God So Loved the World that He Gave... Back to all sermons
Date: December 20, 2013
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Isaiah 9:6–9:7
Synopsis: It’s Christmas; a time for giving and receiving gifts. Yet all too often the most important gift is neglected and ignored, left unwrapped under the Christmas tree. In this message, we examine the greatest gift of all – the gift of God’s only Son. In a prophecy recorded in Isaiah 9:6-7, we find four names or titles for the Son who was born at Christmas. Find out what they are and their relevance to us today, in this message entitled: God So Loved the World that He Gave…
I come from Scandinavian roots. My father’s family came from Sweden, and my mother’s father came from Norway. In keeping with Scandinavian custom, it was our tradition to open our Christmas presents on Christmas Eve. I am not sure why, but one particular Christmas Eve stands out in my memory. I was 9 years old. During the previous year, we had moved from Tanzania to the mission station of Kijabe, in Kenya. For the first time, we could have a real Christmas tree, as there were many beautiful cedar trees in the forest around Kijabe. My oldest brother had cut the tree and brought it home, where it had pride of place in our living room. By noon on the day of Christmas Eve, the wrapped presents were stacked high around the base of the tree.
The afternoon passed, oh so slowly, in an agony of anticipation. It seemed like all the clocks in the house had stopped. The four of us boys could not resist the temptation to pass by the living room at regular intervals, looking at the presents, trying to peek and see which ones had our names on them and to guess what was in each package.
Finally evening came. We enjoyed our traditional Christmas Eve supper of special Christmas treats. We sat around the tree and read the Christmas story. Only then was it time to open presents. When it came time to open our presents, my mother was always very disciplined. There was none of this, everyone jump in and tear open their presents. She insisted on drawing out the process and the anticipation as long as possible; one person at a time, one present at a time, so we could all share in the joy of opening and receiving each gift.
We all love to get gifts, don’t we? And Christmas is a great time for giving and receiving gifts. In my message today, I want us to pause and carefully consider the first Christmas and the very greatest Christmas gift of all.
This gift is identified for us in the words of John 3:16: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.
That is the gift God gave at Christmas. He gave his only Son. What I want to do is consider that gift of the Son of God as though he were the bright package, all wrapped up under the Christmas tree. And we are going to unwrap that package and see what is inside.
There is another passage of Scripture which talks about this wonderful gift. It is found in the Old Testament, in the Book of Isaiah, chapter 9 and verse 6. The verse starts with these words:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given;
This was a promise made 700 years before Jesus was born. We need to link Isaiah’s prophecy and John 3:16. A child will be born and a son will be given. Now 700 years later, John writes and tells us that this son is the Son of God, his only Son.
But let’s open the package a little farther and see what is inside. Isaiah’s prophecy goes on to say, “His name shall be called…” In Hebrew culture, a name encompasses many things; it symbolizes identity, role and character. Who is this child? Who is this Son? What is his identity, his role?
In his prophecy, Isaiah gives four names or titles for this Son that help us understand just how wonderful this gift is. Each title is made up of two words. Let’s unwrap them together.
The first word is “wonderful”. This particular word means more than simply remarkable or marvelous – as applicable as those words are. We could accurately translate this “full of wonders”. It is the word that is frequently used in the Old Testament to describe the miraculous and the supernatural. It is the same word that is used in Exodus to describe the miracles God did to bring his people out of slavery in Egypt.
In our study in Matthew, we will soon be entering a part of the record which describes Jesus performing many miracles – wonders, signs, supernatural works of power. This child, this Son will be “full of wonders”.
Not only that – he will be a “counselor”. Now we have to proceed a little cautiously here. We tend to interpret this word according to our modern usage. We tend to think of a counselor in terms of a psychotherapy model; someone who listens to us, sympathizes with us, comforts us and helps make us feel better. But that is not the force of this Old Testament word. The Biblical word is actually based more on a political model. It is used to describe an advisor or planner, as used in the phrase: “In a multitude of counselors, there is safety.”
Let’s look at a couple other passages to help us get the flavor of this word:
In Isaiah 14:24, we read:
The Lord of hosts has sworn:
“As I have planned, so shall it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand,
And in verses 26-27:
26This is the purpose that is purposed concerning the whole earth,
and this is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations.
27For the Lord of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it?
His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back?
In each of these references, the word translated “purpose” or “purposed” is the same Hebrew word that is translated “Counselor” in Isaiah 9:6.
The child who would be born is the planner. He is the Sovereign One. He is the one who not only makes plans, but who carries them out. And when we stand back and look at his plan, both for this world and the course of history and the plan of salvation, and also his plan for our lives and his working in our own circumstances, we can only stand back and marvel. What a wonderful Planner and Counselor he is!
The Apostle Paul, by revelation from God, traces God’s plan for the ages through Romans 9, 10 and 11; God’s plan of salvation for Jew and Gentile alike. At the conclusion of that great text of Scripture, he steps back in awe and says this in Romans 11:33-36:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
34“For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?”
35“Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
What a counselor! Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. His name shall be called “Wonderful Counselor.” This child, this Son is not only the key ingredient in the Plan. He is the Planner!
Now here’s the second name or title: Mighty God
Maybe we’ve become jaded and dulled to the meaning of Christmas because of its many repetitions, so we miss the shock value of this title. “For to us a child is born…and he will be called Mighty God!” God being born! God as a baby!
Once again, the vocabulary of Isaiah’s prophecy is intriguing. The word “mighty” is frequently used to describe a hero or a champion. This word was used to describe David’s famous warriors who were renowned for their exploits on the battlefield. They were known as “David’s mighty men.”
