Today is the first Sunday of Advent. Advent is a time on the Christian calendar where we focus on the fact that Jesus will return again and finally and forever put an end to all that is contrary to the will of God. Advent begins with a time of darkness and lament as we reflect on all that’s wrong with our world, but as we move deeper into Advent and closer to the birth of Christ, our mood turns to light and celebration as we remember all that God has done.
As I think about my approach to Advent in years past, it’s always been something like this: “For many of us, this is a hectic time of year. You need to slow down and make sure you don’t miss the real meaning of this Advent season. Slow down and consider what Christ means for your life and our world. And whatever you do, make sure you don’t get swept up into Black Friday or Cyber Monday.”
Now, that’s good advice. It’s always a good to slow down and think about Jesus. But as I think about Advent leading into Christmas, I think our hearts long for something more than good advice; we long for good news. What my heart wants most is not a list of things I have to do to get Christmas right; what my heart wants most is a message of hope about what God has done through Jesus to make the world right. What I need to hear most as Christmas approaches is not another DO message but a DONE message.
Image: Pastor Todd Wilson tells a story about what a young mother said to him after his Christmas sermon some years ago: “I need to hear a message that doesn’t depend on me doing one more thing to make Christmas season a success: shopping, cooking, caring for kids, finishing school, wrapping presents, attending parties, keeping house, traveling across country to visit family, and oh, making sure I keep my focus on Jesus. Got it! What I need most is a message that does not hinge on me doing one more thing, as if it is my action or thought that makes Christmas real. I want the hope that God’s gift of Jesus has already transformed the world, whether I am conscious of it or not.”
Need: Now when I hear this woman’s testimony, I’m a little ashamed and I wonder, “How often have my messages been more about DO rather than DONE?” I’ve come to see that if all you feed the flock is a steady stream of do good and try harder sermons, people don’t do good and try harder—they give up. So, this ADVENT season, I want to take the words of this young mom to heart by not adding to your to-do list but by encouraging you with what God has already done.
Context: So, I invite you to turn with me to Isaiah 9 where we see a refreshing, hope-filled celebration of what God will DO even in the face of national disaster and blackest despair. In Isaiah chapter 8, God has promised that Israel will be invaded by the Assyrians. Judgement is coming. These are going to be depressing and dark days for Israel. Assyria is going to come and annihilate the land and carry them off into exile, which will happen just a few short years from the time of this writing. Look at how chapter 8 ends: “And they (the Israelites) will look to the earth, but behold, distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish. And they will be thrust into thick darkness” (Isaiah 8:22). Isaiah 8 ends with blackest darkness.
But, suddenly, when things are pitch black, God penetrates the darkness with a wonderful promise (Isaiah 9:1-7). In Isaiah 9, God turns the people’s gaze from the present to the future, from what will happen when Assyria comes to what will happened when He finally sets the world right and redeems His people. With the wonderful words of Isaiah 9, God turns their gaze from darkness to light, from what they’re DOING to what He’s DONE.
And listen carefully: all the wonderful promises of Isaiah chapter 9 are in the past tense even though it hasn’t happened yet. But why? Why is it recorded in the past tense even if it hasn’t already happened at the time of Isaiah’s writing? Because it’s a chapter about what God will DO, and when God promises to do something, it’s a DONE deal. So, Isaiah portrays the future as so certain that it’s already done. That’s the confidence we can have in response to all of God’s promises—they are YES and AMEN.
Against this dark backdrop of national disaster and despair, Isaiah suddenly says—verse 1— “But there will be no gloom for her (Israel) who was in anguish.” And verse 2: “The people who walk in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” And this light of salvation for God’s people will result in great joy—verse 3—’You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy.” God is going to bring liberation from the oppression of Assyria—verse 4— “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.” And if that isn’t enough good news, God promises to put an end to all warfare—verse 5— “For every boot of the trampling warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.”
Transition: But the question is this—HOW? How is God going to disperse the gloomy clouds of night, shine the light of salvation on His people, replace sorrow with joy, break the oppressor’s shackles, bring an end to war, and usher in everlasting peace?
Verse 6 supplies us with the answer: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” God will deliver His people though the gift of a son…the birth of a child. What a remarkable, unexpected answer to all our problems—the birth of a child.
