Good morning Raintree. I wanted to mention if there are any of you who would be willing to share your personal testimony on a Sunday morning to email me at Ryan@raintreechurch.com. I will want to meet with you and really make sure that we’re on track with clarity as well as just to help calm any potential nerves that may come. But let me know if you’d be willing to share sometime over the next few months. We’d love to be encouraged and inspired by God’s power shown in your life.
I remember when I was 12 years old, we moved from Wichita Falls, TX to a small town 10 miles outside Wichita Falls called Iowa Park. Yes, Iowa Park, TX. This is where I attended Junior High and High School, loved it, great town, great people, great church- the church where I really started growing in my faith. But when we first moved, I kept up with a few friends in Wichita Falls because we lived only 10-15 miles from there, so at least for a little while, I still hung out with these friends.
Sometime I think in the first year after moving, I told my brother that I had eaten rattlesnake before. He didn’t believe me at all, so I promised him I had eaten rattlesnake before. He still didn’t believe me, so I even swore, I have eaten rattlesnake. He asked me where I had eaten rattlesnake, and I said Garrett’s house! I still hung out with Garrett occasionally, but he was one of those friends who lived in Wichita Falls, went to a different school, so Nathan, my brother, wasn’t at least immediately able to ask him if this was true or not. My brother was too smart to believe me, especially when I came up with more and more really neat things that I did at Garrett’s house that were completely made up.
My word didn’t mean much as a child; I promised things all the time that either weren’t true or I wouldn’t follow through with. From children we sort-of expect this. From adults, however, we hope that our word means more than perhaps for a child. And yet promises are made all the time that aren’t fulfilled. We use our “word” only to get what we want. It doesn’t really mean much! You can look at the most blatant examples of politicians making promises they don’t keep. Or you can bring it down to everyday examples of saying we’re going to do something but not following through, from as small as saying you’re going to take out the trash and not actually doing it, to as serious as a husband and wife promising to stay faithful and yet not keeping those promises. Even if we just think for a moment about how often people are flaky, and I am, by no means, exempt from this. Human beings are inconsistent; We’re flaky; we don’t always keep our promises.
One of things that makes the character of our God so beautiful is that he’s not like that. When he makes a promise, he will keep that promise. He doesn’t change his mind like human beings change their minds. He doesn’t get too busy and forget about a promise he made. He doesn’t make a promise only to get what he wants, and then not follow through. God is perfectly holy, consistent, and will never do anything to contradict who He is, and that includes always following through with His promises. What He says is true; and what He says he will do He does!
God’s promises will be kept; many of them he has already fulfilled. Today, we’re looking at the Promise of His Coming, meaning the Messiah’s 1st coming. Next week we’ll look at the Promise of His Triumph, and then Christmas Eve, 5pm, we’ll look at the Promise of the Gospel. Today, the promise of his coming, is the promise that we celebrate being fulfilled every Christmas.
Since this is the first time we’re moving into the Old Testament since I’ve been here, I want to remind us of one quick thought on interpreting and understanding the Bible, and this applies both to the Old and the New Testaments, but particularly as we step into Isaiah:
We cannot first jump to the question, “What does this mean for me?” That’s a great question, and we should get to this question, but when that’s our first question in opening the Bible, we risk completely misunderstanding God’s Word by taking things out of context. The first question we must ask is not “What does this mean for me,” but instead “What did this mean for THEM?” Who’s speaking, who’s the audience or recipient, and what did this mean for them? Without asking that question first, we can easily misunderstand what God is saying, and also easily mis-apply the Bible. So, for the sake of context and general Biblical knowledge let’s talk historical context for Isaiah.
At the time when Isaiah is writing, the Assyrians are an incredibly strong and threatening power. Israel and Judah were coming together to defend themselves against the Assyrians. This is a scary time! This is a big deal! In fact, in chapter 8, it says that the enemy will swarm Judah and fill the land. They’re strong, and they’re looking to destroy Israel. And here’s the catch: God doesn’t promise that they’ll be able to stop the Assyrians. In fact, this is God bringing judgment upon Israel. God is purging the nation before they could inherit the promise that God had given to their fathers.
