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A royal inauguration

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topic Scripture: Isaiah 9:1-7

Christmas is the season for miracles. Someone with too much time on his hands has calculated that if Santa brought a Beanie Baby to every child on earth, his sleigh would weigh 333,333 tons. He needs 214,206 reindeer to pull that sleigh (plus Rudolph, of course). To deliver his gifts in one night, Santa has to make 822.6 visits per second, sleighing at 3,000 times the speed of sound. It’s a miracle that all his toys get delivered each Christmas.

We need more miracles from Santa this year, don’t we? You don’t need me to depress you with the week’s reports of continuing financial crisis, the terrorist attack in India, threats made against New York City’s subways, job losses close to home.

While President-elect Obama is announcing financial advisors in preparation for his inauguration in January, we don’t have to wait to learn about the administration of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He has already been installed on the throne of the universe. We have never needed the help of this Wonderful Counselor more than we do today. Where do you want his counsel this morning? How can it be yours?

Admit that you need a counselor

Let’s begin with good news for hard times. Isaiah’s promise that a child was coming to be inaugurated as the Messiah was announced to a nation in crisis.

Their world was at war, as ours is today. Assyrian would soon destroy the ten northern tribes of Israel and threaten the southern nation of Judah. Babylon would then overthrow Assyria and enslave Judah for 70 years. War clouds were brewing, with no blue sky in sight.

In the face of such chaos and calamity, the people were seeking counsel from everyone but God. They turned to “mediums and spiritists,” consulting “the dead on behalf of the living” (Isaiah 8:19). They were ignorant of the “law and testimony,” the revealed word of God (v. 20). As a result, they saw “only distress and darkness and fearful gloom” (v. 22).

Now they are “walking in darkness” and “living in the land of the shadow of death” (9:2). They feel the “yoke that burdens them,” the “bar across their shoulders,” the “rod of their oppressor” (v. 4). They have known the “warrior’s boot used in battle” and the “garment rolled in blood” (v. 5). Their nation was in chaos, distress, spiritual confusion.

Sound familiar?

To them and to us, the Lord promises a “Wonderful Counselor.” “Wonderful” is used throughout the Hebrew Bible to describe God and his works. It means “so full of wonder as to be divinely miraculous.” “Counselor” describes a person of such wisdom that he advises kings, the wisest man in the land. The words together can be translated, “He who plans wonderful things.”

Think of all the ways Jesus proved Isaiah right. As a boy of 12, his wisdom confounded the greatest scholars of his nation. Repeatedly the Gospels report that Jesus knew the thoughts of men before they spoke them. When he was accosted by the sharpest lawyers and debaters of his day, he left them defeated and astounded.

As the God of the universe, his wisdom transcends all time. This Counselor knows what the markets will do on Monday and two years from Monday. He knows what will happen in Iraq and Afghanistan and with your job and health and family. He has all of eternity to hear your next prayer and to advise your next decision.

But you must seek his help, of course. A counselor can’t do much for your marriage unless you’ll first admit that you need counseling. A husband or wife dragged into the counselor’s office is not going to experience much help.

If you think that you can solve your problems in your wisdom, you won’t seek God’s. If you buy into the self-sufficiency gospel of our contemporary culture, you’ll leave this sanctuary in the same shape as when you entered it.

If you’re listening to this sermon just because it’s Sunday rather than because you know you need a word from God, I won’t say much today that you’ll remember tomorrow. That’s why Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount with the observation, “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” literally “blessed are those who know their need of God” (Matthew 5:3). If they didn’t know they needed what he would say, they would miss his wisdom. So will we.

The first step to getting help from the Wonderful Counselor is admitting that you need such a counselor. Why do you?

Why do you need this counselor?

We’ve seen the good news: the God of the universe is ready to be your Wonderful Counselor. Now let’s ask some hard questions. First: why should we trust him? If the Christ of Christmas is such a wonderful counselor, if God is truly on his throne, if Jesus is really omniscient and all-loving and all-powerful, why is his creation so broken?

Many of us ask that hard question every day. We know we should love and trust the God who made us, but the rest of his creation doesn’t often inspire such a commitment.

The atheist Sam Harris says that a single innocent, suffering child anywhere in the universe calls into question the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God. Of course it does. If Jesus is such a Wonderful Counselor, why are times so hard? Why is there so much innocent suffering in a world created by such a wise God?

I was once having such a discussion with a skeptical friend, thinking of all the ways I could justify God’s wisdom with regard to the problems in our world today. You’ve heard the familiar arguments: God made us with free will so we could choose to go to heaven; when we misuse our freedom, the fault is not God’s but ours.

