God with Us Part 4 - Peace
Series: Special Occasions
December 24, 2018
If we were to pick one word that characterizes the spirit of our age, our day, what do you think it would be?
In my estimation, the best way to figure that out is to look at the news headlines. So I did…
- President Threatens a Showdown that will Last a Very Long Time
- Stocks fall again, bringing S&P 500 losses for the week to 6%
- US Military Preparing for Withdrawal of its Forces from Syria
- Fiancé of Missing Colorado Mom is Arrested and Booked in Her Murder
- More than 500 priests accused of sexual abuse not yet publicly identified
- Restaurant Sues Customer Over Bad Facebook Review: “This is slander”
- Teacher Accused of Having Relations with Boy, 13
- The Homeless Crisis is Getting Worse in America’s Richest Cities
- Climate change will bring multiple disasters at once, study warns
- Man Kills His Wife and Daughters for a Fresh Start
Headlines reveal our age is characterized by conflict and strife. They also reveal that our world is broken and fractured. No one is immune.
Maybe it’s always been as bad as it is now - I think it probably has - but as technology makes the world smaller and smaller we become more and more aware of it.
In 1965 a popular song was titled “What the World Needs Now is Love.” Based on the headlines, I’d say another thing the world needs now is peace: the absence of conflict and strife.
Peace is a concept found in every culture and most languages. The idea of peace is a very present concept or theme in the Bible. It does carry the idea of an absence of conflict, but peace in God’s Word takes it much farther than that. It’s much richer and fuller than just an end to wars or strife.
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is “shalom.” You probably know that. Jews to this day use it as a greeting, but where our greeting, hello, doesn’t mean much, shalom does.
Tim Mackie of The Bible Project explains…
“The most basic meaning of shalom is complete or whole. The word can refer to a stone that has a perfect whole shape with no cracks.
It can also refer to a completed stone wall that has no gaps and no missing bricks. Shalom refers to something that’s complex with lots of pieces that’s in a state of completeness, wholeness. It’s like Job who says his tents are in a state of shalom because he counted his flock and no animals are missing.
This is why shalom can refer to a person’s well-being. Like when David visited his brothers on the battlefield, he asked about their shalom. The core idea is that life is complex, full of moving parts and relationships and situations, and when any of these is out of alignment or missing, your shalom breaks down. Life is no longer whole; it needs to be restored.”
When you understand shalom or peace like that, it gives new meaning to a verse I’ve probably read at every wedding I’ve performed.
Numbers 6:24–26 (ESV) — 24 The Lord bless you and keep you; 25 the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; 26 the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
This was a blessing given by the Lord to Moses who gave it to Aaron for speaking over His people. Life for people then as it is today was complex, full of moving parts and relationships and situations and God wanted his people to have shalom, a wholeness and completeness that trickled down into every area of their lives.
When the Israelites were given kings, they were supposed to create that kind of peace or shalom in their kingdom, but it hardly ever happened. Israel’s history recorded in the Bible is almost the opposite. There was friction internally and externally. The headlines then would probably have been similar to now.
This is why the prophet Isaiah looked forward to a day God told him was coming. A day when a prince would bring ultimate and eternal shalom. When that day comes…
Isaiah 9:2–7 (NLT) — 2 The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine. 3 You will enlarge the nation of Israel, and its people will rejoice. They will rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest and like warriors dividing the plunder. 4 For you will break the yoke of their slavery and lift the heavy burden from their shoulders. You will break the oppressor’s rod, just as you did when you destroyed the army of Midian. 5 The boots of the warrior and the uniforms bloodstained by war will all be burned. They will be fuel for the fire. 6 For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!
When this Prince of Peace arrives he will make all things complete, whole. He will set all things to rights.
Now fast forward hundreds of years to New Testament times where things hadn’t really gotten any better. God’s people had been spread all over the civilized world as a result of their exile, punishment for not staying faithful to their covenant. Jerusalem, God’s holy city, had been conquered and occupied by the Romans. A word from God had not been heard in 400 years. It seemed as if Isaiah’s prophecy fell through.
And then there comes all this activity. Angels were everywhere announcing what God was up to. One particular and surprising place was the fields where shepherds tended their flocks…
Luke 2:8–14 (ESV) — 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Ah, now we are really tying things into the Christmas story! That’s right, the connection is made.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace Isaiah foretold.
What’s so cool about this is the kind of peace the angels said this baby brings is exactly the same as shalom, that peace of wholeness and completeness, we see in the Old Testament.
How do I know this? Do you ever remember me talking about something around in Jesus’ day every Jew would have known about called the Septuagint? It was a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek for those Jews who couldn’t read Hebrew.
If you look up Isaiah’s prophecy about the prince of peace in the Septuagint, those translators chose the Greek word for peace, eirene.
In our Luke text, guess what Greek word is used for the peace the angels said the birth of Jesus brought?Eirene.
Peace, the peace that Jesus brings, is a big deal in the New Testament. Jesus came to offer his peace to others, like when he said to his followers,
John 14:27 (ESV) — 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
Listen carefully to what Jesus said, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you.”
Jesus plainly says he offers a kind of peace and the world offers a kind of peace, and what he offers is different than what the world offers.
