Christmas 2020 – Wonderful Counselor
If you’re like me one of the greatest sights at Christmas time is the tree with all the wrapped presents and gifts piled up underneath it-pic 1. And depending on the size of your family there could be lots of presents extending far out into the living room. As I was searching for an image of a tree with presents I came across this one from a mom in England-pic 2! That’s remarkable! How would you even find your present in there? Is this like anyone’s house at Christmas? To defend herself, she said she bought gifts for nearly everybody and got a lot of things on sale! But still-wow-you can hardly see the tree back there because of all those gifts. But what a sight Christmas morning-all the wrapped up packages look great in their different sizes and shapes-can you imagine all the shredded wrapping paper afterwards! But it’s the promise of what’s inside that’s most exciting. That within each of those packages is the anticipation of a gift you’ve been eagerly waiting for. I want to take a survey-who comes from a house where the gifts are set out under the tree before Christmas-sometime earlier in December? Who comes from a house where the gifts aren’t set under the tree until Christmas morning-that when you woke up as a kid there they were all piled up, ready to be opened? Monica and I went back and forth on this when we were first married-because I like the anticipation of not seeing the gifts until Christmas morning-otherwise if they were already set out under the tree I’d spend the weeks leading up to Christmas filled with curiosity; carefully examining and calculating what might be in the boxes-even tempted to peel back a tiny, unnoticeable corner of the wrapping paper to see what’s in there. Confession time-who’s ever peeked or secretly unwrapped their presents ahead of time? If you do you have to be very good at acting surprised-Wow! I had no idea-this is so unexpected!
But whenever you set the gifts out I want you to think about your response after you’ve opened them. Sometimes it’s tricky having to hide your disappointment when you open a strange gift you didn’t want-and I’m sure we’ve all been there. Thank you…for this. But let’s assume this year you do get exactly what you want. In fact, let’s assume you opened up one of the best gifts you’ve ever been given-a PS5-what’s your response? Probably it’s a shout of joy, Yes, that’s awesome! I can’t believe I got it! Or maybe you’re immediately communicating your appreciation saying, Thank you, thank you, thank you, it’s perfect. I’m so excited! But have you ever responded on Christmas morning by turning to the person who gave you the gift, asking, How much do I owe you? If you’ve ever been in our Christianity Explored class that we had pre-Covid-and we would love to have that course again in the future. One of the videos in the class opens with this exact scenario. It shows a little girl on Christmas morning unwrapping a present from her parents-and as soon as she tears off the paper and sees the gift, her parents ask, Do you like it? And she responds, Yes, how much do I owe you? And of course it’s a rather absurd question because as we all know-gifts are given, there’s not a cost attached to them, they’re free-hence why they’re a gift. No one on Christmas morning anticipates paying a bill for the presents they received. Mom and Dad aren’t looking for their kids to pay them back for the gifts they bought. You’re probably not looking for someone to pay you back for the gifts you bought them. Although now you might be thinking that’s not a bad idea-glad you like your gift-it’s $50 for that! But isn’t that how we often respond to the Lord and His gift of salvation? We think we have to pay God back, we think we have to earn it or do something to deserve His grace and the salvation He brings. How much do I owe you, Lord? How good is good enough for you? How religious do I need to be? How much money should I give to charity, or how often do I have to read my Bible or go to church? What does it take to pay you back? And the answer is nothing. There isn’t anything we owe or have to pay back because the grace God gives us is exactly that-it’s grace. It’s something we cannot earn, it’s something we don’t deserve or ever achieve through our own good works or efforts but instead receive as a gift. And there’s no better time to be reminded of that fact than at Christmas. Maybe you’ve never thought about it before but Christmas, more than any other season of the year, proclaims the truth that as people we didn’t make our way up to God, instead He came down to us. That what we needed most-He lavishly provided for us at Christmas. It’s a lot like this tree-but instead of a massive pile of gifts, we’ve been given an abundance of grace! This is the amount of grace that’s come down to us through Jesus-even just the beginning of His grace! So as our title says-A Weary World Rejoices indeed!
