July 19, 2010 David Balzer

Isaiah 9: The Promises of Christmas: The Name

115 yachts left Sydney Harbour on Boxing Day, 1998 in the Sydney to Hobart Yacht Race. Although the race began under a gentle breeze, skippers were warned they’d face storm conditions as they approached Bass Strait.

The next afternoon after the main body of the fleet had passed Eden, an intense low pressure system hit the fleet. Winds gusting to 100 knots (170 km/h), combined with seas exceeding 10 metres, caused chaos, wrecking many yachts.

At about 8 am the following morning, the Careflight helicopter homed in on a distress beacon. 47 nautical miles from Merimbula, they located the yacht Business Post Naiad. The yacht’s mast was broken, the mainsail was in the water, there was an oil slick on the water near the stem. The yacht was 45 degrees facing into the wind and waves, because of the drag on the sails in the water. And was rolling, pitching and heaving dramatically in the enormous seas.

Seven crew members wearing life vests were waving from the cockpit, and one person was lying on the floor of the cockpit.

The winds were 40 to 60 knots, shredding the tops off six to eight metre, and occasional larger, breaking waves.

Only three crew were on board the helicopter. Pilot Dan Tyler, air crewman Graeme Fromberg and paramedic Murray Traynor.

They decided it would be too dangerous to winch directly to, or from, the yacht because of the deck movement in the seas, and the amount of wrecked gear on the deck which could snare the rescue winch cable.

The yacht’s radio wasn’t working, so Fromberg used HAND SIGNALS to urge the survivors, one at a time, TO JUMP INTO THE SEA ATTACHED TO A SAFETY LINE.

If you were on that yacht, you’d want to check that instruction, wouldn’t you? “You want me to jump into 8 m seas? ON the OFF CHANCE that you’ll be able to pick me up from the helicopter? You call that a RESCUE PLAN?”

But the sailors didn’t have a lot of choice. So, as Murray Traynor was lowered toward the water, he signalled for the first yachtsman to jump and swim clear of the yacht.

To cut a long story short, Traynor managed to rescue all seven sailors. One at a time.

The message concerning the crazy plan had been SENT. The sailors heard the message. They trusted their rescuers, and the plan worked. “Your present looks desperate, but your future’s secure. I’ve got a rescue plan if you trust me.”

It’s the same with the messages from God to his people. Especially the prophecies about Jesus. You know? The ones that speak about Jesus being born in Bethlehem. Born of a virgin. From the line of David. Of how he’ll enter Jerusalem riding on a donkey. There’s dozens of them.

Many of these prophecies are just like the frantic hand signals going on between the helicopter and the stricken boat.

They’re declarations from God that his rescue plan is coming. His purpose is to give HOPE to the readers. “Your present looks desperate, but your future’s secure. I’ve got a rescue plan if you trust me.”

And that’s certainly the case with these chapters at the start of Isaiah. We’re going to take a high-speed helicopter flyover of the first nine chapters of Isaiah.

And the aim is to put into context the incredible promises of God to Israel in Ch 9 – that a child will be born who will bring light to Galilee, on whose shoulders will be the government. And who will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

The problem

Isaiah’s prophecy came to Jerusalem beginning in about 740 BC.

Remember the nation of Israel has been divided into TWO KINGDOMS. Israel (or Ephraim) in the north. And JUDAH in the south.

And both kingdoms are under attack. They’re fighting each other. And they’re both in the firing line from Assyria. The superpower of the time.

And it’s about 20 years before Israel falls to Assyria, and is exiled and scattered. And although Judah itself won’t be conquered by Babylon for another 150 years, there’s pressure building.

That’s the historical situation in which God speaks to Israel through Isaiah.

But what’s the problem. Why is it that Israel NEEDS to be rescued. What’s happened/ that’s left the boat of God’s people lying dead in the water, stricken, helpless, and needing rescue?

The answer’s there in Ch 1. The very first verse of the prophecy. V2.

(Isa 1:2-4 NIV)  Hear, O heavens! Listen, O earth! For the LORD has spoken: “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me. {3} The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” {4} Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the LORD; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him.

In a word. Sin. That’s the problem.

You can see the sort of hypocrisy that really makes God furious. From v13.

(Isa 1:13-17 NIV)  “Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations– I cannot bear your evil assemblies. {14} Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. {15} When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; {16} wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, {17} learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

The awful image of hands lifted up to God in prayer. But they’re hands that are dripping with blood. That’s the hypocrisy of someone who offers sacrifices, while at the same time pursuing injustice, exploiting the weak, taking bribes.

