Wonderful Counsellor

Scripture: Luke 13:10-21

Title: Wonderful Counsellor

Structure:

  • Introduction
  • Yahweh the Wonderful Counsellor
  • Jesus the Wonderful Counsellor
  • God’s wonderful plan (Kingdom)
  • Conclusion

Introduction:

Prince Charles has recently turned 70

–         Charles is of course next in line to take the throne

–         The Prince’s full title is: His Royal Highness Prince Charles Philip Arthur George, Prince of Wales, Earl of Chester, Duke of Cornwall, Duke of Rothesay, Earl of Carrick, Baron of Renfrew, Lord of the Isles and Prince and Great Steward of Scotland

–         That’s a lot of titles, but wait there’s more…

–         He also has a string of letters after his name: KG, KT, GCB, OM, AK, QSO, CC, PC and ADC, whatever all that means?

This morning we start a new sermon series

–         With Christmas only a month away we are going to spend some time exploring the royal titles ascribed to the Messiah in Isaiah 9, verse 6

Isaiah 9 is often read at Christmas time as Christians believe this prophecy is talking about Jesus – verse 6 is familiar to many of us…

–         For unto 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 Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 

–         Today we think about how the title Wonderful Counsellor fits for Jesus

–         But first let us consider Yahweh (the Lord) as a Wonderful Counsellor

 

Yahweh the Wonderful Counsellor:

They say that in the game of drafts you only need to think 1 or 2 moves ahead, but in the game of chess you need to be thinking 4 or 5 moves ahead

–         One of the jobs of a king is to make good decisions – decisions which are wise and just and lead to good long term outcomes for people

–         A king needs to be like a good chess player, thinking 4 or 5 moves ahead, playing out all the various scenarios in his mind

–         The Hebrew for Wonderful Counsellor literally translates wonder planner

The term wonderful counsellor then refers to a king with the wisdom & foresight to develop extraordinary plans & policies for the ordering of the public life of his people [1]

–         As the word wonder suggests the vision and planning of this king are awe inspiring – the king’s wisdom leaves people gob smacked in amazement

 

Two quick examples from the Old Testament to give you the idea of how Yahweh (the Lord) is a wonderful counsellor

In Genesis 18, God visits Abraham & Sarah and says that Sarah will give birth to a son. Sarah laughs at this because she is well past child bearing age so God says…

–         Is anything too wonderful for the Lord? [Meaning, is anything too difficult for the Lord?] At the set time I will return to you, in due season, and Sarah will have a son.”

The Lord’s plan here is truly amazing in its scope and level of difficulty

–         Yahweh, the wonderful counsellor, is planning to redeem the entire creation through Abraham’s offspring and he is going to do this by making it possible for a 90 year old woman to give birth to a son

–         Isaac’s birth was a miracle of resurrection

–         Isaac’s birth demonstrates that nothing is too difficult for God – even when it seems like all hope is lost, God can make all things new

–         When we consider how Jesus makes good on God’s promise to Abraham we begin to marvel at the Lord’s planning

 

Another example of Yahweh the wonderful counsellor is seen in the story of Joseph, also in Genesis. Joseph was one of Abraham & Sarah’s great grandsons

–         Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers and ended up serving an Egyptian named Potiphar

–         After being falsely accused of sexual misconduct Joseph was thrown into prison for about three years until he was called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams

–         Joseph became a wonderful counsellor to the king of Egypt

–         He knew what the Pharaoh’s dreams meant and what planning the king needed to do to save the people from starvation

–         Store up the excess crops during the seven years of plenty to see you through the seven years of famine

–         Joseph’s wonderful planning saved thousands of lives including that of his own family

 

But the real wonderful counsellor, working behind the scenes, was Yahweh – the Lord Almighty

–         It was God who put Joseph in the right place at the right time with the right wisdom to save the people

–         At the end of Genesis, after Jacob has died, Joseph’s brothers go to him afraid for their lives and wanting forgiveness – to which Joseph replies…

“Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today…”

Joseph acknowledges the wonder planning of Yahweh the wonderful counsellor

 

Jesus the Wonderful Counsellor:

Joseph points to Jesus. Like Joseph, Jesus too is a wonderful counsellor working out God’s wise & just plans for creation

–         Please turn with me to Luke chapter 13, page 98 toward the back of your pew Bibles

–         Jesus’ teaching and parables are pregnant with the wisdom of God

–         In this passage, from Luke 13, we get a taste of Jesus the wonderful counsellor. From verse 10 we read…

10 One Sabbath Jesus was teaching in a synagogue. 11 A woman there had an evil spirit that had kept her sick for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called out to her, “Woman, you are free from your sickness!” 13 He placed his hands on her, and at once she straightened herself up and praised God.