Go ahead and open up your Bibles to Isaiah 9.This is the passage we’ll be examining in the next couple of weeks as we draw near to Christmas. And initially what we encounter there is the weariness and not the rejoicing. In fact, the last verse of chapter 8 which leads into chapter 9 sets us up for this-Isa 8:22. Now there’s a cheerful verse to start off our morning! Distress, darkness, gloom and anguish-some of our favorite words, right? Hardly-and yet who can’t say they didn’t experience some of that, maybe a lot of that, this past year? Distress over being isolated and quarantined, worried about the economy and rising case numbers, distressed over your job or school or the political climate, in darkness about what to do, who to trust and where this is all headed, leading to generally gloominess if life and even anguish. I think if there was a verse that summarized 2020 it was this one-and did you see why? Isa 8:22. These are people, this is a nation, who’s eyes are fixed down here. Who are seeing things from the world’s perspective which always brings this sort of outlook. And especially in a year like we’ve had-if you just zero in on the state of our world-and all the arguing and turmoil and division and problems we’ve had-it’s bound to bring gloominess and anguish. And let’s be honest this isn’t anything new-all throughout history an earthly perspective leaves us in a state of distress. If our hope is to be found here we will be thrust into thick darkness. So let me say as we move into the next chapter our hope isn’t to be found here, planet earth won’t give us the answers, but our hope has arrived here. That in the midst of our thick darkness a candle’s been lit, a light has dawned. Take a look at it-Isa 9:1. And that name Galilee is key here and should ring a few bells-because that’s where Jesus first publicly identified Himself in the synagogue at Galilee, that’s where Jesus performed His first miracle of turning water to wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Look at-Matt 4:23. This is a tidal wave of joy and blessing to Galilee that used to be a land of thick darkness. It’s like that mountain of presents by the Christmas tree. As one writer said-it’s the unquenchable light of Jesus radiating out into Satan’s dark world. I love that statement-it’s so true-and we can clearly see where Isaiah is going with all of this 700 years before Jesus was going to do these miracles in Galilee. Go back to the description-Isa 9:2-3. This is saying that both back then-and today-because God’s Word is applicable for all time, it’s always relevant-there is increasing joy and much rejoicing by those who’ve been dwelling in a land of deep darkness-including us. They had to look forward in faith, we have to look back in faith-but we’re both looking at the exact same place, the exact same spot in history to find our source of joy in these dark and weary times. And what is it? What’s the source and reason for our rejoicing? The hint of Galilee was our first clue-now look at how the passage answers it-Isa 9:6.
Did you notice how this wasn’t phrased? It didn’t say For to God the debt is paid by us, to God the gift is given from us. We didn’t give Him something or pay Him back or offer up our efforts, instead it’s the opposite-v. 6. Christmas is when God gives us a gift, it’s when He came down to us; we didn’t make our way up to Him. And that’s where Christianity is different from every other religion in the world. Every other religion says do your best to make your way to God, keep all the rules, maintain all the traditions, do everything you’re supposed to do, live as good as you can and hopefully you’ll reach God. But Christianity says the opposite. It says that God has reached out to us. He’s not waiting to see who makes it to heaven, instead God’s Son has left heaven and descended to us here on earth. We saw it spelled out so clearly last week in Isa 7:14-which means God with us. God came down to us as a little baby, the essence of divinity was found in that child who was born, the son who was given. And now we see that 4 titles are applied to the son. Back to Isa 9:6-what does it say about this baby? Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Those are 4 magnificent titles. Do you know any children born today that when the doctor looks at them he says-Now this is Mighty God, this is a Prince of Peace, this little guy looks like the Everlasting Father. No-these titles are unique and can only be applied to Jesus and no one else-and during the next 4 services we’re going to examine each one of them in greater detail. So today we’ll be starting with Wonderful Counselor.
