Sunday, 29 November 2009

Jesus is the Wonderful Counsellor (Isaiah 9:6)

This sermon was preached on Sunday, 30/11/2009

This prophecy from Isaiah is one that is well-known and often used at this time of the year. Isaiah is predicting the coming of a great King, a prediction that we know concerns our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Perhaps the first detail that we observe is that Isaiah only mentions one name: he says of the King, that ‘his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ This use of an enlarged name is similar to the way the Godhead is detailed by Jesus in the Great Commission: he says that his apostles are to baptise disciples ‘in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit’. With regard to the Trinity, there is only one God in three Persons; with regard to the predicted Messiah, here he has one name composed of four titles. The King’s name is similar to the way our own monarch is described; she has several names that reveal the extent of her power and the nature of her rule. In a far higher sense, King Jesus has titles that reveal the extent of his power and the nature of his rule.

Before we consider his first title, we should note how the prophet introduced this individual. He points out that the future King will be both born as a child and given as a Son. At one level, we may think that these details mean the same thing, that a male child will one day appear as a Ruler. Yet once we realise that the prophet is speaking about Jesus we see that the two details stress different matters about him. The child who is born refers to his humanity, but his being a Son refers to his deity. He was given by his Father, but he could only be given by becoming a man.

To whom would Jesus be given? Isaiah describes the recipients as ‘us’? Inevitably they must initially refer to Isaiah’s listeners and they faced the prospect of days of despondency as they endured divine judgement during the coming exile. The hope that Isaiah gave to them was to look ahead to the coming of the King. We can also extend the range of recipients by noting two other details in the context. In 9:1, Isaiah mentions that the coming King would appear in Galilee, so he must have regarded these people who would see this great Light as included among the recipients. The other detail concerns the period of his reign when the government would be on the shoulder of this future King. This period began with the ascension of Jesus and covers all the world since then, so we can deduce that the ‘us’ to whom the Son was given is the whole world, but a world composed of individuals opposed to his rule initially. So we can say that Isaiah was speaking to us when he gave this prophecy under the control of the Holy Spirit.

A Unique King
Normally, a powerful Ruler, in order to govern and maintain control of his kingdom, would surround himself with wise counsellors. Daniel function in this way in the court of the King of Babylon. Yet when it comes to the most amazing kingdom that has or will exist on earth, we discover that its King has no need of advisors to give their opinions. Instead he himself possesses all the wisdom that is needed in order for his kingdom to prosper. This does not only apply at the top level, but at every level within his kingdom. An earthly ruler was not able to contribute to every decision that had to be made within his domain and therefore he arranged for levels of counsellors to assist him. They may have acted on his behalf, but it could never be said that their decisions were always what the king would have wanted. But when it comes to the affairs of the kingdom of Christ, there is not a decision made without his knowledge of it and input into it.

As we reflect on this role of Jesus, I would like to do so from four angles: Jesus is (1) the presiding Counsellor; (2) the permanent Counsellor; (3) the pardoning Counsellor; and (4) the personal Counsellor. I have used the definite article on purpose.

1. Jesus is the presiding Counsellor
We are all familiar with the word ‘president’. It indicates the person who is in charge. In applying it to Jesus, we have to ask, ‘What are the areas in which he is in charge?’ The answer to that question is that Jesus has universal control, which means that he is in charge geographically and historically. Geographically, it means that there is not an inch of space over which he does not rule; historically, it means that there is not a second of time in which he is not in charge. The theological word for describing this state of affairs is providence.

Jesus as presiding Counsellor knows how to over-rule the actions of his enemies. There is a war taking place, and this war involves many battles occurring simultaneously. The kingdom of Jesus is under constant attack, whether from false religions or atheistic philosophies or sinful practices. Behind this attack is the intrigue of the devil and his kingdom. Even although we can, at times, recognise the methods of the enemy, we don’t know how to counteract him unless we pay attention to what Jesus says in the Bible. But although we do not know what to do, Jesus our presiding Counsellor always does.

Jesus as presiding Counsellor knows how to work all things together for the good of his people. Sometimes the onslaught of the enemy seems so efficient and widespread that we have to confess that we are completely puzzled at what is going on. We look around for clues that Jesus is responding to the crises and we do not see any. What should we do in such situations? We should imitate the response of one of the Psalmists who resolved, during a time of spiritual darkness, to consider the past, the great days of the right hand of the Most High (Ps. 77:10-12). Answers to our current dilemmas are often found in considering what Jesus did in previous generations; we are not the first to wonder if the presiding Counsellor is at work, but he is.

