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Mighty God, Everlasting Father

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. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined … 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 Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, 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 for evermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this. Isaiah 9.1-2, 6-7.

“Now just hang on a minute,” some people may object. “It’s all well and good for Isaiah to say that the Messiah who was to come into the world in the person of Jesus would be the ‘son’ of the one who gave him, namely God, but quite another to say that he would be the ‘Mighty God’ himself; and surely Isaiah is getting things even more mixed up when he calls that ‘son’ the ‘Everlasting Father’. How can the one who is given be also the giver, and how can the Son be also the Father?”

The two questions posed there are the questions I really need to address this morning as I approach this passage for the third consecutive day. So first: Is Jesus the Mighty God?

Some have tried to argue that here the Hebrew word ‘el should be translated “hero” rather than “God” but, although “hero” is a possible translation of ‘el, in this context it simply will not do; for in the very next chapter, Isaiah uses the identical expression to refer not to the Messiah but to the one who is God over all, the LORD, Yahweh, the Holy One of Israel: “A remnant will return, a remnant of Jacob will return to the Mighty God” (Isaiah 10.21). It could not be more clear that, for Isaiah, the Messiah, when he comes, will be both the Son of God and the Mighty God himself.

And when he came, that was indeed Jesus’ own claim about himself: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am'” (John 8.58). Nor were the various New Testament writers slow to proclaim exactly the same truth. John speaking of Jesus says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1.1). The John of the Epistles says: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5.20). The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews says of God that “of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom'” (Hebrews 1.8). But Paul gives the clearest and highest expression to the truth we find in Isaiah. “To them,” he says (referring to the Israelites) “belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 9.5). “Christ” is, of course, the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah”.

Jesus is “God over all” — the “Mighty God.” Yes! And he is the “Everlasting Father.” The Hebrew word ‘ad means “eternity” so Darby nicely translates this phrase “Father of Eternity.” William Whiting picks it up in his hymn “Eternal Father, strong to save …” But we come back to the question, “How can the Son be the Father?”

The answer surely lies in what Jesus said at the Last Supper. “Philip said to Jesus, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves'” (John 14.8-11).

It seems to me that, once we start to focus on what we see as diversity within the Godhead at the expense of the unity that is there, we fall into error. I have heard people say that we shouldn’t talk of Jesus being in our hearts because he isn’t … he is now in heaven with the Father and it is the Holy Spirit who is in our hearts. What nonsense! Again at the Last Supper Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14.23). I not only have the Spirit in my heart, I have Jesus and the Father too because they are one God. That is why I can happily say “Amen” to those “muddled” prayers I sometimes hear where someone starts off praying to “Dear Lord Jesus …” and then, half-way through, says, “So, Heavenly Father …”

It is one of the joys of that wonderful book The Shack, that when Mackenzie addresses a question to, let us say, Papa (the Father), Jesus or Sarayu (the Holy Spirit) will answer as if the question has been addressed to one or the other of them. Likewise, Papa, in the kitchen, may carry on with a conversation that Mackenzie has been having with Jesus five minutes earlier down on the lakeside. William P Young is reminding us that there is but one God though, “in the unity of that Godhead, there are three Persons, of one substance, power and eternity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit” (Article 1, Articles of Religion, Book of Common Prayer). Or, as Isaiah is putting it, that the Messiah is both the Son of God and the Mighty God himself, both the Son of the Father and the Everlasting Father himself, because “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6.4).

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