RPM, Volume 15, Number 6, February 3 to February 9, 2013

A Light Has Dawned

Isaiah 9:1-7

By Rev. Mike Osborne

“It’s not supposed to be this way.”
• So said Anne Vogel, a resident of Newtown, CT, where on Friday 20 little children and 6 adults were shot to death by a young gunman named Adam Lanza.

Another school shooting to add to the list.

You’re right, Anne. It’s not supposed to be this way. Death is an intruder, an evil, the result of sin, the product of the fall, the cruel weapon of the devil. Death is God’s enemy. He hates it. 1 Cor 15.26 calls death “the last enemy to be destroyed” by God.

And it will be destroyed. But for the time being, death continues to show up at all the wrong times and places, and its victims are often all the wrong people.

As sad as it is to talk about the CT shooting, it actually helps us feel the emotion of these early chapters of Isaiah. The prophet Isaiah lived at a low point in the nation of Judah. It was the 8th century B.C. God’s people had fallen more and more into sin and idolatry. Isa 1-8 is full of threats and woes from God to his disobedient people.

  • “You’re a people loaded with guilt — a brood of evildoers,” Isaiah tells them in chapter 1.
  • “You’ve forsaken the Lord; you’ve spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned your backs on him.”
  • Read through these early chapters of Isaiah and you’ll see. The people were offering God hypocritical worship. They were oppressing the poor and ignoring their widows and orphans. They were practicing divination and sorcery, bowing down before the gods of foreign nations.
  • During the reign of King Ahaz, child sacrifice was practiced. Parents were actually burning their own children to death as offerings to pagan gods.

  • It was a time of political chaos too. The northern kingdom of Israel faced imminent destruction by Assyria, the world power of the day. And it looked like the same would happen to Judah.

In short, it was an age of great spiritual and political darkness, not unlike our own. And sadly, the people refused to turn to God for help. They did not repent and cry out to God for the grace he would have gladly given.

  • Isa 8:19-22 — “When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.”
  • Notice the words “no light of dawn,” “distress and darkness,” “fearful gloom,” “utter darkness.”
  • That’s how Isa 8 ends.

You and I feel this darkness too.

  • Yesterday I couldn’t stop thinking about those little children of the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
  • Throughout our land are broken homes, distrust, and unhappiness.
  • Almost every day when my wife comes home from her job as a nurse, she tells me about the brokenness she witnesses in the hospital room.
  • There is so much fear in the world today. Fear of terrorists, of war, of economic disaster, of natural disaster.
  • And there’s so much sin ripping people apart today. Sexual sin. Family sin. Social sin.

Darkness. All around us, and in us too — in my heart, and in yours.

“Nevertheless” (Isa 9:1). That’s my favorite word in Isaiah 9. “But… there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress.” In other words, says Isaiah, there is hope for the hopeless. There is joy for the joyless. “Weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning,” as it says in Psa 30.

I want to talk to you today about joy:

  1. The promise of joy
  2. The joy giver
  3. How to find joy in a time of sadness

I. The promise of joy (vss. 1-5)

Notice how Isaiah directs his people’s thoughts to the future.

  • Vs. 1 — “In the past God 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. (vs. 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.”
  • God is speaking to two of the tribes of Israel — Zebulun and Naphtali — as the epicenters of hopelessness.

Zebulun and Naphtali were sons of Jacob, and from them came two of the 12 tribes of Israel. You remember that when God gave Israel the Promised Land of Canaan, each of the tribes inherited a different territory. Zebulun and Naphtali’s territories were in the northernmost part of Israel. They were the areas farthest away from the Temple in Jerusalem. They were the least respected of all the tribes. And they were the area most vulnerable to foreign invasion. In fact, Zebulun & Naphtali were the first to fall to Assyria in 732 B.C.

  • Thousands of their people were deported to Assyria, and foreigners came in and settled their territories.

  • So it became essentially a Gentile culture. It was known as “Galilee of the nations,” or “Galilee of the Gentiles.”
  • It had the reputation of being a corrupt place, filled with pagans and half-breeds.
  • They came to be regarded as losers, rejects.
  • This is why, in the NT, you have Nathanael saying (Jn 1), “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nazareth was located in the territory of Zebulun.
  • And that’s why even the Pharisees (Jn 7.52) said that no prophet would come from Galilee.

But God, through Isaiah, speaks to the descendants of Zebulun and Naphtali, as representatives of the entire nation, and he makes them a promise. He says, “I know you’ve been humbled, I know you’ve been in distress, I know you’ve lost your past glory. But get ready, because I’m going to send you a great light.”

And this promise is so certain of fulfillment that God speaks in the perfect tense. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. A light has dawned.”

  • Isaiah says to God (vs. 3), “You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy. They rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest.”
  • He speaks of future glory as though it has already arrived.

Now you know what happened to the 12 tribes of Israel, right? In the northern section of Israel, Assyrian armies in 722 B.C. pretty much wiped out everything and the land was never the same again. In the southern section of Israel called Judah, in 586 B.C. Babylonian armies came in and destroyed Jerusalem, killed tons of people, and took thousands of God’s people off to Babylon. We call that the Exile.