Quote: Ray Ortlund says, “God’s answer to everything that has ever terrorized us is a child. The power of God is so far superior to the Assyrians and all the big shots of the world that He can defeat them by coming as a mere child. His answer to the bullies swaggering through history is not to become an even bigger bully. His answer is Jesus.”
Here in Isaiah chapter 9, verse 6, we see the first major revelation of Israel’s coming King, Israel’s Messiah, the Savior of the world. Back in Isaiah 7:14 we got a hint of who this child would be—“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel,” which means “God with us.” But now in Isaiah 9:6, Isaiah pulls the veil back and shows us exactly who this child is, using four more names to describe Him: “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.”
Subject: Today, as we begin this new Advent Series called For Unto Us, I want to stop DOING and look at what God has already DONE for us and find rest in the gift of this child. We’ll do this by considering His titles one-by-one.
Today, we begin with first title of this Royal Child, the Lord Jesus Christ: WONDERFUL COUNSELOR. “And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor…”
What does it mean to say that this child will be called “Wonderful Counselor?” This title literally means extraordinary counselor or counselor of wonders or one who counsels amazing things. But we need to be careful that we don’t import our modern understanding of “counselor” into Isaiah 9:6. Isaiah 9:6 isn’t primarily talking about Jesus being a therapist or counselor in the way we think.
Warning: We need to be very careful here because we live in a therapeutic culture. Counseling and therapy are at an all-time high in our society. We have Dr. Phil and Dave Ramsey and Oprah Winfrey offering counsel. The end-cap at Costco is stacked high with self-help books. There’s nothing wrong with seeking help and advice when you have a particular need in your life. However, we need to be careful that the voices speaking into our lives present a Christian worldview. But this modern understanding of counseling and therapy isn’t what Isaiah is talking about when he says Jesus is Wonderful Counselor.
Counsel in the ancient world was connected with being a wise-strategist. In the ancient world a king would have a group of counselors who would help him devise strategies and plans to win a military victory. In the ancient world—think Solomon—people would come to the king in need of wisdom, wise judgement, or counsel. Isaiah 28:29 captures this sense of “Wonderful Counselor” when it says of Messiah: “He is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom.” I think the NET Bible captures the essence well when it translates “Wonderful Counselor” as “Extraordinary Strategist.”
To say that Jesus is Wonderful Counselor is way of saying God’s strategic plans and purpose for the world through Jesus should fill us with a sense of wonder and awe! The wisdom of any plan is revealed in whether it works or not. And God’s plan works! When we consider the wise counsel of God, the wisdom it took to devise such a great plan of salvation for this world, we ought to be filled with wonder and awe. When we consider God’s plan to reconcile Jew and Gentile to Himself in one body through the cross, we ought to be amazed! When we consider the wise plan of God to crush Satan under foot through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus, we ought to say, “WOW!”
Illustration: Last summer we took our kids to California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and we went from one amazement to another—from the aquarium to the arboretum to the planetarium. Our kids saw an albino alligator, a two-headed snake, beds of ocean kelp, alligator gar from the amazon, and mind-blowing astronomical objects light years away from planet earth. If I had to describe the day in one word it would be “WOW.” And the second word that comes to mind is “EXPENSIVE!” But you should have seen it—our boys kept running from one exhibit to another yelling, “WOW! Dad, look at that!”
Have you ever thought about the word WOW? It’s often accompanied by a gasp of stunned surprise when we can’t think of anything else to say. It’s usually a sign of being speechless, so we simply say, “WOW!” To say “WOW” means that we are not dulled to the wonder of what’s before us. “WOW” is about having our minds blown by what’s marvelous, mesmerizing, and miraculous.
This is how we’re supposed to respond to the good news that JESUS is Wonderful Counselor—Extraordinary Strategist. In Jesus, we come face-to-face with all of the marvelous, mesmerizing, and miraculous wisdom of God! Colossians tells us that in Jesus “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” This should cause us to gasp, with a sharp intake of air, and say, “WOW!”
