For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness 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.
The prophet Isaiah wrote down these verses around seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus. For Christians looking back on the life of Jesus, these words ring true about the way he lived his life and the everlasting kingdom established through his death and resurrection. In the Christmas story though, as the shepherds came to visit this baby following the incredible sights they saw, they would have had no idea what this baby would achieve. Even the wise men despite all their learning and acknowledgement of his kingship, could not have predicted what Jesus’ life would bring.
For centuries leading up to Jesus’ birth, the Jewish nation was in a state of anticipation waiting for a new king to rebuild and restore their nation. They had been conquered and ruled over by foreign powers again and again. The greatness of the Jewish nation at its height during the reigns of David and Solomon were a faint memory, and yet the great Old Testament prophets had repeatedly spoken that God had not deserted his people and in time the kingdom would be re-established. This new kingdom would be greater than all those that had gone before and it would never fade away.
The Jews were expecting their Messiah to be a great warrior king who would deliver them from all their enemies and rule over them with power and authority. Instead they got Jesus, who told them to love their enemies and pay taxes to Caesar. Even whilst he was amongst them, people could not see his kingdom being established. John the Baptist doubted whether he was the Messiah, his closest friends didn’t get who he was for much of his ministry despite seeing his miracles and Judas Iscariot eventually doubted him to the point of instigating his death. After his ascension to Heaven, his followers only numbered one hundred and twenty. To many, his life was a failure.
If you had read these verses from Isaiah to those who had seen Jesus and tried to explain that they applied to him, you probably would have been accused of blaspheming and had them thrown back in your face. And yet as we all know, Jesus has changed the world more than anyone before him or since. His church has been growing in number ever since it was founded and the impact the Christian faith has had on societies is immeasurable. Jesus’ kingdom continues to grow and advance and to be part of it is to belong to a movement whose purpose is to bring light into this dark world.
In 1 Corinthians 1:27, Paul says that, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” Jesus is the embodiment of these verses from Isaiah, but God’s wisdom through him appeared as foolishness; his strength was seen as weakness. Even in this day and age God’s wisdom is seen as foolishness. Time and again, our society continues to turn its back on God’s wisdom and create and follow its own, despite the negative consequences. It’s not surprising that the Church and Christians are ridiculed for our beliefs and values, but we’re only following in Jesus’ footsteps. We mustn’t loose our nerve though; crumbling and conforming in the hope that we might get accepted or become more ‘relevant’. Jesus was never interested in winning popularity contests. He had confidence in everything he believed because he knew that at the end of the day God’s plan would win through and the world would be so much better for it. We need to follow in Jesus’ footsteps for the same reasons.
Coincidentally, I have been pondering the use of the words ‘Lord’ and ‘King’ in our civic institutions. Especially ‘Lord’. Suddenly it all feels a bit wrong.
I don’t have a problem with ‘King’, as it can be applied generally. Kings are mentioned in the Bible before any mention of it in relation to God. The Hebrew word ‘Adonai’ is a title for God meaning ‘Lord’. This gets confusing as ‘YHWH’, God’s holy personal name is translated as ‘LORD’ in most bibles. The capitals are used to distinguish the two. However they are often used together and then are translated along the lines of ‘Sovereign God’. When the Jews decided that YHWH was too holy to be spoken, it was substituted with Adonai. This tradition has continued to be used in the Christian church, hence LORD being used as God’s name. The Greek word used for Adonai was Kyrios, meaning lord or master.
Whichever way you look at it, historically LORD, as God’s name in Christian and Jewish circles shold be treated with the complete respect. I would hope that the majority of people would be able to differentiate between ‘LORD,’ as in Lord God and using Lord as a civic title. In an ideal world it would be wonderful if the use of Lord could only be reserved for God’s name, but the title of Lord is so imbedded in our culture, I can’t see this changing. Still for those of us who believe we should do our utmost to ensure that God’s names are respected and not abused or perverted by us or anyone else. This is plainly laid out in the fourth commandment:
“You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.”