are at the breaking point. There are health difficulties, financial pressures, emotional pressures. We may not be facing massive armies, but many of us are under pressure, facing impossible odds.

You face the question of whom you are going to trust - We all do. The question is the same today: Who will you trust? When the marriage is falling apart, where do you turn? When the finances are drying up, who will you trust? When things are going wrong, whom do we trust? We all trust someone - ourselves, some other person, some other thing to get by. We all face the question of who we are going to trust.

Jesus seems like an unlikely choice - It didn't seem smart to trust a child when Isaiah told Ahaz to trust God rather than in massive armies. Armies look a whole lot more impressive. It's not easy today to choose to trust the one who was born in a manger two thousand years ago, even though we're told he is the Mighty God with all power. Jesus looks like an unlikely person to trust.

Jesus lived two thousand years ago. Some people argue that he didn't exist; others say that he was only a great man. We don't see him today. It takes faith to trust him. It's a lot easier to trust in ourselves, to trust in our jobs, to trust in someone else to see us through whatever problem we're facing. Jesus always looks like an unlikely choice when we face impossible odds.

You can depend on Jesus, the Mighty God, against impossible odds - If you hear nothing else today, this is what I would like you to take away. Even though we face impossible odds, and even though Jesus seems the most unlikely person to help us against the impossible odds, he is the one to trust. He is the Mighty God. He has all the power necessary for whatever problem you face. He is the one, the only one, who can help us.

The same question that was asked of Ahaz and Hezekiah is asked of you: Who will you trust? I hope you'll place your trust in Jesus, the Mighty God.

Who is He? Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6)

Every Christmas, I read and hear these words:

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.
(Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

These words were spoken by the prophet Isaiah over seven hundred years before Jesus was born. They are recorded in the book of Isaiah, one of the greatest prophets found in the Bible. These words were included in Handel's Messiah. They're quoted in church. They are written on the front of Christmas cards. They are familiar. I love that these words are simple enough to be understood by anyone. Words like Wonderful, Mighty, Everlasting, Prince of Peace - those aren't hard to understand.

I've always suspected that there are more to these words than meets the eye. Although they can be understood by anyone, there is richness and a depth that I've never explored. Something lies behind the surface. As we go through Advent this year, I'd like to look at some of the names given to Jesus in this passage - Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

These words weren't given in isolation. What would cause Isaiah to speak these words in the first place?

Needed: A Strategy

Isaiah was a man who prophesied in and around Jerusalem around 740 BCE. A prophet was someone who spoke on behalf of God. They sometimes predicted the future. Often, as in this passage, the prophets weren't just predicting the future. They were speaking to the current situation. They were critiquing the culture and calling people to faithfulness. Isaiah was one of these prophets - some people say he was the greatest of the writing prophets.

Isaiah stated his career as a prophet around 740 BCE, the year that King Uzziah died. That means nothing to us, but for people of that time, the death of King Uzziah was a significant event. It would be like talking about 9-11 today. Everyone would immediately know what you meant by that. King Uzziah has a godly and powerful king who reigned well. He made one big mistake: he burned incense in the Temple. God struck him with leprosy until he died. Despite this, he was a good king overall. His reign was stable. When he died, fifty years of relative peace in Israel and Judah came to an end.

Isaiah spoke to a time of turmoil in Judah. The situation was anything but stable. The key to understanding the first part of Isaiah (chapters 1 to 39) is to understand what was going on in the nation. The new king was a man named Ahaz. He was not a good man. He didn't worship God; he led the nation into idolatry; he even killed his own son as a human sacrifice. He was a king who faced a very difficult decision. Things were not looking so good.

On one hand, you had the Assyrians. The Assyrians were the world power of that day, and they were on the move. They were known for their massive armies and their brutal tactics. You would not want to face the Assyrian army. No nation would want to go against the Assyrians if they could help it.

King Ahaz faced a different threat. Israel and Syria were also concerned about Assyria. They tried to convince King Ahaz to join a coalition against Assyria. Maybe, they thought, the three nations together would be able to stand up to Assyria.

Ahaz faced a choice. Should he join the coalition with Israel and Syria? Should he try to form a coalition with Assyria? Or should he do nothing and trust God? He couldn't seem to win. Side with Israel and Syria, and he would tick off Assyria. Side with Assyria, and he ticks off Israel and Syria. Do nothing, and get flattened.

To make it worse, you have Isaiah saying to just trust God. Sounds good, Ahaz must have thought, but not exactly a workable strategy. Trust in God sounds good when you're not facing massive armies.

Ahaz made the choice. He decided to join Assyria. He went with the big guys of the day, the world power. They did help in the short term. They defeated Israel. It was only a matter of time, however, before Assyria conquered Judah. It was a coalition that was expedient and doomed from the start.

