The Anticipation Of Restoration
Big Idea: Jesus is our joy because He restores what sin has wrecked.
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Christmas has been hijacked. What was meant to be a celebration of God's rescue of this world has become a frantic few weeks of stress, tension, consumerism and for many, deep depression and hurt. Even for Christians, there is a disconnect between what we say Christmas is about and what our lives show it to be about. We need to remember the story of a normal night in a nothing town when everything changed, when the long-awaited, desperately needed King was born.
Christmas is all about anticipation: the anticipation God's people experienced for hundreds of years before Christ's birth and the anticipation of restoration we long for today through Christ.
To really understand the significance of this story requires a look back at the Old Testament, to a promise God made to His people in the time of the prophet Isaiah.
A Season of Gloom
In 735 B.C., the kingdom of Israel was divided into north and south. Israel in the north formed an alliance with Syria to attack Assyria, the political and military power of the day. The southern kingdom of Judah's new king, Ahaz, was asked to join forces with them. When Ahaz refused, Israel and the Syrians prepared to attack Judah. Ahaz no doubt believed he was under attack from every side. God, through the prophet Isaiah, assured him his country would not be attacked, but Ahaz chose not to trust God and instead, paid the Assyrians with gold from God's temple for protection.
Unfortunately for Ahaz, once the Assyrians had defeated Israel and Syria, they turned their sites on Judah. The people of God were conquered by the very forces they'd paid to protect them. It was in this dark and distressing time that God spoke the words of promise in Isaiah 9.
A Glimmer of Hope (v. 1)
"But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations."
Imagine the good news this would be in light of their circumstances! They were suffering physically under the oppressive leadership of Assyria and spiritually because they had rejected God. Then comes a glimmer of hope, rooted in the contrast between what was and what would be. God promised that a day was coming when there would be no more gloom, distress, or darkness. God had brought them into this season of distress because of their sin, but He promised to bring them out.
Similarly, many of us put our trust in functional saviors (sex, power, comfort, money) and find ourselves in a similar season of spiritual darkness and gloom.
A Promise of Joy (v.2-3)
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil."
Isaiah was so certain of God's promise, he wrote about it as though it had already happened.
First, he describes what would happen: Even in the depths of their sin, God would shine the light of His presence on them. In the same way, the darkness of our sin can't keep us from the light of God's presence. God's love is based on His perfection, not our performance.
Next, he shared what the result would be: Joy! God would give birth to joy and gladness in the place of distress and darkness. Joy would not be just the result of what Jesus would do, but joy would be found in the presence of Jesus Himself.
Isaiah emphasized this by highlighting three reasons Jesus is our joy:
1. Jesus will deliver us from sin & oppression. (v. 4)
"For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian."
God's people were promised they would not always be under the thumb of Assyria. The Messiah would deliver them.
Similarly, we stumble under the internal oppression of our own sin nature and the external oppression of living in a fallen world. But God points to past deliverance as proof of His power in the future.
2. Jesus will bring peace to this war-torn world. (v. 5)
"For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire."
God's people were familiar with the sound of marching soldiers and the sight of enemy uniforms, but God promised to put a stop to it. For us, too, the day is coming when God will bring peace and pacify all violence everywhere.
3. Jesus will rule with justice & righteousness forever. (v. 6)
"For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, and on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this."
This promise of the perfect and peaceful rule of God would be set in motion not by a president, or politician, not by the rise of any military force or visionary leader, but through the birth of a baby boy. This baby would live a sinless life, die a sacrificial death, and rise from the dead, conquering sin and inaugurating the restoration of all things. God's white-hot love, his zeal for his people, motivated this gift.
God made this promise to His people in the Old Testament and they lived, anticipating this gift, for hundreds of years.
This is the heart of what we're celebrating. Though we live with the reality of Christ's birth in our rearview, we anticipate the second coming of Christ, when He will ultimately and finally restore all things.