‘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 Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ Isaiah 9:6
The first people who thought about Christmas, if you think about it, were those who looked forward to the coming of Christ (also known as ‘the Messiah’). This was true of Old Testament prophets like Isaiah.
The apostle Peter writes of such men that their prophecies had a divine origin: ‘Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man,’ he says, ‘but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21).
Peter also says that Old Testament prophets ‘searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when prophesying’ (1 Peter 1:10-11).
Indeed, God told them that they were not serving themselves but Christian people like those around today when they spoke of the things that have taken place in history.
Isaiah is known as the ‘evangelical’ or ‘gospel’ prophet because his prophecy contains so many prophecies about the coming of the Messiah (Jesus).
One of the most wonderful is found in Isaiah 9:6. Chapter 8 of Isaiah ends on a very sad note. Isaiah prophesied in dark and dreary days when there was much sin and many troubles. However, God enabled him to look forward to better times.
Isaiah 9 begins with a strong ‘Nevertheless’. The chapter’s opening verses are full of hope for the future. The hope is so strong and these better times so certain that Isaiah writes in the past tense, as though the times of blessing have already come!
Let’s look at four aspects of the words in Isaiah 9:6, and then four amazing titles of the Lord Jesus.
The hope of a child and a son
After the sadness and distress faced by the people in Isaiah 8, we need look nowhere else for hope than the words we read in chapter 9. The great victory that is going to come for God’s people will be won through a person. Surprisingly, perhaps, the person is a child. The emphasis is not on the child when he grows up but on the fact of his birth. Once he arrives, all will be well.
He is referred to as both a child and a son. The word ‘child’ relates him to his ancestry. He has a mother like us all. ‘Son’ says that he will be a male, and, it is clear, of the royal line. He is son and heir. The word ‘king’ is not used – perhaps because the idea of kingship had been so greatly devalued by that time (Judah’s kings had so often been reprehensible).
Isaiah has in mind the coming Messiah. God is powerful enough to destroy his enemies in a moment, but again and again when prophecies come of the means of deliverance, ‘a childlike face peers out at us’ (in the words of John Oswalt). God overcomes his enemies by humbling himself and becoming vulnerable.
A son both born and given – both God and man
Two parallel things are said of this child and son. He will be born – and centuries later Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem.
But he will also be given. God sent his Son Jesus into this world. This is what the hymnwriter and pastor John Newton called ‘the central truth of revelation’ that, like the sun, casts its light on everything else.
A son who would be born and given to those who believe
Is Jesus yours? In Hebrew the emphasis is on the child being born, the son being given, but notice too the repeated to us. To us. The Protestant reformer Martin Luther used to emphasise this bit when he preached at Christmas. By to us Isaiah means to God’s people – to all who trust in him, Jesus has been born.
The government would be on his shoulders
Isaiah’s word for government is a rare word in the original language (Hebrew). It basically means that Messiah would be the epitome of princeliness, of executive authority. ‘On his shoulders’ symbolises bearing rule. The statement comes as no surprise – after all, the child is God’s Son. He will reign until all his enemies are put under his feet. Of all people who have lived, we are called to put our confidence in this man.
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God
Four amazing names or titles for Messiah follow in Isaiah’s prophecy. They are worth long and careful meditation. They show how wonderful Messiah would be. Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Isaiah lived in days when many thought themselves wise, but were in fact foolish. This is one of the biggest problems facing people today. We are convinced that we are wise and so we have become fools.
Do not make that mistake. It is only by going to the Wonderful Counsellor, the Lord Jesus Christ, that we can have any hope. Yet how few turn to him! You cannot benefit from his counsel if you refuse to go to him. We all need to humble ourselves and go to him and to his Word for guidance, for wisdom. Jesus is the wisdom of God. Do you seek his counsel daily?
Jesus is also called ‘Mighty God’. Do you know God’s power at work in your life? Go to Christ and experience it for yourself. It is no good relying on our own power. It is easy to feel strong when all is going well, but think of the future. Are you aware of your own weakness – how easily you fall? It is good to be aware of our weaknesses, for this helps us rely on Christ, the one who gives strength and enables us to stand. Are you relying on his strength rather than your own?
Jesus is a man. He is able to sympathise with us and draw alongside us like no other. Yet he is also Almighty God. He can transform us like no other. He is the perfect Saviour. If we reject him, what hope is there for us when we face God’s judgment of our lives when we die?
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
The first two names flow from the name the Messiah is given back in Isaiah 7:14 – Emmanuel (‘God with us’). The next two titles bring us to the matter of what this child to be born, this Son to be given, this Wonderful Counsellor, this Mighty God, will bring about when he comes.
To refer to the Son as ‘Father’ seems strange. The point is that the Messiah will reign like a father. And it will be an everlasting reign – if you are looking to the Lord Jesus, he will never be taken from you.
Finally, who is your Prince? Look to Christ, the prince of glory, the prince of life. He has overcome the princes of this earth, the prince of demons.
Do you know peace with God? It is the possession of all who trust in Christ. As Isaiah often says, ‘there is no peace for the wicked.’ But to those who look to Christ, God says, ‘Peace, peace, to those far and near.’
Peace is often spoken of, especially at Christmas. It can be yours in Christ. Peace is not complacency or warm feelings. It is to know forgiveness and every blessing in Christ.