December 11 - Message Update

No Mere Hope – Isaiah 9:1-7 – Elder Chris Wu
From the new Tolkien-inspired show, Rings of Power, “Hope is never mere, even when it is meager; when all other senses sleep, the eye of hope is first to awaken, last to shut.”
Isn’t that great? In other words, hope is the first glimmer of light in the dark, and it’s the last light to go out when everything else has gone dark. Hope is no trivial thing. Hope, even when it is meager, is never mere.
I’d suggest hope implies at least a couple of things. To have hope is to say that your now is not what you hope your next to be, that is, what you long for is not (yet) here. You don’t hope unless you hunger. You don’t hope unless you long for better. And so that implies a second thing, to have hope is to wait with expectation. With anticipation. With reason, whether big or small, strong or weak, to press on. To see light at the end of the tunnel.
It’s no wonder that when we talk about Christmas and Advent, we find ourselves talking about hope. When the Bible talks about the arrival of Jesus, it’s talked about in terms of hope. The hope of rescue and salvation. The hope of new life. The hope of eternal peace. The hope of promises fulfilled. The hope of a person. A king. A shepherd. A savior.
That’s what makes the first 7 verses of Isaiah 9 so precious. God’s people are desperate for hope. They are a people walking in darkness. They are a people who have suffered greatly and are about to suffer a great deal more. They have others to blame, and (mostly) themselves to blame. They need the hope of rescue, of peace, of a future. They need a hope that’s strong and sure. If that hope is going to exist, it’s going to have to come from God Himself. And that’s exactly what God offers up here through Isaiah.
We’re going to focus on just a couple of key points about how special that hope is that God offers, and as we do, I want to us to consider this main idea, which is a twist on that Rings of Power quote I shared: The hope of Christ is never mere, even when we feel meager.
1.  The hope of Christ doesn’t share the flaws of worldly hope. (Isaiah 8:19 – 9:4)
The hope of Christ is never mere, even when we feel meager, because the hope of Christ doesn’t share the flaws of worldly hope. That is, the hope of Christ doesn’t look or sound like worldly hope, which has its foundation only in what people can do, and so it’s bound to disappoint in the end.
We’ve backed up a few verses before fully launching into the bright promise of Isaiah 9 because you see, at that time, most of God’s people had wrapped up their hopes in things like political allies and superstitious practice. They saw success and failure as dependent on the wisdom of their kings to make smart partnerships or conquests, or on the powers of various gods or magic forces in the world. God says to Isaiah, “when they say to you, ‘Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,’ should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead-on behalf of the living?” (8:19).
In other words, God’s people no longer connected their destiny, good, bad, or otherwise, on the God of the universe. They looked to a bag of worldly tricks as their path to the good life, and they concluded that suffering and death came because they just hadn’t pulled the right lever yet. Crazily, they thought talking to dead people was the best way to get advice and insight into the future rather than talking to the God of the living – the God who made them and was in active relationship with them.
But before we get high and mighty over Judah and Israel, we have to admit – that’s a version of what we’ve experienced at times. Because we’ve leaned into worldly hope before. We know that path. We might not be going to fortune tellers and mediums, but we know how easy it is to set our hopes on people, dead or alive. And when we do that, success and failure end up being dependent on the flawed actions of deeply flawed people. And frankly, if and when that fails, that’s when superstition steps in to fill the void.
Here comes Isaiah 9 and this beam of hope, this incredible promise from God to His people in the midst of failure and impending doom. Isaiah 9:2 “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.”
Notice how the hope here is not the people waking up and figuring out how to dig themselves out of the ditch they’ve thrown themselves into. It’s not a wise plan from a famous guru or a strategic set of plays. On them has light shone. Light, which inherently doesn’t come from the land of darkness, has to shine on the people. Hope can’t come from within. It has to come from without. The living God has to intervene. Immanuel has to come.
The hope of Christ isn’t like worldly hope. It doesn’t depend on people. It depends on God Himself. The hope of Christ is never mere, even when we feel meager.                
2.  The hope of Christ gives us a King who doesn’t have the flaws of worldly saviors. (Isa. 9:6-7; cf. 2 Chron. 28)
The hope of Christ is never mere, even when we feel meager, because in Christ, we have a King who doesn’t have the flaws of worldly saviors. In other words, the hope we have in Christ is well placed not just because we need to trust a good leader, as if all we’ve really lacked is one, but because Christ is the only King who embodies all that we need.
This sounds pretty close to our previous statement that the hope of Christ is unlike worldly hope because it depends on God, the one who shines the light, but hear this important distinction: Christ the King isn’t just a king gifted from God who has good leadership qualities like being just, having authority, caring for people, and brokering peace. Christ is the King who is justice, power, love, and peace.
Isaiah 9:6–7 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. 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.
Christ isn’t just good; He is goodness itself. The hope of Advent, the hope of Isaiah 9, is the arrival of Christ the King – the King of kings who is unlike any other.
