Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. —Isaiah 9:7
We’ve all seen political events where the crowds are shouting, “Four more years! Four more years!” That’s how it works at our level. But the gospel shows us a government that will never end. We don’t vote this President into power, we can’t vote him out, and he’s not going to resign. Someday the United States of America will be a footnote in the history books. So will every nation we fear today. But there is another kingdom God is building right here on earth. For now it is weak, the way Christ was weak in his first advent 2000 years ago. But his kingdom will last because it’s coming to us with all the zeal of God.
Why did Jesus come into this world? Last week we saw that he came to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). That’s how we get traction for newness of life – as we feel forgiven. He doesn’t save us by browbeating us but by forgiving us. We know by now that we cannot change ourselves. But when Christ forgives us, and we feel it, we do start changing. William Romaine, one of the leaders of the First Great Awakening, wrote, “The law has now no more right to condemn you, a believer, than it has to condemn Christ.” When by faith we see ourselves as un-condemned and un-accused sinners in Christ, we change deep inside.
But Christ came for more. The salvation he gives is not only deep inside and personal and interior. It is also exterior and social and cultural and even cosmic. He is not out to rescue an individual here and another there – not that only. He is out to create a new world, a new culture, a new humanity in a new environment. We look at our world today and there’s a skeptic deep inside every one of us thinking, “This place is never going to change. The status quo is too strong. Nothing is ever going to change around here. So all we can do is get ‘our people’ [whoever they are] into political power to hold out for four more years.” I’m not disrespecting politics. It is a high calling. But I am pointing out that if your hope for the future is limited to that, you have chosen inevitable defeat. No wonder you’re frightened and angry. And there are television programs and radio voices who increase their ratings by keeping you angry. If you’re a Christian and those voices are pulling you into their negativity, then those voices have become to you the equivalent to false prophecy. The early church stood out because the gospel lifted them into a higher hope. They stopped wringing their hands and saying, “What’s the world coming to?” The gospel got them saying, “Look what’s come to the world!” Maybe some of us, as we go into 2011, need to fast from TV and, for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ, spend that time encouraging ourselves in the gospel. And we’ve got a great gospel prophecy here in Isaiah 9. Why did Jesus come? Not only to save us from our sins but also to create a whole new world, and we as a church get to demonstrate it right now. A healthy church is like the model home in a new neighborhood. People can walk through and see the future and buy in right now while there’s still time. Our spiritually exhausted city needs a foretaste of the future, and God is giving it to us here at Immanuel.
At the end of Isaiah chapter 8 the prophet looks around him at the distress of those times and he calls it darkness and gloom (Isaiah 8:22). Then chapter 9 changes the subject: “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish” (Isaiah 9:1). Then the famous prophecy of Christ: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). Isaiah is not talking about personal illumination, interior to our hearts, that might be dismissed as wishful thinking. Isaiah says, “On them has light shined.” Isaiah is thinking of defeated people, gloomy people, angry people who don’t know how to change, and suddenly those very people are blinking and shielding their eyes and trying to adjust to this human strobe light named Jesus the Messiah who is shining on them with a light they’ve never seen before. As the apostle John put it, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5). The darkness didn’t overcome him in his weakness 2000 years ago, and the darkness won’t stand a chance when he comes again in power. Then in verses 3-5, Isaiah – in his mind’s eye he’s out there in the future at the second coming of Christ – Isaiah looks around him at the triumph of Christ, and it’s like the final scene in the Lord of the Rings movie when the tower falls and the big eye explodes and the earth opens up and swallows up all the bad guys. I love that scene. It’s eschatological. Isaiah the prophet foresees the future of our world like that. He sees all warfare defeated, all oppression judged, all joy triumphant, and all of God’s people unleashed finally and forever from everything that has ever held us down. But the obvious question is, How? How will the world change? What super-weapon will God invent to blast into smithereens all the formidable evil that oppresses the world today? Isaiah shows us two surprises: God’s surprising strategy in verse 6, and God’s surprising victory in verse 7.
