The Promised Ruler (Advent 2020, #2)

I’ve recently gotten involved on Twitter. As an aspiring writer, i’ve heard that Twitter is good for networking. I’ve yet to see it pay dividends, but i have seen a lot that makes me cringe. Most of the things that make me cringe are posted in the name of “Christianity.” But big surprise there, right? Most recently, it was this tweet:

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

While the post isn’t horrible, and while it does caution, “Nor is everything below appropriate for all ages or tastes (as always, exercise discernment and do research before choosing something to watch),” the post would be better published elsewhere than a site that claims to be “Gospel-centered.” The post betrays its own off-centered focus when the introduction concludes by saying: “But for those looking for some bright spots in the cultural landscape at the end of a dark year, here are some places to start.”

Allow me to offer a better place to start. The prophet Isaiah writes:

Here I am with the children the LORD has given me to be signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of Hosts who dwells on Mount Zion. When they say to you, “Consult the spirits of the dead and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,” shouldn’t a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.

They will wander through the land, dejected and hungry. When they are famished, they will become enraged, and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. They will look toward the earth and see only distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction, and they will be driven into thick darkness.

Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future He will bring honor to the Way of the Sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations.

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
a light has dawned
on those living in the land of darkness.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy.
The people have rejoiced before You
as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
For You have shattered their oppressive yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as You did on the day of Midian.
For the trampling boot of battle
and the bloodied garments of war
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The dominion will be vast,
and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.

Isaiah 8:18-9:7

This is a popular Christmas text (9:6), but just like last week, we need to understand it in its context. And when we understand it in its context, it will prove that it is futile, foolish, and frightening to look for “bright spots in the cultural landscape at the end of a dark year.” We need to look to Jesus. He’s the light that dawned on people in darkness. We must point people to Him. We can’t allow ourselves to point people to lesser things–sinful things–that promote the darkness we are stumbling through. (I have nothing against books, music, or TV shows; i hope this blog makes that clear. My point is that we should be calling people to Christ in this dark time.)

I have tried to do this myself this year.

But our text today can be broken into three parts. Isaiah describes the problem that needs to be fixed (8:18-20). Then he describes the consequences of the problem (8:21-22). Finally, he describes the solution to the problem (9:1-7).

The Problem

Here I am with the children the LORD has given me to be signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of Hosts who dwells on Mount Zion. When they say to you, “Consult the spirits of the dead and the spiritists who chirp and mutter,” shouldn’t a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, there will be no dawn for them.

8:18-20

The problem in Isaiah’s day is similar to the problem in our own day. People don’t care to look to God as He has revealed Himself in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. People would rather turn to lesser things.

In Isaiah’s day, it was the spiritists. In our day, it’s Netflix. In Isaiah’s day, it was idols. In our day, it’s social media.

And Isaiah’s question is just as valid today as it was then. “Shouldn’t a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?”

Why do Christians find it necessary to point people toward pop-culture influences from this year? Shouldn’t a people consult their God? In what was the darkest (and supposedly deadliest) year in recent memory, why are we hiding our Christian convictions and beliefs behind pop-culture trends? Should we consult the dead on behalf of the living?

What does Isaiah give as the solution?

The same thing that we should offer as the solution. The Word of God. The Bible. The Gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s really unfortunate that so many Christian blogs in our day and age will write a whole article (or more) without a single appeal to Scripture. Your words mean nothing if not backed by the Scripture.

And this is where verse 18, about Isaiah’s children, comes in. (For the sake of argument, this post assumes that Immanuel [7:14] is included among Isaiah’s “children” only because God did give him the name to use as a sign.)

Isaiah 8:1-2 connects the children in verse 18 to the “law” and “testimony” and “word” of verses 16 and 20. In other words, we must proclaim messages in line with previous revelation. And what was the previous revelation? Isaiah’s children:

  • Shear-yashub = “A remnant will repent.” Be one of those who might repent and be saved!
  • Immanuel = “God is with us.” God has not abandoned us; seek Him by faith!
  • Maher-shalal-hash-baz = “Swift is the booty; speedy is the prey.” Judgment is coming; be ready by repenting!

Isaiah paints a bleak picture of what happens if we fail to live and preach and promote in light of previous revelation. “There will be no dawn for them.”

There cannot be a bright spot if the Gospel doesn’t make it into a piece of Christian writing. In fact, if the Gospel isn’t in your writing, can your writing truly be referred to as a “Christian” writing? The Gospel is what makes us unique.

Isaiah continues by expanding on the consequences of failing to remember previous revelation. And it’s not a pretty picture.

The Consequences

They will wander through the land, dejected and hungry. When they are famished, they will become enraged, and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. They will look toward the earth and see only distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction, and they will be driven into thick darkness.

