Friday, December 19, 2014

Characteristics of Christ’s Coming Kingdom

I’d like to direct your attention to Isaiah 9. We’re going to read verses 2 through 7. Verses 2 through 7.

This is the second week in our Advent series. As we said last week, Advent is a time of preparation for Christmas. We prepare by our scripture readings and by the songs we sing, and the devotions we do, and so on. And we prepare for Christmas morning—for the birth of Jesus. We remember the people who, as Pastor Jay reminded us, had been waiting to hear from God for about four hundred years since Malachi’s prophecy. We want to build in ourselves that kind of joyful anticipation for the coming of Christ. And now, even though for us, Christ has already come the first time, we can still identify with the longing they experienced before Jesus was born. Jesus promises us in his word that he’s coming back soon. This very second, he’s preparing a place for us.

John 14 says “[2] My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? [3] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
So we’re looking into the manager at this child who was born a king. We want to look at his character and at his kingdom, so that we can long for Jesus to return. So we can feel that same longing for his return that the people between the New and Old Testaments felt about his first appearing.

Let us read Isaiah 6:2-9 together, shall we?
(Isaiah 9:2-7) The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. [3] You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder. [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. [5] Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. [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. [7] Of the greatness 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. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
With that passage in mind and keeping in mind our goal for this short series, I would like to take a closer look at several characteristics of Jesus Christ and his Kingdom. In this passage, we get a prophetic look at the child that will be born to us on Christmas. First we’ll look at four titles this passage gives for the messiah: Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. Then, I want briefly to observe a few characteristics of the government that will rest upon his shoulders. Let us begin.

Wonderful Counselor

The first title given for Jesus in this passage is “Wonderful Counselor.” How does he inspire wonder? How is he a counselor? This is what it means when we say the Messiah is wonderful. It means that there is something in Christ that is more excellent or more glorious than in all other of God’s works. Another way to say this is Colossians 2.3: “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

The name wonderful is given to Christ and that means he is more wonderful and more glorious than any other thing. Even more than the very miracles of God. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ.

How many of you have looked at the night sky, maybe if you’ve been camping, and you see countless stars in their constellations? A sight like that is enough to inspire wonder in us. Why? Because it is a grand and vast display of God’s handiwork. It’s a great display of beauty. It inspires awe in us because it’s probably not often that we look up to a night sky that isn’t obscured by street lights or other obstructions. It’s probably not often that we look up at the sky at all. And when we look up at the sky, unobstructed, in its glory, it’s so much bigger than ourselves and our lives and our television shows. It’s so much greater that it inspires wonder.

The grace of God in the Person and Work of Jesus exceeds all other miracles. That’s why he’s called wonderful.

He’s also called counselor. What this means is that in Jesus, we find perfect and complete wisdom. And the wisdom we find in Jesus is not merely secret knowledge. It’s not just that Jesus understands and keeps in himself some mysteries of God. No, it means that he is a perfectly wise teacher. He shares that wisdom with us.

1Cor 1.24 says “To those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Paul continues in verse 30: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”

Ephesians 1:17 says “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him.”

Colossians 1:9 says “And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”

This is the reason that Jesus is called wonderful counselor. In his person, he is both the most glorious revelation of the love and justice and will of God, and not only that, but he is the most perfect teacher of true wisdom. This is who he is and how he rules in his kingdom. Jesus is called wonderful counselor.

Almighty God

The second title given to Jesus in this passage is almighty God. It is clear, I think, that Isaiah meant to tell us that the messiah would be called Almighty God. Jesus would not be merely a human, although he would be fully human. He would be more than that. He would be God with us. If Jesus is anything less than very God, how can we trust in him? How can we trust him to forgive our sins, much less exercise a government that will have no end?

Jeremiah writes in 17.5 “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.”

The psalmist writes in Psalm 20.7, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”

God doesn't want us to put our trust in men, or in the power that men can amass in their armies. God wants us to put our trust in Him. But then the whole New Testament makes no uncertain claims to the Divinity of Jesus. We can trust in Him because he is fully God, in addition to being fully man.

Ephesians 6.12 tells us that God fights with and for us against the spiritual forces of Evil. “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

The truth is that we can trust him in this. He’s rightly called almighty God.

Everlasting Father

The third title given to Jesus in Isaiah 9 is everlasting Father. Jesus is called a father because of the way he takes care of and preserves his church. He loves his church with the kind of love that will go out to find one lost sheep, even when he has ninety nine lost sheep already accounted for. He will turn up the whole house to find a lost coin.

Luke writes in 12.32, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

This is the way our passage speaks about Jesus as a Father. He loves his people so that he shepherds them, he cares for them. He moves them from death to life.

John 5:24 says, “Truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

1John 3.14 says, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.”

