What do you do when your back is against the wall? Where do you turn when the bottom drops out on your life? How do you respond when you see society decaying and the culture crumbling before your very eyes? Such was the situation in which Isaiah found himself.
Isaiah lived in perilous, terrible times. Everywhere he looked there was a bad moon on the horizon. The signs of the times were grim. As Isaiah looked to the spiritual horizon, he saw a divine vengeance. Within a generation, the nation of Israel would be overcome and taken into captivity. The Promised Land would lie in waste. The cities would be destroyed and their gates burned. The plush vineyards would be uprooted and the olive groves cut down. The only persons left in the land would be the old and weak.
Isaiah finds himself announcing the impending doom and ruin. Assyria would be the rod of Jehovah’s anger. The sins of God’s people were obvious. Those blessed by God had turned their backs on God. Judgment was sure to come. In chapter one, Judah’s sins are set forth as primarily and fundamentally sins of religion. The people have rebelled against God. They are dull and dead concerning the goodness of God.
In addition, the nation had adopted foreign customs and established evil alliances. They lusted after anything ‘foreign.’ God’s people were pursuing and imitating worldly ways and making no apologies for it. Social decay and moral filth were predominant.
In Chapter five, Isaiah recounts a number of national sins, including greed, dissipation, defiance of Jehovah, hypocrisy, a loss of moral distinctive and political conceit. For these reasons, Jehovah’s coming judgment is sure; there will be no escape.
In Chapter nine, we discover God’s angry because of Israel’s arrogance. Isaiah describes in vivid detail the trials and troubles sent by Jehovah. The depth of their sin and rebellion is summarized five times in chapters nine and ten; “In spite of all this His anger does not turn away, And His hand is still stretched out.” Look at all God was doing to get their attention and call them to repentance: invading armies, defeat on the battlefield and unabated anarchy. On the horizon stands captivity. Yet, with the day of judgment waiting in the wings, the people persist in “doing their own thing.” Divine discipline has failed; only judgment remains.
In spite of this gloom and doom, Isaiah reveals a ray of hope. One, God will spare a remnant. He encourages his readers with four powerful words, “God is with us.” (Isaiah 8:10b, NASB). Immanuel is with us, no matter how dark the hour and depressing the times. For those who follow the Lord, the light of the Lord shines in the darkest night.
The most significant revelation is tucked away in chapter nine. It stands out like a full moon against a black sky. It brings hope to the hopeless and encouragement to the downhearted. Read, if you would, verse two of chapter nine; “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; Those who live in a dark land, The light will shine on them.”
What is this bright spot, this great light? With the prospect of impending doom, how can anyone get excited about this light? The answer is in verse six; “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”
The light was the “star” of Bethlehem, the babe in the manger, the Christ of Christmas. “God with us” literally coming to dwell among us. In the very first chapter of John’s gospel we read, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it . . . There was the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
It is obvious, therefore, that the person of this text is none other than the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ. He is the child born to a virgin. He is the sinless Son who pleased His Father in heaven. He is the one who carried the weight of sin and suffering on His shoulders. No wonder Isaiah begins by saying, “His name is wonderful!”
Today we live in a dark and decaying world. The increasing presence of the cults and occult, the rise in false spirituality, New Age teachings and pop religion may cause us to fear the future. The ascent of ‘anything goes’ thinking and ‘I did it my way’ living makes one wonder if God has forsaken us? Are we too under the judgment of God? Some say “yes,” others say “not yet.” Whichever may be correct, this one thing is certain; Jesus Christ is wonderful! What the world needs now is a fresh encounter with the Christ who turns death into life, chaos into hope, and war into peace.
All of us were given a name at our birth. My name, Michael means, “messenger of God.” My oldest daughter’s name is Erin, which means, “peace.” The name Alfred means “justice.” The name Allen means “harmony.” The name Paula means “reserved and timid.” The name Nancy means, “graceful.” Jacob means “supplanter” or “twister.”
