One of the famous Bible readings we use each Christmas is from Isaiah 9 where the prophet claims: “the government will be on his shoulders”. Today we’re considering the shoulders of Jesus, about Whom Isaiah is speaking.
Written during uncertain times that had seen a decline in the quality of government, this OT preacher was given to predict a new and better King:
‘Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over His Kingdom, establishing it and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.’ (9 v 6 & 7)
It sounds wonderful but we might naturally have questions. If Israel was supposed to prosper with the coming of the Messiah why was Jerusalem destroyed by the Romans in AD 70? Why does an Islamic shrine now stand where the Temple use to be? And if Jesus is the Prince of Peace why does war and suffering continue to this day?
After the Omagh bombing pop group U2 asked these sort of questions in a song: ‘we hear it every Christmastime but home and history won’t rhyme so what’s it worth – this ‘peace on earth’?’
Israel as a nation largely rejected Jesus and refused to believe in Him as their Messiah. As He predicted with tears on Palm Sunday they were overthrown and scattered among the nations for centuries until 1948. But meantime the grace of God in the Gospel of Christ has come to the Gentiles; people of non-Jewish background like us worldwide have rejoiced to discover God’s love and mercy. We the Church are the ‘living stones’ of God’s dwelling on earth, founded on Jesus and indwelt by God the Holy Spirit.
The last book of the New Testament, Revelation, was written during the last decade of the 1st century AD. While Christianity was spreading rapidly far and wide, so was cruel persecution, stirred up by a defeated, limited but bitterly resentful and deceitful devil and his forces. Peter and Paul and most of the other apostles had been martyred along with countless Christians. Against that backdrop the Apostle John is given this encouraging vision of Jesus risen and reigning from God's throne in heaven. The ultimate authority in everything belongs to Him and while the Devil may inspire temporary beastlike human empires they will not prevail but be destroyed when Jesus returns in glory to gather His Church to their reward and judge the living and the dead.
God has given the world a King both able and worthy to rule universally. As His influence spreads through people whose hearts are being transformed and motivated by His love, so do justice and kindness. Where people reject or neglect Him, society returns to cruel barbarism, as we are witnessing in our day.
The Apostle Paul claims that because Jesus humbled Himself to serve in perfect sacrificial obedience, God ‘exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord’. (Philippians 2)
The government will be on His shoulders! But not only are Jesus’ shoulders broad enough to bear the weight of governing. On one dark day outside Jerusalem these same shoulders bore the sin of the world.
Eyewitness John describes Jesus being led out to be crucified ‘carrying His own cross’ (John 19 v 17) The Apostle Peter echoes Isaiah when he writes, ‘He Himself (Jesus) bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by His wounds you have been healed’. (1 Peter 2 v 24)
Because He stretched wide His shoulders to carry our guilt and punishment on the cross, Jesus alone can rescue us from condemnation and every form of lostness.
‘Behold the Man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders …
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory.’ (Townend)
Alive again and reigning from heaven, Jesus can save us from our own worst selves and bring us home safe to God our heavenly Father.
The shoulders of Jesus Christ, broad enough to bear the government of nations, pure enough to bear the sins of the world and thirdly compassionate enough to seek, save and bring home that which is lost.
Consider the devotion described in the parable of the Good Shepherd Who is not content with the 99 safe in the fold, Who refuses to rest in comfort by the fire but heads out once more in the cold and dark and searches, relentless in love until He finds His lost sheep ‘puts it on His shoulders and goes home rejoicing’. (Luke 15 v 5-6)
Well has the hymn-writer put it:
‘My heart is filled with thankfulness
To Him Who bore my pain;
Who plumbed the depths of my disgrace
And gave me life again.
Who crushed my curse of sinfulness …
Sustaining me with arms of love
And crowning me with grace’.
The government is and always will be on the broad, generous, wise and compassionate shoulders of Jesus and one day, willingly or otherwise, the whole world will acknowledge it.
Will we, here in Dunfanaghy and Carrigart today as we prepare to enter a new year? Will we trust Jesus as our Saviour and crown Him as our Lord and King, ‘seeking His face’ in prayer and living to serve His will?
Will we? Will you?