It was my night for bedtime the other night and the boys and I were reading stories, Caleb on one side, Noah on the other. I asked if we could read this Jesus book, and they said yes.
And no, that’s not always the response I get, as I battle for airtime against other literary classics such as Trucks and Dinosaurs. And as I introduced this Jesus book to them, Noah, my 5 year old, totally surprised me by saying to me, “Dad, I like Jesus. He is brave and strong.” I paused and smiled and said something to the effect of, “I like that about Jesus too, bud.” We turned the page, thinking we’d continue to savor the moment and talk about Jesus, only to then hear Noah say, “That’s the letter N! My name starts with N!” It’s a season of wonder and discovery in every way.
This Advent season we’re doing a mini sermon series on the 4 Messianic names mentioned here in Isaiah 9, names you have almost certainly heard before during Christmases past, that He (this one we know as Jesus) shall be called … Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
My little man said more than he knows a few nights ago, or maybe not, who knows. For today, we’ll be reflecting on the second name for Jesus, that he is indeed, a “Mighty God.”
And as we go through this series, I think what we’ll find is that each name complements and completes the others, helping us paint a portrait over time and giving us a bigger picture of who this Jesus really is and what He came to do.
For example, last week, we reflected on the name Wonderful Counselor, that Jesus is the God of both wisdom and experience; he is the God who can say to us in midst of our pain and grief, “I’ve been there.” And that alone is indeed wonderful and truly comforting. And yet, you and I both know, we long for more than that. We long for and hope for a God who is not only relatable, but also capable. Who can do more than simply say to us, “There, there, little one, it’s going to be alright.” But rather one who can look us in the eyes, and say, “It’s going to be alright, look, here’s proof.” One who is indeed, both Wonderful Counselor and Mighty God.
And so, for today, let’s meditate and reflect on this name for Jesus as Mighty God, by asking these parallel questions:
“How did God exercise his authority, his power, his might, in the days of Isaiah?” and then secondly, “How did God exercise his authority, his power, his might, in the days of Jesus?” This will help us immerse ourselves with this text here in Isaiah while also helping us look ahead to Jesus’s ministry and even into our present day.
First, “How did God exercise his authority, his power, his might, in the days of Isaiah?”
Well, consider the background here in Isaiah 9. Verse 2, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.”
Isaiah is writing to a people, the nation of Israel, that found themselves in a season of profound darkness. Economic darkness, political darkness, spiritual darkness, all of it, for in the previous chapter here in Isaiah, the prophet shares that the Assyrians are being sent by God to judge and destroy the city. And so their future is uncertain, their safety is threatened, all hope seems lost.
But yet, not so fast. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light.” There’s reason for hope. Because here’s what Isaiah says shortly thereafter, it’s the part of Isaiah 9 that we almost never read during the Christmas season:
4 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.
Here Isaiah mentions a victory the Israelites had over the Midianites centuries earlier during the book of Judges even though they were vastly outnumbered as a people. It was a way of saying, “Remember this victory long ago? If He was victorious then, He will be victorious again.” “If he was mighty then, he’ll be mighty again.” You see, helping the Israelites defeat their rival nations and enemies of the day was one of many ways in which God exercised his authority, his power, his might before his people.
And yet, surprisingly, here’s how God would seemingly accomplish such a victory.
6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
Isaiah foretells of a future king who will one day reign on David’s throne and that of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. In other words, come thou long expected Jesus, born a child and yet a king.
And yet, in all of this so far, friends, can you see how Peter and the disciples many years later were taken aback when Jesus told them that he would willingly be put to death rather than be a Warrior King who would put the Israelites’ enemies to death? Who would willingly experience what they saw as defeat, rather than victory? My goodness, from a passage like Isaiah 9, I would have thought so too.
But no. Instead, God exercised his authority, his power, his might, through Jesus in radically different, transformative ways.
Through a very broad overview of Jesus’s life and ministry, I’ll briefly highlight a few and in doing so, touch on a few key points of application as well.
One on hand, Jesus exercised his mighty power through his teaching. On multiple occasions throughout the gospels we’re told that the people were amazed at his teaching, because his words had authority. Making sense of this authoritative power within Jesus’s teaching is by Pastor Kent Hughes, that while other teachers were speaking about the Word of God, Jesus was speaking the Word of God.
Now what does this mean for us? Well, a couple of us this fall have been reading the book Come and See, by Jonathan Pennington, and in it, he’s got this fantastic and pithy line, saying “the key to understanding is standing under.” I’m not sure that it can be said better than that. The key to understanding God’s Word is to first stand under it and to sit under its power and authority.
