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Gifts of Grace- Isaiah 9:1-7

You can find an audio recording of this sermon here.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honour Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan-
The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as men rejoice
when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian's defeat,
you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior's boot used in battle
and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
will be fuel for the fire.
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.
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.

_____________________________
As we come up to the Christmas holidays, I'm sure many of you are submerged in deep planning and preparation, negotiating with the family who should host the celebrations this year, making sure you've sent a Christmas card to everyone and of course worrying over whether you got the right toy or computer game for the children. Because, for the children often Christmas is all about the presents. I have to hold my hand up here and say when I was a kid, no matter how much we were told at Sunday school, “Christmas is not about Santa, its about Jesus”, It made no difference, the only thing that was on my little mind was the big box wrapped in shiny wrapping paper, sitting under the tree, with my name on it! My parents were driven nuts, pulling their hair out, from mid-October to Christmas eve with my over excitable anticipation of what I would get from Santa this year. And even when I got a little older and knew Santa didn't really exist I still nagged them increasingly every day about what I wanted that year. But as I have grown and hopefully matured, it seems to me that although I was incredibly materialistic in my childish mindset, I was not entirely wrong. Christmas is about gifts, it is about presents! However, what I had not understood as a child was that the gifts from Santa and my parents were insignificant compared to the gifts of grace from our God.

Here in the passage Isaiah is in the middle of prophesying against Israel, he is mid way through a terrifying judgement against the nation, the Assyrian's are coming and God is with them, they are God's mighty hand to subdue Israel and the nations who have rebeled over and over against Him. They come to plunder the cities, destroy the buildings and capture the people to take them into exile. And yet throughout this terrifying judgement there is a continual resounding message of hope. A saviour will come 7:14;

“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.”

And 42:1

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him
and he will bring justice to the nations.”


This judgement, the conquering Assyrian army, although terrifying and uncontrollable is authorised and commanded by the Lord , and so too will deliverance come from the Lord to those who trust in Him. Isaiah is one of those, the remnant who continue to put their trust in the Lord and wait expectantly for His deliverance. And so in the middle of this judgement Isaiah turns his prophetic eye to this hope, a saviour. Like a little child in excited anticipation of what could be inside that shiny box under the Christmas tree, Isaiah looks to the future, to this gift from God, this mighty deliverance embodied in the birth of a child. But instead of seeing the fulfilment of immanent deliverance for himself and Israel from the Assyrians, God reveals to him His great plan of deliverance for all mankind;

“v6 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.”


It is this prophesy of the messiahs birth, that we often turn to at Christmas time. We can understand it all the more fully in light of what we know from the gospels, rather like reading the beginning of the book when you know the ending. Isaiah however, does not know the ending. He is looking to this great future event with limited understanding. What he does know is what God has revealed to him; a child will be born and this child will deliver the people of Israel and indeed the whole world from God's judgement. This great deliverance, the work of God in and through this child is summed up in the four names Isaiah records, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Now it is important to remember that in Jewish culture the name of a Child can have important meanings. Immanuel is a good example, which literally means “God with us”. However, the meaning of a name might not directly apply to the person who bears it. For example if you look back a page to chapter 8:3

“Then I went to the prophetess, and she conceived and gave birth to a son. And the LORD said to me, "Name him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz”

Poor kid! The meaning of this baby's name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, is “the spoil speeds, the prey hastens” and this was a prophesy that Damascus and Samaria would be conquered by the King of Assyria. Now the meaning of this name did not apply directly to the child. It rather signified something else. In the same way the names Isaiah records concerning the saviour to be born do not all directly apply to him, but rather each of these names represent a part of the work of God's great deliverance for his people. This work of great deliverance is wrapped up in the child who was to be born. There is only one I think we can directly apply to Jesus, and I will explain why later. But just now let us consider, each of these names and what they mean in light of what we know about Jesus. Firstly, Mighty God.

When we consider Jesus birth at Christmas time we should never think of it as a small thing, as if it was a plan made in the spur of the moment by God the Father, he didn't turn to the Son and say, “Why don't you just take a little trip down to earth and see how they are doing down there?”. Neither was God's hand forced by the fall and Jesus offered to help get Him out of a sticky situation. No! The incarnation of Jesus Christ always was from the very beginning Gods full intention. It wasn't a plan B, it was the plan. For Gods purpose is and always has been salvation. Indeed from the very moment of sin and the curse that brought death into the world God made known his intention to save mankind. Promising that a man would come who would crush the head of the deceiver, the serpent who had led mankind to sin and death. Then God made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Later delivering his people of Israel from Egypt and giving them the law, bringing them to the promised land and placing King David on the throne. Speaking through the prophets to them. And finally all of this history of God working for the salvation of His people culminating in the birth of the promised Messiah Jesus Christ the Son of God. From the very beginning Gods purpose was salvation. And God is mighty to fulfil this purpose, He is mighty to save Zephaniah 3:17

“The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save.”


