This morning, I’d like to introduce you all to the fifth gospel. I’m sure you’re already familiar with the four gospels — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. What you may or may not know is that over the years, some people have tried to add a fifth gospel. There is supposedly a gospel according to Thomas, the gospel of the Hebrews, the gospel of the Egyptians, the gospel of Peter and the gospel of the Nazarenes. But none of those documents have been determined to be genuine, and so, I’m not really interested in any of them. The fifth gospel that I’m talking about is the book of Isaiah.
Isaiah’s prophecy in the Old Testament has sometimes been referred to as “the gospel according to Isaiah”. The reason is that, although Isaiah lived about 700 years before the birth of Christ, he wrote some very specific things about the life of Jesus. For example, in chapter 7, he predicted the virgin birth (7:14). In chapter 40, he spoke of someone who would prepare the way for the Messiah, a role later filled by John the Baptist (40:3-5). In chapter 53, he said that the Messiah would be a suffering servant who would die for the sins of others (53:3-7). And so, Isaiah is often referred to as “the Messianic prophet”.
Jerome, who lived in the 4th century (c.342-420) once said that Isaiah “should be called an evangelist rather than a prophet because he describes all the mysteries of Christ and the church so clearly that you would think he is composing a history of what has already happened rather than prophesying about what is to come.”
The book of Isaiah is filled with concepts and terms that have become very familiar to us – terms like “they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” (2:4), “the wolf shall dwell with the lamb” (11:6), “a voice crying out in the wilderness” (40:3), “a man of sorrows” (53:3), “a light to the nations” (42:6), “bring good news to the poor” (61:1), the “Prince of Peace” (9:6), “a new heaven and a new earth” (65:17) and of course “the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” (7:14).
In the early 1700’s, George Handel wrote a series of choral arrangements based on passages from Isaiah. Appropriately enough, it’s usually called Handel’s “Messiah”. I had the privilege in high school of being in a chorus that sang all of those songs and my favorite was a song based on Isaiah 9:6, “For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” I recall that even as a teenager, that song made a tremendous impression on me, not only because of the music, but because of the words as well.
It’s a verse that focuses on the incarnation of Christ; his coming to our world. It speaks of him becoming a man. As John wrote, “The Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14). Isaiah also talks here about some of the names, or titles, that would be applied to the Messiah when he made his appearance on the earth.
In just a moment, I want to talk with you about this passage. But first, let’s get an overview of the first half of Isaiah. Watch this video, and then, I’ll be back to talk some more about this Messiah.
Birth announcements are a wonderful way of sharing and spreading joy. Over the years, Sueanne and I have received numerous cards in the mail as friends and family shared news of a child that was born to them, and it gave us a chance to celebrate the arrival of that child along with the ones who sent it.
In a similar way, Isaiah announced the arrival of a very special child:
“For to 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.
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.”
There are four things about Isaiah’s birth announcement that I’d like for you to notice.
1. This birth announcement is sent really early
Some birth announcements go out soon after the baby is born, and others a bit later, depending on the organizational ability (and sleep levels) of the parents. But every single birth announcement I’ve ever received was sent after the baby was born. This one is different. It was sent before the birth of Jesus — 700 years before.
The prophet Isaiah delivered it to the people of Israel while they were facing a threat from the growing superpower of Assyria (which would eventually destroy the northern kingdom of Israel). Isaiah addressed this terrible situation by looking ahead and promising the coming of a future King.
The reason that there was a delay of 700 years was not because God was unable to fulfill his promise sooner, but because he wanted to give his people the hope of a future King to sustain them through dark times ahead. And then, as Paul put it in Galatians 4:4, when “the fulness of time had come”, or as the New Living Translation puts it, “when the right time came, God sent forth his Son.”
2. Isaiah announced a royal birth.
I’ve never received a royal birth announcement, but I would imagine that it is significantly fancier than most — especially when it announces the birth of a future King. A royal birth announcement holds more significance than other birth announcements.
Isaiah announced a royal birth: “the government shall be upon his shoulder” (Isaiah 9:6); “of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom” (Isaiah 9:7).
In Luke’s gospel, we read another announcement of this same king, the announcement coming from the angel Gabriel to Jesus’ mother, Mary. He said to Mary about her child, “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32–33).
