I’m going to preach on this text as if I were looking at it from an airplane about 20,000 feet in the air so as to get the big picture. Perhaps on a normal Sunday I would go into the finer details, but that’s not really the reason the ancient church chose this text as one of the lessons for Christmas Eve. The whole purpose of them choosing this text to be read on Christmas Eve is its connection to the birth of Jesus Christ. But if you don’t know that, then nothing in this text makes any sense. Indeed, without Christmas nothing in the Bible makes any sense. And it is my premise this evening that without a proper understanding of Christmas nothing in life ultimately makes any sense either. In other words, Christmas makes sense of everything.
To help us come to that conclusion together, let me just read a few verses from the middle of this sacred text. “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. Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire” (vv. 4, 5).
Now, what does that mean? Well, if you know the history of Israel from about 1,200 to 700 B.C. you can figure out quite easily what the prophet Isaiah is saying. “The day of Midian’s defeat” is a reference to Israel’s enemy Midian and Israel’s champion, Gideon. So, it was Midian vs. Gideon. Except it wasn’t Gideon who was the real champion of Israel. It was the Lord.
You remember this story (Judges 6 & 7). Gideon was one of Israel’s judges. One day the angel of the LORD came to Gideon and said, “I am sending you to save Israel from the hand of Midian.” Gideon then takes 33,000 of Israel’s men to battle. But there was just one problem. God said to Gideon, “You have too many men.” Never mind that Midian had more men, God ended up whittling down Israel’s army to only 300 men. Why in the world would he do that? To show that salvation comes from God and from God alone.
So, what Isaiah is saying at the outset of chapter 9 is that God is going to do something similar once again. The people are oppressed. Their entire outlook on life is dark as a result of it, and God is going to intervene. “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.”
Okay. Now we can make sense of that. But not really. Because although everything I just explained is historically accurate, if that is all we understand from these verses, our understanding is not biblically accurate. Let me explain.
Any historian worth his salt can study Israel’s history and understand the immediate context here. But without faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, they cannot and have not been able to make sense of the rest of what Isaiah goes on to say, and therefore they miss the entire point of the text as a whole. Hence, verses 6 and 7: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”
Now, who is Isaiah talking about? You and I answer, “Jesus”, and that, of course, is correct. But now try and make sense of these words from the standpoint of an unbeliever, a modern-day Jew, a skeptic, or an atheist. How are they going to make sense of verses 6 and 7? Well, they will say that Isaiah is speaking of a future king, perhaps Solomon, perhaps someone else (the Jews are still waiting for him to come), and as in the days of Gideon, this child, this human champion will break the yoke of Israel’s human oppressors and establish a new, glorious and just kingdom in Israel, that is, on earth!
Question! Has that happened yet? Orthodox Jews believe it will still happen, but most of secular society says “No. That is not going to happen. What Isaiah wrote in 700 B.C. was simply par for the course as far as the Zionistic thinking of the time. The Bible is religious literature. Ancient poetry. He’s telling his people that although life may be dark at the present time, good times will surely come.
But is that what Isaiah is really saying? Most definitely not! Isaiah is not talking about a future, earthly king. He is referring to a Divine Messiah who will bring salvation not from human oppressors, but from an oppression far greater and far more suffocating, one that extends beyond the physical realities of this world. A Savior who is Christ (notice!) the LORD!
I put it before you this evening that without a correct understanding of what took place at Christmas, not only will the Bible not make any sense to you, but none of life will make a whole lot of sense—at least not ultimately. Which is why the Bible doesn’t make sense to most people. Which is why the ever-current trend is a search for meaning, purpose, and life’s highest goals. People are confused. And what is happening in the world with all of its craziness is that people are trying to make sense of life. They’re grasping for it as if in darkness but try as they may they will never find it. Because it is not here on earth, loved ones. It is stored up for us in heaven!
Let me just list some examples of the confusion that permeates the human psyche today—and there is no sarcasm in what I am about to say. I am dead serious.
Is the human race truly made up of males and females? Is there really such a thing as gender, or was that all just made up? Does human life start in the womb? Is pornography a neutral from of entertainment? Do families need both parents in the home? Will we destroy the human race via global warming? Will the world’s governments finally evolve to the point of achieving world peace? Will you ever find true love? Is there such a thing as true love? Will you ever feel like you finally belong? Will feelings of guilt and shame ever go away so that you are finally free to live however you want?
These are the issues that mankind is trying to make sense of. Young and old alike—it doesn’t matter. I’ve lived and worked with many, many cultures. I can say without hesitation that they are all asking the same fundamental questions.
Where is the answer to be found? Who can make sense of the mess we call life? The answer is in Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
The answer is found in Luke 2:10-11: “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ, the Lord.”
The answer is found in John 8:12: “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” In other words, the answer is found in God. And the whole point of Christmas is that Jesus is God.
So, Isaiah writes, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (v. 2). Darkness is a metaphor for confusion. When there is darkness you cannot see. In darkness you grope around trying to find your way. Does that sound like people today? Does that sound like you?
Listen then to the good news! There is a light. And into the darkness this light has come to shine. In the land of the shadow of death (that’s earth) a new light has dawned. Well, things are always better in the morning than they are at night, aren’t they? Life is a whole lot more enjoyable when you can see where you are going, and you know you are headed in the right direction. Life is manageable then. And life is actually livable when you are not constantly slowed down with feelings of guilt and shame.
And, you see, into this dark world God comes! He comes at night! And he comes as light! God is light. He illumines everything he touches. You think of how the glory of the Lord appeared to the shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks at night. How a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on who his favor rests” (Luke 2:13, 14).
Then you think of the people who met Jesus later as an adult. They were trying to make sense of him too. The disciples asked, “Who is this that even the winds and the waves obey him?” (Matthew 8:27). Think of Nicodemus. He visits Jesus under the cover of darkness because he has—wait for it—questions! “How can a person be born again? How can this be?” Nicodemus could not see. So, Jesus opened his eyes.
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things ... I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” John 3:10, 12-17).
The angel appeared to Joseph and said, “…you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
You see, it never was about the Roman oppressors, although that is what Nicodemus and all the other Jews of his day thought it was about. And it never was about the oppressors of Midian, Assyria, or Babylonia for the Jews of the Old Testament. It was about sin. It always was and it always will be. Once you take your sin seriously you will begin to take Jesus very seriously. You will read your Bible, and it will make sense to you. You will look at life (your life!) through the lens of God’s Word and it will make sense to you. You will know why you are here and where you are going. God is a Wonderful Counselor after all!
Purpose, meaning, love, salvation—these are the things Christmas makes sense of. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Amen.