Only God could fulfil this purpose, no other could conquer sin and death. Isaiah in verses 4 and 5 pictures God the deliverer, like a mighty warrior striding into battle breaking the rod of the oppressor leaving in his wake a bloody carnage of enemies that stood before him. God is mighty to fulfil His purpose and nothing can stop Him. And furthermore, not only is His purpose salvation and His ability to achieve that purpose unquestionable He is and always has been utterly devoted to this cause. Look at verse 7 “The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”. There is no questioning Gods determination, like the good shepherd he would leave the other 99 sheep and stride off into the wilderness to search for that one lost and helpless sheep. Like a mother who's child had been snatched from her He seeks tirelessly and inconsolably. The birth of Jesus therefore, signifies the work of a Mighty God determined to bring about the salvation of His people.

Secondly, the birth of Jesus signifies the arrival of the Prince of Peace. Here is a title we can directly apply to Jesus himself. For Jesus came to bring, as the angels declared.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”

Now for peace be announced, there must be a situation of war or unrest. This is the war which I have just mentioned, the war between the Mighty God against the result of mankind's rebellion, that is sin and death. Jesus Christ came as a great envoy of peace, announcing to the nations that their rebellion had been forgiven in full and the Mighty God was offering them salvation. Now how we understand this resolvement of hostility between mankind and God is of great importance to how we understand the great gift of God's grace to us. The gift is called Justification.

As many of you know, this word justification; or to justify is taken from the setting of the law court. The image is of an accused sitting in the dock, the evidence has been given and it is without question that the accused is guilty as charged. The Judge is now to pronounce the verdict. All expect the Judge, who is just and right to condemn the accused but at the moment the verdict is to be given, the Judge's own Son steps forward and with his Father's approval takes the place of the accused in the dock. The Judges hammer falls, the son is condemned to pay for the crimes of the accused and the accused is acquited of all guilt, he is justified. Here is how Paul puts it in Romans,

“all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”


So by faith in Christ, we the accused have been justified and declared righteous by God. However, that is only part of the story and part of the meaning of justification. The other part is that Jesus the innocent Son took upon himself the punishment due to us. Now many people, struggle with this understanding of Justification. And if that includes some here I don't blame you, it is not a pretty thought to consider that God the judge would punish his innocent Son or allow him to take the place of the guilty. But the reason for this is found in the character of God the judge. He is utterly and without question just and right. He punishes sin, that which is utterly unjust and unrighteous and rewards righteousness and justice. That is who He is. And so we can only be acquited of this sin if it is punished. If someone is punished for it in our place. If it was not punished: God could not be just and right. And so, by God's mercy towards us and Christ's love for us, God made him sin to forgive us. Therefore as Paul goes on to say in Romans,

“since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”


What a gift! Jesus is truly our Prince of Peace.

But our Christmas tree sits on top of a mound of God's gifts of grace for there is more! The birth of Jesus brings us into a relationship with an Everlasting Father. It says in the Gospel of John chapter 1;

“ 12 to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.”


It is a work of pure grace that through Jesus not only are we justified but we are welcomed into an entirely new relationship with God one in which we know Him as Father and He knows us as His Son's and Daughters. As a contrast let us consider the relationship between God and man before Christ came. In the old testament the greatest revelation concerning God is given to Moses during His encounter with God at the burning bush. Here God's name is “I AM WHO I AM”. The name Yahweh a name that signifies utter self existence, sovereignty and wholly free from dependence on anything outside himself. It is the covenant name that Israel was to know God by, a name that spoke of what God was in himself, rather than what he would be in relation to them. It was a name that evoked awe and reverence, in his people. The Israelites did not even speak it when reading the scripture but instead substituted the name Adoni, which means “The Lord”. Through it the Israelites gained a proper understanding of the holiness of God. Indeed it would not be unreasonable to say that the whole theme of the old testament could be summed up in the words of the angels in Isaiah 6:3 "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty”. YHWH is not a God to be trifled with, He is a God before whom we must remember our place, and our distance He is a holy God. This was the relationship between God and his people before Christ came.