That makes me think of an article I read recently in a major publication called “10 Steps to World Peace.” In it the author outlined ten ways we could manufacture peace in the world if we worked hard. Let’s look at a few…
1. Start by stamping out exclusion
“Governments everywhere need to start respecting and stop the neglect, abuse and stigmatization of their own people. Media and others that promote ‘them-and-us’ thinking must be challenged to stop spreading hate.”
Folks, as Christians we could get behind that. What’s the Golden Rule? Do unto others as you’d have done to you. And what is that based on? Love your neighbor as yourself.
2. Bring about true equality between women and men
This may rock your world a little, but we can get behind that too. Paul said something revolutionary in a time when women were considered property and not valued much beyond their child-bearing and homemaking abilities…
Galatians 3:27–28 (ESV) — 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul was talking about matters of salvation here, but I don’t think it’s too far a stretch to say that if both men and women are equal heirs to God’s grace in heaven it doesn’t make any sense not to pay them the same wage for the same work in the here and now.
3. Share out wealth fairly
“Economic fairness when it comes to public resources, taxation and tax evasion is also key. The systematic transfer of wealth from rich to poor – instead of the other way round – improves security for everyone.”
That scares me to death like it does many of you that are of an older persuasion. We remember the Cold War with Russia. But look at how it was in the early church…
Acts 4:32–35 (ESV) — 32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
If governments and the wealthy could exercise that kind of voluntary, fair dispensing of material goods like the early church, wouldn’t that help bring peace?
We don’t have time to look at them all so let’s zip down to number 10…
10. Look within
“Peace starts with you. Ordinary citizens can make a difference. When’s the last time you said sorry? Think about who loses when you win. Are the people around you heard and respected or marginalized, ignored and left out? Make a decision to care about what happens to them. Start a constructive conversation with someone you disagree with. Challenge ‘them-and-us’ thinking in yourself as well as in others. Every one of us can choose to make society more just and peaceful, or more unjust and warlike.”
This too would help foster world peace. But here’s the rub: when we look within we find something dark and sinister, something about us that prevents us from ever making this happen.
You can say what you want about the Christian faith, but you can’t say it doesn’t paint an accurate picture of how the world works.
It’s the only religion that explains why things are the way they are, why the headlines are so bleak and horrifying…
Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV) — 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Psalm 53:2–3 (ESV) — 2 God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
That’s why the government can’t legislate or police us into stamping out exclusion. The ones with the power to do that will include those who agree with them and exclude those who don’t, all in the name of tolerance or national pride or whatever.
That’s why there’ll never be equality between men and women, because it doesn’t matter who’s in charge, someone, somewhere, somehow will treat someone else unfairly if not only because of their gender.
That’s why dispensing wealth will never work because the wealthy and powerful won’t do it right; they too will abuse it (Russia and Communism give testimony to that).
The world offers a peace that sounds good on paper but falls short of reality because every one of us is broken and messed up by sin in one way or another, and broken, messed up people break and mess up other people. All recorded history testifies to that.
The kind of peace Jesus gives is not only different, it’s better because he deals with the heart issue. Our dark hearts make us God’s enemies. The Apostle John told us what God is like in his nature…
1 John 1:5 (ESV) — 5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
How can the God of all light and goodness have anything to do with us? There’s where Jesus comes in! Jesus made peace between us dark-hearted creatures and God when he lived the life we should have lived, died the death we should have died, and rose from the dead.
Romans 5:1 (ESV) — 1 Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus doesn’t just make peace between us and God, he is our peace…
Ephesians 2:14–15 (ESV) — 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace,
This is the kind of peace Jesus gives, that Jesus is, and the world ain’t got nothing on him. Here’s the thing, as his followers, as those who have his Spirit living inside them, we are called to make peace. We are called to bring his peace into this broken world.
Let me quote Tim Mackie again:
“[Jesus] was the whole, complete human that I am made to be but have failed to be, and now he gives me his life as a gift. And this means that Jesus’s followers are now called to create peace… Becoming people of peace means participating in the life of Jesus who reconciled all things in heaven on earth, restoring peace through his death and resurrection.
…peace takes a lot of work because it’s not just the absence of conflict. True peace requires taking what’s broken and restoring it to wholeness, whether it’s in our lives, our relationships, or in our world. …that’s the rich biblical concept of peace.”
This Christmas know that Jesus is our hope, love, joy, and most certainly our Prince of Peace.
Conclusion: Let me close with another of Isaiah’s prophecies about the Messiah…
Isaiah 53:4–6 (ESV) — 4 Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Mackie was spot on: Life really is complex, full of moving parts and relationships and situations, and when any of these is out of alignment or missing, your shalom breaks down. Life is no longer whole; it needs to be restored. That’s all of us.
The world cannot fix that. It can give you temporary and fickle peace that comes from possessions, people, or places, religions, or causes, or whatever. But it cannot give you what Jesus gives you.
Tim Keller says, and we will close with this…
“Christian peace is based on the fact that Jesus Christ died, paid every debt, and fulfilled every requirement you have before the Father. Christian peace is based on that. He has given you a clear deed, a clear title to adoption into the family of God.”
Do you have that kind of peace in your life today? Are you whole? Or are there cracks? Would you like to be made complete?
You can if you come to God through his Son, Jesus, with faith and repentance.
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