Jesus is the Prince of Peace

(This is the 4th and final installment of a series I preached several years ago at Lakeside Christian Ministries.  Using Isaiah 9:6, we have previously considered how Jesus fulfilled this awesome prophesy of being the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God and Everlasting Father.  This entry wraps things us as we see how Jesus was/is the Prince of Peace.  My heart-felt thanks to all who have taken this journey with me!)

Isaiah 9:6 tells us: 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.

These awesome words, spoken some 600 hundred years before His birth, have come to life in Jesus Christ!  We have considered over the previous three entries how the Lord not only fulfilled this prophesy through His perfect life on earth, but that he continues to do so on the throne of heaven and through the work of the Holy Spirit here on earth today.

Today let’s consider Jesus as the Prince of Peace.

What a glorious and fitting title for Jesus: Prince of Peace. This as yet unborn Prince Isaiah predicted was to be a ruler in every way.  He would rule over military, religious and governmental spheres.  Jesus is this ruler now, and will be seen completely as such when He returns to earth at His Second Coming to proclaim God’s eternal victory over sin, establishing a kingdom that will last throughout eternity.

With Christmas only one week away, what time could possibly be better than now to see how we can come to know this peace Jesus brought/brings.  In fact, Jesus Himself is peace. It is not overstatement to say that this, along with salvation, are the greatest gifts the Lord came to give.

To get started, let us once again be clear about the true meaning of the word peace as it is used here in Isaiah 9 and in fact throughout much of both the Old and New Testaments.

The Strong’s Strongest Concordance defines this peace as: intact, whole; a peace that has a sense of security and safety.

I hope this gives you some clue as to the depth of the word peace as Isaiah used it.  Today, we tend to think of peace as having no hostilities or at the end of a war.  However, history has proved that a signed peace treaty does not necessarily mean there is true peace.  One need only consider the Treaty of Versailles signed at the conclusion of WWI to understand this as WWII came only twenty years later, officially ending a most non-peaceful period in history.

Thankfully, Jesus establishes a lasting and complete peace.  Consider the definition of the word peace again: intact, whole; a peace that brings a sense of security and safety.  Only our Lord, the Son of God, has the ability, strength and love to make His peace a lasting one.  His peace brings completeness to a person and a sense of wholeness.  There is joy and contentment in the peace Jesus gives to those who place faith in Him alone for salvation.

Let’s take a moment to compare and contrast the peace the world offers to the peace that Jesus gives.  The peace the world has to offer pales when compared to this heavenly peace.  First, worldly peace is something that is to be achieved, not received.  Worldly peace is based on resources and personal ability.  This type of peace relies totally on externals; what can I get or have that will bring me peace in my troubles.  It seems so difficult to get and then if finally grasped it becomes seemingly impossible to hold.  The world’s concept of peace is that of being something one hopes for but rarely finds.

Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, brings a peace that is opposite of this. The peace of God is dependent upon a relationship, not resources; a relationship with the Almighty.  This relationship is made possible by God’s desire to be at peace with us.  Unlike the world’s concept of peace being something to be earned, the Lord brings His peace as a gift that we need only receive through faith.  And perhaps most importantly, God’s peace can be realized in the midst of our trials and struggles.  We don’t have to be burden free before we can know His peace, in fact the troubles we face ought to reveal the power of God to bestow His peace.  In other words, we can experience God’s peace in the very height of our personal storm.

Jesus, because He is the Prince of Peace foretold by Isaiah, did a considerable amount of teaching on the subject of peace. Speaking to His disciples, He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)

This in one of my all-time favorite scriptures, as it reveals so much about our Lord and the world in which we live.  Jesus doesn’t mix any words here, ‘In this world, you will have trouble.’ That’s a plainly stated truth, and one that we must accept as we live this side of eternity.  I’ve yet to encounter anyone, myself included, who has not had/does not have trouble in their life.  Notice Jesus words: “in this world you will have trouble.” Jesus knew the stuff that would happen in this sin-infested world.  Sickness, death and unexplainable tragedy befall each of us.  The question is not ‘where was God when this happened,’ but should be, ‘how do I find Him in the middle of what’s happening’ This is where faith must come in.  The rest of the Lord’s statement tells us to ‘take heart,’ because only He can overcome all the world throws at us.

How do we get this faith? By believing the truth that He has indeed overcome the world.  We joyfully celebrate His birth in this season.  To know His peace however, we must consider His birth in the greater context of why He came at all: His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead.  This is the ultimate victory that has been achieved by Jesus Christ.  No longer is death the final verdict for people.  Instead, we can know that the Lord has secured our forever home in heaven by dying for our sins and then being raised from the dead. The result of Jesus’ sacrifice is the payment of the debt we could never repay.

This same Isaiah who boldly spoke of the coming Messiah was also clear as to why He would come to earth: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and be his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5) By this awesome act, the peace of God can be known by all!

This is what we are ‘to take heart in.’ The peace and comfort of eternal security is meant to see us through our worst trials and pain.  When we have peace in Christ, we can have peace through our turmoil.  Will this peace lessen our pain or our hurts? Maybe not in the moment; but if you will allow more of God’s peace into your heart, the more He will minister to you in your particular trouble and thereby make more or His peace known to you.