Instead, God wants HEARTS that are right. The ACTIONS mean NOTHING if the HEART’S wrong.

The punishment

But it’s not as if God hasn’t done something about it. Much of the stuff that Israel’s ALREADY suffered is because God is DISCIPLINING them. PUNISHMENT. But it hasn’t made a scrap of difference. Some children are just like that! Look back to v5.

(Isa 1:5-7 NIV)  Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. {6} From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness– only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. {7} Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire; your fields are being stripped by foreigners right before you, laid waste as when overthrown by strangers.

It’s discipline that’s been ignored. And it’s just going to INTENSIFY. Over in Ch 2, God talks about a DAY that’s coming. The Day of the Lord. When judgment will be dished out by the bucketful. Ch 2 v12.

(Isa 2:12 NIV)  The LORD Almighty has a day in store for all the proud and lofty, for all that is exalted (and they will be humbled),

It’s a theme that continues over into Ch 5. Look there at v25.

(Isa 5:25 NIV)  Therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down. The mountains shake, and the dead bodies are like refuse in the streets. Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.

God’s going to call in the big guns. The foreign nations. The next verse. Listen as he paints the dreadful picture.

(Isa 5:26-30 NIV)  He lifts up a banner for the distant nations, he whistles for those at the ends of the earth. Here they come, swiftly and speedily! {27} Not one of them grows tired or stumbles, not one slumbers or sleeps; not a belt is loosened at the waist, not a sandal thong is broken. {28} Their arrows are sharp, all their bows are strung; their horses’ hoofs seem like flint, their chariot wheels like a whirlwind. {29} Their roar is like that of the lion, they roar like young lions; they growl as they seize their prey and carry it off with no one to rescue. {30} In that day they will roar over it like the roaring of the sea. And if one looks at the land, he will see darkness and distress; even the light will be darkened by the clouds.

That’s the situation. The storm from which Israel needs rescuing. Ultimately it was a storm which overtook Judah in 580 BC when Babylon broke down the walls of Jerusalem, and took the Jews off into exile.

But at the moment, it’s the threat. A warning designed to lead people to repentance. To encourage them to step out in faith. To jump off the boat, and trust God’s rescue plan.

The Solution

So what was the solution? The rescue plan?

Mercy In The Midst Of Wrath

First, notice that it’s not pure punishment. As is always the case with God, it’s MERCY IN THE MIDST OF WRATH. Have a look at Ch 1 v18

(Isa 1:18-20 NIV)  “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. {19} If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the best from the land; {20} but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.

Can you see the choice God offers them? “If you’re willing and obedient. If you turn from your sin. Then I’ll forgive you. Make you as pure and guiltless and white as snow”.

What wonderful good news! It’s hard to find news better than that EVEN IN THE NEW TESTAMENT.

But that’s the mercy God offers sinners.

More Purification Than Extermination

And BECAUSE there are some who ACCEPT that offer. Who CHOOSE life. We see that God’s punishment is more PURIFICATION than EXTERMINATION. Listen to the language in Ch 1 v24

(Isa 1:25-28 NIV)  I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly PURGE AWAY YOUR DROSS AND REMOVE ALL YOUR IMPURITIES. {26} I will restore your judges as in days of old, your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City.” {27} Zion will be redeemed with justice, HER PENITENT ONES WITH RIGHTEOUSNESS. {28} But REBELS AND SINNERS WILL BOTH BE BROKEN, and those who forsake the LORD will perish.

It’s not COMPLETE annihilation. More/ a CLEANSING – a FILTERING. A restoration of the FAITHFUL. But rebels who are destroyed. Two very different consequences.

The promise

And so we come to the PROMISES. Promises made to these faithful people. To these people who are coming to God in REPENTANCE.

And they’re God’s INCENTIVE to pursue obedience and righteousness. The SPUR to keep trusting God, in the midst of the wickedness and faithlessness and hypocrisy.

The reward to hope for. The rescue line to reach out for.

A kingdom

And the first thing God promises his people is A KINGDOM. Look at it in Ch 2 v2.

(Isa 2:2-5 NIV)  In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. {3} Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. {4} He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. {5} Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

A kingdom where nations will come to Jerusalem. Not to RANSACK it, but to follow God’s ways. To join with God’s people.

