The Prince of Peace December 22, 2002
Scripture Reading: # 634; Is. 9:1-7
"A Shopper's Psalm" by Greg Asimakoupoulous
I'm weary, Lord.
In spite of the fact that my shopping's half done
I need to crash.
of the crowd has gotten to me.
So, too, the deafening sounds
of a pre-Christmas city
throbbing with incarnate greed.
I need to be reminded
that this season's more
than plastic Santas,
I need back
on the track
I've derailed, Lord.
My emotional fuel is leaking.
I'm about to explode.
And then I see it.
A miniature creche
in a gift shop window.
A guardian father;
a grateful young mom;
a baby asleep on the hay.
A trio maintaining their harmony
despite the dis-chord all around them.
And with my nose pressed against the frosted pane
my inner pain subsides.
At once I am rested,
renewed, and revived.
And I linger
My wife and I drove around Friday night looking at the Christmas lights on the houses in nearby neighborhoods. I can tell you that whenever we saw a display that actually included the nativity scene, it brought tears to my eyes and a lump to my throat. It was absolutely wonderful to stop and ponder the peace that Christ's birth brings – with the promise of more to come.
Peace is an elusive commodity that most people desire but rarely obtain.
Peace is what we might call an inner sense of quietness and confidence that is not threatened.
It is a quality or commodity that is also important in the whole biblical record, being mentioned in 230 different verses, with the book of Isaiah holding the record at 23 verses.
Listen to some of these verses on peace in Isaiah:
“ You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3 NIVUS)
“ LORD, you establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished you have done for us.” (Isaiah 26:12 NIVUS)
“ The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.” (Isaiah 32:17 NIVUS)
“ If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:18 NIVUS)
“ "There is no peace," says the LORD, "for the wicked."” (Isaiah 48:22 NIVUS)
“ How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, "Your God reigns!"” (Isaiah 52:7 NIVUS)
“ You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” (Isaiah 55:12 NIVUS)
“ For this is what the LORD says: "I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees.” (Isaiah 66:12 NIVUS)
Peace is important to God between him and his people, and between his people themselves.
But alas, we know that there is much in this world of sin that threatens not only our peace but also our very existence.
We can discuss peace on both a personal level and also on the larger level of national or world scale.
Thankfully, there can be a difference between the two.
It is possible to know a degree of personal peace even when surrounded by a lack of peace.
At this Christmas time of year we celebrate the proclamation of the angels to the shepherds, "---and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (KJV) In the NIV it says, "---and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
Evidently, with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, there will peace for some and not others. It depends on whom he wants to extend his favor or goodwill toward.
Romans 5:1 makes it clear.
“ Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Romans 5:1 NIVUS)
The peace of God rests on those who have faith in his Son, Jesus, the Christ-child whose birth we celebrate this season.
This very reason is why the world does not yet experience peace. It is because not everyone believes in the Christ-child.
Have you come here this morning to worship him? Do you want his peace?
You can have his peace personally even though the world has not yet experienced it. But the world will experience it some day soon.
For now Jesus said:
“ "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Matthew 10:34 NIVUS)
And we are reminded in Psalm 2:12:
“ Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way, for his wrath can flare up in a moment. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalms 2:12 NIVUS)
What can we infer from this?
Jesus came peacefully, offering immediate and future peace to all who would receive it, but the world did not want his peace.
And what is another definition of peace but a lack of conflict. If peace is rejected, conflict is all that remains.
Just take notice of what happened after his birth, all because of sinful jealousy.
“ When they (the Magi) had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. "Get up," he said, "take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him." So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: "Out of Egypt I called my son." When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more."” (Matthew 2:13-18 NIVUS)
Even though peace is the Christ-child's eventual plan, for now the sword must be dealt with.
Peace has a cost. We know all about that, don't we?
There are many fronts on which the world is not now experiencing peace – almost all of which we, as the only remaining super-power, are involved in.
We have military personnel in many places around the world – either to provide a forceful presence to maintain peace or a forceful presence to obtain it.
We have troops remaining in Germany, S. Korea, Bosnia, Yugoslavia, Japan, Afghanistan, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Cuba and elsewhere.
We are amassing troops and preparing for war with Iraq and maintaining a worldwide confrontation with terrorists. N. Korea may be next.
Our Sudanese friends are here because of the interminable war that remains in their homeland. Other countries in Africa are experiencing tremendous tragedy in war and unrest like the Ivory Coast and Nigeria.
The cost of war in an attempt to obtain peace is great in both lives and resources. And this is an ongoing cost because peace is never ensured for long.
This peace that Christ brings now is personal by relationship. And we have trouble even maintaining that.
On a personal level we must also maintain constant vigilance against the ravages of sin in order to experience peace.
When we sin, our peace with God is interrupted until we once again lay down our arms and repent.
How do we do this? We remember all over again that he himself paid the price of our peace.
“ Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:4-6 NIVUS)
“ Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am— it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’"” (Hebrews 10:5-7 NIVUS)
It seems so often that at Christmas-time our sense of peace is sorely challenged. Even this weekend, Peter Gouzoules has passed away, Don Bourne is in the hospital, and Gene's daughter has discovered inherited health problems.
The lives of our own children are severely disrupted and tested to the maximum at this very moment.
When God was cleaning up my life in preparation for ministry I was laid off from my job at Christmas-time followed by 6 months of unemployment for two consecutive years. This caused some serious soul-searching about the meaning of it all.
The press of personal challenges, and the busyness that the season brings, seems to hinder our peace more than the sense of peace the season should provide.
And yet, in the Scripture we read in Is. 9:1-7 before the message, we see that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
In spite of all the troubling things we experience, even at this holy time of year, we are compelled to trust his plan and purpose.
Remember that he said:
“ "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."” (John 16:33 NIVUS)
Let us look deeper into the unfolding of his reign of peace.
From Is. 9:1-7 we can see most clearly, and without doubt, that the OT proclaims the Messiah (a child is born, v. 9:6) is also God.
And since he is God, he can ensure peace to such an extent that he is called the Prince of Peace. He has the power and the intelligence to make it happen.
Look at the other titles or 'throne names' given to him in this passage.
As Wonderful Counselor he is a just ruler or king – so much so that the world will be in wonder. As Mighty God he is a strong warrior to obtain and maintain peace. As Everlasting Father (S. 40:9-11) he is an enduring and compassionate provider and protector – although quite powerful, he is like a shepherd who gently leads. But as Prince of Peace (S. 11:6-9) he will bring an unparalleled wholeness to individuals and society – a marvelous restoration of the created paradise we know as Eden.
Amazingly, although this passage in the OT clearly says this child is God himself, the Jews don't believe it.
ILLUS: Joan works with several Jewish people. She told me the other day that a Jewish man at work came up to her and asked, "What is it about Jesus that makes you Christians believe that he is God. You arrange everything to worship him and it doesn't make sense. How can God be a man? God is God and not man." Joan talked with him but said he just doesn't get it. But this passage is clear that the Messiah is "God with us."
ILLUS: I also had a recent experience with a Jewish checkout clerk at Home Depot. He was not wearing the Jewish head covering so I didn't know. But I handed him a tract. He rejected it, saying he was Jewish. I said, "Well, Jesus was a Jew, you know." He said, "It doesn't matter. I'll just tear it up unless you want it back." It is sad they don't yet believe their own Scriptures – that they, and the world, do not yet know peace because the Messiah is rejected.
Isaiah 9:1-7 talks about several other things:
Light (S. John 1:1-14 for the Christmas story in spiritualized terms)
Peace (increasing peace in the sense of defiance to his leadership becoming irrelevant and pointless – he is here to stay, eternal)
Zeal (it is God's will for peace, not war – but note that this child is also a warrior in the process of obtaining peace – his enemies will be obliterated, v. 3-5)
Micah 4:1-5:5 gives us more insight on the plan of God for peace through Christ.
First we see the picture of peace (4:1-5)
Then we see the Lord's plan to achieve it
He restores his people and his city (4:6-8)
He refines his people before he restores them (4:9-10)
He destroys his enemies (4:11-13)
He establishes the rule of Christ as superior over any so far (5:1-2) who also brings in the nations (5:3)
His rule will be defined by peace so much that it is said that "he himself will be their peace" (5:4-5)
All these things were affirmed by Christ as he approached Jerusalem on the week of his crucifixion.
“ As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace— but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you."” (Luke 19:41-44 NIVUS)
Today, this Christmas, let us recognize the time of his coming to bring us peace – personal for now, but earthly and eternal to come.
Have you chosen sides with the Prince of Peace in the war with the prince of this world – the enemy of your soul?
“ The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” (Romans 16:20 NIVUS)
We must remember this is why he came.
“ He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8 NIVUS)
“ May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NIVUS)
Some people might consider this a sickness, but only due to the fact that it is not normal in this life.
The Inner Peace Virus
There is an email going round that warns of a very powerful virus spreading
in epidemic proportions. The virus is called “Inner Peace.” Be on the alert, it says, for symptoms of inner peace that could pose a serious threat to what has, up to now, been a fairly stable condition of conflict in the world. Some signs and symptoms of inner peace:
+ A tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than on fears based on
+ An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
+ A loss of interest in judging other people.
+ A loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
+ A loss of interest in conflict.
+ A loss of the ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
+ Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
+ Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
+ Frequent attacks of smiling.
+ An increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
+ An increased susceptibility to the love extended by others as well as the
uncontrollable urge to extend it.
Indeed, we are a world in desperate need of peace.
“ And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7 NIVUS)
Like the saying goes, "No Jesus, no peace; know Jesus, know peace."
And if you know him, he is your Prince of Peace.
“ Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27 NIVUS)