No matter what a name means, the person bearing that name can miss the mark in living up to the name. I know some Michaels who are not saved and live like the devil. I’ve met other persons named Erin who are holy terrors. I grew up with a guy named Alfred; he stayed in trouble with the law. There are people named Allen who disrupt every organization they join. I’ve met some girls named Paula who were boisterous and loud. I have a cousin named Nancy. She’s a sweet lady, but not graceful. Maybe Jacob is the only person who really lived up to his name, so when God changed his nature, He changed his name.
Not all of us live up to the meaning of our name. Not so with Jesus, He is wonderful! All who have found forgiveness of sin, cleansing from guilt and comfort in prayer will agree. He is called “Wonderful” because He is. This is not a term of flattery. It is simply a name worthy of the Son of God. One writer has stated, “Those who know Him best declare that the word does not over strain His merits. Instead, it falls far short of His deserving.”
Human language being what it is, we tend to overstate the obvious and understate the incredible. We throw words like ‘great,’ ‘super,’ ‘wonderful’ and ‘incredible’ around too easily. There’s a huge gap between a winter wonderland and a wonderful savior. To understand this word, we must look to the original languages for insight.
In Hebrew, the word wonderful is pala’. It comes from the root word for miracle. King James translates the word marvelous, wonder and wonderful. It is something extraordinary. The word is often used of God’s acts of judgment and redemption. Referring to the verb form “pala,” Vines writes, “As can be seen from the suggested meanings, this verb is not easy to define. As a verb, it is based on the noun for ‘wonder, marvel,’ so it expresses the idea of doing or making a wondrous thing.” Found in both biblical and modern Hebrew, ‘pala’ occurs some 70 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. The verb is found for the first time in Gen. 18:14, ‘Is any thing too hard for the Lord?’
Vines continues, “Pala’ is used primarily with God as its subject, expressing actions that are beyond the bounds of human powers or expectations. This idea is well expressed by the psalmist: ‘This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes…’ Ps. 118:23. Deliverance from Egypt was the result of God’s wondrous acts: ‘And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in [it]…’ Exod. 3:20. Praise is constantly due God for all His wonderful deeds (Ps. 9:1). At the same time, God does not require anything of His people that is too hard for them (Deut. 30:11). Although something may appear impossible to man, it still is within God’s power: ‘If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvelous in mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts.’ Zech. 8:6.
In the noun form, pala’ is translated, ‘wonder; marvel.’ This noun frequently expresses the ‘wonder,’ the ‘extraordinary aspects,’ of God’s dealings with His people (Exod. 15:11; Ps. 77:11; Isa. 29:14). The messianic title, ‘marvel of a counselor’ Isa. 9:6; points toward God’s Anointed continuing the marvelous acts of God.” (from Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words Copyright 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers)
Even a casual reading of the use of this word will reveal the wonder of God and His plan for man.
It is obvious the word carries with it a sense of awe, reverence and astonishment. The Greek word “ethaumasan” is picked up in Luke’s gospel to describe the coming of the Messiah. Luke 2:18, “And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.” Again, in the Greek, the word means, “to marvel.” The word is used of the Person of Christ is 2 Thessalonians at the time of the shining forth of His Parousia (the Second Coming).
Before we look further at Luke’s account of the birth of Messiah, I want to note a few instances where the word is used ‘marveled’ or ‘wondered’ so you can get the picture in your mind of the significance of this word.
In Matthew 8:10 Jesus marveled at a man’s faith. In the same chapter, verse 27, the men marveled that the wind and sea obeyed Jesus. Matthew also reveals that upon seeing “the dumb speaking, the crippled restored, and the lame walking, and the blind seeing…” the multitude marveled and glorified God.
Let’s return now to the night of His birth. Wonder was the first emotion expressed by those who first saw the baby Jesus. Wonder was the reaction of Joseph and Mary at the things which were said about Him (Luke 2:33).
