When men tell you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.
Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan— 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 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 and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
“To the law and to the testimony!” The Israel nation was being disciplined by God through the Assyrian Empire. Their economy was going through a recession. Their pension, retirement plan and social security were in jeopardy. In desperation they were seeking relief in the projected growth of the job market. Some turned to spiritists, mediums, fortune tellers or whatever for help. When it was all said and done, nothing changed and they were still miserable.
Here I am reminded of a lighthearted story. To some degrees my mom believes in those stupid fortune telling things, especially when she became curious about the future. When I was around 15 our family went back to Vietnam after 10 years of living in the US. One day she and my uncles decided to visit a palm reader-fortune teller. I did not go but stayed at home. During the meeting my mom inquired about my future. When they came home they shared with me what the palm reader-fortune teller said about me. The psychic said I would grow up to be a womanizer, an unfaithful man. He said I would go through three marriages, and become the male equivalent of the Samaritan woman. When my mom shared that with me I thought that was the dumbest thing I ever heard. That palm reader need to get a palm pilot. I was so offended that a palm reader would say that about me without seeing me in person let alone read my palm. I took that as an attack on the character of a 15 years old teenage boy. I remembered those words and took that as motivation for the rest of my life I would not be a despicable pimp or player. Now I am thirty going on thirty one in ten days and I can say I never fool around with anyone my whole life. As for my mom when she heard what the palm reader had to say about her son, she probably did not receive any light of dawn.
All humor aside, in this context of fear and confusion that dominated the society the prophet encouraged the people to turn to the law and the testimony. By doing so they would find confidence in the mist of confusion, God’s love in the mist of worry and fear. As I think about this I see how amazing this is. By turning to the law and the testimony I can be completely confident while everyone is so confused. I can be at peace regardless of all the events taking place around me. When I live as a shepherd I am confident that this is what God wants me to do with my life. There is no confusion about this, not even on my worst day of shepherding. When I keep worship service faithfully and tithe then I can enjoy complete confidence knowing that this is the right thing to do. There is no confusion or doubt in this matter. When I fight against sin and temptation I am confident that is the right decision in life and there is no confusion. I can be confident that I am right. Great confidence is to be had when I keep God’s laws. There is great peace to be enjoyed when I seek comfort in His testimony. Did Donald Trump collude with Russia? I don’t have to worry when I keep God’s law. What is happening at the U.S. border with all the immigrants trying to enter the country? I don’t have anything to fear when I keep God’s law. How will the trade war between U.S. and China affect the economy? I don’t have to be afraid when I turn to the testimony. My parents are in their late sixties and the thought that I would only have them for about ten or more years scare me. But I don’t have to be when I listen to what God has to say in His testimony, especially when He says He is my Everlasting Father. I remember being so worried about finding a job right after graduation. During that time, I kept God’s calling for me by teaching the Bible and taking care of my sheep and sure enough, God’s testimony came true, everything was provided for as I seek His kingdom first. As a raw sheep, I thought it was impossible for me to be born again. But by keeping worship service absolutely, sure enough God’s testimony came true. I experienced the verse, “With man it is impossible but with God anything is possible.” Even when my appendix had ruptured and I was close to dying, I still enjoyed a measure of confidence as I remained committed, teaching Genesis to my sheep. Then God’s testimony came true, I never tasted death. Great confidence is to be had when I turn to the law and the testimony, but the flip side is also true. Apart from the law there can be no confidence and without God’s testimony I cannot be at peace. Apart from God’s command and being committed, even if I am financially set for life, and have the best health insurance and I can be with the perfect person, I can never be confident when I know I have not kept God’s command. When I keep God’s command then I can enjoy a confident Christian life.
