Summary: God promises and provides great encouragements to keep hope in times of trouble.
Charles Wesley’s hymn, Hark! The Herald-Angels Sing is a favorite Christmas song, though it required some tinkering to get there. Over Wesley’s objections, his friend, George Whitefield, changed some of the words, most noticeably the first line, which Wesley wrote as, “Hark, how the welkin rings, Glory to the King of kings.” “Welkin” means “sky” or “heavens.” But what really elevated this carol was when organist William Cummings adapted Mendelssohn’s music to fit the words, giving it the joyful tune that so well matches its lofty description of the Messiah.
We have used each of the past four weeks of Advent to study the birth of Christ as explained in the Prophets and carols. We conclude this mini-series with the extravagant language Wesley attributes to Jesus: veiled in flesh the God-head see, hail the incarnate Deity, Jesus, our Emmanuel. Hail the heaven-born Prince of Peace! Hail the Sun of Righteousness! Hark! the herald-angels sing, “Glory to the new-born King.”
Wesley found titles like these in the Bible; Isaiah 9 being one place in particular that describes a Messiah deserving of such gaudy praise. I will read for us Isaiah 9.1-7, then we will allow God to encourage our souls as he show us his zeal for bringing glory to the Son born in Bethlehem.
[Read Isaiah 9.1-7. Pray.]
If you have sought the Lord for long, you know that God’s ways are not always our ways. The Lord has a plan, and his will cannot be thwarted, but there are certainly times when we scratch our heads and wonder why things happen the way they do. Yes, God does all things for his glory and our good, but those things sometimes (in the words of John Newton), “cross all the fair designs we scheme.” And for us, like Israel of old, the God’s correcting hand of discipline can especially sap our courage and cause us to question his wisdom.
Isaiah preached when God’s hand swung down hard on the people of Israel. The power of the Assyrian Empire increased as the year 700 B.C. approached, but Isaiah spoke to a people “deaf and blind” to the things of God, a people who would soon be crushed under judgment and national disaster.
This did not mean that everyone in Israel uniformly turned from God. But unlike the system we have created for much of modern life in America, God usually deals with people in groups rather than individually. The nation of Israel was punished for the sins of some, and all suffered alike. That may not seem fair to us, since we think more in terms of individual accountability, but God governs through representatives. So what do godly people do during times of national discipline and disaster? How does God want us to behave when things are going badly?
Such is the background of Isaiah 9. The people are in trouble; a world of hurt soon will rain down on them. The Assyrians will come and see and conquer, and drive people from their homes like animals. Hunger, misery, loneliness, loss — these will be their lot for the next hundreds of years. Faithful believers will die in exile; families will be torn apart; God’s frowning providence will threaten them with despair. How will the godly respond? Isaiah preaches for them to remain faithful while they focus on the future.
God tells us the same. Each one here has different struggles, fears, pressures – but God’s power and goodness universally directs every life. And the promise of Jeremiah 29.11 applies to us all: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” In the days of Isaiah, God’s people were to comfort themselves with the hope of a perfect future; we are to do the same. For them, the promise of Christ’s birth was distant; for us, his second coming may seem to tarry a long time. But God’s mercy remains sure and steadfast, and just as it sustained Israel of old, we are to have a God-centered hope in whatever calamities we face. A hope that comes from the Messiah, the one the herald-angels sang about, Jesus promised in Isaiah 9, and born in Bethlehem 700 years later. Let’s look at God’s word to Israel as dark days approach and see how he calls us to an indomitable hope regardless of what trials come our way. To do so, please notice first that believers…
1. We Hold to Hope Because of the Promise of a Glorious Light (Isaiah 9.1-2)
These opening words refer to the trouble befalling Israel even as Isaiah preached: gloom, anguish, and contempt for the land and nation. The invasion and decimation began in the north, the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, when the Assyrian King, Tiglath-Pileser overran the Northern Kingdom. Under the rule of the pagan kings, that area was called Galilee of the Gentiles. This would be a time of terrible darkness – spiritual and physical. Christian’s writers often call seasons of struggle and anxiety and despair, a “dark night of the soul.” Dark years of the soul were falling on the chosen people.