We are in the Advent season. For those of you who didn’t grow up in church or for those who grew up in churches that didn’t observe the Advent season, I want to help you understand the importance of the four Sundays leading up to Christmas. The word Advent comes from the Latin word, “adventus,” which means “coming or arrival.” The Latin Translation of the Bible in the fourth century, the Latin Vulgate, used the word “adventus” to describe the coming of the Son of God, both His coming as a baby born in a manger as well as His second coming. During this month we celebrate the coming of the Savior into our world and we are waiting for His arrival, His Second Coming. We are celebrating and yet we are waiting. This morning I want us to turn to a familiar section of God’s Word. If you will turn with me to Isaiah 9:1-7. Let’s read together.
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he 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– 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death 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 men 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 increase 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. (Isaiah 9:1-7 NIVO)
This is one of those Scriptures we take out of the attic when we are gathering our Christmas decorations. We unbox Isaiah 9, wrap it in lights and tinsel, hang it over the manger, turn on some Nat King Cole for ambiance, pour us a hot cup of wassail, and get all sentimental. Now, don’t get me wrong. It is a beautiful passage. An incredible promise of a change of events, the coming of the One who would be known as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace. The problem is not with the passage or the promise. The problem is that we fail to understand the context of the times in which these words were spoken and the waiting that took place before the promise came to fruition.
The golden years of Israel happened during the 40 year reign of King David. Following David, his son Solomon, though he was the wisest man who ever lived, he wasn’t a strong leader like his dad. Solomon’s interests were divided and after his death so came the death of the united nation. When Solomon died, about 931 B.C., the kingdom of Israel was divided into Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The prophet Isaiah stepped onto the scene during the reign of King Uzziah, one of the king’s of the southern Kingdom of Judah. Uzziah’s reign was marked by peace, but the people’s hearts were far from God, they began to turn away from God. The situation worsened during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. Internally, the people were a mess. They had forgotten God and had grown weak. Judah and King Ahaz weren’t as strong as their neighbors. They were under threat from Syria and their brothers to the north, Israel. Ahaz was afraid of a military invasion so the Lord sent Isaiah to calm his fears. In Isaiah 7:4 we read,
4 Say to him, ‘Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these two smoldering stubs of firewood– because of the fierce anger of Rezin and Aram and of the son of Remaliah. (Isaiah 7:4 NIVO)
God told King Ahaz to chill out. What they’ve planned won’t happen, don’t be afraid. King Ahaz instead went to the super power in the region, the King of Assyria, and threw himself at his feet pleading for protection. We can read about it in 2 Kings 16:7-8. Listen to this.
7 Ahaz sent messengers to say to Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, “I am your servant and vassal. Come up and save me out of the hand of the king of Aram and of the king of Israel, who are attacking me.” 8 And Ahaz took the silver and gold found in the temple of the LORD and in the treasuries of the royal palace and sent it as a gift to the king of Assyria. (2 Kings 16:7-8 NIVO)
Did you hear what he did? He went into the temple of the Lord, cleaned out the treasury, and sent it to the King of Assyria. You just know that wasn’t going to work out well don’t you? And it didn’t. The King of Assyria turned on King Ahaz, king of Judah.
It was a time of unrest, upheaval, turmoil, and great anxiety as the people worried about what their future held. Ahaz was unwilling to trust in God, he was unwilling to wait on God, and as a result things got worse and worse until Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C., the people were taken captive and carried to Babylon.
Ahaz was anxious. He was frenzied. The future looked bleak. The problems were piling up. He was looking for a quick fix, a simple solution, and he refused to wait on God. Refusing to wait on God will only create more problems for you and me my friends. Stop and think about the examples we’ve been given in God’s Word. Why did Hagar, the servant of Abraham and Sarah, give birth to a child named Ishmael? Wasn’t it because Abraham and Sarah were tired of waiting on God? God had promised them He was going to give them a son, but time kept marching on and still no baby. Instead of waiting on God they came up with their own plan. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai meeting with God the people down below were making a golden calf to worship. Why were they making that golden calf? Because they were tired of waiting on Moses, they were tired of waiting on God.