8:21-22

When revelation disappears, joy and happiness disappear as well. It is worded as though food and sustenance is taken away. Amos says something similar:

Hear this! The days are coming—
this is the declaration of the Lord GOD—
when I will send a famine through the land:
not a famine of bread or a thirst for water,
but of hearing the words of the LORD

Amos 8:11

Not only that, but what do we see in the New Testament? John’s first epistle (cf. 1 John 1:5-10) says, “God is light.” If we walk in darkness it means that we don’t have God. It follows that if God removes the illuminating influence of His Word, then we are in darkness, and without Him, and in a spiritual famine.

Isaiah explains the progression of this most unfortunate situation: People curse God because God removes His presence (revelation) from the earth.

But what did we see in the previous section? This “famine” is God’s response to people choosing witchcraft over Him. Or, in 2020, it is God’s response to people choosing entertainment over Him. We have no right to complain to God about what is happening. We aren’t innocent in this situation.

The church needs the Gospel. The world needs the Gospel. We don’t need more music videos. We don’t need more pandering to the culture’s whims. We don’t need more Netflix originals. We need Christ. We need pastors to stand up and boldly proclaim Christ from all sixty-six books of the Bible. We don’t need to proclaim Him from our favorite movies. We need Him from His authoritative Word!

The failure to do so is a most unfortunate picture. And as most churches closed this year, the proclamation of the Gospel is an especially heavy need in this advent season. If God is present when two or three are gathered together, where did God’s presence truly show up this year? I would posit that it wasn’t very many places; and I would also posit that those places in which it did show up were not very public places.

Our failure to preach the Gospel and promote Scriptural teaching this year is not only a failure to shepherd the church well, but it is also a failure to be a light to those outside the church. All the world (unbelievers) has felt that this year was pretty accurately described by the final verse of Isaiah 8: “distress, darkness, and the gloom of affliction, and they will be driven into thick darkness” (8:22).

Thankfully, there is hope despite our failures. Even when we are faithless, He remains faithful! Where is the hope found? It’s found in the One who is the theme of this post. I pray He’s the theme of every post you read on this blog. We cannot allow ourselves to grow tired of the “Light of the World.” (And just because He offers grace, don’t let that become your excuse for failing to proclaim God’s revelation.)

The Solution

Nevertheless, the gloom of the distressed land will not be like that of the former times when He humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. But in the future He will bring honor to the Way of the Sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations.

The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
a light has dawned
on those living in the land of darkness.
You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy.
The people have rejoiced before You
as they rejoice at harvest time
and as they rejoice when dividing spoils.
For You have shattered their oppressive yoke
and the rod on their shoulders,
the staff of their oppressor,
just as You did on the day of Midian.
For the trampling boot of battle
and the bloodied garments of war
will be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on His shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
The dominion will be vast,
and its prosperity will never end.
He will reign on the throne of David
and over his kingdom,
to establish and sustain it
with justice and righteousness from now on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.

9:1-7

Interestingly enough, while Isaiah 9:6 is often quoted at Christmas, this is a two-part prophecy. Verse 1 and the first part of verse 6 belong to the first century; the rest is better placed in the future.

Every time someone believes in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, verse 2 is fulfilled. In fact, every time the Gospel is preached, verse 2 is fulfilled. Light shines when Christ is preached. Why would we want to hide the light from people? (cf. Matthew 5:14-16).

There is a lot to discuss in verses 3-7, but suffice it to say that one way to understand these verses is a picture of Christ’s second coming. Those who insist on staying in the darkness will not ultimately be happy.

Trust Jesus!

He is the child who was promised. He is the one who will rule forever. He already reigns through His Spirit in the church. To fail to give Him the honor He is due is blasphemy. To fail to give Him the primacy He is due is blasphemy. To fail to proclaim Him is blasphemy.

Christ has been mostly forgotten this year, and we have the audacity to wonder why it’s been such a dark year.

Put Christ back on the throne that He ultimately never left; call others to do the same; and watch things turn around! We don’t need to be asking questions about who the President is supposed to be. We need to be praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!” And in the meantime we need to be pleading with everyone we know that they might leave the darkness behind and find light and life in Jesus Christ.

  • He is the Wonderful Counselor: His Word is counsel for us, as if He Himself were speaking directly to us.
  • He is the Mighty God: He is powerful and sovereign; nothing surprises Him or makes Him scratch His head in confusion.
  • He is the Eternal Father: He loves us completely, better than even the best earthly father can ever love a child.
  • He is the Prince of Peace: He promotes peace, not animosity, anger, or division; we should learn about these things from His lips (in His Word).

Wholehearted trust in Him, and a renewed focus upon Him, would undo so many problems we are experiencing in these days.

When we place our trust in Him, we start experiencing some of the blessings of these verses. Other blessings will not be experienced until after He returns, but the fact of the matter is that God promises this blessing to those who refuse to remain in the darkness: “The zeal of the LORD of Hosts will accomplish this.”

Trust Christ!

Walk in the light!

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura
Sola Gratia
Sola Fide

Thanks for reading.

Practicing what I preach

In case you’re interested:

A Quarantine Exposition of Every Psalm.
Blogs Posted in 2020.
My Latest Album: 2020 Vision.

2 thoughts on “The Promised Ruler (Advent 2020, #2)

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