And that’s true for suffering we deserve, as when a drunk driver smashes his car. But it doesn’t help much with innocent suffering, as when a drunk driver smashes your car. It doesn’t explain why greed on Wall Street has to traumatize the global financial system and cost you your job or your pension.

Then I heard myself ask my skeptical friend, “How would we do better?”

Of course, if I were God there would be no innocent suffering. The consequences of misused freedom would not be allowed to cause another 9-11 or Holocaust. So let’s say that we draw the line at murder—every time someone is about to kill someone else, God must prevent the consequences of their freedom. I don’t want a world where drunk drivers can kill my sons driving back to college today.

But I don’t want them to injure Ryan or Craig, either. I don’t want my sons to spend the rest of their lives in a wheelchair because of the choice someone else makes, so God must prevent that consequence as well. Now that I think of it, I don’t want my sons to be the victims of emotional or verbal abuse either, from a professor or friend or employer. I don’t want them to get cancer from secondhand smoke or heart disease from living in this fallen world. Once God starts preventing consequences of free will, where does he stop?

One day, this Wonderful Counselor will remake the world and “there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4). But in the meantime, we don’t reject all medical science because a particular drug or doctor didn’t help us.

We don’t refuse all education because we had a bad experience in freshman English. When we’re sick, we need a doctor the most. That’s why Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:12, 13).

This Wonderful Counselor redeems all he allows. His wisdom gets us through the hard places and the hard times. Nothing can separate us from his love. He is with us always, to the very end of the age. He is preparing a place for us in glory right now, and will come and take us home one day. In the meantime, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, where he ever lives to make intercession for us. Admit you need a counselor, this Counselor, and his wisdom will be yours.

How can you know his counsel?

How do we receive his counsel? You know the essentials of the spiritual life: God reveals himself rationally through his word, practically through people and circumstances, and intuitively as his Spirit speaks to our spirits. So seek his will by reading Scripture; ask for his direction in prayer; listen for his voice in other people; pay attention to circumstances, to open and closed doors and opportunities.

Well and good. But if God really wants to counsel and direct our lives, why is it sometimes so hard to be sure that we know his will?

Over the years, God has blessed me with some wonderful counselors, advisors, very wise mentors. I think immediately of Russell Dilday and John Newport at Southwestern Seminary, of Virgil Wilson at New Hope Baptist Church and James Mims at First Baptist Church in Midland, of Lee Burge at Second-Ponce in Atlanta and of some dear friends here at Park Cities. Each time I have needed their counsel, it was readily available to me and very easy to comprehend.

But when I need a word from the Lord, it’s seldom that easy. Is this open or closed door his doing, or life in a fallen world? Should I trust this feeling or that friend? Does this Scripture intend to apply to my problem? If God is truly our Wonderful Counselor, why isn’t his counsel easier to know?

I’m reminded of the time G. K. Chesterton was invited to submit an essay in a contest titled, “What’s wrong with the world.” His submission: “Dear sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.”

Every time I have been confused about the will and counsel of God, the fault has been mine. I would not spend time listening to his voice; even God cannot speak to those who won’t listen. Or I would not do what he says; the God of the universe does not reveal his will as an option but an order.

Or I wanted to know something I could not yet understand. We cannot teach trigonometry to two year olds; the great mysteries of life are not beyond God’s ability to communicate, but they are beyond my ability to comprehend.

Or I wanted an answer today to an issue I will not understand until tomorrow. God is still preparing me to understand what he wants me to know. He’s still working in circumstances, opening and closing doors and speaking to the people who will be his voice in my life. His ways and timing are seldom mine.

Or I want an answer when he wants a relationship. Prayer is how God molds me into the character of Christ, not an Internet search engine where I type in a question and get a reply. Prayer is how I connect with my Father, not just how I get his counsel.

But there have been times, all too rare, when I have come to the God of the universe, willing to make time to listen to his voice in Scripture and prayer and creation, ready to do whatever he says, trusting him for what I cannot comprehend, choosing to wait on his timing, wanting above all to know him more intimately.

And every time, he has been a Wonderful Counselor to me. Every time.

Conclusion

On January 20, our nation will inaugurate our 44th president. As a speech major in college, we were made to study the “rhetoric of great issues,” including each of the inaugural addresses. My favorite was George Washington’s second address, as it was only 135 words long; my least favorite was William Henry Harrison’s, at 8,445 words (the longest in history). It is ironic that Mr. Harrison caught a cold while delivering his speech and died a month later of pneumonia.

Every four years we inaugurate a president. Every morning and before every decision, you and I inaugurate a Wonderful Counselor. Let’s choose wisely, right now.