Here are some more incredibly encouraging words about the peace of God spoken by the Prince of Peace Himself: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIV)

Like any gift, it must be received and opened to be truly appreciated.  During this Christmas season, part of the fun we have in exchanging gifts is simply in watching the other person open the gift we have given them.  It may be an over-simplification, but for a gift to be truly enjoyed, it must be opened.  Likewise, as we open our hearts to God, we can receive the blessing of the awesome gift of His peace.

Remember, Jesus does not give as the world gives.  He doesn’t, because the gift of peace He brings is not a thing to be grasped, it is the Lord Himself!  Pastor and author Ray Stedman explains this as he writes: when Christ Jesus makes peace — between individuals or between nations — that peace will be a satisfying, permanent, and genuine peace. It will be a real peace that will last and last. And it will be a totally satisfying experience. The problem with most of us is that we want to start by clearing up only the results of conflict. God never starts there; he starts with the person. He says peace is a Person, and in order for you to live at peace with someone else, you must be at peace with the Person of Christ. If you have his peace, then you can start solving the conflict around you. But you never can do it on any other basis. So the place to start, the origin of peace, is the settling of any problems between you and Jesus Christ. That is always the place to start.

I love the clarity this explanation brings to my mind.  I so often want to clear up the turmoil and any damage caused by it so that life can go back to an easy and even keel.  Doing this, even as it is well-intended, does not ultimately embrace or portray the peace of God.  But, as Stedman has so wonderfully written, we must have the peace of Christ first if we are to be peace-makers in our troubled circumstances.

Peace is often spoken of, especially at Christmas. It can be yours in Christ. Warning: this peace is not the same as complacency or warm, fuzzy feelings. Real, true and lasting peace comes only through faith in Christ.  The Prince of Peace, promised hundreds of years before His birth, has made the peace of God not only known, but available to all mankind.  Please don’t leave this most precious gift unopened.  Tear the paper and bow off it and relish not only in the gift itself, but cherish the One who gives it.  Remember, real peace is not earned, it is received.  The greatest giver of all time, Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, is offering it to you!

 

 

 

What’s in a Name?

(The following is an excerpt from a message I preached several years ago at Lakeside Christian Ministries.  The four-part series focused on the names the Prophet Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah.  This is the third installment which examines Jesus as Everlasting Father).

What’s in a name? Quite a bit actually, especially when we consider the names the Prophet Isaiah gave to the coming Savior some 600 years before He was born! They are recorded in Isaiah 9:6: 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. (NIV)

Before we dive in, allow me to share a question I have been wrestling with to get us started: What, if anything, is different this Christmas season from last year’s? Or any other Christmas season, for that matter?

Where is the focus? If it is to get the many things done and to go to the many places we go simply because it is Christmas time again, may I kindly suggest that the focus is misdirected.

Because December 25th is approaching ought not put us into a frenzy to get the house decorated or the perfect gift purchased.  Yet, like most, if I look back at this time last year, that pretty well describes the lives of many of us.  We celebrate the birth of our Savior Jesus by running ourselves ragged with what we think has to be done to make this season successful, happy, memorable, etc.

If you find you are caught up in any or all of the busyness going on around you, please take some time to consider Jesus Christ.  Yes, this is the time of year we celebrate His birth, and rightly so! This is the Savior of the world, who came to the world because He so loved us.  Take this time to re-set your focus.  Place it solely on Jesus and watch if all the other ‘important’ stuff going on doesn’t fall into its rightful place.

As I said, we’ve been discussing some of the wonder of the birth of our Lord through the lens of the prophesy of His birth given us by the prophet Isaiah.  I find it truly amazing that God’s word spoke to people in their context over 2000 years ago, and it is still speaking clearly to those who would listen today!

Remember, the ancient Israelites Isaiah wrote to were living in a dark period.  They had weak leadership nationally and spiritually.  They were in this condition because they had turned their backs on God. Despite this, God in His mercy and love gave them the encouragement of the awesome promise of a Savior.  He still holds this promise out to all today.  His light can/will still shine brightly into any area of darkness.

So far in this series we’ve considered how Jesus fulfilled the names Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God by which Isaiah said He would be called.  All the wisdom and power of heaven was/is on display through the child born, this son given.  His counsel is true, his power unlimited; we should seek Him out continuously as we walk this earth.  He will guide us if we ask Him, his power will supply us if we allow it to.

To help us discover the light God wants to shine on all of our lives, let’s look at the third title Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah, Everlasting Father.  Let me help with any confusion this title might cause at first: How can Jesus, the Son, be an everlasting Father?  It’s an excellent question that comes with a straight-forward answer that the original language will help us to find.

In Hebrew, the phrase translated Everlasting Father is literally “the Father of Eternity.” This speaks of the purpose of his coming.  Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries explains it this way: He (Jesus) is before, above, and beyond time. He is the possessor of eternity. He is eternally like a father to his people. This is not a statement about the Trinity but about the character of our Lord. All that a good father is, Jesus is to his people.