But since the coming of Christ, His work has allowed us to be adopted by God so that we might call Him Father. The old testament understanding of the Holiness of God has not been over-written but rather a new factor has been introduced. Through the blood of Jesus, God's covenant name is now Father – for the covenant that binds Him to his people is now known as a family covenant. No longer are we to emphasise the fear in which we should approach God but rather we can approach our Father with boldness and confidence as the writer to the Hebrews says,

“Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus...let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith”

This is such a gift! I know here at Kenmuir/Carmyle Murdo often has us recite the Lord's prayer together so next time we do so let us consider how precious those first two words are. Our Father! It is the greatest gift of grace God has given us. For although it is made possible by justification, it is greater than justification in the manner that the relationship involved is greater. For justification involves a relationship between a judge and the accused as I demonstrated, whereas adoption involves a relationship between a Father and His child. Furthermore, Isaiah tells us this relationship between Father and children is everlasting just as He, that is God is everlasting. Therefore, we can be sure our faith will be rewarded in eternity as Peter says in 1 Peter.

“ In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you”


This inheritance we are promised as Sons and Daughters of our God, that we shall receive eternal life and and that it is guaranteed by our Eternal Father.

Finally, the work of our Lord Jesus Christ for our Salvation through justification and adoption is continued by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of all believers. The Holy Spirit is what Isaiah refers to by Wonderful Counsellor. We see this in Johns Gospel where Jesus himself says concerning the Holy Spirit;

"When the Counsellor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.”


Now you may ask, God through his Son Jesus Christ has given us the gift of justification, He has adopted us as his children what more can there possibly be!?

Those of you who have children, I'm sure you really want to be there on Christmas morning to see them open their presents and see the look of utter joy and thankfulness on their faces. I'm sure your all hoping they will turn round and say, wow mum, wow dad! Thanks so much I really wanted one of these. Well God is the same, he wants His children to be delighted by His gifts to them.

One thing we must learn about our Father is He is far kinder and more gracious than we ever imagine and this final gift He gives to us through the Holy Spirit the gift of sanctification, is a gift which truly demonstrates His grace. You see God was not content with justifying us and adopting us. No. He was intent to make us holy, which is what sanctification means, to make holy. Or as Paul puts it to become increasingly Christ-like. God wants our nature to become like Christ. Now if you perhaps look around church one Sunday morning, you may wonder how true that is. If you were to observe me for long enough......about 20 seconds.... I'm sure you would see that my attitude and behaviour is far from Christ-like. The fact is, we live in a imperfect world, we are surrounded by some pretty ungodly people and things and we ourselves are far from saints. What's going on? Has God really held back His gift of sanctification from us?! Well part of the answer is, in the name Wonderful Counsellor. The work of the Holy Spirit is wonderful. It is amazing, incredible, incomprehensible. The Spirit works at a level much deeper than we can detect. He is a Counsellor of our souls. And so, to a certain extent the work of sanctification is not totally evident. However, I say that carefully, because the work of sanctification is just as much a natural reaction of thankfulness towards God for the amazing gifts of grace he has give us. God gives us the Holy Spirit so that our thankfulness towards Him might change our very nature into people more like Christ.

If you are not thankful towards Him something is wrong. And furthermore, if your thankfulness is not being expressed in your life by real evident change in day by day increased Christ-likeness there is something wrong. When someone becomes a Christian a radical change occurs at many levels. A whole world view is turned upside down and an entire attitude towards life is forever altered. This is fueled by an ongoing realisation that God has been unimaginably gracious towards us and His love for us is incalculable. Therefore, although ultimately as Christians we remain sinners saved by grace such a change should be recognisable. It cannot be that a new Christian continues to live and practice his/her life in the same way they lived as a non Christian. Without any changes. But the good news is, we are not alone, God's promise to us that He will never leave us nor forsake us is always true. If there are areas of you life in which you struggle with temptation and sin do not give up hope! God gives to us the Wonderful Counsellor, who is able to make our lives holy, He is able to conquer temptation and sin in every area of our lives. It is an utter lie of the devil that we are not able to overcome our weaknesses that hold us back from an increasingly Christ-like life. By the power of the Holy Spirit you can overcome such weaknesses. God is not content to leave you justified and adopted into His covenant family, He wants to increase your joy by making you day by day more like His son our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.

And so, in the person of Jesus a baby born in Bethlehem, it was the Might God's purpose to fulfil all His plans for the salvation of mankind by forgiving us of our sins through the sacrifice of the Prince of Peace. Adopting us into the family of the Everlasting Father and making us increasingly more and more Christ-like through the sanctifying power of the Wonderful Counsellor. On Christmas day when you wake up, let it not be that we are so shallow to think how nice to was of God to give us the little baby Jesus. Rather, consider carefully how incredibly loving our God is to present to us all the gifts of His grace wrapped up in His own Son, our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.