In the Old Testament, God used pagan nations to cleanse Israel because they were disobedient. But this cleansing or this chastening is only a foreshadow of the ultimate removal of sin, which would happen with the coming Messiah. And so what happens is that on the basis of that coming purification and cleansing and holiness, Isaiah is saying that God will establish a time of peace and prosperity that the world has never known.
That’s the glimpse we get in Isaiah 9. So from a bird’s eye view, the whole book of Isaiah is a record of Isaiah calling the kings of Israel (and also the people of Israel) to faith in God’s promises, and telling them the consequences of disbelief and disobedience. When we move from bird’s eye view to specifically Isaiah 9, we see Isaiah speaking to God’s people a promise from God himself, even in the midst of judgment, even in the midst of disobedience. Let’s look at Isaiah 9:1-7. We’ll take a few verses at a time and see what this text means in context, and also what it means for us today. Vs. 1-2
1 But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations. 2 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
Now the “her” there in vs. 1 refers to Israel, and there will one day be no more gloom, because Israel won’t be under God’s discipline and judgment. The Assyrians one day won’t be on the attack. Now when it says “in the former time” he’s actually referring to the present. “In the former time,” one day this present situation will no longer be present, it will be past: God brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. These are the two of the most northern tribes of Israel. These lands have been savaged and overran by Assyrians. This is what’s happening right now as Isaiah is speaking, but Isaiah is saying that one day this will be in the past, and one day the situation will be different:
“In the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan.” This is the same general area that was brought into contempt, that was experiencing so much unrest and destruction, he’s saying that this same region will be redeemed. How is that? How is it, specifically, that this area, which is being overtaken by Assyrians and has experienced attacks and hardship consistently in the past, will be made glorious again? We’ll get there in just a moment. For now, we know something good is happening. Vs. 2- “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.”
The beauty of this, even though we haven’t quite gotten to what the light is, is that God is planning to give his people, Israel, light again sometime in the future, even though Israel has completely rejected God and his prophet Isaiah. Once again, the present darkness is shown not just to be something happening to the Israelites, but something that is ultimately revealed in their hearts. The darkness is not just suffering at the hands of the Assyrians, but rebellion in their own hearts. But Isaiah goes on explaining what happens in the future when this light comes, verses 3-5:
3 You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. 4 For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5 For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.
Israel has grown and multiplied, they’re joyful with joy as at the harvest, referring to the harvest festivals that happened often in Western Asia, the purpose of which were to praise God and be thankful.
But verse 4 is when it gets even more specific as to what has happened with this light that has come. The Israelites are FREE. The yoke has been removed from their necks, the staff and the rod that were used to beat them have been broken. They’re no longer slaves; they’re no longer ruled over. They are free like on the day of Midian, back when Gideon led them to victory over the Midianites. There is no more fighting, because God has freed His people, and according to vs. 5, he will burn boots made for battle, and garments worn during the fight. He will completely end the war and win freedom for his people. There will be no more need for battle armor!
HOW?! Isaiah’s saying this in the midst of incredible unrest, speaking like a looney tune who has no idea what’s happening around them. I imagine some of the Israelites saying, Look around! We’re being attacked! You speak of light, you speak of growth, you speak of joy and freedom and no more war and absolute victory! How?! Isaiah doesn’t answer with some great warrior, or great army that’s coming.
6 For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
God Became a Man
What is this cause for hope in Isaiah’s words? A child. It’s quite remarkable that God showed the greatest love in the history of the world not by sending a political savior, or a military genius, but a child born in the most humble of circumstances. I mean who are the most helpless of people? Babies, right?! They can’t keep themselves warm; they can’t feed themselves, at least newborns. But is there anything else in the world that gives as vivid a picture of the preciousness of life than a newborn baby? I don’t think so.
Sometimes we jump over this part about God becoming man without stopping for a moment and realizing the humiliation involved. Because many of us have grown up understanding that God became a man, and even for those of you who weren’t Christians, you probably had been exposed to the idea that Christians believe God became a man. Because of the familiarity, sometimes we forget just how big of a deal this is. Do you realize how offensive it is to many, the thought of the one true God becoming a man? Muslims, in particular, think it’s outrageous, the thought of God becoming a man; he’s too holy!