Jesus is this type of father, forever.  My earthly dad, Ken, was a wonderful man who taught me life lessons by his words and deeds.  He played a large part in making me who I am today.  But, like all mortal fathers will, he has passed away.  He was a great dad, but not an everlasting one.  Only God possesses eternity.

Ray Pritchard again: Because he is like a father, he cares for his people. Because he owns eternity, he can give us eternal life. That’s important for those who live on this sin-cursed planet. No one lives forever. Sooner or later we will all find our own place in the graveyard. We are not immortal but transitory. We’re here today, gone tomorrow. A dead Christ will do us no good. Dying men need an undying Christ.  Praise God, our Lord Jesus is eternal!

This had to seem like a bit of a stretch to those who first heard Isaiah utter this prediction.  After all, he was proclaiming prophesy of a child not yet born in Isaiah 9:6.   However, the text clearly says that this newborn Messiah is in fact to be an Everlasting Father! Go ahead, get your mind wrapped around that!

Helping us to do this will be the mind-set we bring to it.  We talked last time about child-like wonder at the things of God; how God often challenges us to get past our logical thought process in order that we might see more clearly how He is at work around us.  Remember, this is God Almighty coming to the world as an infant.  God chose Bethlehem, not even big enough to make most maps back then, to be His birthplace.  Given these facts, in all their heavenly contrast, let’s see how Jesus was/is indeed an Everlasting Father.

To do this, we do have to consider the term Father in the context that the Prophet Isaiah used it.  In our day we have watered down the concept of father in many ways.  Be it the bumbling portrayal of a Homer Simpson, to the real-life dad who works 2 full-time jobs, supplying materially but not emotionally to his family, to the no-account who fathers children and then disappears from their lives; part of each of these, plus many others, tend to make up today what we consider the title ‘Father’ to mean.

Being a father in Isaiah’s day carried with it much more than the above.  To be a proper father then meant that you oversaw the entire process of family life.  As one commentator put it, the father was the head who provided nutrition, education and protection for his household, including all those who might work for him.  It was a title of respect that was earned through bringing compassionate care as well as proper discipline and correction.  The Father was involved in all aspects of life in order that those under his care could live and grow in a loving and nurturing environment.

It will also help our understanding if we realize there was a tremendous stigma attached to those who didn’t have a father back then.  Being fatherless as a child in Isaiah’s time was to be virtually an outcast in society.  You had no advocate or anyone to look out for your best interest. This information ought to help us see all the more clearly that Jesus fulfilled/fulfills the title of Everlasting Father.  God left clear instructions in the Old Testament that teaches about providing care and provision for those who were in need (For more on this, read Deuteronomy 24:17-21).

Throughout His earthly ministry the Lord Jesus displayed this type of loving, paternal heart as He met the needs of so many.  Here are just a few examples found in John’s gospel:

  • He turned water into wine at his mother’s request when they had run out at a wedding reception.
  • Jesus took the time to explain to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, the necessity of being born again through salvation. He took the time to show a Samaritan woman at the well that he was Messiah.  Jesus invested His time in others.
  • He spoke a word and healed the royal official’s son; healed a lame man at the pool called Bethesda, gave sight to a man born blind and to a beggar on the road, miraculously fed thousands of people from a few fish and a loaf of bread and, let’s not forget that Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. All evidence of a Father’s heart beating in His chest.  In this case, the Everlasting Father who showed great love and compassion for people.

But Jesus went well beyond merely meeting needs.  His love for all people, especially those who were lost in their sins, was abundantly clear. There is a poignant example of this recorded in Luke 13.  As the Lord approaches Jerusalem, he receives a warning to not go there as King Herod is planning to have him killed.  Rather than avoid the problem by not going or giving in to anger about this threat, Jesus instead reveals His loving parental heart:

“O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!” (Luke 13:34)

On another occasion, as the Pharisees looked down at Jesus for dining with ‘tax collectors and sinners,’ the Lord told the parable of the Prodigal son.  Of the many lessons that can be gleaned from that teaching, primary among them is the loving and patient heart of the Father who longed for the lost child to return:

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. (Luke 15:20)

There are many more examples of the parental heart Jesus had for people.  As it is my hope that our previous examinations of the Scriptures revealed Jesus to be the Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God Isaiah spoke of, so too my prayer is that this brief study sheds light on how Jesus clearly fulfilled the pronouncement that He would be the Everlasting Father as well.

As mind boggling as it can appear to be, our Lord Jesus, along with God the Father and the Holy Spirit, is God.  These three distinct persons, the Trinity, exist simultaneously together as God.  Jesus was well aware of the confusion this was bringing to his original audience, as well to people still today.

Because of this fact, Jesus made many other statements that were meant to bring clarity that He was indeed the prophesied Everlasting Father in Isaiah 9:6.  One can be seen as He spoke with Thomas:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well.  From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

To bring this all into focus in our context this Christmas season, please remember that the Messiah promised in Isaiah Chapter 9 is indeed Emmanuel, God with us.  Today we have concentrated on the eternal Father that Jesus is.  That He is everlasting is more than a statement of time; or of His always having been there or that He will always be there.  Though wonderfully true, the point of application is that He is always with us now!  We can know that this promised Messiah, Emmanuel, is indeed with us each and every moment.