14 The official of the synagogue was angry that Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, so he spoke up and said to the people, “There are six days in which we should work; so come during those days and be healed, but not on the Sabbath!”

15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Any one of you would untie your ox or your donkey from the stall and take it out to give it water on the Sabbath. 16 Now here is this descendant of Abraham whom Satan has kept in bonds for eighteen years; should she not be released on the Sabbath?” 17 His answer made his enemies ashamed of themselves, while the people rejoiced over all the wonderful things that he did.

18 Jesus asked, “What is the Kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it with? 19 It is like this. A man takes a mustard seed and plants it in his field. The plant grows and becomes a tree, and the birds make their nests in its branches.”

20 Again Jesus asked, “What shall I compare the Kingdom of God with? 21 It is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.”

May the Spirit of Jesus illuminate this Scripture for us

 

Probably the most difficult shot in the game of 10 Pin Bowling is knocking over a split.

–         A ‘split’ is where the pins left standing, after your first bowl, are divided or split down the middle

–         In many ways this is a harder shot to pull off than getting a clean strike

–         How do you knock over both pins on either side with just one bowl?

–         I suppose you have to hit one of the pins at just the right angle & speed to create a ricochet which knocks the other pin down

One characteristic of being a wonderful counsellor is the ability to kill two birds with one stone – or rather, to achieve more than one positive result with a single action or decision

–         In our reading from Luke 13 Jesus does just that

–         By healing the woman on the Sabbath Jesus knocks over a split

–         He sets a chain of events in motion which not only set the woman free from her illness but also set the people free in their thinking and daily living

 

The word ‘Sabbath’ appears five times in our reading this morning so that tells us it is significant for understanding this passage

–         To some degree we have lost the meaning of Sabbath in our society today

–         Basically, the Sabbath is a day of rest when people stop working and think about God

–         When the Sabbath is observed as God intended all living things get a small taste of what heaven on earth would be like

 

To better understand the meaning of the Sabbath we have to go back to Genesis chap. 2

–         By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 

In Genesis 1 creation is depicted poetically as God bringing order & function to the chaos

–         After God has done the work of creating order & function he rests

–         It’s not that God was tired and needed to take a break – God doesn’t get tired like we do

–         Divine rest doesn’t mean taking a nap – divine rest means all those forces of chaos that are opposed to God have been subdued and order has been restored – God is in control, he is on the throne ruling the universe

–         So the purpose of the Sabbath is to point to the Kingdom of God

–         The Sabbath reminds us that the Kingdom of heaven is coming to earth

–         When we observe the Sabbath, when we stop working and give our attention to God, we acknowledge that God is the supreme ruler of the universe and we are his loyal subjects

 

In the first century the Sabbath was very important to the Jews

–         They were an oppressed people (their land was occupied and controlled by the Romans) – so they had to be quite intentional about not being assimilated into Roman culture, they had to make a stand for the sake of maintaining their national identity

–         Holding to their traditions, like keeping the Sabbath holy, was one way they maintained their cultural identity and loyalty to Yahweh

–         Keeping the Sabbath was an act of solidarity – it was a way of saying, ‘ultimately God is in control, not Caesar.’

–         In this sense observing the Sabbath is sort of like going on strike

 

Given the importance of Sabbath observance there were lots of man-made rules around the special day – specifying what you could and couldn’t do

–         Those rules may have been well intentioned but really they missed the point and actually obscured God’s purpose for the Sabbath, which is to point to God’s kingdom & give people a small taste of heaven on earth

–         Our society (in NZ) today has gone to the other extreme – we have almost no rules around the Sabbath and so we have lost something valuable

 

Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath teaching people – giving them his wise and wonderful counsel – when he sees a woman bent over due to an evil spirit which had made her ill. What is he to do?

–         He has the power to heal her but Jewish tradition says he isn’t authorised to heal on the Sabbath

–         Her illness isn’t life threatening – she’s had it for 18 years so her healing  could wait another day

–         However, he might not see her tomorrow – this could be his only opportunity to help her

–         What’s more, healing someone on the Sabbath provided an opportunity to demonstrate to everyone present the bigger picture of God’s wonderful plan to restore and redeem his creation

–         Healing this woman on the Sabbath shows people what the reign of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven) looks like

Jesus sees the opportunity here to achieve two good results with one action – so he heals her

–         How did Jesus do this? It is a wonder, a mystery to us, but at the same time it gives credibility to his message

 

The leader of the synagogue, the guy who was responsible for making sure things ran smoothly, is angry that Jesus has healed on the Sabbath because that goes against the tradition that he is responsible to protect