Even worse, the nation was in a mess. The people were living in disobedience. They oppressed the poor. They worshiped other gods. The people were so desperate about the world situation that they used mediums to consult with the dead. They were part of a desperate alliance with the enemy, rather than in an alliance with the God who had promised to protect them. Isaiah prophesied judgment on them. He told them that they were headed for trouble:

My people will be led away as captives, weary and hungry. And because they are hungry, they will rage and shake their fists at heaven and curse their king and their God. Wherever they look, there will be trouble and anguish and dark despair. They will be thrown out into the darkness. (Isaiah 8:21-22)

The first place to suffer would be Galilee. It would be the first to fall, the first to come under Assyrian control.

Hopeless Situations

Talk about a pretty hopeless situation. We're getting to the good news in a minute. I need to pause to say that it is not a new thing to God when we get into messes in our lives. This situation seems pretty hopeless. Ahaz didn't just make one mistake. He continued to ignore God and to make the wrong choices. The words that we're about to read aren't given in the context of people who are doing everything right. These words are given to people who messed up, who continue to mess up. These words are given in the middle of a hopeless situation.

In the very area that the Assyrian conquest would begin, God promises that a new light will dawn. God promises that Judah's enemies will be defeated in that place:

Nevertheless, that time of darkness and despair will not go on forever. The land of Zebulun and Naphtali will soon be humbled, but there will be a time in the future when Galilee of the Gentiles, which lies along the road that runs between the Jordan and the sea, will be filled with glory. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light-a light that will shine on all who live in the land where death casts its shadow. Israel will again be great, and its people will rejoice as people rejoice at harvesttime. They will shout with joy like warriors dividing the plunder. For God will break the chains that bind his people and the whip that scourges them, just as he did when he destroyed the army of Midian with Gideon's little band. In that day of peace, battle gear will no longer be issued. Never again will uniforms be bloodstained by war. All such equipment will be burned. (Isaiah 9:1-5)

In the most hopeless situation, there was hope. Isaiah spoke these words, and you can almost imagine the people asking, "How? How is this going to happen? How is God going to do this?"

How will God deliver his people? Through the birth of a child:

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 9:6 NIV)

This is the last place you would expect to find hope. This, though, is not just any child. This is a child with some amazing names - Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

This is a term that has connotations of deity. The term "counselor" is not what we think of today in terms of a therapist, or someone we tell our problems - although Jesus is that as well. It's more of a military strategist. It probably refers to a king who has the ability to come up with a winning military strategy. You could say "Extraordinary Strategist" (NET Bible).

Isaiah predicts a baby that will become an Extraordinary Strategist. Jesus is a Master Strategist, able to deliver his people from hopeless situations. Many of these situations are of our own making. Judah's was. He is a strategist who can handle situations that look hopeless to us.

Master Strategist

Jesus is the Master Strategist who can deal with our immediate problems. These are the problems that that keep us up at night - finances, health, job insecurity, family problems. Jesus came across people with all kinds of problems. He is not surprised by the messes we have, even the problems we get into. Jesus is the strategist who is not surprised, and who specializes in hopeless situations. He brings hope when there doesn't seem to be any hope.

Jesus is a strategist who can deal with our problems. He doesn't necessarily take them all away. He gives strength. He helps us deal with situations. Jesus is a strategist who can deal with the situations that we find most hopeless.

Jesus doesn't just deal with our immediate problems. Jesus is able to deal with our ultimate problems, problems that we aren't even aware we have. He is a strategist who sees not just the problems we think we have. He deals with the root problems beneath these. When Isaiah prophesied, the people of Judah could only see the immediate problems: the military threat posed by foreign nations. God knew that the real problem was their relationship with God. The foreign nations were not the problem. God could take them with no problem at all. The real problem was that they weren't trusting God.

God sees us and sees the problems we face. He also looks beyond them and sees that our root problem is much deeper. We were made for a relationship with God. We fill our desire for a relationship with Him with everything else. We face problems, and try to look after them ourselves. We are hungry for a relationship with God but we look everywhere else to be filled. We, like Judah, have followed idols instead of following God.

Isaiah warned Judah to rely on God. They chose to do their own thing. We face decisions of trusting God and doing the right thing, even if it's hard. Often, we do what's easy rather than what is right. It's hard to trust God when we think that would lead to disaster. It's far easier to look after ourselves, even if looking after ourselves is disobedient.

Jesus is the Mighty Strategist who can deal with our deeper problems. He is the Might Strategist with a plan that stretches back from before we were ever born:

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we belong to Christ. Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure. (Ephesians 1:3-5)

Jesus is the Master Strategist, who delivers his people from hopeless situations.

Got any hopeless situations? Got anything that you can't solve on your own? Tell him. He has never found a problem that he is surprised by, even if the problems are of our own making. God can deal with any problem you've got.

Jesus can even deal with our deeper problems. He came to forgive us, to bring us into his Kingdom. He came to reconcile us to God, to adopt us, to make us his own.

That is Jesus, the Mighty Strategist, the one who can deal with hopeless situations.

O LORD, I will honor and praise your name, for you are my God. You do such wonderful things! You planned them long ago, and now you have accomplished them. (Isaiah 25:1)