This sermon is part of the sermon series "The Gift of the Son". See series.
This sermon is part of “The Gift of the Son” sermon series. See the whole series here.
For this Advent sermon series leading up to Christmas, we're taking a close look at one of the classic prophetic passages of the Old Testament: Isaiah 9. Why do I call it a prophetic passage? Because it points the people of Israel, who are in great "distress and darkness" (Isa. 8:22), to a bright and beautiful future. God is going to do some amazing things to redeem Israel and to set the world to rights. And what is at the heart of this hoped-for future? The advent, or arrival, of a baby. "For to us a child is born," the prophet declares, "to us a son is given" (Isa. 9:6a).
An audacious claim, isn't it? Not least when you take in recent events, from the senseless bloodshed in San Bernardino or on the streets of Chicago to the chaos and confusion that won't seem to go away in the Middle East. Yet here's the audacious Christian claim, in the words of Ray Ortlund: "God's answer to everything that has ever terrorized us is a child."
But what's so special about this child? Who will this child be? What will this child do? Well, Isaiah's prophecy doesn't give a full description: only a few names. Four names, in fact. But these names tell us a lot about this child. "And he will be called / Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, / Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isa. 9:6b).
Last week, we looked at the first of these names, "Wonderful Counselor." This week, we'll take up the second, "Mighty God," and reflect on this fact: that this child to be born, whom Christians confess to be Jesus, shall be called "Mighty God."
This is a bold name for a baby, isn't it? Imagine opening a birth announcement from friends. There's a charming picture of their precious little boy, with the details of his birth. You read, "Born December 6, 2015, 8 lbs. 3 ozs., 23 inches." And his name? Not Jeff or Liam or Kevin, but … "Mighty God"! It's a bold name for a baby.
But was the prophet Isaiah really saying that this child would be the mighty God? Not exactly. Often in the Old Testament, people are given names that describe what God will do through that child. Hezekiah's name meant "the Lord is my strength"; Isaiah's own name means "the Lord has brought salvation." The name says something about what God will do or who God is. And so it is here. The child's name, we might say, is a kind of job description. This child will reveal the mighty God to Israel in a unique way.
Now, as Christians, we confess—in light of the progressive revelation of Scripture—the same about Jesus: that he reveals to the world the mighty God of the Bible in a unique way. Do you remember what Jesus said to Philip? "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9). Jesus reveals the Father in a unique way because the Father is at work in the life of Jesus in a unique way. Yet the Bible wants to say something more. As we see the mighty power of God at work in Jesus, we realize that Jesus himself is the mighty God—come in the flesh, even as a baby, as a child.
Taking Isaiah's name for this child as our starting point, I want to take a look at the life of Jesus, from his conception to his resurrection, to see how the mighty power of God is at work in this mighty God we know by the name "Jesus." My goal with the sermon is simple: I want to encourage each of us to look to and rely on Jesus as the mighty God, and to do, as Paul says, far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.
Overshadowed by divine power: his conception
Let's start, then, with Jesus' conception. It was a virginal conception, which is—on the surface, at least—a contradiction. You don't need to be a physician who specializes in human reproduction to know virgins don't conceive children. That's a biological impossibility. But those things that are impossible with man are possible with God.
So it was in the case of Jesus' conception. He came into existence through supernatural means, the power of God, and yet he did so in the Virgin Mary's womb. Luke refers to this stunning miracle when he records the words of the angel: "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35).
You see, in the conception of Christ in Mary's womb, God did something he'd never done before—and will never do again. By the power of the Spirit, God brought together two radically different realities in a single unity: He wedded humanity and divinity in the womb of Mary and in the person of Jesus. God traversed an infinite gap to bring together his own divine nature with our human nature in one person. It's an amazing display of power, right there in the womb of the Virgin!