My hope and prayer for all of us in this particular season is that we can experience a deeper sense of God being with us.  This is God; who made us and loves us.  He’s not merely sitting somewhere above, watching and ready to pounce on our mistakes.  Rather, He is always and everywhere around us, as our Everlasting Father, offering us His peace.  The Messiah, Jesus Christ, stepped into this darkened world to bring forgiveness and salvation to all who would accept Him.

The miracle only began at His virgin birth because the miracle continues in the heart of each person who puts their faith in the Lord.  Once you have done this, the everlasting care of God is available to you.  He will guide and comfort you, He will direct your steps.  You need only allow Him to and He will do so as your Everlasting Father. Amen.

 

Jesus is Mighty God

(The following is an excerpt from a message I preached at Lakeside Christian Ministries a few years ago.  It is the second in a four-part series that examines the four different names the prophet referred to the Christ child as, some seven centuries before His birth.  This one is titled: Jesus is Mighty God)

The world around us proclaims with excitement that this is the holiday season.  On the simplest of levels, I suppose it is.  If you start the clock, if you will, at Thanksgiving, over the next six weeks there is Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa.  Each of these traditions hold their own unique celebrations, keeping many people busy and filled with expectations of merry times with presents to be exchanged.

I’m not here to put a damper on anything, but at the same time I am here to speak as clearly as I can about what the birth of Jesus meant and means for all people and for all time.  How Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies, like the one I’m writing about again today, points to the power and love of God, who predicted and then fulfilled His awesome salvation plan through His Son, Jesus Christ.

Unfortunately, the world has successfully turned this incredible time into a materialistic mania. This has caused much spiritual darkness, so much so that many who know that God has given the Light of the World, Jesus, still live in fear of the darkness.  It is my hope and prayer that by considering the prophesy of Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah, we can all experience more of the awesome light of God in our own lives, and thus be able to shine it better into our hurting world.

Let’s continue with our discussion of Isaiah 9:6 as we consider the four titles the prophet gave to the coming Messiah.  Please recall that these words were first uttered some 700 years before the Lord was born.

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)

In my previous blog I examined Jesus as the fulfillment of the Wonderful Counselor.  Jesus was/is the incomprehensible and perfect counselor, full of all the wisdom and knowledge of everything.  His counsel is divine, and ought to be sought by us in all things.

This time let’s uncover some more of who this Mighty God is.  Let’s start by not overlooking the obvious; this child born is God.  Ray Pritchard of Keep Believing Ministries says it this way: Who is Jesus Christ?  This baby born in the manger is not just the Son of God, he is also God the Son.  He goes on to say; if he is not God, we are fools to worship him.  If he is God, we are fools not to.

The Hebrew word that was translated as God in Isaiah 9:6 is El.  It means the Strong One.  Once again God stretches us to consider His unfathomable power.  After all, what is less mighty than a newborn baby; and yet this is the title that the prophet gives Him.  Much the same as how this child was to be born in a town so small it didn’t even make the map of those days (Micah 5:2); here we have our all-powerful God coming to dwell among us as an infant.  God challenges us to think beyond our finite limitations to behold His magnificence.

As per Jesus’ advice, we must take these deep issues of faith as a child (Luke 18:17).  This can be difficult to do in our time with so much information available at our finger-tips.  If I thought that this wealth of knowledge was in fact bringing with it real peace for folks, I might suggest we use it exclusively in our quest for understanding of this Mighty God.  But as I do not see this happening, why not join me in taking a bit of a child-like look at Jesus.

The title Mighty God that Isaiah gave to the coming Messiah gives the indication of a conquering hero, a warrior that fights against anything that might injure His people.  Who better than a child can picture this type of hero overcoming to save the day?  Yet the comfort here goes beyond just knowing these battles are being fought for us because this Mighty God is the ultimate conqueror who cannot be beaten.

Consider what Matthew Poole’s commentary has to say about this: The mighty God: this title can agree to no man but Christ, who was God as well as man, to whom the title of God or Jehovah is given, both in the Old and New Testament,  (Jeremiah 23:6 John 1:1 Romans 9:5), and in many other places. And it is a most true observation, that this Hebrew word El is never used in the singular number, of any creature, but only of the Almighty God, as is evident by perusing all the texts where this word is used.

Understanding that Jesus is the Mighty God opens our hearts and minds to so much that the scriptures tell us about Him.  Our Mighty God Jesus is the reason to not let our hearts be troubled because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).  Our part in this is to have strong enough faith to believe Jesus meant us and our trials when He made this promise.

It is only Jesus, as Mighty God, who could/would defeat the power of sin and death by His victory on the Cross.  Once again, we see God stretching us to see that eternal life springs from physical death.  It is through the unlimited power of God that the bridge back to Him is constructed.  The vast separation sin cast between us and God could only be spanned by Jesus, the Mighty God.