Jesus’s words and his teaching had authority, and yet that’s not all. He had exercised his mighty power over all creation. He healed the sick through his words alone. He cast out demons and could make them tremble at his feet. He calmed the storm, he walked on water, he took a boy’s sack lunch and fed 5,000 with it, he cured deafness and blindness and paralysis, he raised Lazarus from the dead. He exercised his mighty power over all creation, bringing it into submission through his loving rule.
Now what does this mean for us? Pastor Don Whitney invites Christians to consider the following question, “What’s an impossible prayer you could pray?” What thing do you want to ask God for that you think to yourself, no way, that’s too big, that’s too crazy, that’s impossible? Maybe it’s a difficult relationship reconciled, healing for a loved one who’s in dire straits, unexpected financial provision, maybe it’s something for our church. What’s an impossible prayer you can pray? Friends, if Jesus Christ had power over all creation, if Jesus Christ rose from the dead, what can’t he do? Sure, he may not answer our prayer in the way we hope, but if Jesus rose from the dead, what can’t our God do?
Jesus’s teaching had authority, he exercised his mighty power over all creation, and yet that’s not all; he had authority over all other powers and authority too.
There’s a startling scene within Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story. The wise men approach King Herod, asking him “Where is the child (in other words, Jesus) who has been born king of the Jews?” And we’re told that Herod was frightened, disturbed, troubled by this question because internally he was thinking to himself, “What are you talking about, I’m the King of the Jews. I’m right here.” And yet, he also sensed that maybe he wasn’t.
In fact, Author Frederick Buechner, puts it so beautifully when he says that for King Herod, “For all his enormous power, [Herod] knew there was someone in diapers more powerful still.”
Yes, yes, and yes. What a line! “Herod knew there was someone in diapers more powerful still.”
Now what does this mean for us? Well, if this Jesus, this Mighty God, is the ultimate ruler and authority, it means that we should fear God more than we fear others. Or in other words, we should care more about what God thinks of us than what others think of us. Or as we talked about a few weeks ago in Colossians, “ Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.”
Right before Jesus left the disciples and ascended into heaven, he shared these final words, But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses … to the ends of the earth.”
Holy Spirit power that can fill us with confidence and courage, helping us fear God rather than others. Or as Pastor J.D. Greear says in his little booklet Searching for Christmas, when God declares himself as the great “I AM” to a fearful and timid Moses who is tasked with leading the Israelites, he’s effectively saying to Moses, “My am-ness will overcome your not-ness.” Or as Jesus will say to Paul years later, “My grace is sufficient for you, my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Jesus is our mighty God time and time again. We see it in the authority of his teaching, his power over all creation, his rule over every power and authority.
But maybe even more noteworthy than what he had power and authority over, was the how. Again how he exercised his authority, his power, his might.
A mightiness that was tough yet tender, strong, yet compassionate, patient, yet not passive. Mightiness at its absolute, perfect best.
Christian Journalist Joel Belz summarizes all of this so perfectly, when he once referenced a quote he read in The Wall Street Journal, saying,
"People want to be lightly governed," the writer said, "by strong governments."
"People want to be lightly governed by strong governments."
Now, that probably sounds more political than it actually is. Instead, think of it this way, we want to be lightly led, gently led by strong authority.
That's what we wanted when we were little children. We wanted mom and dad to be strong and able to do anything we could think of — except that, when they dealt with us, we wanted them to deal with us with gentleness and tenderness. Or we want policemen who can put a stop to any neighborhood violence and crime, but who can also hoist a little boy or girl on their shoulders and help them find their parents when they get lost in the crowd.
Tough yet tender, strong, yet compassionate, patient, yet not passive. There's an innate yearning in almost all of us for that rare combination. People who want to be lightly governed by strong governments.
Friends, what a stunning and beautiful portrait of Jesus himself. The Mighty God and Wonderful Counselor, the ruler of the universe also happens to be the one who invites us softly and tenderly: "Come unto me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Our mighty God saved his best move for last. When he took humanity’s best shot against him and used it for good, dying on a cross, only to then rise from the grave. Defeating sin, death, and the Devil himself.
He will reign on King David’s throne by first being enthroned upon a cross, wearing a crown, a crown of thorns, as our Crucified King. For he is the lion and the lamb, the lamb of God who takes away the sins of this world.
Through it he reigns over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness and of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.
For he comes to make his blessings flow, “far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.”
He’s both our Wonderful Counselor and our Mighty God, who can look us in the eyes, and say, “If you’ve got me, it’s going to be alright, look, here’s proof.”
For just as he shared with his disciples long ago, he shares with us again now as we share in holy communion.