The Weird Jesus Verse

There’s a famous Advent reading that I’ve always found to be really weird. It’s Isaiah 9:6 and I read it again today. Check it out in the NIV:

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 Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace

It’s beautiful and traditional and points us to the majestic beauty of the coming Messiah. I absolutely love this verse. Yet, it’s super weird too.

First, the “government will be on his shoulders,” has never sat well with me. It’s felt so out of place and really never made sense to me. When I read the passage this morning it was in a translation of the Bible that I had never read it out from before, the NRSV. It translates the phrase this way, “authority rests upon his shoulders.”

I had an “AHA” moment.

My guess is that for many of you this is nothing new. But, for me it was a “WOAH! I get it! WHAT!?” kind of moment.

Authority: the power to determine, adjudicate, or otherwise settle issues or disputes; jurisdiction; the right to control, command, or determine.

When I think of the reality that Jesus has authority, particularly the power to settle issues, it brings so much into laser focus for me. Throughout the prophets in the Old Testament we see the people of God being put on trial by God, in a sense. We also see the people of God putting God on trial too. They are found guilty of setting God aside and end up being exiled.

Yet, there is this promise of the Messiah to come. The one who would bring them home. This weird little verse gives us a glimpse into the foundation for the Messiah to be able to do that. It is because he has authority. He has the power to settle issues.

Second, the other weird thing about this verse is the “wonderful counselor” bit. I always had in my head a picture of God with a notebook doing counseling. Today though, with my “AHA” moment on the “government” issue, I realized that I should look more deeply into the “wonderful counselor” bit too.

The word “counselor” could be understood as “strategist.” The NET Bible translates the phrase, “extraordinary strategist.”

Again, “AHA!”

The kind of counselor we are talking about is the kind of person that was wise and strategic. These are two of the things that I see in Jesus ministry and here they are, on display, in this prophecy.

I mean, come on.

You know, I have been studying the Bible a long time and have told people for years to check different translations, etc… Isn’t it funny how going back to the basics can be such a big deal?

Support Your Faith

In theological circles there are some technical words that get applied to certain perspectives of theology. I am what is known as a “monergist.” Simply put, this means that I believe God does all the work in bringing about salvation. It is purely by his grace and mercy and there is nothing that we can do to add to our salvation or to bring it about.

Sometimes we also need to talk about what something doesn’t mean. Being a “monergist” doesn’t meant that I hold to some sort of cold, impersonal determinism. It also doesn’t mean that I don’t think we have any responsibility regarding our spiritual lives.

Two things are becoming more clear to me in these days. First, the way salvation works is a mystery. I don’t think I’m ever going to be able to unravel the definite machinations of the how.

This mystery is beautiful and glorious and intriguing and messy.

Second, we have a responsibility to support our faith. Peter writes,

For this very reason, you must make every effort to support your faith with goodness, and goodness with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with endurance, and endurance with godliness, and godliness with mutual affection, and mutual affection with love.

2 Peter 1:5-7

This passage starts with a “For this very reason…” The very reason that Peter is pointing to is in verse 4 where he says that we “…become participants of the divine nature.”

The contemporary idea that faith is nothing more than eternity insurance has no place in Christianity.

When we say we are trusting Christ, or following Christ, or that we are “saved,” it means that we are participating with Christ in the divine nature. This is called “union with Christ.”

If we are participating in the divine nature then our lives will begin to look different. I love how Peter says that we must “make every effort to support your faith.” There is a distinction that he makes there. Our faith is not something that we work up, it’s a gift, it’s given to us by God. But then we have a responsibility to do something with it.

Have you known of athletes who are members of the “Coulda Been Great” Society? I sure do. These are athletes that had tons of raw, God-given ability, and yet they did nothing with it. They were given a gift and didn’t develop it.

The same is true of our faith. We are called to act upon our faith. It is to practically change us. Our lives should be different because of our faith.

Goodness.

Knowledge.

Self-control.

Endurance.

Godliness.

Mutual affection.

Love.

Do you see the progression here? Take a moment and ask yourself how you’re doing. It’s OK to take a little stock every now and then. Are you supporting your faith by practicing goodness? Pursuing knowledge? Practicing self-control? Enduring? Seeking to be godly? Practicing mutual affection?  And, loving?

In many ways you could summarize this with, “Don’t be a jerk.” Or, “Love your neighbor.” Or, “Be a good person.”

This week is the third week of Advent with its focus on joy. The joy of this week is the sure and certain knowledge that our king is coming. The thing is, when our king comes our lives will need to look different. True joy, the joy that goes beyond being happy, is based and rooted in our identity. We experience joy when we are living out who we are.

If your life was marked by goodness, knowledge, self-control, endurance, godliness, mutual affection, and love how much joy would know? How much joy would experience?

My friends, support your faith with your life. Live a life that honors our King and you will know JOY.

Confession Is Good For The Soul

When you hear the word “confession,” how do you feel? It makes me a bit uncomfortable. I am not all that excited about airing all my dirty laundry. 

When you hear the word “sin,” how do you feel? If you’re like most of us these days you probably think, “Who are you to judge? Jerk.” 

Something that I keep trying to lean into in my life is reality. I want to honestly assess myself. That whole “know thyself” thing has become a near obsession. There is great power in understanding ourselves, our passions, our calling, our longings, and our brokenness. 