This wise plan of God for the salvation of His people was birthed in the mind of the Wonderful Counselor. It was and is His strategy. It’s the product of an all-knowing and all-powerful God. What the prophet Isaiah could only see in black and white in outline form, we now see in living color in much greater detail. Jesus is the embodiment of God’s saving plan for the world, the type of plan that makes us say, “WOW!” The wonderful counsel of God is on full display in Jesus:
Friends, the wisdom it took to devise such a plan is too wonderful to imagine! This is why when the Apostle Paul surveys the plan of God he explodes in spontaneous praise: [Slide 13] “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgements and how inscrutable His ways!” (Romans 11:33). He says, “When I think about it—it’s too wonderful for me! I think my head is going to explode!” Only the Wonderful Counselor, only the Extraordinary Strategist, the Lord Jesus Christ, could conceive of such a wise plan and bring it to perfect completion! If you close your eyes, you can hear Handel’s Messiah playing: [Slide 14] “And His name shall be called, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Application: When was the last time the name of Jesus caused you to marvel? O how easily we can become cool and apathetic and oblivious to the name of Jesus! We send out Christmas cards stamped with the name of Jesus but does the significance sink in? Do you get genuinely excited when you think about the name of Jesus? If not, you’ve lost the wonder. As Adrian Rogers says, “You have calluses on your soul. Brothers and sisters, Jesus is wonderful! Everything about Him is wonderful: His birth is wonderful; His life is wonderful; His works are wonderful; His words are wonderful; His death is wonderful; His resurrection is wonderful; His ascension is wonderful; His coming again is wonderful. Jesus is wonderful!”
Transition: And this is wonderful news for all of us because…
When the path before you is dark and uncertain you can walk in the light of Jesus’ wonderful counsel. In Jesus, you have access to an Extraordinary Strategist. If He can devise a plan for the salvation of the world, He can easily handle anything you’re going through. Some of you are in a place of great difficulty: the path forward is filled with obstacles, uncertainty, and darkness. You don’t know what to do:
Application: For this and so much more we have Jesus! When the path before you is dark and uncertain you can walk in the light of Jesus’ wonderful counsel. Because Jesus is God, His wisdom is perfect. His wisdom will never fail you or send you in the wrong direction. Jesus knows all things and is the only one who can see into the depth of our hearts. He knows every dark chamber in our hearts and is the only one who can shine the light into the corners and lead us out. He knows the past, present, and future perfectly. He knows all our motives—the good, the bad, the ugly—and He knows all the necessary facts. The counsel that Jesus offers is given in the light of His absolute understanding of all things. No one else can offer wisdom and counsel as thoroughly and completely as Jesus. When the path before you is dark and uncertain you can walk in the light of Jesus’ wonderful counsel.
Illustration: Friends, this passage has been especially meaningful to me. Over the last couple months, I’ve been wrestling with a few health-related matters. (And fortunately, last week all my issues were cleared up and I received a clean bill of health). But it’s been a new experience for me. And honestly, it was a time of darkness and uncertainty for me. It was frustrating not having answers and living in a place of ambiguity. You work with insurance and doctors. You wait for test results. You make appointments and have them cancelled and rescheduled. You wait for the doctor to call, then when they do, you get the feeling they only have a minute or two to talk with you. You feel like you need someone just to sit with you and listen and offer you wise counsel. And this has given me a whole new appreciation for Jesus! When my doctor wasn’t available to talk with in the middle of the night, but Jesus was.
Application: As Wonderful Counselor, He offers His perfect wise counsel to us anytime. God’s very Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding and counsel, lives within every believer in Jesus, and here’s the best part—no appointments are necessary! Jesus is always available—24-7, 365 days a year. He’s got the ultimate “open-door” policy. He always answers when you call—none of this “leave a message” stuff.
Application: The Wonderful Counsel, the Extraordinary Strategy of Jesus is precious gift freely available to all who are in Christ. Whoever asks receives. When the path before you is dark and uncertain you can walk in the light of Jesus’ wonderful counsel.
Application: So how, specifically, does the Wonderful Counselor, the Extraordinary Strategist guide us? Most often His counsel is not going to come as an audible voice. God can certainly do it, but rarely does it work that way. Jesus speaks to us most clearly when we are immersed in Scripture and in community with other believers. When we are immersed in His word and anchored in relationships with other Jesus followers, we place ourselves on the landing strip of Jesus’ Wonderful Counsel.
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