Now what makes a good counselor? If you needed help or wanted advice or were going through a difficult time and needed someone to talk to, what would you look for in a counselor? Certainly you would want someone with good wisdom or knowledge or expertise, you’d want someone you feel comfortable with, someone you enjoy talking to and aren’t intimidated by, but probably the most important quality would be someone who’s been there, someone who’s shared a similar experience and understands what you’re going through. There’s no point in having a counselor who can’t relate to you or is too far removed. What makes an effective counselor is someone who says I know what you’re dealing with; I understand how difficult it is because I’ve been there; it’s hard-but let me tell you what I’ve learned. What makes Jesus our Wonderful Counselor is that He knows exactly what we’re dealing with because He’s been there too. Jesus has walked this earth-from Bethlehem to Galilee to Jerusalem. He’s faced our struggles, endured our pain, battled the same temptations we battle, experienced the same sufferings and sorrow we’ve experienced. Look at-Heb 2:14, 18; 4:15-16 NIV. Talk about a Wonderful Counselor! Jesus is able to sympathize with our weaknesses. When we’re struggling, Jesus doesn’t say, Just get over it, toughen up, stop crying and struggling this stuff is easy-I aced it! Not at all! It’s quite the opposite. Jesus hears our cries for help, He understands what we’re facing and with great sympathy and love He strengthens us. That’s what is so amazing about the Son of God taking on human flesh and being born as a man. It’s the essence of what the Incarnation teaches us. Pt1:As our Wonderful Counselor: Jesus has walked the same paths we have. He’s been there. His feet have traveled on this same dusty ground; His eyes have looked up at the same cloudy skies. That’s the glory of the Christmas story, the wonder of the manger. Jesus didn’t come on a get in/get out rescue mission. He didn’t parachute down from heaven just in time to die on the cross and then immediately return back into heaven. His rescue mission wasn’t strategically planned to be as brief as possible with minimal risk or threat level. Have you ever thought about that? That’s what I would have done in His shoes. But He came to live life-all risk included. And that means you don’t have a God who sits up in heaven on His throne uncaring and unconnected. You don’t have a God who can’t relate to you or doesn’t bother to try. Now you may have parents like that or teachers or even a boss like that-who doesn’t understand what you’re going through and quite frankly doesn’t care. But you have a God who does care; you have a Savior who totally relates to you and understands everything you’re going through because He’s lived it. When you’re struggling with what to do or where to turn, you have a Wonderful Counselor who has faced all the struggles you’ve faced-and offers His grace and mercy to help you.
There’s a great example of this from Jesus’ life. If you remember Mary and Martha, two sisters who had a brother named Lazarus who died-and of course they were good friends with Jesus and asked Him to come and heal Lazarus when he was sick. But Jesus delayed and it says in John 11:14, 17. Obviously Jesus knows this-that’s why He’s glad He wasn’t there. Jesus knows exactly what He’s going to do-and that’s raise Lazarus from the dead-v. 4. Jesus is the man with the plan-one resurrection coming right up! So what I find amazing is Jesus’ response when He comes to the tomb-v. 32-35. There it is-shortest verse in the Bible-but one of the most powerful. Jesus wept. His heart hurt for Mary, He hurt for Martha, He was grieving the fact that His dear friend Lazarus had passed away-these were real emotions Jesus was experiencing, real sadness and weeping. And yet He knows exactly what He’s about to do. He knows that He’s going to raise Lazarus from the dead-He said so earlier-this will not lead to death. So why isn’t Jesus standing there with a gleam in His eye, an excited air about Him-something’s coming people-knowing that this death is a short-lived thing because He’s going to wow everybody with His divine power to raise Lazarus? Jesus is on the cusp of something extraordinary-shouldn’t the anticipation be bubbling up inside Him? That’s how I’d be. Yet Jesus mourns and weeps with Mary and Martha. His tears weren’t artificial or for show; they weren’t something for dramatic effect. They were real, heartbroken tears as He wept with them because Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor-and He hurts when we hurt. And I have to tell you it’s no different for us now. Jesus knows there’s another resurrection coming-maybe not in 20 min like Lazarus-but when this life is over, when this world ends, He’s going to raise every believer to eternal life, He’s got a glorious resurrection up His sleeve for all who’ve trusted Him. A resurrection infinitely greater than Lazarus who was just 1 guy raised to more earthly life; Jesus will resurrect every believer for eternity-the greatest hope and joy and glory we could ever imagine. And yet, in the moment, as our Wonderful Counselor, He still hurts when we hurt. Look at the response-v. 36.