Too often I find that I try to talk myself out of my brokenness. When I mess up in relationships with others or myself, I typically try to argue it away. When I’m unloving or uncaring, I usually project my brokenness onto others. 

Owning our own stuff is really hard to do. It demands us to practice the ancient spiritual discipline of confession

I’m a protestant and this act of confession is made a bit harder for me because there is no standard practice of it in my tradition. My Catholic friends who are serious about their faith go and make confession regularly to their priest. There is an understanding that they need this and they need someone to hear their confession. 

For us protestants we have held to the idea that confession is something just between us and God. Which it is, but not “just.” Why? Because we need someone who will say, “Is there anything else? Did you lie to me?” 

Confession is good for the soul. It is good for our well-being. Owning our sin and getting rid of it is like oxygen for our spirit. I love the image of spiritual breathing. The picture that you exhale your sin (like carbon dioxide) and inhale grace (like oxygen). 

The ancient Jewish king, David, wrote a poem where he says,

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and whose spirit is no deceit. 

While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Psalm 32:1-4

Two things stand out to me in this poem. First there is happiness when we know we are forgiven. There is happiness in the experiential knowledge of grace. Second, holding onto sin in silence kills us from the inside out. 

In another poem this same king writes,

Sing praises to the LORD, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. 

For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 

Psalm 30:4-5

When I confess my sin to another, when I confess my sin to God, my greatest fear is anger. I worry that they will break the relationship. With those who are faithful friends, like God, their anger is momentary. Usually it is not even anger so much as disappointment. But their favor lasts a lifetime. 

When I invite friends into my confession they become for me agents of grace. They speak words of grace to me. 

When grace comes then comes joy.

Tomorrow morning we will light the third candle of Advent, the joy candle. Truly joy comes in the morning.

The Night Is Darkest

It is often said that the night is darkest before the dawn.

It is also said that,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.” 

Romans 5:8

As I write this, there is no sun outside my window. I am seated at my desk looking out over my neighborhood and the sky is gray, flat, and weary.

There is little life.

The leaves are gone.

The rose bushes are in hibernation.

The only light is the small desk lamp that is focused on my copy of the Scriptures. 

The night is darkest before the dawn. 

Could you imagine how dark it must have felt those days before the coming of the Christ? It had been 576 years since the promise of Jeremiah that the Christ would come. It had been 400 years since the last prophet, Malachi, had preached. The darkness must have felt unending. 

One of my favorite books to read is The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s the tale of a magical land, Narnia, that is trapped in an everlasting winter with no Christmas. Surely, this is what it must have felt like for the people of God from Malachi to Christ. 

In one of David’s psalms, Psalm 31, he writes, 

I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities. 

Psalm 31:7

David, experienced and felt the love of God because he encountered God in his pain. Think about that for  a moment.

It was not because he was without pain that he knew God loved him.

It was because in his pain he encountered God. This is completely opposite of how we often think of and understand our relationship with God. 

Too often, when the night is darkest we doubt that God loves us. Yet, it is in the darkest night that God meets us in our pain because he is the one who will never leave us or forsake us. 

We are in the midst of the darkness of Advent. There is great struggle as we wait. As we do, let us pray and reflect on these words from Psalm 31, 

Love the LORD, all you his saints. The LORD preserves the faith, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily. 

Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.

Psalm 31:23-24

You Are Loved, Stand Firm

This past summer I was watching a Detroit Tigers game and they were interviewing Nicholas Castellanos, one of the Tigers better hitters. He had just come off a very long slump and the interviewer asked, “How do you handle the ups and downs of baseball?” 

Castellanos didn’t miss a beat. He talked about his dad. He said that while he was growing up his dad would tell him all the time that he was the best. So, whenever he is going through a down time in the season he just remembers his dad’s voice. 

That interview has stuck with me a long time. I wonder if we believe that our heavenly Father loves us the way Castellanos’ dad loves him? 

Life is really hard. The good times and the bad times both come and go. Seemingly with no rhyme or reason. 

When the bad times come, how do we respond? Will we be able to hear our Father’s voice, the one that says, “I love you, you’re the best.” 

King Ahaz, an ancient Jewish King, was having a real bad time. He inherited a kingdom that was in disarray. The people of God had rebelled against God. The nation was about to be exiled. In Isaiah 7 we read that his heart “shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind,” because the nations of Aram and Israel were coming to attack Jerusalem. 

Isaiah went to encourage Ahaz in his faith. He told him not to fear, to be quiet, and not to let his heart faint. He even talks a little smack about the two nations coming to destroy Jerusalem. There is a sense that God is saying, “I see you. I got you.”

Then at the end of the conversation Isaiah says, 

If you do not stand firm in faith, you shall not stand at all.

How could he though? Two armies were knocking at his door. I would have been afraid too. Yet, Isaiah calls him to stand in faith. 

I think in the midst of this is the reminder that God loves us. He loves us and will meet us in our bad times. When those times come we need to hear the voice of the Father saying, “I love you, you’re the best.”

When we know we’re loved we can stand firm in the faith. 

During this time of Advent, while we are waiting, we must stand firm in the faith. What will ultimately give us our strength to stand is the knowledge that we are loved. 

Do you believe this? Do you believe that you are loved?