Jesus as presiding Counsellor knows all the details of the eternal covenant and what is required of him as the last Adam. Adam was the head of the old humanity, Jesus as the last Adam is head of the new humanity. In that eternal agreement, certain demands were appointed him, and he is fully acquainted with all of them. He knows exactly what he has to do at every moment.

2. Jesus is the permanent Counsellor
In 2010, we are going to have a general election in this country. It seems likely that some of the current political counsellors will lose their seats. If that happens, some of them will have functioned as counsellors for almost fifteen years, which in political terms is a long time. Even if they manage to retain their positions, eventually they will have to retire because of death.

One of the reasons often given for a change of government is that politicians run out of ideas regarding what to do or else circumstances arise for which previous policies don’t have an answer. This will never be said of Jesus. His message never changes because it is the answer for all possible circumstances. We will think about some details of his message under the next heading, but for the moment we want to stress that Jesus is a permanent Counsellor because he has a message that is always relevant.

In addition, Jesus is the permanent Counsellor because he will pronounce final judgement on all intelligent creatures. The ultimate location in which his wisdom will be revealed, as far as this stage of God’s eternal purpose is concerned, will be the judgement seat. Jesus will pronounce the final verdict regarding the eternal destiny of all human and angelic beings. A judge, we know, has to be able to assess evidence and pronounce the most suitable sentence. On the Day of Judgement, the wisdom of Jesus will be revealed as he passes judgement on all gathered before his throne. He will not need any help in fulfilling this task.

A third way in which Jesus is the permanent Counsellor will be revealed in the various means he will use to convey eternal blessings to all the redeemed throughout the endless ages of bliss that awaits them in the new heavens and new earth. At this moment we have no idea what life will be like in that beautiful world, but Jesus has it all mapped out. Until then, it is enough for us to know that he will be, for ever, the permanent Counsellor guiding the perfect world in order to ensure that all will go well for ever.

3. Jesus is the pardoning Counsellor
One of the most difficult decisions that an earthly advisor can face is to provide advice for his master concerning those who have rebelled against his rule. Should they be punished or should they be pardoned? With regard to the kingdom of Jesus, as far as its human members are concerned, each one of them was a rebel initially.

Yet Jesus, in a wonderful display of wisdom, pardoned every rebel who asked him for mercy and forgiveness. None of them were refused in order to become a warning to others. Instead each of them becomes an example of what Jesus can do for others, which is that he can pardon all their sins. In order to prove this point we could highlight the cases of notorious sinners such as Saul of Tarsus, but we don’t have to do so. All we have to do is look at the sinners in our midst who have been forgiven and deduce from their experience that we can be forgiven as well.

Of course, we know that the reason why Jesus is the pardoning Counsellor is because he himself became the sinbearer who was punished in the place of sinners. On the cross of Calvary, the divinely-chosen Counsellor became the substitute for sinners and suffered in their place the wrath of God. He himself has provided the basis whereby each of us can be forgiven.

4. Jesus is the personal Counsellor
There have been innumerable situations in which a person has said, ‘I wish I knew someone who could tell me what I should do in this situation.’ A follower of Jesus knows the exact Person to do this, Jesus himself. One of the blessings, indeed one of the greatest privileges, that a pardoned sinner is given is the presence of Jesus as his friend and guide, his shepherd to protect him from danger. How does Jesus do this?

Initially we have to say that usually Jesus does not provide personal counsel to those who do not use the means he has provided. One of these means is the Bible and in it Jesus gives us all the information we need for every situation we will face in life. Sometimes the information will not contain all we want to know, but it will contain all that we need to know. The Bible tells us how to live, gives us guidelines regarding every area of life, and contains promises of God’s help. If we want to have the counsel of Jesus, we must read the Bible.

A second means that Jesus expects his followers to use in order to discover his counsel is prayer. Prayer is like having an appointment with our counsellor, except with regard to meeting with Jesus we don’t have to join a queue and wait our turn. We have access to him at all times, and we can call on his help in every situation.

A third means that Jesus uses is counsel through his people. We are not the first to experience our situation and when we find ourselves in strange circumstances we should contact those who have been in similar states. They will have learned something from Jesus during their times of trouble and confusion and can then share what they learned with others. They should be willing to share and the others should be willing to listen.

The fourth means that Jesus as the personal Counsellor uses is the Holy Spirit. He explains the Word to us, he enflames our prayers, he takes us through difficulties. The response that hinders the work of the Spirit is sin because it grieves him and we lose the sense of blessing that comes with the services of the wonderful Counsellor. Of course, our wonderful Counsellor knows how to bring us back into a right spiritual relationship with him, and for that we should also be thankful.

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