God’s surprising strategy
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.
God’s surprising strategy is a child. God’s answer to all the big-shots and tyrants we have created throughout history is a child. As a former hippie, I resonate with that. But my generation’s hippie ideals were unsustainable. Flower power did not change the world. The status quo crushed the hippie movement of the 60s. So we gave up. In the 60s we were idealists. In the 70s we did disco. We had believed a false prophecy of our own self-idealization, and it sank us down into the despair of platform shoes and the Bee Gees. I wonder what false hope you’re believing in. What weak hope are you giving your emotions to today that’s going to break your heart tomorrow? But the promises of God deserve our deepest emotion. So, what is God saying here?
God is saying, there’s going to be a new world figure who strides onto the stage of history and takes over. Who is he? A child, in diapers, with a bottle. Why does God do it that way? To display his own glory. The power of God is so far superior to all our self-assertion that he brings it all down forever through a child named Jesus. God’s weakness defeats human power. God’s foolishness outwits human wisdom. God does not value the strong, outwardly impressive things we believe in. Here is God’s surprising strategy for the salvation of the world: a baby born in Bethlehem, growing up to be a man with shoulders broad enough to govern the whole world. What are his qualifications?
Wonderful Counselor. That does not mean “amazing therapist.” This kind of counselor is an advisor for wartime. He is the ultimate Secretary of Defense. He is the best strategist when everything is on the line. And his counsel is “wonderful,” that is, miraculous in its impact. The whole length of human history is littered with failure, one civilization after another rising and then falling, each culture intelligent in its way, but each one inevitably failing. History is the study of our brilliant failures. But 2000 years ago, the story began to change. Christ started something new by his life, death and resurrection. We experience him today as we believe the gospel. The healing and freedom you feel when you give up on yourself and listen to the counsel of Christ – you are already experiencing the future of the world through the gospel counsel of Christ.
Mighty God. He is a human child born to us – not to some elite but to us. But Jesus is also divine, the Mighty God. That means that he’s a warrior God who defeats our enemies easily, with zero effort. Over in chapter 40 Isaiah sees the whole line of dictators and bullies throughout history, and God just blows on them and they go poof (Isaiah 40:23-24). We don’t need to be fearful. Whatever happens to us, Jesus is still the Mighty God ruling over the powers of evil. As Martin Luther said, the devil is God’s devil.
Everlasting Father. We see the word “Father” and we think of the Trinity, more fully revealed in the New Testament. But that isn’t Isaiah’s point. The Old Testament uses the word “father” for a provider (Job 29:16), a guardian (Isaiah 22:21) and a guide (2 Kings 2:21). God’s promise to us in this messianic title “Everlasting Father” is that, with fatherly care, Christ will love us forever. The dynasty that began with David will never again stumble in failure or be degraded by selfishness or even be interrupted by death. Among all the sons of David, Jesus alone can say to us, “I will not leave you orphans” (John 14:18).
Prince of Peace. The Bible says that, under Christ, the nations will beat their swords into plowshares – lawnmowers (Isaiah 2:4). The kind of world we have always failed to create, where we don’t even lock our doors because we have nothing to fear and everyone likes everyone else – Jesus will give that world to us when he returns in power and authority.
But here we are in our broken world of today. Good. It’s in the breakdown of human power that we finally see its weakness and are less likely to be taken in. I love the way Malcolm Muggeridge said it:
It is precisely when every earthly hope has been explored and found wanting, when in the shivering cold the last log has been thrown on the fire and in the gathering darkness every glimmer of light has finally flickered out, it’s then that Christ’s hand reaches out sure and firm. Then his words bring inexpressible comfort and his light shines brightest, abolishing the darkness forever.
