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Monday, January 3, 2022

Christmas Day '21 Sermon - Isa 9

When the angel Gabriel came to the virgin Mary and announced God's call to her to be the mother of the long-looked for Messiah, it is of interest to us this morning as we celebrate his birth, that Gabriel seems to have read Isaiah chapter 9!  We have just read this wonderful prophecy of the birth of Jesus by the prophet Isaiah, given some 700 years before Jesus' birth. And there we were told that the Prince of Peace would assume the throne of David, establish his reign forever, and his kingdom would have no end.  Now listen to what Gabriel said:  

Luke 1:30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 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, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

That's Isaiah!  And surely Mary had heard Isaiah's prophecy before in the synagogue.  She would have heard the echo in the angel's speech; she would have some understanding of what was happening.  Her initial reaction was the meek, "Let it be according to your word."  But when she visits her cousin Elizabeth, Mary bursts out in verse and begins to praise the Lord - but note what she praises him for!  She praises him for delivering her people from political, economic, and social oppression.  She doesn't mention sin, she doesn't mention heaven or hell - she speaks of temporal deliverance for her people.  

In Luke 1, she says, 

51 He has shown strength with his arm;

    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

    and exalted those of humble estate;

53 he has filled the hungry with good things,

    and the rich he has sent away empty.

54 He has helped his servant Israel,

    in remembrance of his mercy,

55 as he spoke to our fathers,

    to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

That's interesting.  That sounds more like a temporal deliverance than being saved from our sins.  When we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we talk a lot about the spiritual blessings Jesus came to bring.  But Isaiah, and Gabriel, and Mary (and there's others we could quote) are also relating Jesus' coming to a deliverance from oppression from wicked rulers.  This doesn't quite fit our categories.  Everyone agrees (even they would agree) that our worst enemy is sin - Jesus' very name represents that, as the angel told Joseph in Matthew 1.  But it seems that Isaiah and Gabriel and Mary believe Jesus cares about all the enemies that trouble his people and He is involved in our deliverance from them as well.

This morning, I'm only starting a train of thought here.  There is no way I can address all the various things that are involved in this, but at least I can get us started thinking about the nature of Jesus' current rule over this world.

Let's look again at Isaiah's prophecy and read the first 2 verses:

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.

Notice the occasion of the prophecy: Why does Isaiah speak of the people of Galilee with words such as gloom, darkness, and anguish?  The reason is that in years past the people of the northern kingdom of Israel had become idolators, rebelling against Jehovah who was worshiped in Jerusalem.  When Ahaz was king of Jerusalem, some of these northerners got some friends together and decided to make war with Ahaz.  Now Ahaz was not a god-fearing man either, and he decided that he would get help from the Assyrians, who were the foremost military power of the day - and very dangerous.  The Assyrians, since they were asked, gladly invaded the northern tribes and the result was this oppression they were under in Isaiah's day.  

It is while Ahaz is still on the throne, that Isaiah promises a solution for the Galileans: light, joy, deliverance from a better King, a Prince of Peace.

Now let's note: The light he promises addresses the spiritual darkness that was involved in the political and military oppression.  These folks up north were ultimately in trouble because of their own sin.  They had left the LORD, and worshiped idols instead.  So, they needed their sin dealt with.  Light, in biblical literature, is primarily spiritual light, it is divine illumination that leads to salvation.  And so, in his prophecy, Isaiah speaks to their spiritual need first.  But he does go on to speak of how the LORD is going to remove the oppression of the Assyrians from them as well.  

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. [that, by the way, refers to the story of Gideon in the book of Judges]  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.

So Isaiah promises two kinds of salvation – a spiritual and a temporal - all in the same package, and a child is going to be born to deal with it all.

But when would this child be born?  Well, it was going to take a while.  God has his own timing about these things.  As Peter says in 2 Peter 3: one day with the Lord is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day.  It turns out that this child was not born until that first Christmas.  When we read Matthew 4:12-17, we learn that Jesus expressly fulfilled this promise of light for the people of Galilee:  

12 Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. 13 And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:

15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 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.”

17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  

So, the light promised for Galilee turned out to be the preaching of the Messiah himself, when he eventually came, calling their descendants to repentance.  But we note that the light originally promised by Isaiah was mixed in with the deliverance of Israel from oppression.  By the time of Jesus, it was the Romans who were the oppressors.  Since Jesus claimed to be the saviour promised in Isaiah, the Jews, therefore, asked Jesus if he was then going to set up his kingdom and deliver them from their oppressors.  Doesn't it make sense that they would expect that?  After Jesus' resurrection, didn't it make sense for the disciples to ask him in Acts 1:6, if he was then going to restore the kingdom to Israel?