3. This baby has four different names, each name telling us what he will do.
In July 2012, Uma Thurman gave birth to a baby girl. When the birth announcement went out, it gave the name of their daughter — Rosalind Arusha Arkadina Altalune Florence Thurman-Busson. But, unless you count Uma Thurman as one of your friends, most of the birth announcements you receive will only have one or two names, three if you count the last name.
But Isaiah announced the birth of a baby with four names: “his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” One name wasn’t sufficient to describe this special child.
What is even more unusual is that these names tell us what the baby will do. Imagine reading on a birth announcement, “Excellent violin player, marathon runner, future CEO of a major corporation.” Birth announcements don’t list accomplishments. That’s because there aren’t any accomplishments to list — apart from thumb-sucking, blinking, and drooling. But the baby that Isaiah announced is different. Let’s take a closer look at these names.
The first name that Isaiah gives for Jesus is “Wonderful Counselor” which indicates that Jesus would be a source of extraordinary wisdom — which is amazing news for those who need guidance in life.
There is some disagreement as to whether this should be one name for the Messiah or two different names. Several translations divide this into two names — Wonderful and Counselor. But most of the major translations combine them into one name, Wonderful Counselor. It is my understanding that the Hebrew construction will permit either translation. But since the other three titles for the Messiah are all in two parts — Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace — I think it’s probably better for us to understand this to be Wonderful Counselor.
And Jesus is indeed the Wonderful Counselor. It is a title that points to the fact that Jesus in infinite in wisdom. If you want to be certain that your information on a certain subject is accurate, you go to an expert in that field. If you want to know about law, you go to a lawyer. If you want to know about health, you go to a doctor. If you want to know about precious stones, you go to a jeweler. But if you want to know about spiritual truth and ultimate reality, then you go to the Wonderful Counselor, Jesus Christ.
As Jesus taught during the first three years of his ministry, people were constantly amazed at the power and force of his teaching. After the Sermon on the Mount, the people “were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” (Matthew 7:28-29).
Throughout Nazareth and Galilee, Jesus preached in the synagogues and in the streets. Sometimes he preached about the kingdom of God. Other times, he preached about death and about eternity. But whatever it was that he preached about, Jesus always spoke in such a way that the people who had watched him grow up were stunned. They were led to ask the question, “Where did this man get this wisdom…?” (Matthew 13:54).
And the answer to their question was answered by Isaiah — Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. He knows everything: every thought, every word, every deed. Which may be a bit frightening to some people, but it’s also comforting. It means a lot to know that Jesus understands the problems you’re struggling with right now. Not only that, but he also knows the solutions to those problems.
In a world filled with confusion, Jesus offers direction. In a world filled with problems, he offers guidance. In a world lost in sin, he offers a way to re-connect with God. The reason he can do all those things is that Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor.
The second name Isaiah gives for Jesus is “Mighty God”, whichindicates that Jesus would be divinely strong and powerful — which is amazing news for those who are weak.
It didn’t take long for the people who knew Jesus to realize that he was making some astounding claims about himself. It soon became obvious that Jesus was claiming to be more than just a prophet or a teacher. He was obviously making claims to deity.
The ancient Greeks had a lot of stories about their gods coming down to earth and involving themselves in the affairs of men. These stories form the basis for many of the Greek myths. For example, the Greeks told a story of how Zeus came to earth, took the shape of the husband of a beautiful mortal, and the result was the birth of Hercules. These stories were so popular in the pagan world that when Paul and Barnabas performed a miracle at Lystra, they were mistaken for the gods Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:12).
But a common thread running through all these myths is that when the Greek gods came to the earth, it was always because of their own particular desires. They were motivated by lust or boredom or vengeance. They never had the welfare of the human race in mind.
But when Jesus Christ, the Mighty God, actually came to earth, it was for the benefit of man, not himself. He came in the form of man to redeem man from sin. But we must never forget that this one who came in the form of man was in reality the Mighty God.
Think of his tremendous power. He spoke to the diseased and they were made well….because he is the Mighty God. He spoke to demons and they fled….because he is the Mighty God. He spoke to the wind and it died down….because he is the Mighty God. He spoke to the dead and they returned to life….because he is the Mighty God. Jesus Christ is infinite in power.
The third name Isaiah gives for Jesus is “Everlasting Father” whichindicates that Jesus will care for his people forever, as a father cares for his children — which is amazing news for those who are alone and unappreciated.