We have all heard about the great wonders of the world. But there is no event, no location, and certainly no person who has ever created more wonder and amazement than Jesus Christ. His incarnation is a wonder to us. How God became man and dwelt among us is a wonder to our finite minds. How the eternal Son of God became a baby in a manger, born of a virgin, is a wonder.
Often in reading the weekly news magazines, I see the amazement and wonder of scientists at some discovery about Mars, or some star that has been ‘discovered’ by the Hubble telescope. Before the stars were placed in the sky, the Son of God decided to become a man. That is truly a wonder.
When I read the great accounts of God’s intervention in the Old Testament–His deliverance of Noah from the flood, the parting of the waters at the Red Sea, the sun standing still for Joshua, the shadow on the dial of Ahaz turned back ten degrees– these are all amazing to me. But they stand in shadow compared to the reality of God becoming man.
When Messiah came, we were delivered from the flood tide of sin; a bridge across the great divide between God and man was built. The Son of God hung on a cross, in pitch darkness, so that I could stand in the shadow of His grace. He is a wonderful God.
Dr. David G. Hause writes, “He is the seed of woman, yet the Son of God. He is the child of a day, yet the monarch of eternity. He is a newborn of a span’s length, yet He is king of the ages. Omnipotence in a little baby’s hand. Omnipresence in a little baby’s feet. Omniscience in a little baby’s eye. The voice of Jehovah in a little baby’s cry.” Jesus is so wonderful.
God’s Son was born and He was given. He was both God and man. God in flesh, dwelling among us. Everything He did was wonderful. Everything He said was wonderful. In everything, He is, indeed, wonderful.
Those who listened to Him, “wondered at the gracious words which were falling from His lips…” His miracles were wonderful. His parables still cause us to wonder at the depth of meaning in every word. His passion for Jerusalem, His love for publicans, His compassion for Samaria, His patience with the disciples, His acceptance of Judas, His silence before Pilate, His willingness to face the cross, His appearances after the resurrection. . . all bring amazement and wonder to our hearts.
Use your imagination; put yourself in the temple next to a twelve-year old expounding on great theological texts. Sit down on the Mount of Beatitudes and listen to those words that still capture our heart and mind. We find ourselves agreeing with the hymn writer, Phillip Paul Bliss, “Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life; let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life.”
Only someone as wonderful as Jesus could use a sparrow to teach us about how much God loves us. Only God can reveal Himself in the beauty of a flower. It takes a Wonderful counselor to comfort the brokenhearted. Surely the word “wonder” comes to mind when we see what Jesus did with a small boy’s lunch of loaves and fish. Only the God of heaven can take the common and make it supernatural.
If He is not wonderful, then explain how he mystified Nicodemus, an educated Pharisee. Come to some rational explanation regarding Pilate’s response to Him. Here is the God-Man, who overwhelmed the scholars, stunned the politicians, touched the lepers, and forgave prostitutes. He walked the hills of Galilee and they wondered at Him. His enemies couldn’t explain Him. . .and they couldn’t ignore Him.
Although it is difficult to speak of the cross as something wonderful, it is. We glory in the cross of our Lord. By His stripes, we are healed from our sin. In His death, we find life everlasting. Even when He was beaten, cursed and abused, He never responded. The Scriptures tell us Pilate “wondered greatly.”
If Jesus had not died, the chains of sin would still hold this sinner captive. Because He did die for my sin, He has set the captive free. In His death, I find life. At His cross I find pardon, forgiveness and cleansing. I stand in awe of what God has done for me, and for all who will believe.
Before we close, I must remind you; the cross is not the end. Three days after His crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave. Peter ran to the tomb and stood in wonder when he looked in and saw it was empty. The empty tomb makes life wonderful and the thought of heaven incredible. Death has lost its sting. The grave has been defeated. Jesus Christ is risen from the dead, the first fruits of those that sleep. In light of this, shouldn’t we join Isaiah in saying, “His name is Wonderful!”
©1998 Michael C. Catt. All rights reserved.
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.