And Isaiah, being a prophet, knows these things are going to happen. But under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he looks beyond the warfare, beyond the misery, beyond the Exile, and says, “There is coming a day when there will be no more sadness, no more poverty, no more warfare and distress.”

Isaiah is predicting a future restoration for the faithful remnant of God’s people. And he is so sure that this promise will be fulfilled that he speaks as though it’s already happened.

  • He says to God in vs. 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.”
  • He’s talking about the time when Gideon and his 300 soldiers defeated a Midianite army of 135,000 soldiers by blowing trumpets and smashing jars (Judges 7).
  • So God is saying, “You may be in distress now, and later you’re going to be in even deeper distress as exiles in a foreign land. But one day there will be a final battle, and you’ll be the winners. One day, there will be a new Exodus. One day, you will return to the land. Everything sad will come untrue. I will be your God, and you will be my people.”
  • And sure enough, in 538 B.C., Cyrus the Great of Persia freed the Jewish captives from their bondage in Babylon, and they returned to their homeland, rebuilt the Temple, reestablished their nation, and celebrated with great rejoicing.

That’s the promise of joy: A light has dawned. A deliverer is coming. No more gloom for those in distress.

But there’s more here than a prediction of better times to come for Israel. Isaiah has a message for the whole world.

II. Because in vss. 6-7 he tells us about the joy giver.

Vs. 6 — “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.”

God comes to the rescue of his hopeless people not by military force, not ultimately through a Persian king, not through bolts of lightning from heaven, but through a baby born in a manger.

Think about it. Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but where was his boyhood home? In Nazareth, the land of Zebulun.

  • Guess where he began his ministry? In Galilee of the Gentiles
  • Matthew 4:13-17 — “Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali — to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah, ‘Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali, the way to the sea, along the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 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.’ From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’”
  • .

Jesus Christ is the Joy Giver. He’s the child of promise, the one who brings hope to the hopeless.

  • He is the Seed of the woman promised to Adam who would crush the head of the serpent.
  • He is the Lamb for the burnt offering promised to Abraham on Mt. Moriah.
  • He is the ruler descended from the line of Judah, from whose hands the scepter would never depart.
  • He is the prophet like Moses who would lead his people into the true Promised Land.
  • He is the great King David’s greater Son, whose reign would never end.
  • He is Immanuel, God with us — the Star that would come out of Jacob, the shoot from the stump of Jesse, the suffering servant, the King of kings, the Ancient of Days, the author of a better covenant, the Lion of Judah, the Lamb of God for sinners slain, the Bread of life, the Light that has dawned in Galilee of the nations.
  • And we could go on and on.

But Isaiah gives us four more names for this child of Bethlehem:

>He’s the…

  1. Wonderful Counselor — he is wise and gentle, able to guide us
  2. Mighty God — he is powerful and strong, able to protect us
  3. Everlasting Father — he is gracious and patient, able to love us no matter what
  4. Prince of Peace — he is always in control, able to calm and defend us

No wonder the angel shouted to the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you good news of great JOY that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”

III. So let’s go back to where we started today. How does this prophecy speak to you today? How can you find joy in a time of sadness?

Illus.: I’ve been reading a book about the Dust Bowl called “The Worst Hard Time,” by Timothy Egan

  • 1930s — hit particularly hard in the area of the Southern Plains that came to be known as No Man’s Land — panhandle of Texas & Oklahoma, southwestern Kansas, southeastern Colorado
  • A whole decade of drought, black blizzards, dust storms, rabbit invasions, death
  • Many of the farmers of the Southern Plains gave up and left. But the ones who stayed had a name for themselves: “Next year people.”
  • “Next year it will rain,” they said. “Next year wheat prices will go up. Next year the dust storms will cease and farms will flourish.”

Now most of their optimism was based on ignorance, and some was based on pure stubbornness and pride. Still, I like that nickname: “Next year people”

Isaiah the prophet is telling us, like he was telling the people of his time, not to be “next year people,” but to be “One day people.” Look beyond the gloom and distress of the present, says Isaiah, to the unseen realities of the Kingdom of God.

Put your faith and trust in the King who has come and “one day” is coming again.

  • On that day death will be defeated.
  • On that day the yoke of sin and shame will be broken from our necks.
  • On that day evil, and hate, and warfare will end.
  • And that promise is so sure that we should live with confidence and joy, as though it’s already happened.

How can we do that? “Because to us a child has been born, to us a son has been given, and the government is on his shoulders.”

  • And “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.”
  • Illus.: Do you know the story of Pandora’s Box?
  • In Greek mythology, Pandora was the first woman on Earth. The gods endowed her with many gifts, including a beautiful box, or jar, which she was not to open under any circumstances. But Pandora was curious, so she opened it, and out came all sorts of evil — hate, anger, poverty, sickness, death — and they began to spread over the earth. Pandora quickly closed the jar, but she didn’t realize that one thing lay at the bottom of the jar: Hope.

Don’t ignore Jesus. Don’t close him up in a box. He’s your hope. Trust in him, and sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.”

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