by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
God doesn’t demand perfection from believers; all of us fail from time to time. Fortunately, grace abounds. Nevertheless, at least one indication that our faith is genuine is a sincere desire to obey. Chuck Swindol
Jesus: Wonderful Counselor
Read: Isaiah 9:2-7
Two weeks ago I stood up here and told you that I was glad that the presidential election was over. I am not, by nature, politically inclined. I can see both sides of issues and I don’t like the negative atmosphere of the political arena. I was looking forward to the news not being focused on politics. If only that were true. We come to church, especially during the Advent and Christmas season, hoping to escape from the ugliness and bitterness of the real world, including politics. Then we read a passage like this one from Isaiah, which is a political message. “The government will be on his shoulders” (Isaiah 9:6).
Judah was on the edge of destruction. Assyria was the main world power. They had attacked and destroyed much of the country. Assyria’s army was at the gates of Jerusalem. Judah’s King, Ahaz, had tried to buy off the Assyrian army, but it hadn’t gone well. The darkness that Isaiah talks about is the darkness of war, devastation and bloodshed.
Ahaz asked the prophet Isaiah for a sign, some kind of assurance that God would deliver them from Assyria. Isaiah’s response? “Here is a sign for you – a baby is going to be born to a young woman. He will be Immanuel, God with us.” That wasn’t the type of sign Ahaz was looking for. “A baby isn’t going to do me any good. I need an army, chariots and swords. I need better planes and bigger missiles. I need control of both the House and the Senate so we can get things done.”
Yet a baby is what Isaiah promised to Ahaz. A baby is what God offers to us. Isaiah used four titles, four names to describe this child – Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Over the next few weeks I want to look at each of those titles.
When I first started thinking about Jesus as Wonderful Counselor I headed in the wrong direction. I thought of a counselor as a psycho-therapist, someone who listens to us and comforts us. Someone who helps us deal with the pain of our lives. I am convinced that Jesus is a counselor in that way, but that is not what the word counselor means. A counselor is a person who gives counsel. A counselor gives advice or guidance.
Mike Tomlin is the coach of the Steelers and Clint Hurdle is the manager of the Pirates. They make decisions for what their teams are going to do. Yet they don’t make those decisions alone. They are surrounded by assistant coaches who give them advice as to what they should do. Those assistant coaches are counselors. President-elect Trump has been interviewing people who will be his counselors, people who will give him advice and help him lead our country. Hopefully he will surround himself with good counselors.
Isaiah tells us that the Messiah will be a wonderful counselor. The Hebrew word that is translated “wonderful” is only used to talk about God. The Messiah will have divine wisdom and give God’s advice. The Messiah will show us how to live in the way that God wants, faithfully and obediently following God’s will.
The passage that Kirk read tells us that God’s children obey God’s commands. John is aware that no one obeys perfectly. We still need forgiveness. Yet the presence of God’s grace in our lives creates within us a desire to obey.
In some areas of life God’s will is obvious. If you are wondering whether or not to embezzle money God is very clear. “You shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery, or murder or worship other gods.” The problem comes in those areas that are not so obvious. Should you buy a new car or get your old one fixed? Should you take a new job or keep the old one? How much money should we spend on Christmas this year? How should I raise my children so that they believe in Jesus? The choices before us are sometimes so overwhelming that it isn’t obvious what we should do.
We need a counselor, someone who will guide us and give us advice. Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor. Jesus gives us God’s advice, God’s guidance. We are invited and called to look to Jesus for how to live faithfully and obediently.
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t put obedience on my list of favorite Christian words. I know it’s important, but I much prefer words like faith, grace, worship, forgiveness, and holiness. I prefer to focus on spiritual growth and maturity. Yet one of the best signs that we are growing in our faith and becoming mature is that we are attempting to be obedient.
I have preached and I hope that you have heard that an important part of obedience is reading God’s word. It is in the Bible that we learn what God wants. And so, I have spent a lot of my ministry encouraging people to read the Bible and trying to help people understand what’s in the Scriptures. The problem comes because there are many different ways to read the Bible.
Eugene Peterson points this out in story he tells about himself. When he was in high school and college he had been a runner. When he became a pastor he stopped running. This was before the time when jogging became popular and he wondered what people would think about a pastor wearing jogging shorts. They were used to seeing him in a suit or with his robe, not with a sweaty T-shirt. In his mid-thirties he realized that he wouldn’t lose his dignity if people realized that he was a runner.
He bought a new pair of Adidas and immersed himself in the running world. He subscribed to three running magazines and loved reading articles about training, nutrition, stretching and caring for injuries. He ran on a regular basis, competed in 10K races every month or so and ran a marathon about once a year. Then he got injured. He pulled a muscle and couldn’t run for several months. After about two weeks he realized that he was no longer reading the running magazines. It wasn’t a conscious decision. They still came in the mail. He just wasn’t reading, because he wasn’t running.
Then he made the connection between reading and running, and reading the Bible and following Christ. He realized that if we only read the Bible to understand it, or to be moved by it, without seeking to obey it, we are missing an essential part of God’s word. It is important to read the Bible with the question, “What does this mean?” We need to interpret God’s word correctly. It’s important to read the Bible with the question, “How do these words encourage me or touch my spirit?” God’s word needs to have an impact on our minds and our hearts. However, we need to ask a third question as well, “What are these words calling me to do? How am I being called to obey?”
Jesus has many names, one of which is Wonderful Counselor. He gives us counsel, advice on how to live as God’s beloved children. He also shows us how that is done. The baby that Isaiah prophesied about was born in Bethlehem two thousand years ago. Yet he is still our Wonderful Counselor. His name continues to have power to guide us, to convict us, or to comfort us. Let us celebrate the power of Jesus name. “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!”