Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 12/19/99
"What is in a name?" asked Juliet. "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet." Thus she hopes to persuade Romeo to change his name--for he is a Montague and she a Capulet, and she fears that the feud between their families will lead their love to a tragic end. Unfortunately for those star-crossed lovers, Romeo's name is not just an arbitrary label but the expression of what he is. Hence the tragic fate Juliet fears is indeed unavoidable. Fortunately for us, names of meaning and power can have positive effects as well, enabling us to live happily ever after--literally. Such is the quartet of names given by Isaiah to the coming Child whose birth we celebrate this week.
He is first WONDERFUL COUNSELOR. Handel's "Messiah" is usually the perfect musical commentary on the texts it sets, but this verse is the exception that proves the rule. A rest in his score separates what the parallellism of the passage would have us keep together; this is not two names but one. The word translated "wonderful" means marvelous, miraculous, inconceivable. So the Coming One will be a Counselor far beyond anything that humanity could produce. And so He was. Familiarity has dulled us to the brilliance of His teaching--but try to imagine that you had never heard any of it before. It would astound you as it did its original audience, who cried, "Never man spake like this man!"
In philosophy, it is well said that there is Plato and Aristotle, and all else is footnotes. In theology, Jesus stands even higher than that. The volumes of two men are the apex of human philosophy, but the apex of theology is one verse: John 3:16. Has anyone ever given a better definition of the love of God than that? Of worship than John 4:24 ("God is spirit and seeks men to worship him in spirit and truth")? Of prayer than Matthew 6? Of the Christian life than the discourse on the Vine and the branches?
In ethics, Jesus is the supreme Master, recognized as such even by many who reject His claims. One passes from the deepest of human teachers to the Sermon on the Mount as from a wading pool to the ocean. Try to imagine how empty and impoverished your inner world would be if you had never heard those words--or the parable of the Sower--the Prodigal Son--the Lost Sheep. Then stand with the Shepherds or the Magi in your imagination and realize that they had not; that you have a better understanding than they of the marvel of what they saw. For He is indeed the Wonderful Counselor. Hear ye Him.
The second name is MIGHTY GOD. The Heb. phrase is "el gibbor," which could be translated "God our Hero." As wonderful as was Jesus' counsel, Scripture emphasizes much more His deeds than His words. If we had the words without the deeds, they would be a curse, not a blessing. For they would simply deepen our despair and leave us yet in our sins. But this Child would defeat Satan--something only God could do, for God is the only Being in the universe stronger than Satan. He would purchase pardon and forgiveness at the price of His own Blood--something only God could do, for a Sacrifice adequate for the sins of the whole world would have to be infinite in value. He would--and He still does--serve as Mediator between God and Man--something only God could do, for no bridge between the Infinite and the finite can be built from the side of the finite. He was and is indeed El Gibbor, the Mighty God, God our Hero.
Then follows THE EVERLASTING FATHER. But wait a minute. I thought the Father was the Father and the Son the Son. Was Isaiah an early proponent of the modalist heresy? No. It is true that the Father and the Son are distinct Persons. It is also true that the identity between them is so strong that the Son could say "I and the Father are one"; that "He who has seen me hath seen the Father." That is the side of the truth that Isaiah is stressing. The Son came to represent the Father, to reveal Him, and is the express image of His nature. In that sense He can be said to be to us the Everlasting Father.
This means that the standard picture one gets of the harsh, righteous, just, and angry God of the Old Testament who is replaced by the loving Father of the New is sheer hogwash. It was the thundering God of Sinai who sent the Son. In Him the wrath and the love of God come together, especially on the Cross: the wrath and justice of God demanding the death penalty for sin, the Love of God taking that penalty on Himself. Both aspects are in both testaments, and can be separated only at the cost of destroying the integrity of God. I mention this error because you will run into it, presented as an obvious truth that needs no argument or defense, whenever secular people try to understand the Christian message. We need to be prepared to show that our God is not a victim of theological schizophrenia.
Finally, this Child who is coming will be PRINCE OF PEACE. Modern Jews reject Christ as the true Messiah for precisely this reason: that He has come, but peace has not. But look carefully at verse 7. It does not actually say that peace will come to the whole earth when the Messiah comes. It says that there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace forever on the throne of David. There is, in other words, no promise of world peace--only of peace for God's people, who are subject to His government. For the rest, there is a certain terrifying expectation of judgment. And I would submit that what has actually happened since Christ came is consistent with the language of the prophecy. His government HAS increased--from 500 subjects at the time of the Resurrection to countless millions today from almost every tongue, tribe, and nation. And they--who have accepted Him as Lord--know peace with God. Though the travesties of professing Christians killing one another in His name obscures it, the truth is that among His true followers peace, Shalom, exists within already, and flows outward to affect those around them. And the day is coming when every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father. Then--when Christ returns--and only then--will the world know peace. And that day is coming, just a surely as Christmas came--for the zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform it.
Here endeth the Lesson.