And in addition, that very fact—that Jesus moves us from death to life—is what it means that Jesus is called everlasting father. He is eternal, and he moves his people from being dead in their sins, to being free from sin and death entirely. For those who believe, as John 3:16 says, they will not perish but have eternal life. Jesus is called everlasting father

Prince of Peace

The fourth title Isaiah applies to Jesus is prince of peace. Maybe more than any of the other titles, this one begins to hint at the nature of this coming kingdom of Christ, or the government that will rest on his shoulders. In a sense, Isaiah is saying something similar to John in 16.33, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Isaiah was preaching to a people who were about to be conquered by the Assyrians. A conquering army is going to come to town and completely bowl everyone over. But Isaiah is assuring the people that one day, there will be this king who will be born who won’t operate that way. He will be a prince of peace.

What kind of peace is it? We find the answer to that question in Romans 5, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This peace is brought about by reconciliation to God. It’s founded on justification by faith. We put our faith in Christ’s work for us on the cross, and Christ takes our record of sin on himself and grants us his own record of righteousness. This peace is peace with God—reconciliation with God.

One important implication of all this, is that when Christ’s kingdom is fully present—that is, on the last day, after Christ returns, when the kingdom is fully present in every respect, there will be no more war. Our generation is not unique. Just like generation after generation before us, we’ve witnessed war—more than a decade of armed conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and other places. Nations and kings tend to put their trust in horses and chariots, so to speak. We enforce our domestic policies through the police and the FBI and agencies like the IRS. We enforce our international policies though our military.

Speaking about the coming kingdom, though, Isaiah writes in verse 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.”

In chapter 2, Isaiah writes, “He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

The point is that in the new kingdom, these clothes and these weapons of war will no longer be needed, because the king will bring a true and lasting peace by reconciling the world to God. Jesus is called the prince of peace.

Christ’s Kingdom is an upside down kingdom

Now, let’s turn to a few observations about the nature of Christ’s Kingdom. First, Christ’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom. Let me explain what I mean. In Christ’s kingdom, authority is not exercised by lording it over people. As we’ve just seen a moment ago, there will be no need for weapons of war when Christ comes back. So how does the kingdom work? The answer is counterintuitive.

Let me read to you a passage from Mark 10.
And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
That’s the kind of Kingdom Jesus presides over. It’s a kingdom where Jesus teaches us not to retaliate but to trust God and pray. Love your enemies, he says. Pray for those who persecute you.

And all of this is true because of who Jesus is. He is a wonderful and wise counselor. He is also the holy and just almighty God. He is eternal. He brings true peace to the world. Because of who Jesus is we can trust him to make thing right. We can love and serve one another. We can even love and pray for our enemies, because Jesus has the power, the understanding, and the will to make things right. Christ’s kingdom is an upside down kingdom.

Christ’s Kingdom will last forever

Two more and we’re done. Second, Christ’s Kingdom will last forever. This one will be quick. I just want you to see this and it will set us up for the next point. Christ’s kingdom will last forever. Look at verse 7.
Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore.
This is pretty simple. When Christ returns, his kingdom—which he’s already starting to establish now in our hearts and displayed in our churches—will never end. That’s a promise. And I don’t think that’s an unfamiliar idea for us here. I think we understand that heaven is forever. Or a better way to say it, this Kingdom of Jesus—which we’ll see fully in the new heavens and new earth—will last forever. There won’t be any breaks in this kingdom. No wars. No conquering armies.

Christ’s Kingdom is a place of changed hearts

This leads me to the last point because my question has long been, how could that even be possible? Adam and Eve fell in the garden, what’s to prevent someone in heaven falling again? This is why Christ’s Kingdom is so much better than the garden, even. This is why God’s plan in the world is ultimately glorious. This is why we can be confident that Jesus’ work on the cross was absolutely God’s plan A, and not just some slapdash fix for a broken Garden of Eden. The point is Christ’s Kingdom is a place of changed hearts.

Jesus Christ turns us from people who are dead. Wholly and completely dead. Slaves to sin. Unable to fix ourselves. Unable to get ourselves out from under our own sins or even our “hurts, habits, and hang-ups. Jesus turns us from that into a person who loves God’s law, like the psalmist in Psalm 119.
[47] I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. [48] I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.
“I love your commandments.” The psalmist says that a dozen times in the psalm. He continues:
[103] How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
In the New covenant through Christ, which you can see in Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 10, God writes the law on our very hearts. When Christ saves us, we can now come to truly love the Law of Christ. We can hear the Lord’s teaching on the Sermon on the Mount and no longer see it as impossible, but as an ideal that the Holy Spirit is helping us pursue.

And of course my point is not that the gospel is simply a means for us to pursue the law harder. My point is that the gospel—our justification by faith, our free forgiveness we receive when we humble ourselves and repent of our sins—this is a free gift that God works out in us. We love God’s law or God’s instruction because we have come to love God. We have seen Jesus Christ. Through the cross and the Spirit’s work in us, we see God and know God and love God and his ways.

So how can you know the kingdom will last forever? Because if you’re in Christ, God has given you a new heart. He gave you a heart of flesh where there used to be a heart of stone. Now I know most of your stories, but if you need to do business with God today, now’s the time. The bible says now is the favorable time. Now is the day of salvation. If you have questions or want to talk. Please pull me aside—I’ll be glad to listen.

Date: 7 December 2014
Text: Isaiah 9:2-7
Location: Church at the Mall, GAP Connect Group
Series: Advent

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