Deuteronomy 10:17 uses this adjective to describe God: For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe.
Let’s look at Jeremiah 32:17-19:
Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. 18 You show steadfast love to thousands, but you repay the guilt of fathers to their children after them, O great and mighty God, whose name is the Lord of hosts, 19 great in counsel and mighty in deed, whose eyes are open to all the ways of the children of man, rewarding each one according to his ways and according to the fruit of his deeds.
I like the way this passage brings together the first two titles from Isaiah 9:6. He is the mighty God who is both great in counsel (same word as Isaiah 9:6) and mighty in deeds.
This is the title for the Son who was given at Christmas. Now the nation of Israel understood that their God was mighty and that his purposes were great. They could see that in their own history. But what Isaiah declares is that this child to be born, this Son who was coming is the Wonderful Counselor and the Mighty God! This reminds us of another name that Isaiah prophesied for this child in Isaiah 7:14: His name shall be called “Immanuel” – God with us.
But the shocks are not over. Look at the third name: Everlasting Father.
Here is another surprise. Unto us a child is born. Unto us a Son is given. And his name shall be called “Father.” It is a paradox and mystery. The Son is the Father. And not just any father. Many sons, in time, become fathers. But this Son is the Everlasting Father. How can this be? Jesus himself said, “I and the Father are one.” He also said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”
There is theological mystery here. It is the mystery of the trinity; the three in one nature of God. We cannot fully grasp it. It is the mystery of the Incarnation. God in human flesh. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Everlasting Father is in the Son and is the Son. And he was born of a virgin and laid in a manger. No wonder the shepherds and the wise men bowed down in worship.
And now the final title. He shall be called Prince of Peace.
The word “prince” means a ruler. The purpose of his coming is expanded in the phrase: “the government shall be upon his shoulders.” It is further expanded in 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 child that was to be born is the promised ruler, the descendant of David who would sit on David’s throne. The Magi understood this as they made their quest on that first Christmas. Do you remember what they asked when they arrived in Jerusalem: Where is the one who is born king of the Jews? Do you also remember how Matthew began his Gospel with a genealogy, proving that Jesus was a descendant of David, and qualified by lineage to sit on David’s throne? This child, this Son is the coming ruler, the coming Prince.
But he is a special kind of Prince. He is the Prince of Peace. In the Hebrew vocabulary in which Isaiah wrote, the word is “shalom.” This is a wonderful word, signifying not only the absence of conflict, but describing a state of well-being, wholeness, contentment and fulfillment. When the angels came, they sang “Peace on earth” because the Prince of Peace had come.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.
This is the very best gift of all. As we celebrate Christmas, let us not allow ourselves to become distracted by all the trimmings and the tinsel of Christmas. Let us take the time to reflect on the true meaning of Christmas and the very best gift of all. At Christmas, God gave us his Son.
He is the Wonderful Counselor. Do you need a Counselor this morning? I don’t mean a therapist. I mean an advisor; someone who has a plan; someone who knows the way out of the mess you’re in? Have you asked Jesus for his guidance?
He is the Mighty God. Do you need a Hero, a Champion this morning – someone to fight your battles? There is nothing too hard for our Champion God. Call on him for help.
He is the Everlasting Father. Do you need a strong, loving Father today? God gave me a wonderful father. He was a gentle man, a patient man, a godly man. In 1998, my father died. But I still have a Father – my heavenly Father. Yes, there is paradox and mystery here. How can the Son be the Father and the Father be the Son? But don’t let the mystery blind you to the wonderful reality that God wants to be a Father to you – and his Fatherly love was never more tested nor more clearly demonstrated than at Christmas when God became a man. Trust his Father’s heart.
He is the Prince of Peace. Is your life full of chaos, conflict and anxiety this morning? Take the time to meditate on the Prince of Peace who was born in Bethlehem. It was this same Jesus who said to his disciples, just before he went to the cross: Peace I leave with you. My peace I give unto you. Not as the world gives, give I unto you. It is a peace that passes all understanding. It is the peace that comes only from knowing the Prince of Peace.
This is the gift that God gave at Christmas:
I think back to those Christmas Eves when I was growing up. For all the careful discipline my mother instilled in us in opening our presents, there is one thing we never did. We never left any packages unwrapped under the tree. We never stopped until every present had been opened.
Isn’t that the tragedy of Christmas as it is celebrated by so many today? The greatest gift of all; the gift that began the tradition of gift-giving at Christmas. That gift, the gift of God’s only Son is left, unwrapped, unappreciated and ignored while we rush about giving and receiving gifts from just about everyone else we know. Don’t make that mistake.
God gave us his only Son. But as with any gift, there is one final step that is left to us. We must receive the gift.The gift of God’s Son
Let’s go back to John 3:16 where we started, and finish the verse: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… What does the rest of the verse say? …that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
This gift of God’s Son must be received by faith: by believing in him. You have to believe that the Baby who was born in Bethlehem, whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, is truly the Son of God. He is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He is Immanuel: God with us.
I am going to assume that most Life-Groups and Bible Studies that use these discussion questions will not be meeting during the Christmas season, but just in case you are…
1. Share stories of your most memorable Christmas or Christmases.
2. Take the time to think through the four titles/names for the Christ given in Isaiah 9:6 and reflect on their relevance to you and your circumstances in the past year and what you are facing in the year ahead:
- Wonderful Counselor
- Mighty God
- Everlasting Father
- Prince of Peace