We don’t like to wait do we? We are no different than those at the foot of Mt. Sinai, Abraham and Sarah, or Ahaz. If anything we are more impatient today than any generation that has ever lived. Chris Muther writes for the Boston Globe. In the article, Instant Gratification is Making Us Perpetually Impatient, he details how our impatience has led to the development of so many new ways of getting what we want faster and faster and yet fast is not fast enough. He writes,
The demand for instant results is seeping into every corner of our lives, and not just virtually. Retailers are jumping into same-day delivery services. Smartphone apps eliminate the wait for a cab, a date, or a table at a hot restaurant. Movies and TV shows begin streaming in seconds. But experts caution that instant gratification comes at a price: It’s making us less patient. (Muther, Chris. Instant gratification is making us perpetually impatient. Boston Globe. February 2, 2013)
The question has to be asked, “How, in a sped up society, can we avoid the pitfall of the pull of now and learn to wait patiently on the Lord?” I believe there is great insight and guidance for us in God’s Word. Let’s go back to the Scripture from Isaiah 9 for a moment. Now that you know what was taking place at the time Isaiah delivered the message from God, let’s read verses 1-2 once again.
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he 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– 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:1-2 NIVO)
I want to give you a point of reference so you can better understand God’s promise. We read, “In the past he 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 area of Naphtali and Zebulun were west of the Sea of Galilee. This is the very area that was first attacked by the Assyrians when they toppled the Northern Kingdom. The people were deported and their lands became Assyrian provinces. God’s people were devastated, they were humbled, those who were not killed by the enemy were carried away to a foreign land. They were humbled.
In Isaiah 9, Isaiah speaks as though it were all behind them. He writes, “There will no more gloom for those who were in distress…” In verse 2, he proclaims, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” Did you notice how Isaiah writes as if these things have already taken place? He writes in the past tense even though the present situation is bleak, stark, and unnerving. I’ve become a big fan of Dr. Alec Motyer since we’ve been studying the Letter of James. I was reading his commentary on Isaiah this past week when I stumbled on this jewel. Listen to this:
This hope is sure. Isaiah 9:1-7 is couched in past tenses.; the future is written as something which has already happened, for it belonged to a the prophetic consciousness of men like Isaiah to cast themselves forward in time and then look back on the mighty acts of God, saying to us: ‘Look forward to it, it is certain, he has already done it!’ Because of this confidence, Isaiah can place the light of Isaiah 9:1 in immediate proximity to the darkness of Isaiah 8:22, not because it will immediately happen, but because it is immediately evident to the eye of faith; those walking in darkness can see the light ahead and are sustained by hope. (Motyer, J.A. The Prophecy of Isaiah. pg. 98).
The circumstances of God’s people didn’t change for many years. The problems persisted, as a matter of fact, they got worse. Yet, one day the One Isaiah said would be known as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace was born. He wasn’t ushered into this world with pomp and circumstance. No, He was born into a world of conflict, upheaval, stress, and strife. The old powers of Assyria and Babylon were long gone. A new power, even more powerful, and more ruthless wielded the sword over the very land where Isaiah had prophesied some 700 years before His arrival.
Surrounded by uncertainty, feeling like they had been lashed to the mast of a never-ending storm, there were those who still believed. Luke tells us about an event that happened in Jesus’ life when He was just eight days old. Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple to be circumcised like all Jewish parents took their sons to the temple on the 8th day. It was not the circumcision that captured Luke’s attention, but it was what happened when Joseph and Mary arrived at the temple. Turn with me Luke 2:25-32 and let’s read together.