We must remember the humiliation involved. The second person of the trinity, God almighty Himself, entered into humanity by being physically born of a virgin, and will now never not be a man. Jesus is forever both fully God and fully man, even now at the right hand of God the Father. Philippians 2:6-11, says that Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
Don’t forget the weight of the incarnation this Christmas. The infinitely powerful became weak. The glorious became humble. The Creator and Sustainer of the universe became one of us. Just unfathomable.
Jesus’ Kingdom: More than Christmas
“The government shall be upon his shoulders.” Now this isn’t an earthly government: Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). The New Testament reveals that God’s kingdom is the Kingdom of grace and salvation, and this kingdom is present in our hearts right now. So if this is true, though, that Christ reigns in our hearts, and ultimately reigns over all, I want to challenge us with a question: As Christians, do we sometimes confine Jesus to Christmas?
We know that God’s kingdom is not relegated to Christmas, right? Jesus as the Messiah and King isn’t just nice to think about around Christmas. This is the most universal truth there is! In fact, to push us a little further: Christ Himself is far more important than a yearly celebration we call Christmas. But sometimes it seems that we hold on to Christmas as if it’s Jesus’ last hold on our culture. Some of us panic a bit when we think that the meaning of Christmas is at stake in our culture. But Jesus isn’t panicked…
Christmas is wonderful, my favorite time of the year, but let’s be careful not to confine Jesus to Christmas only. Jesus is the reason for the season, but the season of Christmas is not exactly His main accomplishment! In my opinion, some think they’re defending Jesus by correcting a Target employee when they say “Happy Holidays.” In reality, aren’t we just defending Christmas. Do you see the distortion there? Where’s the outrage when people take God’s name in vain? Or, if anything, at least where is the cringe?
Jesus is not just the reason for the season, he’s the reason for life itself! I’ll concede: we shouldn’t take Christ out of Christmas. But we shouldn’t confine Christ to Christmas either! He’s more than the reason for the season; he’s the reason for everything. There is no season that belongs to Jesus. Everything belongs to Jesus! “For from him, and through him and to him are all things” (Romans 11:36).
Jesus is BIGGER than Christmas; he’s BETTER than Christmas. Funny enough, my encouragement this Christmas: don’t savor the Christmas season because you feel like it’s Christian’s last hold on culture. Savor it because it’s a time to celebrate something that is true year-round and something that will not change with the wind of culture. What is it that we’re celebrating? What is it that will not change?
God promised a Messiah. That Messiah came.
He died for your and my sin, rose again defeating death, so that if we repent and believe we are saved. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty happy about that this Christmas season, whether I’m greeted this week with a “Happy Holidays” or a “Merry Christmas.”
The second part of verse 6: Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor- his wisdom is beyond human wisdom. Mighty God Himself! This is God almighty. Everlasting Father- He’s our protector. He’s a ruler, yes, but the kind of ruler you want to be your king, like a perfect father. Prince of Peace- His reign will bring about peace. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this. There is no doubt that this is going to happen, because God’s doing it. We can now look back, read this, and know, he did keep his promise. Jesus came, he lived the life we couldn’t live, he died bearing our sin, he rose again defeating death, Christ now reigns in our hearts, and ultimately, over everything.
The lands that were ravaged by the Assyrians in Isaiah’s day, the dark lands of Zebulun and Naphtali have been made glorious! How? Guess what city is in Zebulun? Nazareth. Jesus grew up, lived, performed miracles, was transfigured in this same region.
In the midst of so much confusion, distress, pain, Isaiah tells Israel that the Light will dawn. It is coming. And when He comes, nothing will be able to overthrow Him, and His rule will never end. We will be free, forever.
After Jesus was tempted in the desert, Matt 4:11-17 records that “when the devil left him, angels came and were ministering to him. Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.” From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
God’s great salvation can be fully trusted even in the midst of pain, suffering, and death. God wasn’t shocked when Adam and Eve rebelled. Jesus wasn’t God’s backup plan. He planned our salvation in Christ from the foundation of the world; he foretold of it through the prophet Isaiah. Jesus is our great God, fully man and fully God, who was promised by our great God, and can be trusted as our great Ruler and King.
Can we just stop for a moment as we close, and thank God that He does not change? Can we praise him for a moment, in the midst of so much political and economic and social and personal unrest? We serve and are loved by a God who is a ROCK we can stand on in the midst of constantly shifting sand. He keeps his promises. What other hope do we need?