This is in stark contrast to the king leading Judah when Isaiah spoke these words. We were reintroduced to King Ahaz a couple of weeks back by Pastor Josh in Isaiah 7. And if earlier we said that God’s people had resorted to a bag of worldly tricks to find peace and prosperity, King Ahaz was the man who led that attitude from the front. He sacrificed to the gods of the nations, even doing the unspeakable in offering up his own sons. He turned to Assyria for rescue and security instead of turning to Yahweh.
The Chronicler said this of him in 2 Chronicles 28:22–23 In the time of his distress he became yet more faithless to the LORD—this same King Ahaz. For he sacrificed to the gods of Damascus that had defeated him and said, “Because the gods of the kings of Syria helped them, I will sacrifice to them that they may help me.” But they were the ruin of him and of all Israel.
Indeed, a bad king. And we know that kings – presidents, prime ministers, senators, governors, mayors, even managers and supervisors – have an effect on their people. Not just because they set a good or bad example, but because they actually lead us, and in turn we instinctively place our hopes, at least some portion of them, on them.
But like Ahaz, these are just people. Maybe not quite as obviously flawed as him, but imperfect and flawed nonetheless. Even the best CEO, the best leader, the wisest and most caring…even that person can only affect change to a limited degree and will only be around as long as God gives them life. So, without fail, we find our hope needing a new home.
So what about Christ the King? How does He compare? 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. Let’s think on those titles for a moment.
Wonderful Counselor – this might not be exactly what you think at first blush. To us, “wonderful” typically just means “good” or “excellent.” And “counselor” can bring up thoughts of people like guidance counselors or even therapists who provide help and direction to those who need it. While Christ is certainly an excellent guide and comforter to us, that’s not quite what Isaiah is saying here. The root Hebrew word for “wonderful” here is peleh. That word is most often used to describe miraculous works done by God, like when He parted the Red Sea to give Israel safe passage and then brought it down on the Egyptians who pursued them. That was a “wonder” He performed. And while yes, counselors provide helpful counsel to those who come to them, there is a more authoritative and even somewhat royal connotation to it. A king’s adviser would be called “counselor”. So, what we have in Jesus here is the ideal ruler – a wise counselor who is a miracle maker. One who not only rules well, but can command nature itself to the good of His kingdom. To make springs arise out of the desert, and to make a way when it seems there is none. A wonder of a counselor.
Mighty God – maybe it’s Christian cliché to remind ourselves that Jesus Christ is God Himself, but this is a radical promise for Israel, the kingdom walking in darkness. The promised king is not like human kings. He is the divine Messiah. He is without limit and without match. There will be no better successor and there has never been a prior.
Everlasting Father – Christ is one with the Father and so stands in familial relationship to us. He is perpetually our loving Father. He is no cold and distant King, so powerful and so removed from us that we can only appreciate and love Him from afar. We don’t wait to hear His voice on the earnings call to know His thoughts toward us. We don’t appeal to Him through the office of the president and hope He reads our letters one day. He is ever close to us, closer than the best earthly father we could dream up. He cares for us at a personal level and knows us like only a perfect father can.
Prince of Peace – Christ’s rule is the rule of shalom. Maybe you’ve heard this, but shalom, what we translate as “peace,” was not simply the antonym of war. Shalom is not the absence of conflict, like some neutral state where just harm has been removed. Shalom is wholeness. It’s completeness. It’s flourishing. It’s a garden that’s fully grown and healthy, blooming in every corner and bursting with fruit. Christ’s rule is the rule of shalom. Not just the life of stillness sometimes people like me hope for in the midst of a buzzing, growing family with, as my three-year-old would put it, “so many babies.” It’s living in the kingdom where, to paraphrase Eph. 2:19–22, we’re not strangers and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone. And together, in Him, we are being built into a dwelling place for God.
That’s comprehensively better than any hope even the best world leader could dream of offering. Certainly, better than anything I could ever expect from a dream CEO or president or boss.  It’s why Christmas is a big deal. It’s why Christian hope is not some trivial thing we decorate our greeting cards with during a special time of year. It’s the prospect of “to us a child is born, to us a Son is given” – except, it’s hope that’s already been fulfilled and will one day be more fully fulfilled when Christ reigns in heaven and on earth in eternity.  
The hope of Christ is never mere, even when we feel meager, because the hope of Christ doesn’t share the flaws of worldly hope. It doesn’t rely on what people can do and can’t disappoint the way that human efforts will. The hope of Christ is never mere, even when we feel meager, because in Christ, we have a King who is unlike any other. We behold the King who doesn’t just do good and right, but who is goodness and righteousness. The King who is a wonder of a counselor, omnipotent & divine, perpetual caretaker of our souls, and chief ruler who ushers us into His kingdom of wholeness and flourishing. The hope of Christ is never mere, especially to us who are meager.
Praise Songs:
Angels We Have Heard on Hight, Living Hope, O Come O Come Emmanuel, Doxology
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