I wrote last time how Jesus fulfilled the prophesy of Messiah being the Wonderful Counselor.  I have endeavored today to shine some light on to the fact that the Lord was/is/will always be Mighty God as well.  The well-known worship song Indescribable written by Laura Story and Jesse Reaves and made popular by Chris Tomlin, pretty well sums up these points about our Mighty God.

Indescribable, uncontainable, you placed the stars in the sky and you know them by name, You are amazing God.  All powerful, untamable, awestruck we fall to our knees as we humbly proclaim, You are amazing God.

The child who has been born, the son who has been given, is our Mighty God.  My words cannot adequately express the might He contains, but with the child-like wonder I mentioned earlier, we can gaze upon Him and give our praise to Him.  We can offer thanksgiving to Him who has this incomparably great power. 

We do this because of all the mighty power that we’ve talked about and witnessed, there is nothing greater than what Jesus did for all mankind on the cross.  What is impossible for us to do, Jesus did, as He explained in Luke 18:31-34.

The Lord accomplished, as only God could have, the atonement for man’s sins.  What is impossible for us to achieve, Jesus has done by willingly taking our punishment on Himself.  This baby, so often pictured in a peaceful scene in a manger with farm animals looking on, came to this world to die an ugly and incredibly painful death, so that the awesome, mighty power of God could be displayed in His resurrection.

May we all come to a greater appreciation of just what this season celebrates, as we do joyfully proclaim the birth of Jesus.  A birth foretold centuries years before the fact by the prophet Isaiah, which allowed the Mighty God of heaven to take up his dwelling among us.  My we sing joyfully at the sight of His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth (John 1:14).  Jesus was the fulfillment of this prophesy of the Mighty God.  He continues to fulfill it in the hearts and lives of believers since then until now and forever more.  He is the all-powerful creator.  He is the light of heaven shining on all people.  He is Mighty God.   Amen.

Jesus, the Wonderful Counselor

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 following 4 blogs are excerpts from messages I preached at Lakeside Christian Ministries a few years back as we explored the meaning and application of the four names prophesied by Isaiah of the coming Messiah whom me know to be Jesus Christ)

We hear this scripture read often as we enter into the Christmas season.  It speaks of the awesome promise fulfilled by the birth of the Savior, Jesus Christ.  God chose that point in history, some 2000 years ago, to start into motion His plan of redemption for mankind.  His marvelous light shone into a dark world bringing the hope of salvation to all who would believe.

As I contemplate the current world around me, I wonder if ever there was a time that we needed the light of God to shine on us more than we do right now.  The deep divisions within my own country of America are threatening the very fabric of our nation.  Fear and dis-trust are at an all-time high and the future seems anything but certain.  Racial, economic and political strife are the daily reality for a growing number in our land.  To sum up, a deep darkness has enveloped us, seemingly blocking out any light of the hope God brought through the birth of His Son.

The Scripture verse at the top is part of the prophesy spoken by the Prophet Isaiah over the troubled land of Israel, some six hundred years before the birth of Christ.  The people lived in gloom (you can read about it in Isaiah 8:19-22), they were hungry for something and searching for answers from everything but God.  Spiritual confusion had replaced their hope.

As unsettling as our times are, one thing they are not, is unique to the human experience.  History is marked with both long and short-term examples of prevailing darkness.  In the 1300’s, it is estimated that 100 million people in Europe died from Bubonic Plague.  Biblical history also gives many accounts of the darkness that existed periodically over the nation of Israel as they suffered at the hands of various conquerors, as well as oppressive rule from their own.  Just skim the historical books of 1&2 Kings to get of sense of this.

Thankfully, our God is an ever-faithful God! Throughout the scriptures He has promised, and fulfilled, to never leave us nor forsake us.  Whenever His people, whether individually or as a nation, recognized they have strayed from His marvelous light, He forgives and brings them back into His fold.  That’s the ‘bottom line’ we must all remember.  God has provided the means for our forgiveness through the life, death and resurrection of His Son Jesus.

Isaiah 9:6 is one of the most frequently quoted verses of the Old Testament.  Together let’s consider what it is God is promising and has done in fulfillment of this prophesy, with the emphasis being on the four names Isaiah referred to this coming child as, starting with Wonderful Counselor.

As usual, we have to work through the language to get at what God’s word is saying to us today.  To this point, consider how you and I often use the word wonderful.  We say things like ‘isn’t that wonderful,’ or, ‘that’s a wonderful idea.’ We use wonderful to describe things that are pleasant or enjoyable.  Isaiah had a much deeper meaning in mind when he told us the Messiah would be called Wonderful Counselor.  The Hebrew word used that has been translated wonderful means miracle or astounding, something that is incomprehensible and totally set apart from the normal (Strongest Strong’s Concordance).

Carrying this thought forward to Jesus’ actual life, we see many examples of this being fact.  Actually, start with His conception through the Holy Spirit and his virgin mother Mary.  Incomprehensible? You bet.  That’s not how conception normally works is it?  True, but this was no normal child to be conceived.  I would add the record of His healings and His sinless life to the list of the miraculous, astounding and incomprehensible things about this Wonderful Messiah named Jesus.

