Years ago, I used to be a news fanatic. I would watch 24-hour news channels every chance I got. I was up on everything that the news told me was taking place in our country and everything they said was taking place in the world. Then, after a season of realizing that my constant diet of the news cycle was becoming more of a downer than anything, I stopped watching it so much, and now I barely watch it at all. I had as much of the bad news as I could take.
Somewhere along the line I also noticed that, even though I don't watch the news very much, I still seem to be on the receiving end of an abnormal amount of bad news, and I've come to accept that reality. When you're a pastor, you're often asked to pray with and for people in times of dire need. Just the other day I was asked to pray for a family from a church I served at in college that tragically lost two children in a fire. It broke my heart and I have been thinking about it every day since.
There is no shortage of bad news in this world, and if we don't possess the capacity to see beyond this moment in time, we can easily become locked in a gloomy perspective. But by the grace of God, we're made capable of seeing what's up ahead. The counsel of His word tells us that there is hope for all who trust in Christ. He is the one who takes our gloom away.
1. Jesus brings light into the darkness
Do you ever fear that another country is going to invade our country, topple our government, take our land, and put us to death? It's possible that's something you may have thought of, but I would suspect that isn't something we worry about constantly. But the people of Israel used to worry about that regularly. In fact, because they had embraced the worship of idols and rejected the true and living God, the Lord told them it would definitely happen to them.
This passage speaks of the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, two areas in the Northern Kingdom of Israel that would experience great gloom and pain. In time, that area was invaded by the Assyrian army. It was swarmed with their troops who trampled the people, ravaged the land, and brought death, destruction, and judgment with them. I can only imagine what it must have been like to live through that kind of experience. To see your homeland conquered by an invading army, and life as you knew it completely uprooted, must have been devastating. It understandable that there would be much gloom connected with that event. But thankfully, the story didn't end there.
In contrast to the beating the people and the land took at the hands of an invading army, and the darkness and gloom that came upon them as a result, the Lord revealed through the prophet Isaiah that a time would come when that region would experience glory. This portion of Scripture begins to speak, in a combined way, of the first and second comings of Jesus. He is the one who would bring the light of His gospel into this spiritually and socially darkened place.
Isaiah lived and prophesied about 700 years prior to the incarnation of Christ. Looking 700 years forward into the future, he spoke of a time when the people walking in darkness would see a great light. Those who were consumed with doom would experience great joy. Jesus, the Lord of all Creation, would come to them and multiply their joy exponentially. The Apostle Matthew recorded that Isaiah's prophesy had been fulfilled in Jesus in Matthew 4:12-17.
This is what the light of Christ still accomplishes in the lives of those who trust Him. His light has power to chase darkness away. He invites us to repent or turn from walking in darkness, and to walk in His light. His light enables us to see ourselves from His perspective. His light helps us to see beyond our present moment in time into the glorious future He has assured us of. His light helps us to discern truth from error. His light helps us to respond to one another with love and forgiveness. We no longer need to walk in darkness because the light has come.
2. Jesus brings rest where there was burden
I have said it many times, and I'll say it again, everyone seems to like snow until they actually have to shovel it. I felt bad for our youth pastor, Dylon, this week. On Thursday, I heard someone walk into the church, then I heard a knock on my office door. It was Dylon, after pulling an all night shift clearing snow. He looked exhausted. He was here three hours earlier than necessary so I encourage him to take a nap. He said he'd be OK because he had Friday off and could rest then. I sent him a text on Friday to let him know I hoped his day was restful. He informed me that he got called back in to work because more snow was on the way.
Sometimes in life, we experience seasons that are physically burdensome. Other times, we wrestle with emotional burdens. What do we crave during these seasons? For many of us, we crave rest. We want a break from what weighs us down. We want someone to come along side us and lift our burdens from us. In Christ, we find this kind of rest.
The images that are described in this passage cause us to picture people who are weighed down with heavy yokes on their backs. It gives us an image of being taken captive or living like slaves. We're shown a glimpse of people being treated like animals as their backs are described as being subject to the striking of their oppressor's rod. This happened to the people of Israel in the literal sense when they were taken as captives by Assyria. It also serves as a picture of the reality of what it looks like to be overcome with the burden of sin.
But what has Jesus, the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophesy, done with the oppressor's rod? He has broken it. What does He do with the boots and the garments of the armies that amass against His people? Those objects are used as fuel for warmth instead of tools to aid in destruction. Jesus secures the victory over the oppressing forces of evil and He shares that victory with us so that in Him, we can find the rest we need.
Rest is an important thing to God. Throughout the Scriptures, He speaks of it and He graciously offers it to His children.
"In the Philippines I heard a local pastor use the following parable to illustrate Christ’s offer of rest (Matt. 11:28) and the response of people who won’t trust Him completely: The driver of a caribou wagon was on his way to market when he overtook an old man carrying a heavy load. Taking compassion on him, the driver invited the old man to ride in the wagon.
"Gratefully the old man accepted. After a few minutes, the driver turned to see how the man was doing. To his surprise, he found him still straining under the heavy weight, for he had not taken the burden off his shoulders." -Larry Chell
Is your soul experiencing daily rest in Christ or are you still convinced you have no choice but to carry your burdens alone?
3. Jesus reigns with justice and righteousness
During the Christmas season, this is one of my favorite Scriptures to see referenced on cards or in other ways. Isaiah gives very specific details regarding the birth of Christ, the ministry of Christ, and the nature of Christ in this passage. He tells us that a child would be born among the people of Israel. He would be a Son who was given as a gift of grace. And in time, the government would be upon His shoulder. He would be one who would rule with peace and benevolence, which would stand in stark contrast to the foreign nations that invaded and oppressed Israel at different times in their history.
The people of Israel were looking forward to the day when they would once again have a king like King David. God had promised David that the day would come when one of his own descendants would rule from his throne forever. Jesus is the fulfillment of that promise. The eternal Son of God took on flesh and was born to Mary, a descendant of David. When Christ returns, Scripture tells us that all nations will bow before Him as King, and He will rule and reign from Jerusalem. His reign will never end. He will establish peace, uphold justice, and promote righteousness on this very earth.
The Scripture speaks both of Christ's humanity and His divinity. In addition to being born as a child, we're also told that He would be called Wonderful Counselor. The idea here is that He would be an advocate or one who pleads our case who also inspires awe among us. He's also called Mighty God. Jesus is God incarnate. He is likewise referred to as Everlasting Father. This is a way of telling us that He is the source or the "father" of life everlasting. Christ is also described as the Prince of Peace. Through Him our souls and this world find the peace we can't find anywhere else.
And just as Jesus has promised to literally and visibly reign on this earth at some future point, He desires to reign with justice and righteousness in our lives right at this very moment. Someone is calling the shots in your life. Someone sits on the throne of your heart. Wouldn't you rather it be Jesus, the Prince of Peace, than someone else?
Jesus has taken our gloom away and replaced it with the joy of His presence.
© John Stange, 2017