A kingdom of PEACE. Where weapons aren’t needed anymore. Where God will judge and settle disputes.

And notice that it’s a promise which has a PURPOSE. See it there at the end? {5} Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

The future vision is designed to produce practical consequences in the present. It’s the incentive to walk in obedience NOW.

But it’s not only a KINGDOM that’s promised. God promises a KING AS WELL. Flip over to Ch 9.

In Isaiah’s time, the nations would come rampaging down from the north. And it was the northern tribes who copped the brunt of the attack. Around Galilee.

But God promises that in the future Galilee would be HONOURED instead. A light would dawn on those who lived in the shadow of death.

And that light is described in v6.

(Isa 9:6-7 NIV)  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. {7} 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.

Wonderful promises we remember at Christmas. Of a son who would be born who would GOVERN. And his rule would be JUST AND RIGHTEOUS. He’d be called WONDERFUL COUNSELLOR. That’s a KINGLY title.

One of the king’s jobs was to JUDGE. To discern truth. “Wonderful counsellor” means his decisions – his counsel – would be so wise that they’d cause people TO MARVEL.

His reign would be one of PEACE. He’d be called PRINCE of peace.

And notice how they’re all the characteristics of the kingdom promised in Ch 2?

And he would sit on King David’s throne. But he would be much more than AN EARTHLY KING.

For one thing, God promises that his reign would be ETERNAL.

For another, what about those NAMES? Mighty God? Everlasting Father?

This promised king will be like now other EARTHLY king. He’s OTHER worldly. OUT of this world.

God is promising a NEW KINGDOM. And a NEW KING.

It’s a wonderful picture. A promise from God designed as an INCENTIVE to obedience and righteousness. The SPUR to keep trusting God, in the midst of the wickedness and faithlessness and hypocrisy.

And God’s given it for the benefit of HIS HEARERS THEN. And for US TODAY.

When?

But I guess the important question to ask is WHEN? When should we expect all of this to occur? The kingdom and the king?

Jesus has come. The event the people of Isaiah’s time looked forward to. God kept his promise.

But now he’s gone. Should we expect a kingdom like Ch 2, and a reign like Ch 9 NOW? Or is it something we can look forward to WHEN Jesus RETURNS.

The answer is Yes! To both questions.

We talk about the kingdom of God BEGINNING when Jesus came. We saw glimpses of his reign – over sickness and nature and Satan. And ultimately over sin and death.

HE HAS achieved peace with God. He’s BEGUN the work of bringing about peace between nations.

But it’s not complete.

The kingdom of God is NOW, but it’s still NOT YET. His reign was INAUGURATED. But not CONSUMMATED.

He defeated DEATH, but Christians still DIE. He brought peace between nations, but there’s still war. He healed our diseases, but there’s still sickness and suffering.

And so we’re in the same situation as the saints of Isaiah’s time. We have God’s vision for the future. But we must persevere in a present which isn’t ideal.

God’s purpose in giving us promises like this – visions of the future kingdom – is to strengthen our resolve. Deepen our longing and hope for a new creation. And so live faithfully and with expectation in the present.

But we’re also MUCH BETTER OFF than Israel. Because Jesus HAS come. God HAS DELIVERED on the first part of his promise. And so we trust him to FINISH the job. For Jesus to return, and bring in his new creation. With a new level of peace with people and nature. A new level of intimacy with God.

But it’s not just about the future. The promise also comes with the expectation to do something in the present. Just like it did for Israel. In the words which followed the vision in Ch 2.

(Isa 2:5 NIV)  Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the LORD.

You see, God’s kingdom – the sphere in which he reigns – is PRIMARILY the CHURCH. We are the people over whom Jesus reigns. We are the people who are at peace, for whom the dividing wall of hostility has been broken down. We are the people who are calling those around us to stream to the throne of Jesus, and bow the knee before him.

And our task, as we walk in the light of the Lord, is to bring in the kingdom MORE. To make that vision of the future more of a reality NOW.

To do what we can to effect justice and righteousness. To see that Jesus’ name is honoured. To right wrongs. To relieve suffering.

That’s the context in which the church performs its mission in the world. MOTIVATED by promises like this one. That one day God will send his king, to rule his new creation.

(Isa 9:6-7 NIV)  …and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. {7} 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.

AMEN. Maranatha, COME, LORD Jesus COME.

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