The biblical meaning of wonderful counselor as it applies to Jesus means that He is, as one commentator puts it; beyond anything we have ever seen, that He is so extraordinarily vast that we cannot possibly understand all that He is because he is outside the realm of human possibility.  John’s gospel captures this thought:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14 NIV).

But Isaiah not only described the coming Savior 800 years before the fact as Wonderful, he ties this word with Counselor.  Once again, we must look more deeply into its meaning to get the full richness of the intent. There are no shortage of counselor’s in our world today.  Many are highly trained professionals, whose clinical knowledge and expertise help people with myriad ailments plaguing them.  According to research done in 2013, there were over 1 million practicing counselors in this country alone.  They span the spectrum of professions, from mental health to educational and vocational, just to name a few.

Please know that I am in no way depreciating the work and dedication of these men and women, for a vast majority are modeling the very heart of Christ as they bring care to so many who are in need. What we must understand, however, is that Isaiah was not describing a counselor as we have come to recognize the term.  Whereas today’s usage of the title often describes a particular area or field a counselor works in, the term Counselor as applied to the coming Messiah was meant to be singularly applied to the ruler giving counsel to his people.  The advice from this kingly counselor was to be known as trustworthy and full of godly wisdom.  You should act in confidence about what this Counselor told you, for He has had access to the wisdom of heaven.

Jesus, as the Wonderful Counselor, has been described as being the sum total of all knowledge.  He is/has all wisdom, all guidance, all direction, all truth and insight.  He knows everything about everything and is never wrong.

Now that’s quite the list of qualifications for Counselor, wouldn’t you agree?  They certainly go well with the adjective wonderful, for Jesus, as this perfect counselor, is indeed incomprehensible to us.

Knowing what we now know and as we enter in to the Christmas season, let me encourage you to really consider what this time is all about.  Of course, we ought to celebrate our Savior’s birth and I’ve nothing against trees and presents and parties, but please take the time to remember this: For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son. (John 3:16)

He did so to save us from judgment we all deserve and thus to offer us eternal life through the saving work of the cross of Christ.  That certainly is a cause to celebrate!  Just don’t let the hectic days of planning and travel and shopping lessen the marvel this time should be inspiring within us.

And while you are thinking about God, ask yourself this: Have I been using the awesome resource of this Wonderful Counselor?  I/we are often so quick to seek advice to try to gain understanding on our own; shouldn’t we be at least as eager to seek the counsel of Jesus Christ?

He is the definition of Wonderful!  Let that thought linger in your mind.  Everything about our Savior is Wonderful.  As such, He is the One from whom we ought to be daily seeking counsel.  His wisdom is eternal, His understanding unmatched and His compassion unending.  And He has left the on-going connection to God the Father by leaving us the Holy Spirit to remind us of all He has said.

Please don’t think that this is not for you, because it is.  We read it at the top: For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.  That us is you and me and absolutely everyone.  And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Amen.

 

 

 

It’s Personal: Part 3

 

Though the Christmas season is filled with joy and excitement for many, it isn’t that way for everyone.  As I stated in part one of this series, I have been given the honor of speaking at several gatherings recently that recognize this fact.  The first was a Hospice Commemoration service, where families who have lost a loved one over this past year gathered to remember family members and friends who have departed this world.  These folks came together to support one another in their shared grief and to hear the words of hope that our All-loving God has for us.  The other gathering was similar, where the entire community was invited to a ‘Blue Christmas’ service.  Again, people were encouraged to recognize the loss and emptiness this season can bring as loved ones are missed.  In both I used Psalm 23 as a means of expressing God’s love and care for these tender and hurting hearts.

I’ve broken this blog into smaller parts (knowing how busy we all can be), to allow you, my friends, the opportunity to read each one in its entirety.  Each one has attempted to bring to light the personal quality of the relationship God extends to those under His care.  Let’s consider the last two verses of this wonderful Psalm today:

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. (NIV)

Once again, please note the personal way David, the author, addresses God.  In the first four verses he recognizes the deeply caring relationship the Shepherd has for His sheep.

Moving ahead to verse five, the table being prepared isn’t like what we would call to mind in the West with linen and silverware.  The table referenced in the psalm would most likely be a flat area of ground where the shepherd could inspect each sheep individually.  If a wound was discovered during this exam, oil would be poured on it to cleanse it and to promote healing.  Saying that this is done in the presence of enemies tells us that we are truly safe and secure under the watchful eye of the Great Shepherd!  Even when we think we are most vulnerable, the Lord has us protected all the way round.

David concludes his thoughts in verse six by stating the ‘now and not yet’ promises of God: Saying that surely (which might be better translated as always) goodness and love will follow him all his days is living in the realization of God’s promise to never leave or forsake His children.  And writing that he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever speaks of the eternal promise of heaven for all those whose faith is in the saving power of God.  Though the appearance of Jesus on the earth was still many centuries away, David believed that God was going to provide a way for mankind to be with Him forever.  Those of us living on the other side of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection have seen this promise come to fruition.

According to the NIV Cultural Background Bible, the metaphor in Psalm 23 of a shepherd was a royal one, with connotations of strong leadership but tender care. I can give personal testimony of having received this kind of tender leadership from the Lord.  He has met every need I have ever had.  As He cares for the sheep in Psalm 23, I can relate in His watch over me.