And it’s no different for you and me. Pt2:As our Wonderful Counselor: Jesus has loved us perfectly. He’s not some therapist who just sits there disinterested while he listens to our problems, nodding his head, and taking a few notes as He wishes us well on our way out. Rather Jesus loves us with a patient, sacrificial, steadfast love. He knows how often we make mistakes and blow it. He knows how we stumble and fall and lose our way. As our Wonderful Counselor He never stops guiding us and leading us. He doesn’t abandon us when we stray, He doesn’t give up when we fail. Just ask Peter who denied Jesus 3 times. Jesus should have denied Peter after that. He should have said-3 strikes you’re out, I’m done with you, Peter. I’ll go find some better disciples. But He didn’t do that. Quite the opposite, Jesus lovingly restored Peter. He forgave him and asked Peter for each time he denied him, Peter do you love me? Peter couldn’t have asked for better therapy than that! And Jesus does the same with you and me. He lovingly and patiently rebukes and corrects you, He tenderly guides you even after you’ve sinned and made a mess of things. He’s not a counselor who quits on you. Instead He’s a counselor who loves you more than you could ever imagine. Paul’s prayer says it so well in Eph 3:17-19 NIV. That’s what you’re called to do-to know the unknowable! To know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.
And nowhere is that love more perfectly displayed than at the Cross. Why did Jesus come to earth, take on human flesh and live life like us? Pt3:As our Wonderful Counselor: Jesus has taken our place and died for us. You see Jesus doesn’t just give us good advice on how to solve our sin problem-certainly there’s many powerful things He says that we need to understand. But as a counselor He doesn’t just pass along wisdom on defeating sin or give us a book to read or a list of steps to work through and say check in with me when you get them done. As we said earlier, He doesn’t insist that we make our way to Him through our good works or moral efforts. Instead, Jesus has come for the very purpose of solving our biggest problem-that being our sin which separates us from God-because we could never solve it ourselves. That’s why Jesus was born. He’s come to do what we can’t do. He takes our place on the cross. He faces the punishment our sins deserved and He dies on our behalf so that we could be forgiven and saved. He’s the counselor who moves beyond advice and into action. He sacrifices His life for us. Just think if you had a counselor like that you were going to, one you really liked who you poured your heart out to and shared your biggest problems with-and what if instead of that counselor saying here’s what you should do-he actually got up from his chair and went and did it for you. What if you had a counselor that not only suggested helpful solutions but actually solved your problems-wouldn’t that be a wonderful counselor? And that’s who we have in Jesus. He didn’t say-Try your best to please God and hopefully He’ll save you-Jesus actually went and secured our salvation by His death on the cross. He didn’t merely point us towards God; He saved us and reconciled us to God. Look at John 12:23, 27a. And that’s exactly what Jesus wants to say. He doesn’t like the idea of the cross at all. He would totally prefer to be spared from that hour-that’s why his soul is troubled. Jesus would desperately desire to avoid the cross and be spared that horrible hour-actually 3 hours-of pain and suffering. And yet Jesus chooses not to save Himself so that He can save us-because a painful cross is what our sins deserved. It was the only way, the penalty for what we have done-and He was willing to pay it; He was willing to do it. Listen to His answer-v. 27. That’s why Jesus was born.
I read a great statement this week that said-there can be no grace without a cross, and there can be no cross without a manger. That’s why He was born, that’s where the story takes us. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given-so that through Him-our Wonderful Counselor-we can be saved, forgiven and have eternal life. He’s the counselor who moves beyond advice and into action. We couldn’t make our way up to God, so He came down to us. One last verse-John 1:14, 16. The very thing we desperately need as sinners-His saving grace-now comes to us in abundance-grace upon grace. I go back to our picture of the overflowing tree. You may not get that many presents at Christmas-but that’s a glimpse of the grace we get in Christ-in fact, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! There’s no shortage of grace in Him whatsoever. And might this image describe your heart this year-that instead of the Christmas season and all its festivities blocking your view of Christ-what you see front and center is Christ and all of His grace stacked up in abundance for you! Bonhoeffer, 60-grace upon grace!