By Dr. David Downey
We are in a season of significance and joy! There are many reasons for celebration. One reason is that the Son of God left Heaven and chose to walk with us. He is majestic, powerful, living in unapproachable light . . . but he is also an intimate.
Some years ago Fritz Ridenour wrote a book with the provocative title, How to Be a Christian Without Being Religious. Using the book of Romans, he explained that religion is when humanity tries to reach God, find him, and hopes to please him. In contrast, Christianity is God reaching down to humanity—accepting us, loving us, and welcoming us.
God showed this in how he presented Jesus to the world. Jesus appeared as a baby, born of poor virgin in the most humble circumstances, and visited by shepherds; yet Jesus was announced by no less than angels (and a bunch of them at that), visited by Magi, and stirred the evil attention of Herod, the most powerful man in the land. This combination of lowliness and power is a necessary component to the revelation of the Christ.
He Walks with Us
God spoke through Isaiah some of the most recognizable, descriptive words about the Savior, “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” (Isaiah 9:6). Although the prophecies of Isaiah 7 through 9 are specifically concerned with Ahaz and Judah’s relief from Assyrian attacks, they have clear messianic interpretation as well.
We are prepared for the Messiah in 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel” and are warned of controversy in 8:14, “He will be a holy place; for both Israel and Judah he will be a stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall. And for the people of Jerusalem he will be a trap and a snare.” However, when we come to 9:6, the coming Savior’s character is revealed through his titles. It is interesting, however, in this powerful list that the first description of our Lord is “Wonderful Counselor.” This is significant, indicating he is close by.
In Hebrew this is not two separate words but a one-word phrase. Maybe it’s best translated as “a wonder of a Counselor.” The word counselor is sometimes used interchangeably with the word king. This child is then also a “wonder of a King,” or we might say “a wonderful and personal King.”
Maybe you are familiar with the term Paraclete, a title used for the Holy Spirit in the New Testament. It comes from the Greek verb parakaleo, which means “to call to one’s side.” This is our God—the one who walks with us; the one who wishes to call us friend. When God spoke through Isaiah in this most famous prophecy of the coming Messiah, he chose first to point to his immediacy!
The season of Christmas is best realized when we understand that God came to be with us. Certainly Jesus is exalted in all ways, and he deserves such titles as Almighty and Prince—but he is also present, caring, and intimate. He is approachable.
He Leads Us
One of my favorite hymns is “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us.” I love the tune but am especially moved by the image of the Savior as a shepherd. Have we felt his closeness in dark times? Nothing is more precious than to sense his guiding hand and have the pervading peace that follows.
In Jesus we have eternal wisdom brought down. “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” (John 1:9). He counsels us within and without. Within he speaks to us through the Holy Spirit, conscience, and common sense. From without he speaks to us through the Bible by way of the prophets, apostles, and others. He continues this instruction today through our ministers, teachers, parents, and so on.
Think of the Magi as they followed the star in the sky. The Father in Heaven has always been willing to lead attentive people. He still draws seekers to him. Those of us who have already met him and follow him should remember to look up. When we walk closely with him, his guiding light can be clear.
He Carries Us
We might have overused the poem about the footprints in the sand, but the image it strikes is memorable and accurate. Sometimes Jesus carries us. It is no burden to him, even when it seems that it should be!
In our mind’s eye we can see a shepherd carrying a lamb on his shoulders or reaching out with his long crook to save an errant sheep on a dangerous ledge. Like sheep, we are likely to get ourselves in trouble, and then sometimes we become helpless and immovable. Then our Counselor approaches gently and asks if we believe. “Yes, I do, Lord . . . but I need some help with that too.”
He does not rebuke us but carries us and imparts faith. He heals us.
Jesus lay helpless in the manger when he came to earth. He was here for very specific reasons. One was that he walked with us in order to carry us. He took baby steps and understands skinned knees. He matured, grew in stature, and chose the Father’s way when there were so many other ways open to him.
The Lord is able to carry us now because he did what we do—but he did it perfectly.
He Loves Us
The term wonderful moves me. Jesus is not just a counselor but a wonderful one. We already know what wonderful means because that is as good as anything gets. It is astonishing, surpassing, and extraordinary.
Nonetheless, can we understand the significance of this wonderful Lord, our counselor, in this season of joy? A first step in understanding the power of this message is to try to grasp his love.
When Isaiah spoke the prophecy and used the word wonderful, it showed that in the Messiah there would be a connection with his Father. This word points to that closeness. This child would carry to earth the eternal creative power and glory of the Father.
It is significant that in this prophecy Isaiah is speaking of a child and a son. Every phrase is laden with a remarkable revelation. Some detractors have tried to separate the imagery of the child from the descriptors but are unable to do so without rewriting the prophecy entirely. The child cannot be Hezekiah the reformer; the son cannot be King David. Isaiah wrote that this child would not just have godlike elements; he would be the Son of God on earth.
In light of this, God clearly has revealed his love. With all the power and grace of the Father in Heaven, Jesus is here to bring life, light, and hope. When we respond to his offer of salvation, he leads us and carries us because he loves us. Once a helpless baby in this wicked world, he sits now in authority at the right hand of the Father, interceding for us (Hebrews 1:13; 7:25). He who was lifted up on the cross stands next to the Father when we stand for truth (Acts 7:54-60). Furthermore, in the person of the Holy Spirit he is closer to us than we are to ourselves.
This is cause for celebration! Christ the child is Christ the King, and he desires to walk with us in love.
There is more here than just an offer of a relationship. Do you see it? We bear this revelation so that we might work to bring his hope to the world. Our wonder of a Counselor encourages us to share his light with others—and he is here to help.
Dr. David Downey is a freelance writer in Fort Worth, Texas.