Of all the names of Jesus, this one is the most unusual. We are definitely not used to thinking of Christ as the Everlasting Father. We generally think in terms of the Trinity as being God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. When we think of the family of God, we’re used to thinking of Christ as being our brother, our older brother. But here Isaiah tells us that the Messiah would be the Everlasting Father.
Perhaps he has in mind here that Jesus is the Father of all creation. And certainly, that would be true because “all things were made through him; and without him nothing was made that was made.” (John 1:3).
But I think it’s more likely that Isaiah refers to Jesus as the Everlasting Father because Jesus was like a father in one important way — the great love that he has for us. Paul Tillich is considered by many to be a great theologian and philosopher. He was once asked what was the most profound thought that he had ever had. His answer was, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” And that really is a profound thought, difficult for us to fully comprehend.
It’s not difficult to understand what Jesus did. It makes sense that Jesus would be our sacrifice because a sacrifice was needed to pay the price for our sins. It makes sense that God would use the old law to teach Israel over hundreds of years their need for grace. It makes sense that Jesus would be our high priest, thus bridging the gap between man and God.
What Jesus did makes sense. But why he did it is so much harder to understand. Think about it. For thousands of years, man tried to be friends with God. And for thousands of years he let God down more than he lifted him up. Men and women kept doing the things they promised they wouldn’t do. Even the very best of Bible heroes sometimes forgot whose side they were on.
Why didn’t God give up? Why didn’t he turn his back and just walk away from it all? Even after generations of people had spit in his face, he still loved them. You can’t really explain it. It’s not logical. But, for some reason, God loved us.
As Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (John 15:13). And that’s true, isn’t it? Your love can’t be any greater than that. And there aren’t very many people that we love that much. That’s the point Paul makes in Romans 5:6-8: For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Jesus was the Everlasting Father because of the great love that he had for us.
The fourth name Isaiah gives for Jesus is “Prince of Peace” whichindicates that Jesus will bring well-being and right relationships — which is amazing news for those of us who lack peace with each other and with God.
In Ephesians 2:14-15, Paul says that when Jesus died, he brought peace to two groups who had been bitter enemies for hundreds of years: “For he himself is our peace, who has made both [Jews and Gentiles] one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us….so as to create in himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” Jesus died on the cross to bring men into a closer relationship with one another.
But, more than that, Jesus died to bring men into a closer relationship with God. Paul wrote concerning Jesus, “By him to reconcile all things to himself, by him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now he has reconciled in the body of his flesh through death…” (Colossians 1:20-22).
The reason Jesus shed his blood on that cross was to establish peace between God and man. God and man were in close fellowship in the garden of Eden until man sinned, and that sin drove a wedge between us. It wasn’t that God had moved, but man had moved away from God. Isaiah explained it like this, “Your iniquities have separated you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you.” (Isaiah 59:2).
But it was the cross that brought man back into fellowship with God, and thus made peace between man and God.
Jesus is indeed the Prince of Peace. But as we look around us, we see a world embroiled in constant conflict, a world that is characterized by anything but peace. T. S. Eliot once wrote (in “Murder in the Cathedral”), “Does it not seem strange to you that angels should have announced peace when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with war and the fear of war?”
Eliot was right. The world is hardly a place of peace. And The reason is because the world has not yet put its faith in the Prince of Peace. It is Jesus who brings the peace that passes all understanding to those who will live for him. It is our job to carry this message of peace to the world. For those who obey him, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Infinite in redemption.
4. This baby has names that belong only to God
Perhaps most shocking about this birth announcement is this – all of the names of this future King are names associated with God. Jesus will be called “Wonderful Counselor.” Later on in Isaiah, we’re told that the Lord God has done “wonderful things” (Isaiah 25:1) and that he is “wonderful in counsel” (Isaiah 28:29).
Jesus will be called “Mighty God”; one chapter later, the same title is used of God himself (Isaiah 10:21).
Jesus will be called “Everlasting Father”; God is called the Father of his people throughout the Bible (Isaiah 63:16), and only God himself can truly be called the Everlasting Father.
And, of course, all of this points to the fact that Jesus was more than just a man. He was the Son of God. He has existed from the beginning of time, and he has all wisdom, all power, and all love. As the angels around the throne say in Revelation 5:12, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!” Which is why Jesus is the one that we need to follow.