Wonderful Counselor

Isaiah 9:6 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.

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

As you may know, Advent begins today. For many, however, Advent may seem a little like Maundy Thursday…something you know you should know more about. You may have a good idea, but the edges are a little fuzzy.

I can’t explain Advent better than Noel Piper does in her book, Treasuring God in Our Traditions. In it she writes,

We are a people of promise. For centuries, God prepared people for the coming of his Son, our only hope for life. At Christmas we celebrate the fulfillment of the promises God made—that he would give a way to draw near to him.

Advent is what we call the season leading up to Christmas. It begins four Sundays before December 25….

1 Peter 1:10-12 is a clear description of what we look back to during Advent.

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:10-12 )

For four weeks, it’s as if we’re re-enacting, remembering the thousands of years God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus. That’s what advent means—coming.

Again, we’re now in Advent. In celebrating Advent we’ll be joining centuries of Christians who have used this time of year to prepare their hearts for celebrating the coming of our Savior. To help us to this end, I’m going to spend the next five weeks, culminating on Christmas day, looking at the names given to the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6 and 7:14: “Wonderful Counselor,” “Mighty God,” “Everlasting Father,” “Prince of Peace,” and “Immanuel” (in that order).

From each name, beginning with “Wonderful Counselor,” we glean something of the Messiah’s nature and work on behalf of his people. Please pray with me that God would grant us an accurate picture of the One whose birth we celebrate, such that our celebrations would make sense.

The book of Isaiah covers a good deal of Israel’s history (over 200 years when we consider the future prophesies of Isaiah). The main message of the book, however, is quite simple and clear. Isaiah is primarily addressed to the southern kingdom of Israel (Judah), and Jerusalem in particular (the most important city for God’s people), but really it concerns all of God’s people. Both the northern and southern kingdoms are in rebellion and refusing to turn from their sin and keep covenant with God.

The northern kingdom is about to be destroyed by the Assyrians because God has already handed them over on account of their wickedness. Afraid that they too will be destroyed, rather than trust in Yahweh to fight for them, the people and leaders of the southern kingdom seek to make alliances with the surrounding nations.

Isaiah writes to Judah and Jerusalem (1:1) to warn them that the same fate awaits them (as the northern kingdom) if they do not turn from their sinful ways. But, rather than listen to Isaiah, and more importantly trust in Yahweh, they continue in their sin.

By chapter seven God has made it clear that his judgment is certain and will be severe. But God also makes it clear that his judgment will not be permanent. He will one day restore Israel. He will keep a people for himself. He will return his blessing and presence. He will return Israel’s land and strength. And he will do so through a greater David. In 7:10-17 God describes the coming of Israel’s savior.

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

Israel’s savior will come as a child, from a virgin. Unlike Israel and Judah, Israel’s savior will “refuse evil and choose good,” (7:15), trusting in God he will drive out Israel’s enemies, causing their land to become desolate (7:16), and his name will be Immanuel (7:14), “God with us”. God was about to depart Israel, but he promised to return and dwell among his people once again, this time as one of them.

Isaiah continues for some time describing the certain and severe judgment that will come upon Judah as well as the great and glorious restoration that will come through Immanuel.

By chapter 9, then, the promise of God’s salvation through this child comes to a climax.

Isaiah 9:2-3 The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. 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.

Though Israel has sinned impressively and continually and unrepentantly, God will not ultimately desert them. He will restore their nation. He will bring them great joy. And once again, through Isaiah, God tells of the child-king by whom he will accomplish this restoration and joy. This is what we find in 9:6.

Isaiah 9:6 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.

What will the child of 7:14 be like? Through whom will God bring light and multiplication and increased joy and gladness? How, in light of the great darkness and overwhelming judgment, will God turn things around? He will do so, we are told, through a virgin-born child who will “be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Immanuel”.