God’s surprising victory
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
Let’s all admit it. We’re embarrassed by the failures of the Christian church in history and in our own day. We’re embarrassed about ourselves. The people of God have always failed to live up to him. The royal line of David, back in Isaiah’s time, was very uneven in its performance. Even the good kings failed in some ways. That’s why Isaiah is saying this. Jesus alone will establish and uphold an un-embarrassing kingdom of justice and righteousness, it will last forever, and we will not accomplish this. The zeal of the Lord will do this, and he’ll do it with passion. That’s what zeal is. God has committed his emotion to the future of this world, for the sake of Christ.
What I love most about this verse is the first line: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” Always and forever on the upswing. Never in retreat, never in decline, never in recession, never on the defensive, never diminishing, never stalling, never even pausing, but forever increasing and accelerating and expanding, we ourselves will be strengthened to run with him, and every moment will be better than the last. There is nothing small about Christ. You don’t have to settle for mediocrity when you come to Christ. You are freed from smallness and mediocrity into this great future. And he will never run out of new ideas for thrilling you with his glory. Will you believe this prophecy of the Bible and let it enter your heart and thrill you?
Maybe we wonder if heaven might be boring because we think of it as fluffy clouds and white togas and massed choirs. And who wants that forever? But the Bible says that the eternal kingdom of Christ will be the new heavens and the new earth, like this one we like so much, but purified and freed and perfected. We’re not going back to Eden, which was vulnerable to the damage of sin. We’re going forward into a new Eden that cannot be harmed. It’s not so much that we will go up to heaven but that heaven will come down to us in this world: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2). The contrast between heaven and earth will simply go away, as God himself dwells with us. He will give us our own place there in his land, where all the beauty originally came from. And our new eternal home will not be static but free. The Bible says, “The creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). The meek will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5). The desert will blossom like the rose (Isaiah 35:1). We will be renewed people in a renewed environment, boosted to its highest glory. The Bible says that the kings of the earth – the cultural leaders and shapers – will bring the glory and honor of the nations into the holy city (Revelation 21:24-25). The music and language and dress and art and sports and all the genius of every culture will be preserved, not destroyed, and made worthy of Christ and brought in for his glory and everyone’s enjoyment forever. Jesus said it will be like a great feast (Matthew 8:11), where we will eat and drink at his table, he being the host and we being his guests (Luke 22:30). Jesus advised us to invest our earthly money now in his cause, because that’s how we can lay up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-20).
Best of all, we will be with Christ. We will see him, hear him, touch him. In his presence, all our ignorance will be informed, all our doubts satisfied, all our weakness empowered, all our sins and failures utterly forgotten, and all the sad things of our lives will come untrue forever. In fact, in that infinite ocean of the glory of God, all the evil of all of history will be the merest pinprick of darkness, and God will send it away, never to bother us again. We will be holy, alive and glorified, like Christ. Our resurrected bodies will be energetic, our minds clear, our hearts full. We will glorify and enjoy God directly, immediately, purely. We will receive every good thing we trusted him for in this life. We will be together with the believers of all ages, and even with angels, and our friendships will be rich and open and unguarded and unafraid and unashamed and pure. All the dividing walls of misunderstanding, of language, of time, of sin and offense, will fall down. We will forever enjoy more of the breadth and length and height and depth of the love of God. He will be happy and glorified – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and we will be filled with all the fullness of God. And most amazingly, our experience of this will forever increase. “Of the increase of his government and of peace, shalom, there will be no end.”
If you’re a Christian believer, I don’t need to tell you to love the Lord. You can’t help yourself. He has won your heart. Just thank him and praise him. And walk out the door of this church and put him first in your life this week.
If you’re not a Christian believer, did you know the gospel is this audacious? The gospel you thought was unworthy of your serious attention – is it the real gospel? Now that you’re seeing how fully Christ provides for his people, don’t you want to be a part of it? Everyone without Christ goes to hell. Everyone with Christ goes to heaven. You can receive Christ right now. Admit you don’t deserve him. Humble yourself and confess your sin. Then receive him, the crucified Friend of sinners, with the empty hands of faith. If you will, he promises to prepare a place for you.