–         By breaking the rules in this way Jesus has undermined the wall that separates Jews from Gentiles – he has threatened their Jewish identity

–         Or to say it in another way, Jesus has taken a swipe at Jewish nationalism

–         What Jesus did was courageous, politically incorrect and counter cultural

–         In the official’s mind this must have seemed like a betrayal of sorts – like Jesus was being disloyal to God and disloyal to Israel

Now I can understand the official’s frustration all too well – I can easily imagine how irritating & disruptive & annoying someone like Jesus would be

–         The synagogue leader doesn’t have any special wisdom or power to heal like Jesus does

–         I expect he’s just a regular average bloke who has a job to do and he’s trying to be faithful in carrying out his responsibilities

–         He thinks he’s doing the right thing but he just can’t see the wood for the trees and ends up in a public argument with Jesus that he has no show of winning.

The official has no idea who Jesus is – I feel sorry for him

–         He’s the fall guy whose blindness & ignorance provides the opportunity for Jesus’ wonderful counsellor-ness to be revealed

–         Not unlike the woman’s 18 year illness provided the opportunity for Jesus’ power & compassion to be displayed

–         Can you see the wonderful way God used the woman’s illness and the official’s spiritual blindness for good?

–         Had the woman not been sick and had the official said nothing then no one would have heard the brilliance of Jesus’ argument…

–         Any one of you would untie his ox or his donkey from the stall [after just a few hours] and give it a drink. Now here is a descendant of Abraham [someone far more valuable than an ox or a donkey] whom Satan has kept bound up for 18 years [far longer than a few hours]. How much more should she be released on the Sabbath? [the Sabbath being a day which points to God’s creative work in bringing order & function to chaos]

Jesus argues from the lesser to the greater and his insight, his perspective, is brilliant – he hoists his opponents on their own petard

–         Not only does Jesus show everyone present what God’s bigger plan & purpose is (bringing release & restoration) he also undoes a bit of Jewish nationalism by pointing out that the real enemy here isn’t the Romans – the real enemy is Satan

–         The wonderful thing is that Jesus’ wisdom sets people free in their minds

–         Just as the woman has been released from her back problem and can now stand up straight, so too the people have been released from the burden of rules surrounding the Sabbath and can now begin to think straight

–         Everyone has been given a glimpse of what God’s kingdom looks like

–         Jesus knocks over a split and verse 17 tells us, the people rejoice over all the wonderful things he did.

 

God’s wonderful plan (Kingdom)

If you look in your pew Bibles on page 98 again – you will notice that the account of Jesus healing the woman on the Sabbath is separated from the parable of the Mustard Seed by a heading, in bold

–         This gives the false impression that the Sabbath healing miracle is somehow separate from the two parables that follow

–         What we need to remember is that the headings you see in your Bibles are not part of the original text – they’ve been added in by the translators

–         So there’s no separation between the healing miracle and the parables

Verse 18 (in the Greek) actually reads Therefore Jesus asked, ‘What is the Kingdom of God like…’

–         The Good News Version has left the ‘Therefore’ out

–         The ‘therefore’ means that Luke intended us to read the parables of the mustard seed and yeast in conjunction with the Sabbath healing story

–         Put it all together and its talking about the Kingdom of God

–         Luke arranges Jesus’ material like this to help the reader see the wonder of God’s plan

 

When we were kids we were taught to wash our hands after going to the toilet and before every meal – that was supposed to stop us from getting sick

–         Bacteria, we were told, are bad and we need to get rid of them

–         We still see that attitude today with the advent of hand sanitiser

–         There’s an advertisement on TV with a little boy buying an ice cream from Mr Whippy and getting his hand sanitiser out before eating

–         It makes me cringe

 

Science tells us not all bacteria are bad, in fact we need certain bacteria for good health

–         The right bacteria in our gut help to regulate bowel movement

–         They help in the formation of vitamins like folic acid, riboflavin and vitamin K

–         What’s more, friendly bacteria enhance our immune system by increasing the production of antibodies which fight bad bacteria

–         Bacteria also help to regulate hormone levels and cholesterol

–         So it seems that washing our hands obsessively may actually be bad for us in that it reduces our exposure to good bacteria

 

In some ways the Kingdom of God is like good bacteria – it is small, unseen at first and does its work silently, on the inside

–         What’s more the Kingdom of God is often found in unexpected places

 

During the Second World War soldiers in Northern Africa were getting sick with dysentery and washing their hands didn’t seem to help

–         So the soldiers kept a close eye on the local Arabs who seemed to recover a lot quicker