One of the English Puritan writers, Stephen Charnock, describes this miracle of miracles with these words in The Existence and Attributes of God:
What a wonder is it, that two natures infinitely distant, should be more intimately united than anything in the world; and yet without any confusion! That the same person should have both a glory and a grief; an infinite joy in the Deity, and an inexpressible sorrow in the humanity! That a God upon a throne should be an infant in a cradle; the thundering Creator be a weeping babe and a suffering man, are such expressions of mighty power, as well as condescending love, that they astonish men upon earth, and angels in heaven.
Power went out from him: his life
But the mighty God's display of the mighty power doesn't end with Jesus' birth. It continues, as you might have guessed, throughout the whole of his life.
In fact, from the very start of his public ministry, Luke tells us that "the power of the Spirit" was upon him (Luke 4:14). And when he began to proclaim the gospel, this is what he says about himself. In the synagogue on a Sabbath day, he took the Isaiah scroll, opened it, and read.
(Read Luke 4:18-21)
And so it was. His life and ministry were unlike anything anyone had ever seen. They came with such clear demonstrations of power. Again, Luke tells us that everyone who saw Jesus cast out a man's demon was "amazed and said to each other, 'What words these are! With authority and power he gives orders to impure spirits and they come out!'" (Luke 4:36).
Because Jesus was teaching with such clear demonstrations of power, everyone was flocking to him. On one occasion, a woman "who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years" (Mark 5:25) found a way to get right up next to Jesus and touch his garment. "At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, 'Who touched my clothes?'" (Mark 5:30)
Wherever Jesus went in this fallen world, he constantly met opposition: whether in the form of sickness, spiritual ignorance, demonic possession, or even death itself. Yet, as the Gospels reveal, we see the power of the mighty God constantly at work in and through him, pushing back on the forces at work in this fallen world: not Jesus unleashing his own power, but God, by his Spirit, working in and through him. It's the mighty God at work in him.
Disarmed the powers and defeated death
Of course, you might say it's easy to see the power of God at work in the life of Jesus when you simply look at his miracles and healings. But what about his death? What about his execution at the hands of the Romans? Was it not Pontius Pilate who showed real power in sentencing Jesus to death—not Jesus, who was led like a lamb to the slaughter, with his hands and feet nailed to an executioner's stake?
This was, by the way, the criticism of my high school calculus teacher, Mr. Shaw. He was from Pakistan, and he was a Muslim. He didn't have much patience for Christianity, because its founder was captured and killed. Mohammed, on the other hand—the founder of Islam—escaped capture and was, as Mr. Shaw liked to say, "as smart and swift as a fox." Isn't that real power? Evading capture, not getting crucified?
Well, consider what Scripture says about what the mighty God did through the cross of Christ.
(Read Colossians 2:13-15)
For starters, God forgave us all our trespasses—an infinite weight of sin he bore on the Cross, a weight none of us could begin to bear. Indeed, there is no creature in all creation with power to bear that weight or burden. Only an infinite being—that is, God himself—could take on and atone for an infinite weight of sin.
So, too, forgiving our sins, he made us alive. He took those who were dead in their trespasses and sins and made them alive together with Christ: an amazing display of resurrection power in our own souls! But, more than that, he disarmed all the spiritual forces that are arrayed against us, so that while they may still aim and shoot their guns at us, they fire only blanks. They've been totally stripped of power through the power of the cross of Christ, so there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1)!
Declared Son of God in power
No wonder Paul describes the cross of Christ as "the power of God" (1 Cor. 1:18). Admittedly, it is foolishness to those who do not believe. But to those who do—"Christ [is] the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24). Yet if we stopped here, at the crucifixion, we'd be left with a lopsided view of things.
We need to press on, in the life of Jesus, to his resurrection. There, on the third day—when God raised Jesus from the dead—we see the power of the Mighty God on display, you might say, supremely.
