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To Us a Child is Born

December 24, 2023

Teacher: John McLeod
Topic: Christmas
Scripture: Isaiah 9:1-7

Sermon Points

  1. The Deliverance Needed
  2. The Deliverance Provided
  3. The Deliverer Described

Reading — Isaiah 9:2, 6-7

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 (ESV)

  • (2) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
  • (6) 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.
  • (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. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.


I hope your Advent season playlist includes Handel’s Messiah. One of the most famous of the Choruses in this masterpiece is “For Unto Us a Child is Born.” The text for that chorus came directly from Isaiah 9.

In this passage, Isaiah prophesied over 700 years beforehand that the Anointed One would be born to bring salvation and hope to mankind as an expression of God’s mercy and glorious power.

Have you ever considered how interesting it is that the Christmas holiday is so broadly celebrated, even outside of Christendom? You may blame over-zealous marketing and commercialism. But, I think there is more to it than that.

Why does Christmas connect with so many people? Consider some of the themes that go along with this season: lights, feasts, singing, joy, peace, evergreen (life), righteousness, generosity, abundance, receiving and giving gifts, mystery and magic, a holiday from the dread or drudgery of normal life.

I don’t know about your family, but several of my kids have been about to announce how many days until Christmas for weeks.

Many of these themes connect with our human experiences and longings. I don’t think the prominence of Christmas can simply be chalked up to clever marketing and Santa Claus. There are deep needs, desires, and hopes wrapped up into much of what Christmas is about.

We’ve joked over the last few weeks about sticking to our series through Genesis so far into the Advent season. But, I hope you, like me, have felt the relevance of the early tragedies in Genesis to the beauty of the Advent season and the gospel truths we celebrate in the Christmas story.

The Fall, the curse, as well as Cain and Abel, remind us of our need for rescue—our need for salvation—our need for Christmas.

The Christmas narratives in the Gospels highlight some of these themes (angels, gifts, light, the poor being included, God with us). But Isaiah 9 has many of the themes that make Christmas meaningful to the people of God and a compelling Good News to others.

This morning, we will see in Isaiah 9:

  • The Deliverance Needed
  • The Deliverance Provided
  • The Deliverer Described

Pastoral Prayer

I. The Deliverance Needed

Isaiah 9:1–2, 4 (ESV)

  • (1) But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.
  • (2) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.
  • (4) For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.

In Isaiah’s Day

Zebulun and Naphtali were two of the northern tribes of Israel which were conquered by Assyria in 734-733 B.C., around the time that Isaiah is writing. There is political turmoil, military defeat, and even worse, an abandonment of faithful worship of the true God.

Isaiah describes these times in verses 1-2 as gloom, anguish, contempt, and deep darkness. This description takes us beyond a simple need for military deliverance. The “deep darkness” of verse 2 is the same word translated “the shadow of death” in Psalm 23.

Verse 4 is filled with language reminiscent of slavery in Egypt from hundreds of years earlier, but which could also describe their experiences under Assyrian defeat—yoke of burden, staff for his shoulder, rod of his oppressor.

These were bad days for Israel. Wicked rulers, idolatry, and puny attempts at worship. But these conditions also describe those outside of Israel. These two northern tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali were far from Jerusalem; they became some of the most ethnically mixed of all of Israel, so much so that the end of verse 1 could be translated “Galilee of the Gentiles.”

The contempt and pain of judgment was upon them. The way of King Ahaz was not delivering them—ignoring God’s commandments and warnings.

The Universal human experience

The significance of this passage is not limited to the history of Israel from the 8th century B.C., however.

The experiences of darkness, gloom, war, and oppression have spread to all mankind since the Fall and the curse in the Garden. This is our human experience. No amount of enlightenment, technological advancement, moral system, or culture has been able to erase the significance of these realities. We feel the fallenness; we experience the curse; we long for better.

The darkness / light motif of verse 2 helps us realize that Isaiah is not merely addressing political and moral realities. There is a personal nature to this suffering—a universality—that goes beyond difficult circumstances and touches our souls at our very core.

In C.S. Lewis’ world of Narnia, this is where it’s always winter, and never Christmas. There is a universal longing for relief, for deliverance, for restoration.

We sing about this in “Joy to the World.”