–         Whenever the locals got sick they followed behind a camel and ate the fresh camel dung while it was still warm – then they were right again by the next day, instead of spending weeks in bed

 

It was later proven there was a soil-based organism in the camel dung known as Bacillus Subtilis

–         Bacillus Subtilis is a bacterial organism with super-strength that eats any other bacteria or virus that gets in its way, particularly pathogens

–         This story comes with a warning though: I’m not sure it works with every kind of poo, so be careful what you put in your mouth

 

Mustard seeds and yeast are small (like bacteria) and yet they have such a powerful and lasting effect

–         The mustard seed grows into a large, resilient and pervasive plant that is populated with birds

–         And just a small amount of yeast permeates a large quantity of dough

–         40 litres of flour, in verse 21, makes a huge amount of bread

–         How the seed grows and how the yeast makes the bread rise was a wonder, a mystery, to the people of Jesus’ day

 

The main point seems to be, God’s wonderful plan for establishing his Kingdom on earth is to start small and work silently, gradually, from the inside out

–         As opposed to coming loudly and in force to bring about a quick revolution

 

The healing of the woman on the Sabbath is a case in point

–         Jesus didn’t go to someone really important, like the emperor of Rome or the high priest, to heal him

–         Instead he healed someone at the bottom of the social scale – a sick anonymous woman who could do nothing at all to repay Jesus

–         However, in that small but powerful act of healing on the Sabbath, Jesus sowed the seeds of God’s kingdom

–         He put yeast in the dough of the local community to cause people to rise and praise God

 

A couple of other things to note about the wisdom of these parables

–         Jesus thought about his audience – he used images from everyday life that would relate to both men and women

–         Mustard seeds and mustard plants were everywhere – they were common

–         But making bread was something that women did – so in using the yeast metaphor Jesus was specifically reaching out to his female listeners

–         And that was significant when we consider that most Jewish males at that time thought that women would be excluded from God’s kingdom

 

The other thing we note is that both mustard plants and yeast had a bad reputation, sort of like bacteria

–         Mustard plants in the Middle East are similar to gorse in NZ – a weed, unwanted and hard to get rid of

–         Having said that, gorse does provide a nursery for growing native trees, so it’s not as bad as it seems

–         Likewise yeast, in Jewish thought, is a symbol for sin

–         At Passover time people had to get rid of all the yeast in their home and make flat (unleavened) bread, without yeast

–         So by comparing the Kingdom of God to a mustard seed and to yeast it appears that Jesus is implying the Kingdom of God may be unrecognisable and despised by some, at least at first

–         Certainly the leader of the synagogue didn’t appreciate Jesus healing the woman on the Sabbath

–         Sometimes the Kingdom of God tastes like camel poo

 

The birds of the air, which nest in the mustard plant, is probably a poetic reference to the Gentile nations [2]

–         Jesus is saying there will be room for people like the Romans and Greeks and Barbarians and Kiwis in God’s Kingdom

–         Perhaps another swipe at the Jewish nationalism of his day which supposed that only Israelite men would get into God’s Kingdom

 

Conclusion:

We could spend a lot more time exploring the wonders of Jesus’ wisdom but that’s enough for today

–         Hopefully you can see that Jesus, like Yahweh, is a wonderful counsellor

–         In and through Jesus, God reveals his wise and wonderful plan of salvation

–         And because of Jesus we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

As the busy-ness of Christmas approaches I encourage you to pause and consider how God is working all things for good in your life.

 

Questions for discussion or reflection:

1.)    What stands out for you in reading this Scripture and/or in listening to the sermon?

2.)    What do you think of when you hear the phrase Wonderful Counsellor?

–         What does the Bible mean by the phrase Wonderful Counsellor?

3.)     Can you think of some examples of God’s wonderful planning in the Bible?

–         Now share some examples of God’s wonderful planning in your own life.

4.)    Discuss the different ways Jesus’ wonderful counsel is displayed in Luke 13:10-21

5.)    What is the purpose of the Sabbath?

–         What is a good use of the Sabbath?

6.)    What is the significance of Jesus healing on the Sabbath?

7.)    How does God use the woman’s illness and the synagogue leader’s (spiritual) blindness for good?

8.)    What is the main point of the parables of the mustard seed and yeast?

–         How do these parables relate to the Sabbath healing miracle that precedes them?

–         What other things might these parables be saying? (E.g. about women & gentiles)

9.)    Can you see God working all things for good in your life?

–         How is he doing this?

 

 

 

 

[1] Walter Brueggemann, Names for the Messiah, page 7.

[2] Refer Ezekiel 17:22-24, for example.

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