Grace, as we begin to consider the names of our savior, we must recognize two things: 1) The Messiah has come and has won certain victory for all of his people. Our salvation and joy and gladness are definite and eternal. And 2) Because of this, for those trusting in God’s Messiah, there is no darkness that is final. There is no suffering that will not cease. There is no pain that will not end. Whatever you and I might encounter, however bad it might be, we need not despair. That’s the great promise of the gospel, the good news secured by this virgin-born baby, this God-man messiah, Jesus Christ.

With that, let’s consider the first name given to the source of redeeming joy in Isaiah 9:6: “Wonderful Counselor.”

As is the case with all good news we’ll only ever appreciate it fully after we’ve felt the pain of the bad news. The cure for a disease isn’t cause for celebration if no one has the disease. The invention of a new automobile repair tool is only good news if it corresponds with an actual automobile problem (a new blinker fluid bleeding gun is no good news at all). Relationship fixing advice is only good news if people have bad relationships. Likewise, news of a wonderful counselor is only good news if we’re short on good counsel.

For most of us, it’s easy to see the need for counsel. We face decisions every day which we know we lack the wisdom to handle well. How many times have you wanted badly to know how to honor God in a particular situation only to be overwhelmed by your ignorance? What’s more, how many times have you sought out counsel only to be overwhelmed by the number of varying perspectives and opinions?

Loads of Bad Counsel
The world, now more than ever (hello, internet), is full of people willing to give counsel. The problem is, however, most of it is bad. This was no different in biblical times (minus the internet, of course).

Beginning in Genesis 3 we read of the serpent’s counsel for Adam and Eve,

Genesis 3:1-5 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” 2 And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.'” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5 For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

The same wicked counselor continues to give variations of the same wicked counsel throughout the bible (and still does so even today).

Contrary to the word and will of the Father, even to the God-man who fulfills Isaiah 7:14 and 9:6, the devil gave wicked counsel. He counseled the Messiah to,

“…command… stones to become loaves of bread,” “throw yourself down [from a high mountain],” and “fall down and worship me” (Matthew 4:3-10).

Indeed, ultimately, one of the most defining characteristics of the evil one is his bad counsel, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

But the bad counsel in the bible is not limited to the devil. It spread quickly from him to his servants.

Having listened to the serpent and chosen to serve him rather than God, at the sound of God’s approaching Adam and Eve held counsel with one another and decided to hide “themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).

The early inhabitants of the earth, “…said to one another, ‘Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.’ … Then they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth'” (Genesis 11:3-4).

Even while the mountain was shaking as Moses talked to God, the Israelites counseled Aaron: “Up, make us gods who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exodus 32:1).

Job’s wife demonically counseled her husband to, “… Curse God and die” (Job 2:9).

Solomon, according to the wicked counsel of his “700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines” forsook God and “did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done” (1 Kings 11:3-6).

One of Jesus’ own disciples counseled with the Jewish leaders and determined to betray Jesus (Mark 14:10-11).

Like Adam and Eve, Ananias and his wife Sapphira counseled with one another concerning how to handle the money they’d profited from the sale of a piece of their property. Ananias, “with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 5:1-2).

Grace, it’s at least mildly staggering how much space the bible gives to the effects of bad counsel. We must never forget that the fall of mankind resulted from bad counsel, the continued imprisonment of mankind to sin is enhanced by bad counsel, and much of the suffering we endure results from bad counsel.

Hear this, people of God, there is no shortage of people out there who are willing to give you and I advice. The problem is, once again, things today are no different than they were in the times of the bible. Most of what’s out there is death and darkness-producing bad counsel.

Occasional Good Counsel
Worse still, unfortunately, good counsel is often at a premium. Just like it is in our world today, so it was in the times of the bible. Owing to the sinfulness of mankind, only occasionally was good counsel readily accessible. God sent messengers to his people to speak light and life in the midst of countless voices of darkness and destruction and death. To his people God sent angels and prophets and judges and kings to give good counsel. And then God sent apostles to give good counsel to the whole world.