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

  • Verse 3, “Joy to the World”, Isaac Watts

The deliverance we need goes beyond our painful circumstances or degenerate society or corrupt political leaders, though we have those in abundance. We need a deliverance from moral and spiritual darkness and from the judgment of God.

Now that we’ve had a glimpse at the Deliverance Needed, lets see the Deliverance Provided.

II. The Deliverance Provided

There is a fullness to the deliverance described in these seven verses. Let’s take it in list form before we consider some of it more closely. We are tempted to make Christmas about sentimental notions of family, lights, evergreen trees, and baby Jesus. We must meditate on the breadth and length and depth and height of what God is accomplishing in Christ. Just from this passage we get:

  • Glory instead of contempt
  • Light instead of darkness
  • Joy instead of gloom
  • Burden lifted
  • Oppression broken
  • Battle over
  • Peace established
  • Covenant kept
  • Forever

All accomplished by the LORD of hosts through the child that is born, the son that is given.

Glory instead of contempt

Verse 1 made a strange promise of glory instead of contempt for the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. These tribes were the first to be conquered by Assyria, but they were also to receive the first ministry of our Savior.

Matthew 4:12–16 (ESV) — Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. And leaving Nazareth he went and lived in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— the people dwelling in darkness have seen a great light, and for those dwelling in the region and shadow of death, on them a light has dawned.”

The same geographical area that brought contempt during the days of Isaiah will bring glory in the days of Jesus.

Light instead of darkness

Every time we see Christmas lights, we should remember Isaiah 9:2.

Isaiah 9:2 (ESV)

  • (2) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.

We should remember that “the people” includes Gentiles—includes us. Jesus did not just come for the Jews, but for Galilee of the Gentiles as well.

According to Luke, Jesus came…:

Luke 1:79 (ESV) — to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Darkness and Light are such poignant pointers to the spiritual realities around us. We are almost always aware of some “darkness” around us or in us. We are either keenly aware of circumstances surrounding us that need light—a wicked culture, suffering, immorality, catastrophe, injustice—or we are aware of the deep darkness in us—anxiety, fear, greed, lust, hatred, bitterness. Jesus came with a light powerful enough to overcome all of these.

Jesus is the Light of the World (John 8:12).

John 1:5 (ESV) — The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This light is available to us:

John 8:12 (ESV) — Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

As Christians, we know that this light has changed us forever.

Ephesians 5:8 (ESV) — for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

Joy instead of gloom

Isaiah 9:3 (ESV)

  • (3) 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.

Isaiah pointed to two really joyous occasions—a harvest feast and the spoil of victorious battle.

Notice that vv. 3-4 are addressing the Lord. “You have multiplied…you have increased…you have broken the rod of the oppressor.”

The joy is partly due to the expansion of the people of God, “you have multiplied the nation…”

Relief from Burdens, Oppression, and Victory over Enemies

Verses 4-5 describe relief from burdens and oppression, as well as the ending of all conflict.

  • Isaiah 9:4–5 (ESV) — For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire.

This salvation will be so complete that there will be no more need for the boots and garments for battle, much less the weapons of warfare.

And this victory will not come by human strength, which is why Isaiah mentions the day of Median, which directs our thoughts back to the victory of Gideon by the Power of God over Midian in Judges 6-7. If you don’t remember that story from the time of the Judges, God delivered his people through Gideon and 300 soldiers. Gideon started with 32,000 soldiers, but God wanted to establish that the victory came by his power and not the army’s, so Gideon sent home all but 300 soldiers.

Human strength in that day had been unavailing, and Gideon had to recognize that the battle was the Lord’s, to be won only by His power. The present victory was similar, for it was won against a foe over whom human hands could have no power, and it was won by God alone. It was a spiritual battle, won because a Child would be born, and the victory consisted in the deliverance of God’s people from all that had oppressed them.

  • Edward Young, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 1–18, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1965), 327–328.

The salvation and deliverance that we need goes far beyond what we can accomplish; it can only be accomplished by the zeal of the LORD of hosts through this child that is born to us.

Let’s learn about this deliverer in vv. 6-7.

III. The Deliverer Described

Isaiah 9:6–7 (ESV)

  • (6) 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.
  • (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. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Our passage has been building upon itself. The path toward light, joy, and deliverance is illustrated through three “For” statements.

