Sent For Our Happiness

Isaiah 9:1-7

Rev. Bryn MacPhail

I have received a lot of feedback regarding our current sermon series--more so than from any other series I have done in my tenure here. One of the most interesting comments I have heard was from an individual who said to me one Sunday, 'Bryn, your sermons are scaring me'. I'm still not sure if I should take that as a compliment or a criticism.

While I am not sure if being scared is the ideal response to God's Word, I am sure that apathy towards God's message of salvation is not an appropriate response to the preaching of God's Word. And, unfortunately, apathy to the preaching of God's Word has become all to common.

When confronted by what God's Word says, there is a sense where our knees should buckle. There is a sense where we should be overwhelmed by God's power and glory. Yet, while Scripture constantly exhorts us to fear God, it also exhorts us not to be afraid of God. The reason God's power and glory should not scare us is because, for the Christian, it is exercised on our behalf .

Another individual, commenting on last week's sermon, asked me if I had something against family dinners at Christmas. The short answer to that question is no, but I offered that individual an analogy to explain why I provide warnings about Christmas family dinners, Christmas decorations, and even carol singing.

Picture a child at Christmas opening a present. Upon opening this present, the child becomes consumed with the gift to such a degree that they neglect to even thank the parents who gave them the present in the first place. The child then goes on to play with the gift for hours at a time, paying no regard to the parents who worked hard to provide the gift.

This is what we often do at Christmas. The Lord has blessed us with material resources, with a loving family, and with precious friends, yet we often fail to acknowledge the One who has given us all these things. What we end up doing is counting our blessings without ever thanking the One who has blessed us.

In theory, this mistake should be difficult to make at Christmas when we consider that the primary gift God gives us is Himself . On top of the gift of family and friends, God gave us Himself in Jesus Christ-- "born for us ", the prophet Isaiah explains(9:6).

Listen to how Isaiah begins this announcement: "there will be no more gloom for those who are in anguish "(9:1). 'But you don't know my anguish--my gloom is not easily extinguished', you say. Many of you here know the pain of losing a precious friend or family member. Many of you know the pain of broken relationships. How can this promise of Isaiah belong to me? "There will be no more gloom for those who are in anguish ".

Isaiah gave this promise to people who knew pain and hardship. The people of Zebulun and Naphtali were the first from the promised land to suffer under Assyrian control. Their plight was indeed gloomy. But now, Isaiah was holding out a hope--that "in the latter time (God) will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations "(9:1).

The prophecy of verse 1 is fulfilled in Matthew 4:13-16 when Jesus begins His ministry in these regions--causing Matthew to quote Isaiah, "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined "(Isa. 9:2; Mt. 4:16).

It is not simply that the people of Zebulun and Naphtali have seen the "light " of Christ, but all who have entrusted their life to Christ have seen the "light ". Is that true of us? Have we really seen the light? Has the light of salvation truly shined on us?

If the light of Christ has shined on us than Isaiah's description of what God will accomplish when He shines His light should apply to us, "You have multiplied the nation, you have increased their joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder "(9:3). Or, let me put the question to you more plainly, 'Is your life characterized by God produced joy?'.

When God shines His light, the joy of His people is increased. When God shines His light, we should find ourselves rejoicing in Him the way we rejoice at the harvest and at the division of spoil. Putting that in modern terms, does your joy in Christ match the joy you have when you receive your Christmas bonus from work? Does your joy in Christ match the joy you have when you get a dividends cheque from your stocks or your mutual funds?

It is clear from Isaiah 9, that among the many purposes for which Christ came to earth, one of the purposes was to "increase our joy ". Jesus came to bear our sins. He came to forgive us. He came to shepherd us. He came to make us righteous. He came to glorify His Father. And, in doing these things, our Lord purposed to "increase our joy ". The wonderful truth of Isaiah 9 is that Jesus was sent for our happiness .

In verses 1 through 5, Isaiah promises victory and increased joy. And, in verses 6 and 7, Isaiah establishes for us the basis of our confidence in gaining victory and increased joy: "For a child has been born to us, a son given to us; authority rests upon His shoulders; and He is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore ".

Isaiah prophesies, once again, the birth of a special child--a child with "authority rest(ing) on His shoulders ". This is no ordinary child either--this child shall be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace ".

This is a message Isaiah would repeat throughout his book--God is coming . God is coming to set things straight. God is coming to establish His heavenly kingdom on earth--for His glory and for our happiness.

We, therefore, contradict God's purpose for us when we live our lives devoid of joy. Isaiah promises that "there will be no more gloom for those who were in anguish ", yet, we look around us and we see Christians in anguish. Notice that Isaiah is not promising a trouble-free life, but only a gloom-free life. We know--many of us first hand--that Christians suffer like anyone else. In fact, Christ promises persecution and hardship for those who follow Him. Christ did not come to earth 2000 years ago to offer us a life without trouble. Jesus came, rather, to offer us satisfaction and joy in the midst of a life filled with trouble .

This is how the apostle Paul can say, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice! "(Phil. 4:4). Even though Paul has endured countless beatings, and even though he is once again in prison, Paul is still rejoicing. How can Paul do this? Paul can rejoice at all times because the basis of his joy is the Lord and not his circumstances. Paul knows what it means "be glad " in the presence of the Lord(Isa. 9:3).

Is there anyone one here who doesn't want to be happy? That is a silly question--of course we all want to be happy! What is even sillier is that Jesus Christ promises to be the source of our happiness and yet we pursue happiness in everything but Him. What is silly is that we expect worldly things to bring us lasting joy.

Don't get me wrong, worldly things can make us happy, but only for a season. The joy we gain from worldly endeavours is fleeting. But you know that already --don't you?

We must learn to enjoy God's Christmas gift--Jesus Christ-- "born for us ", Isaiah says. Let us not make the same error, however, that our children often make. Our children enjoy their Christmas gifts for a time, and then, before too long, the gift is tucked away in a closet or an attic and forgotten.

Jesus is not a gift to be enjoyed once a year and then put away with the rest of our decorations. Jesus is the gift that satisfies all year long. If you want to be happy, make it your goal in life to learn what means to enjoy God. For true joy can only be found in Him . Amen.