But even God’s messengers failed at times to give God’s good counsel, and even when they did, more often than not, God’s people despised them for their message. They killed God’s prophets and judges and kings. They disregarded his angels. And then the world found his apostles foolish. All because they came bearing the counsel of God. As quick as mankind is to receive bad counsel, mankind is equally quick to reject good counsel.

Even now, too often we don’t want good counsel. We want people to tell us that what we want is good. With the internet and social media in particular, it has never been easier for us to find someone to tell us what we want to hear.

One Wonderful Counselor
All of this leads us back to our passage for this morning and the first name given to God’s Messiah, “Wonderful Counselor.” While bad counselors have always been prevalent and good counselors scarce, and while it’s frequently difficult to tell the difference, God sent One who never lies, is never mistaken, and will never lead astray. God sent One who is a Wonderful Counselor who gives only and always wonderful counsel. This man is Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus himself acknowledged this, saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

Peter acknowledged the unique counsel of Jesus declaring, “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

In several places Paul expressed understanding that Jesus alone possessed the wisdom of God, which made him alone Wonderful Counselor. In 1 Corinthians 1:24 he wrote, that Jesus is “the wisdom of God.” A few verses later (1 Corinthians 1:30) he wrote that Jesus is “our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” And similarly in Colossians 2:2-3 it is written that uniquely in Jesus is “full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery” for in him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

In contrast with the devil and his servants, and even in contrast with some of God’s appointed messengers, Jesus only gives good counsel. His good counsel is always based on truth (because he is truth) and for the purpose of giving life (because he is life). Oh what great and glorious news this is. We need not walk in darkness. We need not continue in ignorance. We have seen a great light, a light that brings counsel of glad tidings and great joy.

And yet, this is only part of what makes him the Wonderful Counselor. As we all know deep in our souls, by itself, good counsel is not enough. The consistent message of the bible is that God has always been characterized by giving the following good counsel:

Jeremiah 7:23 … ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’

That’s good counsel. That’s the path of life. He’s always been our wonderful counselor. The problem is that we’ve always responded to it in the same way:

Jeremiah 7:24 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward.

That good counsel is available is good news, but it’s not good enough. On our own, God’s people have never kept God’s good counsel. To our death, from the beginning we’ve rejected it. What makes Jesus unique as Wonderful Counselor is that in addition to bringing good counsel, he died to pay for our sinful, death- producing rejection of the Father’s counsel. Before good counsel can be good news for us, we need saving from the effects of the bad counsel we’ve accepted and given. And this is exactly what Jesus has done.

Ephesians 1:7-8 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight …

But that’s not enough either. The wonder of Jesus as Wonderful Counselor is greater still because our need is greater still. We need good counsel and he gives it. We need forgiveness from rejecting good counsel and he gives it. But in addition to each of those things, if we are to truly find the joy and life of Isaiah 9, in addition to wisdom and forgiveness, we also need strength. As glorious as it is to be informed and forgiven, we need more than a blank slate. That’s what Adam and Eve had. Left in our sin, we’re dead. But left to maintain our righteousness on our own strength we’d be dead as well. Even forgiven, we’d quickly reject the wonderful counsel of the Wonderful Counselor. We’d quickly chose to return to darkness.

If we are to honor God and find life, then, we need good counsel, we need to be forgiven of our continual heeding of bad counsel, and we need to be strengthened to obey the good counsel we have in Jesus. This, therefore, is where we come to the really good news of the first name of our Isaiah 9:6 savior. It is all three together that truly makes Jesus our Wonderful Counselor. Not only does he bring unfailing, sufficient, life-giving, wonderful counsel and undeserved, unearned, complete forgiveness, but he also gives his people the will and strength to heed it.

Romans 16:25-26 Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

And that’s good news, Grace. Therefore, as we continue to work our way through Advent, towards our celebration of the birth of the child of the virgin, let us find the joy of Isaiah 9 in the Wonderful Counselor who gives good counsel, atones for our rejection of it, and strengthens us to love and walk in it in newness of life.