25 At that time there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 That day the Spirit led him to the Temple. So when Mary and Joseph came to present the baby Jesus to the Lord as the law required, 28 Simeon was there. He took the child in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” (Luke 2:25-32 NLT)
Simeon “was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel.” For Simeon and for all of those who heard Jesus’ message, those who believed that He was the Promised One, it was worth the wait. Oh, the days had been long. Generations had come and generations had passed on and still no sign of the Messiah, but they kept believing, they knew one day He would come, and they were willing to wait. Jesus grew up. He began to minister, to proclaim the Good News, He quoted Isaiah in His very first sermon, and Matthew tells us,
12 When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13 Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali– 14 to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah: 15 “Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles– 16 the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” 17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” (Matthew 4:12-17 NIVO)
There are those names again, Zebulun and Naphtali. The people who had been humbled. Those who had walked in darkness for so long. Those who had died while others had been deported. God said the “people walking in darkness have seen a great light” and now the Light had come, just as God had promised. I’ve got to show you something really amazing. Go back to Isaiah 9:1 and let’s read it once again.
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he 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– (Isaiah 9:1 NIVO)
I want you to notice the phrase, “Galilee of the Gentiles.” There is no other place in the Hebrew Bible where the Galilee, the area around the Sea of Galilee, is referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles/Nations.” For those walking in darkness, not just the Jewish people, but all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, a glorious Light has come to rescue us, not from some world power, but from a much greater power, the power of sin and death. Do you believe that? I hope you do because it is in seeing Jesus, believing Jesus, trusting Jesus, knowing His promises in the darkest times of our lives, understanding that He has saved us from more than our circumstances, He has saved us from our sin–this is the greatest gift in all the world.
The Prince of Peace has come to save us from our sins, to restore us to a right relationship with God. We celebrate His coming each and every Christmas. We should celebrate His coming each and every day. At the same time, we are waiting. Like Simeon before he held the newborn Prince of Peace in his arms, we are waiting. While we go through the trials of life we are waiting. Many of us are enduring difficult times and we are waiting. Just this past week I’ve talked with a friend who went to the funeral of his 20 year old niece. She was a beautiful girl with such a bright future ahead of her when she had a seizure while driving down I-35. Her car went off the road and ended up in a pond where she drowned. Now her family is waiting. Come Lord Jesus come! I met with a friend whose marriage is a mess. I listened, tried to comfort and console him, and encouraged him to fight like crazy and wait on the Lord. He’s waiting and I say, “Come Lord Jesus come.” I sat in my office and talked with a woman whose husband two years ago took his own life, to make matters worse, their son found his dad. Two years later she’s still waiting, still hoping that one day things will get better. Come Lord Jesus come! I could go on sharing the stories of my friends who are waiting. I could share my own story of waiting and I’m sure you could too. We are waiting, watching, looking for Jesus to come. We know His promises. We know He’s never failed to keep even one. So we wait and we won’t stop waiting, we won’t turn away, we won’t give up hope, we will wait in eager expectation. John tells us that the day is coming. Turn with me Revelation 21:1-4.
1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Revelation 21:1-4 NLT)
I know that right now we are troubled by the troubles of life. I know that right now life isn’t easy. I know that right now we want our circumstances to change, but keep waiting my friend because I know He’s coming and it will be worth the wait.
We come from a long line of those who have waited. All throughout God’s Word you run into those who patiently waited, they didn’t give up, they didn’t throw in the towel, they patiently waited knowing that even if their circumstances didn’t change in this life it would be worth the wait. Let me give you a sample of what I’m talking about.
13 I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. 14 Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD. (Psalm 27:13-28:1 NIVO)
20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22 NIVO)
7 But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me. (Micah 7:7 NIVO)
It’ll be worth the wait my friends. The Lord in His grace may change your circumstances any moment now and then again He may not change them for a long time, but it will be worth the wait. One glorious day, and I hope it is sooner than later, He will come for His own, wipe every tear from every eye, and we’ll enjoy Him forever. Until then, allow Him to be your peace right now.