Because of this, I have learned it’s ok to be a sheep.  I know they get the rap of not being very smart animals, but haven’t I displayed a similar lack of sense in many of my thoughts, actions and words? By acknowledging I have some sheep-like tendencies, I therefore must admit that I need a shepherd to guide me.  Sheep, like me, will never make it alone.

I need the loving guidance that God freely provides.  Only He can fully heal all my hurts.  It is Jesus, whose birth we celebrate this month, who is the Great Shepherd.  It is His personal touch that leads us to the pastures He has for us and His personal care that reveals His love.  He is our comfort, our protector and our Savior.  He takes you personally, I invite you to do the same with Him.

It’s Personal: Part 1

 

Over the next several weeks, I will have the privilege of speaking at two events.  The first will be a commemoration service for the local Hospice organization I volunteer at and the other is a Blue Christmas church service.  At each the focus of my message will be the hope that God brings to people in their darkest hours.  I have endeavored to pray, study and meditate on the familiar words of Psalm 23 in order to share what I have discovered and experienced about God’s comfort in the context of His promise to care for us always.

For my blog, I imagine this will be broken into several different entries and as always, your feedback is desired and appreciated.

As it is rendered in the New International version, Psalm 23 begins:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down on green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul.  He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

That the relationship offered by God is personal can be seen here at the very start: The Lord is my shepherd (emphasis added).  He’s not just someone else’s shepherd, He is mine! Think about that.  The God of the universe, creator of absolutely everything, considers you important enough to be your personal shepherd.

With the LORD as my Shepherd, I can also experience the wonder of having all my needs met.  I read this in verse 1 as it tells me I won’t have any wants.  Logically, this informs me that with my needs met, there won’t be any wants.  Being honest, I don’t always live in the midst of this promise.  My mind can often wander, considering how nice it might be to own this or to have that.  Usually, and thankfully, God will grab my attention back from dreaming about these totally non-essentials.  When He does, I re-set my focus on Him.  As I do, He then makes more of His peace available to me as I again realize the abundance of gifts I receive while under His care.

In some ways, I find this personal relationship that God offers mind-blowing.  After all, what do I bring to it? It’s when I realize, again, that it’s all about Him and not about me, that the idea of the Lord being my Shepherd resonates deeply within me.

Continuing with the example of Psalm 23, verses 2 and 3 are further expressions of God’s personal care for His sheep.  Sheep won’t lay down when they are hungry and also will not drink from fast moving water.  Once again, the psalmist is telling us that our needs are being met by the Great Shepherd.

To me, these are clear indications of God’s caring heart toward those who would follow Him.  But before going any further, let me ask, “Are you o.k. with being a sheep?” Sheep are totally dependent creatures.  They can’t fend for themselves and on their own they are no match for predators.  They’re not known for being overly smart.

I’m not suggesting that we simply lay about in the natural, waiting for someone to come and take total care of us.  On the contrary, we are to see not only to our needs but also to the care of others (Philippians 2:3-4 has more on this).  Rather, it is in the spiritual realm that me must trust and rely upon God alone for our care.  It is when I muster this child-like faith that I can more fully realize the working of God around me. In my opinion it certainly is o.k. to be a sheep in God’s fold, because His faithfulness to me (and many others) has taught me this!

In closing for this time, please consider what we read in verse 3, he restores my soul.  The simple implication here is that we have a soul that needs to be restored! Does yours? Mine certainly needs it from time to time.  Once again, the Great Shepherd is the One who can/will accomplish this for us.  His is an all-inclusive care package.  A member in God’s flock can have the joy and peace that only He can provide and remember, this is not a cookie-cutter, one size fits all peace, it is personal! Created and molded for each one individually, the perfect fit from the Perfect One, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

What a Sight!

I am in no way a well-traveled person. Born and raised in Central New York, I have lived here for all my nearly 58 years. I do not travel much, having never been outside the U.S. (save a few trips to our neighbor to the North, Canada) This is not to say, however, that I have not experienced some wondrous sights in my lifetime.

I have had the opportunity to stand in awe on the shores of both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. A vacation to the Southwest gave me the opportunity to see the beautiful red landscape of Sedona and the breath-taking splendor of the Grand Canyon.

As a devoted fan of the San Francisco Giants, seeing three games in the gorgeous AT&T ballpark in 2013 is forever etched in my memory; as is my first football game inside the then brand-new Carrier Dome in Syracuse some 35 years ago.

When employed at one of the three near-by nuclear plants, I stood inside the 550-foot-high cooling tower (while the plant was on shutdown!), with its opening so wide above me I could not see all of it when standing at the bottom! I have stood within a few feet of the spent-fuel pool with its beautiful cobalt blue color, peacefully hiding all that power.
I am sure that most reading this will have seen and experienced much more wonder than I have. I am also equally sure that none of us have seen or heard anything as glorious as a group of lowly shepherds did one night some 2000 years ago:

And there were shepherds living in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you. You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Luke 2:8-14 NIV)

Now there’s a wondrous sight! And on so many levels! First the obvious; the proclamation that the Savior of the world had been born. This wasn’t some minor announcement relegated to the end of a local newscast. No, it was announced from heaven in a way that truly befitted a King. Can you imagine what was going through the minds of those shepherds on that lonely hillside as they saw and heard this?