Consider what Paul says at the beginning of his magnificent letter to the Romans. He begins by rehearsing who Jesus is: first, his Messianic pedigree, his genealogical link to the line of David, Israel's great king, "as to his earthly life" (Rom. 1:3). But he moves from there, seamlessly, to Jesus' enthronement as the Messiah through his resurrection from the dead, "appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead" (v. 4). There's never been a greater demonstration of power than when God raised Jesus from the dead and declared him to be the Son of God in power.
Yet here's the amazing truth: This same power is now at work in those of us who believe. I know, it's hard to believe. But this is why Paul tells the Christians in Ephesus that he prays for them so they could get their heads and hearts around this breathtaking truth.
(Read Ephesians 1:16-20)
That's power—resurrection power—at work in you. If you are a believer, the same power that raised Jesus is now at work in you to do immeasurably more than all you could ask or think (Eph. 3:20).
If you are a believer this morning, you don't have some power at work in your life, a little boost of energy here or there. No, you have an immeasurably great power at work in your life—whether you're fully aware of it or not. Indeed, the same power that gave life to Jesus' lifeless corpse is at work in your life.
Some of you, especially, need to be reminded of this because you face the most unlikely of human odds; you're up against some forces far greater than you. Do you remember the story of Abraham, when God told him that even in his old age, his wife Sarah would bear a son? Candidly, he thought the idea was crazy. But God knew better and reminded him that what's impossible with man is possible with God. Paul retells that story in Romans.
(Read Romans 4:18-21)
Some of you may need some specific provision, even material provision: money to pay the rent or the mortgage or to meet other obligations. God hasn't given you or any one of us a specific promise that he will provide X at this time, but we can hang on to the belief that he is certainly able to do so. He has the power. He loves to surprise his children with grace and blessing, as we look to him in faith and hope.
Some of you need God to work reconciliation in your life. You live with a broken relationship, perhaps multiple broken relationships, and despite your best efforts, you've not been able to put them back together again. You realize it's simply not within your power to do so. The issues are too longstanding, the pain too deep, the damage too great, for you to mend—or for anyone, humanly speaking, to fix. Believe, though, that God, who reconciled the world to himself through his Son, is more than able to bring about a reconciliation in your life. Don't give up just yet on the person, or on the relationship, but trust God with it and move forward in faith and hope.
Some of you need the mighty God we call Jesus to deliver you from some power at work in your life: one that is exercising a controlling influence over your life. You may be like the woman with the flow of blood; you've been dealing with something for years and can't seem to make any headway. At times, you're tempted to call it a bad habit—at other times, an addiction. You can recall how you've made resolutions to do things differently, do it better, be more faithful, but you know that not much came of those resolutions. You've become skeptical about the possibility of change.
If that describes you, then don't forget the mighty God, whose name is Jesus: who heals the broken, gives sight to the blind, even calls out of the grave those who have died with the simple word of his power. Trust that he is able to not only heal you, but liberate you from whatever holds you back or down, whatever sin it is that so easily entangles. Jesus, the mighty God, is powerful enough to liberate you and to sustain you as you trust in him. Indeed, look to the gospel, which truly is "the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes" (Rom. 1:16).
And, finally, some of you are acutely aware of the power that unbelief has in your life. Perhaps you want to believe, but you find you're like the man whom Jesus met on his way to Jerusalem, who had a hard time believing. He cried out to Jesus, "I believe, but help my unbelief!" For some of you, in fact, belief—real faith—has never really been a part of your life. You've never had that "aha" moment of coming to faith in Christ. You'd like to, but you know that at least up to this point, that kind of thing has eluded you for some reason. If this describes you, may I invite you to look away from yourself and to God—the mighty God, who is able, Scripture says, to cause his light to shine in your heart to give you the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He can give you what the Bible calls "the gift of faith": the kind of faith that will displace unbelief in your life.
Turn to Jesus, and trust that he is able and willing to do it. Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate this Advent: He is the mighty God. He reveals to us the power of God for salvation. Indeed, Jesus Christ is the power of God for salvation: "Christ the power of God and wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:24).