6 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.
7 There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace,
On the throne of David and over his kingdom,
To establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness
From then on and forevermore.
The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.
– Isaiah 9:6-7 NASB
Rich, Young, Ruler – who needs counsel?!
I have really been thinking about this little phrase, “Wonderful Counselor.” On reflection, I don’t think many of us quite believe it. Consider the rich young ruler:
16 And someone came to Him and said, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” 17 And He said to him, “Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 Then he said to Him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER; YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY; YOU SHALL NOT STEAL; YOU SHALL NOT BEAR FALSE WITNESS; 19 HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER; and YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property. – Matthew 19:16-22 NASB
Like the rich young ruler, we come seeking His counsel, but what we are really seeking is confirmation for our own counsel. When that doesn’t happen, and God incarnate has different ideas than ours, we sulk and walk away. Honestly, if some homeless guy you weren’t quite sure about told you today that you needed to sell all your stuff and leave your home and follow him, would you do it? Of course not!
Asking All the Wrong Questions
Part of the trouble with asking for counsel is that we come asking the wrong questions. We come asking “what must I do?” You think that you can simply turn this around and say, “No, it isn’t about what you must do to inherit eternal life! It is a gift!” But this is not a question born of reason. It is a question born of the inward bent of a person. This is a rich guy. A young guy. A handsome guy. A ruler. He is a man of success, he is used to doing things which are effectual and successful. He tells people what to do and they do it. He is (perhaps subconsciously) trying to do this same thing with Jesus. He views heaven as one more thing on his list of successes.
We always want to turn His counsel to ugliness. The rich young ruler was looking for the difficult ugly counsel – just not quite that ugly and difficult. It had to be the exact right amount of difficult ugliness. We want His counsel to be harsh. We cherry pick and twist His words to make His counsel ugly and harsh. We look for the difficult, we ignore things, we emphasize things, to make His counsel just the right blend to affirm our works and condemn those of whom we disapprove.
You Hate His Ugly Counsel
You think you, as a grace person, are immune to this problem. I think that. I “get” grace. But I don’t even agree with the stuff He says that I’m failing at. Why should we turn the other cheek? If someone strikes my face, I’m at least going to run away. I’m not going to turn the other cheek. That isn’t wonderful counsel, it is horrible counsel! Why should we always let our yes be yes? Sometimes the truth is too ugly and harmful to tell. I’m not even supposed to look at a woman? What healthy normal male doesn’t look! Why should we sell our things and give to the poor? Have you had much experience with the homeless? I wish they would get a stinking job and stop being selfishly crazy and stop leaching off of everyone. I have worked hard for what I have! Why should I give them my great stuff? How is that wrong? These things are not wonderful counsel! They are insanity! I don’t want to hear that I should be perfect as my Father in heaven is perfect. I don’t think Jesus and I even agree on the definition of perfection that I’m falling short of. I don’t live up to my own view of perfection and I certainly don’t live up to His view. None of this is good news – it is scary bad news! But we’re supposed to smile and think that all of this is wonderful! I couldn’t do all of that even if I wanted to! So is He REALLY a wonderful counselor, or is He a fake wonderful counselor?
We might get to the wonderfulness if we would be honest about these things for a moment. So let’s do something for a minute, in secret. It’s safe and it’s good. You need to face something. You hate His counsel. His name is scary weird counsellor. You have come seeking confirmation for your own counsel, and He didn’t do that. On top of that, you can’t stand the counsel He does give. You are supposed to think it is wonderful, but you don’t. And you aren’t even allowed to say so, because no one is allowed to disagree with Jesus. And you hate all of this, you despise your own religion. You will get nowhere until you become honest about it.
So Where is the Wonderful Part?
Where am I going with this? His counsel is not wonderful because like the rich young ruler, we have come asking the wrong question. We come asking “what must I do” when the right question is “who are You and why are you here?” He is a wonderful counselor if we stop cherry-picking His words out of context in order to support our own “what I must do” presuppositions and instead take His whole counsel. Somehow, all the tax-gatherers and sinners and prostitutes that were constantly throwing Him parties and banquets heard these messages and came to believe that He is a wonderful counselor! What was He saying and how was He saying it that made all of this ugly counsel sound so wonderful to sinners and sound so offensive to the self-justifying?
It is because we do not understand the distinction between law and gospel, a distinction which, make no mistake, Jesus held dear at the root of all that He said and did. He says, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). He starts with gospel, with the gift of grace. He says, don’t think He came to abolish the law. He says, I came – I came – to fulfill the law. He says, you want to live by the law, here is what you must do. Be perfect – God’s style of perfect, not your own. He says this, not because He thinks we will be perfect. He says it because He knows that bird has already flown. He says it so we will despair and reconsider our rejection of the free gift given to the poor. He says it so that we will come to understand that we are not rich, we are poor. He wants the law to crush our false confidence, our rich facade, our lies that we have come to believe about ourselves. We are all like the drunk guy that comes to my church and tells me I must be more righteous and stop emphasizing grace. He uses the law to pry our death grip off of our ridiculous self-reliance so that we can receive the free gift of the kingdom!
And that is wonderful counsel indeed. We are no longer under the law in Christ. We have been redeemed, and He has fulfilled the law in His life and in His death. He has procured the kingdom of God for us! Yes, He is truly a wonderful counsellor!