If it does make sense, then why is it common for us in our era to belittle the Jews for thinking this way.  Why will a Bible commentator call them ignorant or narrow-minded or mistaken for expecting Jesus to take his throne and do something with the Romans?  Yes, they obviously did not understand how and when Jesus was going to proceed from this point on; just like they didn't understand he was going to have to die and rise from the dead to set this up.  But they were not wrong to expect him to do something along these lines.

Sometimes we think they were wrong.  We think they should have understood that Jesus came at the first to save us from our sins and do the work of our redemption, and then it would be at his second coming that he would fulfill all those political prophecies about his sitting on his throne and ruling the new world and saving us from our enemies.  Spiritual blessings first - peace on earth later - though, of course, the more Christian people are, the more peaceful their communities will be.  But by peace on earth here, we refer to Jesus's political rule, his monarchy, his theocracy.

Friends, I think you can see how we need to give the Jews more credit.  Jesus himself gave them credit, and he did not disappoint them!  He did not postpone his taking the throne of David and ruling the nations for the sake of his people.  He did not leave this earth and distance himself from the affairs of this world and all the oppression that goes on all the time until his second coming.  When Jesus ascended to heaven, there in the sight of these disciples in Acts, chapter 1, he took his throne right then.  

This is why Jesus worded his commission to them as he did in Matthew 28:16-20.

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, into a mountain where Jesus had appointed them.  ...18 And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.  19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:  20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

 When Jesus gave his disciples the great commission in Matthew 28 to spread the gospel of salvation through the world, on what did he base that command?  He said, "All authority is given unto me in heaven and on earth."  All authority, that is - in Isaiah's words - the government is on his shoulders.  Why?  Because once he was resurrected, he was going to ascend to heaven and take his seat on the true throne of David.  Jesus was not going to wait until he returned to set up his political authority over all the earth; he was setting it up right then and there.  And he establishes this eternal rule for the sake of the commission he gives his disciples.  It is because he now rules the nations that he is going to manage the nations in such a way that he will see to it that the gospel goes out into all the world with success, and he wants us to trust him to do that.  In this way he will increase his kingdom.  He rules that he might save to the uttermost all who would call upon him.  That means that, if there is a nation that gets in his way, he will deal with it - now, as is needful, for the present endeavour of the Church.

Our king cares about the oppression of his people and the persecution of his people by wicked rulers.  If you will, that's what the book of Revelation is primarily about!  The chief persecutors of the early Christians were the unbelieving Jews, based in Jerusalem, and later the Romans.  And Jesus shows John in Revelation how he is going to take them out.  The martyrs cry out under the altar, "when will our blood be avenged?" - God says, "you just wait, I'll take care of it."  Remember what Jesus said to Pilate?  "Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above."  Eventually, Rome found out just how true that was.  "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."  Our king reigns now on the throne of David in heaven, he hears the prayers of his suffering saints, and he acts on their behalf.  Yes, there is judgment reserved for the Judgment Day, but there is judgment going on now as well.

Therefore, as Psalm 2 says, the rulers of this world had better fear him.  The communists in China, presently clamping down ever more sharply upon the Church there - they think they are going to get away with it.  They think they can hinder the increase of Jesus' kingdom.  They will not.  The Muslims in Africa, raiding the Christian villages, think they are going to get away with it - they are not.  The government is not on Allah's shoulders.  The wicked in Washington DC, who think the government is on their shoulders and they can break any law they want to shut down the remnants of Christianity in our country - they think they are going to get away with it.  But they are not.  Jesus reigns as far as the curse is found.  Jesus is on his throne, he rules over all, and he holds all powers of earth accountable for what they are doing as he builds his church, and with the zeal of the LORD, he will not let the enemies of the gospel prevail.  He will deal with them.  And when he comes back, he'll just keep doing what he's been doing - only any mercy he now shows to the nations for their salvation will at that time be finished.  When the Day of his return dawns, the time for repentance will be over.

In conclusion, friends, God's zeal - as Isaiah speaks of it - is not for any one nation.  Isaiah says the LORD is zealous for his Son's kingdom!  And so dear friends of the King, loyal subjects, members of his royal court - may our zeal, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be channeled in the same direction as his.  He has given us his Spirit, who is not a spirit of timidity but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.  Let's not be moved, let us not be afraid of the ever present turmoil in the world.  Jesus has got this.  Let us fulfill the mission to disciple the nations, as he not only rules over all, but walks beside us as well, for he has said  - "Lo, I am with you always..."  If we do so, we may actually save this or that state from his judgment, if they repent.  But more importantly, we will bring glory to his heavenly Father, the God who sent him, in weakness as a child, to conquer a kingdom, so that he may rule us in love forever.  Amen.


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