“But in the future He will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan.” Galilee will be honored with the birth of Jesus. Before we studied this passage again this year my understanding of this verse was wrong. I thought Galilee was honored simply because Jesus was born there. This is wrong because Jesus was not born in Galilee but in Bethlehem. Instead Galilee became exalted because that was the place where Jesus did the work of God. Jesus served God’s work in the region of Galilee and so that region became exalted. This correct understanding makes the passage even more incredible and profound. A place becomes great and exalted only because the work of God can be found there. Whether Shepherds Church is great or not is not based on whether the disciples are so talented or lovely. Instead if Shepherds Church has any measure of greatness it is only because Shepherds Church serves the work of God. The same is true for Gardena. The name Gardena must have its origin in the Garden of Eden, but Gardena is more like a landfill. If Gardena is to resemble anything like the Garden of Eden it is only possible through the work of God. Likewise a person becomes great only because they choose to serve God’s mission. Talent and money, or a good and settled life does not make a person great, but only when they choose to serve God. As for me I can be great only when I choose to serve God. I can be exalted when I live to take care of my sheep. Galilee, without the work of God was a shameful place known for defiling their pure Jewish blood with their captors. However, when there is the work of God in that place, Galilee was highly exalted. When there is no work of God in me, and when I do not serve His mission then I am an ugly and shameful sinner. On the other hand, when I choose to serve the mission, then I am so precious in God’s sight. When I choose to do the work of God then there is great potential for many people to experience Jesus’ salvation. There is nothing great or praiseworthy about me, so whatever greatness I manage to have can only come from accepting God’s calling and serving Him.
“You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy.” The birth of this Child enlarged the nation of Israel, but before a nation can be enlarged, its citizens must have the vision and desire to expand their territory. I can truly have Jesus in my heart when my vision goes beyond myself and my own life. Before I was born again my vision was all about me. It consisted of the small citizen life, of being educated, of securing a good career, of finding love and settling down. However, once I was born again, my vision went beyond myself to the salvation of others, of winning people over for Jesus, of establishing disciples, and of expanding the kingdom of heaven. Whenever Jesus’ presence is strong in me, naturally my eyes turn away from me and outward to others. When Jesus’ presence is a felt reality then I have a greater desire to win people over for God, and I am more zealous. Here I see that Shepherds Church truly has Jesus’ presence and the spirit of Christmas because our vision transcends far beyond our church but to all of California, America and the whole world through the goal of 400 one to one Bible studies, 200 disciples, 50 churches and pioneering new campuses. When I have vision, and am concerned about others then Jesus can continue to dwell in me. When Shepherds Church vision goes beyond Gardena to all of California, America and the world then Jesus dwells in this place.
This verse also shows that joy comes with the territory of an enlarging nation. When our ministry was enlarging rapidly while we were in the Sheep Pen, there was great joy. It was a joy to hear wonderful testimonies of no named sheep from unknown shepherd. It was also a joy seeing new sheep attending worship service, and committing themselves to God. Back then sheep were still very raw and uncouth, testimonies were wild, the sheep pen was always crowded and the disciples were rambunctious, and yet it was a delight to be a part of a growing ministry. The sheep pen should be turned into a museum for posterity. This upcoming year, as the church continues to do the work of God, we will continue to grow and our joy will increase as well. As for me the more I serve God, the more my joy increases.
“He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Some people will call this Child Mighty God because they experienced His power and intervention. As a raw sheep I thought it was impossible for me to be born again. My desire and ambition seemed too strong to let go. Then one day suddenly I was born again. My life changed completely. I went from being a slave in bondage to being a free citizen in the kingdom of God. I thought I was too stubborn to change but Jesus saved me. So I can truly call Him Mighty God. Likewise I experience Jesus as my Mighty God when He gave me my teaching job without any prior teaching experience. In the future I will again experience this Child as my Mighty God when He raises me from the dead.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. At the risk of sounding melodramatic I had my fair share of ups and downs, disappointments and sorrow. I shed tears just as much as anyone else, perhaps more. My heart ached for its own reasons and there are elements of my future still to be decided. Regardless of all that I went through in the past, all of which were my own making, the bottom line is that I am still here. I am not destroyed, but I am still sane and I am still committed. I still have my mojo and my sense of humor is still intact. I still enjoy studying the word of God. I am still mesmerized by what He is doing. This is only possible because Jesus brings me peace. When I tune out all the worldly distraction and I redirect my heart’s attention to Him, I still feel His overwhelming love for me as a lost sinner desperate for salvation. When I take a moment out of my day to reflect on how my life has turned out, I am not hurt or angry at anyone. There is nothing that I regret, and better yet, nothing I would change. Instead I am happy with my life. This is possible because Jesus brings me peace. In a world that is going through all kind of changes from global warming, to the riot in France destroying that country, to the changing job market,and finally to what is trending on Instagram, peace is becoming more and more difficult to afford. But the birth of the Savior means I can enjoy peace in this changing world. I can enjoy peace and confidence when I turn to the law and the testimony. I can enjoy peace and be filled with confidence when I do what God commands me to do.
One Word: Celebrating Christmas by returning to the law and the testimony.