The Prince of Peace

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : Isaiah 9:6-7

No detail in the whole story of Jesus’ birth is more arresting than the fact that Jesus had no human father. He was “born of the Virgin Mary.” Yet this too was foretold in Old Testament prophecy, as we learn today in a program entitled, “The Sign of a Promise.”

Listen to one of the most beautiful and familiar of all the Old Testament prophecies about the birth of the Messiah, from Isaiah 9.

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who dwell in a land of deep darkness –
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
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.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

It’s hard for Americans to feel the impact of this magnificent prophecy of Isaiah because we’re used to winning. We’re the world’s only superpower, as we are endlessly reminded – the richest, strongest, most dominant country on the face of the earth. Even when we are shaken by treachery or terrorism, even when sneak attacks hurt us, we soon rally and go on the offensive.

To really understand the significance of the promises of Isaiah 9, we would have to know what it is like to be utterly defeated and without any hope of recovery. We would have to go through the experience of having an enemy who was far more powerful than us invade and viciously conquer our country, destroy our cities, plunder our goods, and brutally subjugate our people as the Babylonians did to the ancient Jews. We would then have to live completely at the mercy of this occupying power, obeying whatever rules they chose to impose, paying whatever tribute they demanded, knowing that we had no chance whatsoever to win back our freedom. People in Nazi-occupied Europe in 1940, for example, could readily identity with the people of Israel here in Isaiah 9, but it is difficult for us to do so. Still, let’s give it a try.

Light in the Darkness

This is a prophecy of hope, of light in the midst of darkness, of restoration following crushing defeat, of the coming of a Great Deliverer. “In the days of Pekah king of Israel,” we read in Old Testament history, “Tiglathpileser king of Assyria came and captured . . . Galilee, and all the land of Naphtali; and he carried the people captive to Assyria” (2 Kings 15:29). This was the beginning of the end for the Jewish people, and the conquests started in the north, around Galilee. But God’s promise is even more amazing. The light would shine once more upon the people walking in darkness. The reversal of all the misfortune, the deliverance from war and defeat and misery, the dawn of the age of blessing, would also start from the north. “Nevertheless,” writes Isaiah in chapter 9,

there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past the Lord humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light . . .

Isaiah 9:1-2, niv

All of this must have been puzzling to Isaiah’s original audience as well as to those who read it for many years thereafter, but we have the advantage of looking backwards. We know the One whose ministry of preaching, teaching, healing and deliverance began “by the way of the sea,” in Galilee of the Gentiles.

When God chose to begin to act to deliver his people from the darkness of their oppression, the results would be sheer, unbridled joy. Isaiah describes the joy that will spread through God’s people with two engaging similes. People will “rejoice as . . . at the harvest,” he writes (v. 3). Only those who have to live on what they can grow for themselves know just how joyful the harvest time is, when food stocks can be replenished and those who have been living on short rations once again have enough to eat and even to feast. And, says Isaiah, it will be like the joy of a great victory in battle. “They rejoice before you . . . as men rejoice when dividing the plunder.” Picture the celebrations of a team that’s just won the World Cup or the Super Bowl, and you’ll see what Isaiah had in mind.

The Prince of Four Names

Now all of this rejoicing hinges upon the great good news of the birth of a child: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.” Isaiah has been speaking about this child elsewhere in the chapters of his book. The child’s birth would be a sign of God’s personal presence with his people; he would be called “Immanuel, God-is-with-us” (Isaiah 7:14). He would be a royal descendant of the house of David, “a shoot from the stump of Jesse” (Isaiah 11:1-5). So the child would be both divine and human, Son of David and Son of God, a king who would rule all things perfectly, with perfect justice, perfect love, perfect wisdom, a king whose rule would be eternal. In his kingdom all good dreams will come true, and of his kingdom there would be no end.

The names that Isaiah uses for the child here in chapter 9 testify to his wisdom, power, love and goodness. There are four of them: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. The Messiah – for he, of course, is the One whose birth is prophetically described here – would be a ruler unlike any other. He would have no need of counselors’ advice for he himself would display wisdom that would astonish all who heard him. He would not lack for strength to accomplish his plans for his would be the omnipotence of God himself. His love and care would be those of an infinitely good father and would be from everlasting to everlasting. Unlike the kings and emperors of human history, whose pride and cruelty are exhibited in the names by which they are known (Ivan the Terrible, William the Conqueror, Alexander the Great), the nature of King Messiah’s rule is shown by his title. He is the Prince of Peace. His kingdom is a very different one from the kingdoms of this world.

The fact is that all his names taken together reveal the Prince of Peace, Immanuel, to be utterly unique. The gods of the ancient world weren’t anything like this. The ancients worshiped many gods with all sorts of different characteristics and personalities. The trouble was that the gods who were nice usually weren’t very powerful, and the gods who were powerful weren’t very nice. What a blessing to know the truth, that there is only one God, and he is both great and good – all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving, and eternal. How wonderful to know him, and to know his names. He is the wonderful counselor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. He is Immanuel. He is the shoot from the stump of Jesse.

Who exactly do you know that fulfills and embodies all of those names? The best name of all is the name given to him not here in the Old Testament prophecy, but by the angel in the gospel story. His name is “Jesus,” and that name means “Savior.” If you know Jesus as your Savior, your mighty God, your Prince of Peace, then your peace will have no end.