While were on the topic of those shepherds, why were they the first to hear this awesome news? Wouldn’t the town square or perhaps outside the home of the highest official been more fitting for an announcement of this magnitude? After all, shepherding in those days was the lowest of professions. If you were a shepherd, there was little to no hope of ever improving your lot. You were going to work and live with sheep, an often dangerous and always lonely life, and all for the benefit of their owner.

But it is in the fact that shepherds were blessed to hear the news first that we get a clear picture of the heart of God. In His infinite wisdom, he chose to reveal to the lowest that He was breaking in on human history. The Sovereign Lord, the Almighty King of kings, thought it best to tell simple shepherds that salvation had come to all men. A most humbling reminder to all of us; don’t let your station in life dictate to you how and when you may hear from Him. There is no more level playing field than the one that stands before the throne of God.

Not only did God reveal His heart’s desire to mere shepherds, He made it clear that His saving love was for all people. The angel proclaimed that this great news was for ‘all people.’ There is not much explanation needed with the word all; if you are drawing breath, this announcement is intended for you.

As all encompassing as this was, God also made sure the His salvation plan was an extremely personal one too. He had the angel not only tell the shepherds that this Savior born was for them personally (I bring you good news), but for us as well! The Savior Jesus Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected for absolutely all people. Yet in the midst of that mind-boggling fact, the salvation offered from God to us is done on a personal and one at a time basis.

So, if you are feeling over or under whelmed as Christmas fast approaches, please take a moment to consider again the shepherds whom God first told of the birth of His Son Jesus. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of last minute things keep you from pondering why it is you are doing what it is you are doing. There has never been a more life-changing occurrence in all of history; and it was made with you in mind. What a sight to behold!

Closed for the Season

Just north of where I live there exists a relic from the past: a drive-in theater. When (if) the winter weather finally breaks, it opens, and they show movies on the weekends until late October. At that time, along with a thank you to their patrons, they put on their marquis, ‘Closed for the season.’
I drove by the currently closed drive-in the other day and was struck by those familiar words as we approach another Christmas. Seemingly everywhere you see or hear ‘tis the season,’ as December 25th draws near. What is a time of joy for many, with thoughts of family, presents and parties abounding, others find deeply depressing for any number of reasons. Hence, my thoughts on closed for the season.
In my broad circle of acquaintances there are several who will be going through Christmas without their spouse for the first time. Their sense of loss and loneliness is heightened as the calendar relentlessly chugs toward the 25th. Their pain has them closed for the season.
I know others whose financial struggles are heightened at the holidays. They want to buy gifts for their kids, but the heat bill must be paid. Their jobs aren’t giving them any security either, as more and more in this already economically stressed area are being laid off. Uncertainty has them closed for the season.
Still others are going through the annual tension caused because their kids are estranged from them. Attempts are made at reconciliation, but seemingly they go for naught. Stiff reunions are accented by more arguing. Anger has these folks closed for the season.
If these examples, or any I haven’t mentioned that you are currently causing you to feel closed for the season, please know that there is hope! It is found in the true ‘reason for the season,’ Jesus Christ. The Prophet Isaiah wrote of this hope some 700 years before the birth of the Lord: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14 NIV). Immanuel means God with us. It is a personal promise from a personal God. Just as it was to the Israelites in the dark days when Isaiah prophesied, the hope of knowing the Savior is just as real today.
If you find yourself feeling closed for the season, I ask you to take a moment to simply reflect on those words the prophet wrote. They truly are incredible; a virgin conceiving? And then her child was to be God with us? It’s almost to crazy to believe, and maybe you don’t. I also have plenty of people in my circle who do not. If that’s you, I pose to you the same question I put to them: How is your life going without God in it? May I encourage you to consider the awesome possibility that what was said so long ago did in fact happen. If you will, allow that wonder in, you may well find those things keeping you closed for the season will lose their power over you as the power of our loving God permeates your life.
Being a realist who has been at the trade of pastor for a while now, I understand that not everyone is or even will be open to the things of God. Yet I press on, because you are so very important to Him (and me too!). For your consideration I offer some more words from Isaiah that also point to the saving heart of the Lord: 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).
Here this same promised Savior of the world is described in a most glorious way. The Son of God, sent by the Father to bring salvation to the world, is indeed wonderful, mighty and everlasting. The peace He brings to a lost soul, as the bible says, truly transcends human understanding.
Does it all sound too good to be true? Where’s the catch? Friend, it is true! And the only catch is in you risking a little faith to believe it. I know what it is to be trapped in despair with no human way out. I have felt the pain of loss and the debilitating guilt caused by my actions. Thankfully, I now know the nearly inexpressible joy that comes with being a child of God. What seemed to be permanently closed for every season in me has now been opened. May this be the time that you can experience the freeing love of Jesus; tis, after all, the season!