  • vs. 4 - “For the yoke of his burden…you have broken.”
  • vs. 5 - “For every boot…of the warrior…will be burned”
  • vs. 6 - “For to us a child is born…”

Because we know the fulfillment of these promises in Jesus, we may not realize the seeming absurdity of the prophecy of a child as the fulfillment of these promises. It seems like the prophecy would be about a great warrior-king. Instead, we get the promise of a baby. God’s ways are not our ways.

A Child / A Son

Isaiah has already prophesied about a child coming in chapter 7. Our passage is certainly connected to that promise.

Isaiah 7:14 (ESV) — Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.

The prophecy in chapter 7 points to this deliverer being “with” us. In Chapter 9, the son is “for” us.

I’m not sure if you’re paying attention to the verb tenses in our passage today. If you’re using a different translation, you mighty notice it more. The New American Standard and Christian Standard Bibles translate as a future tense (a child will be born). In Hebrew, it is a perfect tense (past tense, “has been born.”), but this is sometimes called the “Prophetic perfect.” It’s as if Isaiah is so certain that he’s looking back on a future event as if it has already happened.

Whoever this son is, the government shall be upon his shoulder. What does that mean? He will single-handedly carry the weight and burden of rulership. Unlike some of the young kings in Israel who depended upon a strong and wise cabinet of advisors, this King will bear the rulership in himself.

Isaiah gives us four names to describe what this ruler will be like. These names make it clear that Isaiah could not be referring to any merely human king in Jerusalem.

In its highest use, ‘name’ sums up character; it declares the person. The perfection of this King is seen in his qualification for ruling (Wonderful Counsellor), his person and power (Mighty God), his relationship to his subjects (Everlasting Father) and the society his rule creates (Prince of Peace). 

  • J. Alec Motyer, Isaiah, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, 101.

Wonderful Counselor

“Wonderful” points to an ability beyond what is natural or normal. We might use “extraordinary.”

Don’t limit “counselor” to some image of one-on-one counseling in a therapist’s office. This is more in the vein of the President’s cabinet, or a king’s war-council. One translation uses “extraordinary strategist” here in verse 6. That doesn’t roll off one’s tongue quite as well as “Wonderful Counselor.”

This child (King) has all of the wisdom necessary to guarantee victory. There is no situation which might come up in your life (or in the universe) which could stump him. This is wisdom beyond Solomon. This is Wisdom personified.

Remember this as you pray for wisdom and counsel. Our Deliverer is a Wonderful Counselor. His words will never fall flat; they will accomplish what they are sent to do.

Psalm 119:98 (ESV) — Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.

Mighty God

If you can imagine a child-to-be-a-king that is a Wonderful Counselor without being divine, the next name sets us straight.

This child will be called “Mighty God.” No Hebrew king would ever take on this name, lest he blaspheme, but it is true of this King. Even as a child, this king is Mighty God.

It’s difficult to imagine what Isaiah’s original readers would have thought by of this name attached to a child. But, we have the hindsight of know Jesus as the fulfillment of this King of King and Lord of Lords.

This child is not only divinely wise, but is infinitely mighty. Nothing is too difficult for him.

Deuteronomy 10:17 (ESV) — 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.

Jeremiah 32:17 (ESV) — ‘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.

Everlasting Father

This is a strange name to apply to a child, yet it is descriptive of what kind of King he is.

As I mentioned last week, we should not take “Everlasting Father” to be a mention of the Trinity. This name is speaking of the son in his fatherly kingship over his people.

Psalm 103:13 (ESV) — As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.

Our Deliverer is:

  • a caring and attentive father
  • he knows what we need
  • he leaves the 99 to find the one
  • his care for us will never end

Prince of Peace

This is a fulfillment of the David covenant promise to experience peace.

2 Samuel 7:10–11 (ESV) — And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house.

And this peace is part of the promise in Luke 2

Luke 2:14 (ESV) — “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Increasing with no end

This child will reign forever.

The increase of his rulership and peace will never end.

God will accomplish it.

Conclusion / Application

Believe in the Son that was born in Bethlehem.

Pray according to these four names. These can be prayers of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication (requests).

Share this peace that comes through trust in a God that saves.

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