OUR PEACE IS COMING
One of my favorite Christmas memories dates back when I was in the army, stationed in Germany. Penny and I had been part of the brigade Choir, and the choir put on a wonderful Cantata on campus. We were also invited to be part of a local Christmas celebration. We sang “Silent Night” and then a local German choir sang “Stille Nacht.”
That wonderful Christmas carol has been bringing us into the stable to watch the baby Jesus sleep in heavenly peace for over 200 years.
For even longer than that, people have been reading the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-7, and seeing a portrayal of Jesus as the Prince of Peace he prophesied. The question I want to consider today is: How could Jesus possibly be the Prince of Peace that Isaiah predicted?
I know, of course Jesus is who Isaiah predicted, right? After all, every year we get Christmas cards with this text on them. They all proclaim that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Not to mention – which is what we say and then go ahead and mention anyway – all the books that have been written about Jesus entitled “The Prince of Peace.”
But let’s just imagine that we were back there in the time of Isaiah for a bit. The first thing I would like to establish is the audience to whom Isaiah was actually talking when he predicted the words which eventually became chapter 9, verses 1-7.
If you had asked the average citizen of Judah in Isaiah’s day about the north country, the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali – Galilee beyond the Jordan river, their assessment would have been that it was a write-off. Isaiah had just talked about how paganism and idolatry had turned out the light in the holy land, and Galilee was considered the darkest of the dark. There was no hope for Galilee in the future. But, now Isaiah says that it is in this gloomy land of darkness that the light is going to shine first. What? Galilee… are you kidding?
And what is going to be the result of that light shining there first?
Isaiah prophesied honor in the place of shame.
Isaiah said that “in the future he will bring honor to the way of the sea, to the land east of the Jordan, and to Galilee of the nations” (1). These citizens of that shameful corrupt land had no idea that some day millions would want to put their hand in the hand of the man from … Galilee! Our Lord chose to grow up in a place that was on the wrong side of the tracks. But Isaiah predicted that one day Galilee is where everybody would want to be.
Isaiah also said that Galilee was filled with “people walking in darkness” and “living in the land of darkness” but they would see “a great light” that light will dawn on them. The Bible equates darkness with sin, and sin with shame. The light that Isaiah predicted would bring honor to a land that had previously only been know for its shame and sin.
Galilee also had the reputation of being too Gentile to actually be counted as part of the Jewish nation. It had the nickname “Galilee of the nations” (1) and that word “nations” was the same word they used for Gentiles. In other words, Galilee does not count. It has too many Gentiles in it to be actually considered part of God’s kingdom.
Isaiah comes along and says “You have enlarged the nation
and increased its joy. The people have rejoiced before you
as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils” (3). What would the inhabitants of Galilee think about that prediction? The harvest is a picture of revival. The rejoicing over the dividing of spoils was a picture of national growth due to warfare.
So, let me put it this way: What if I told you that Delco was going to be the starting place of the next great awakening, the next great revival? You might say, “not little old us.” And the Galileans would think the same thing about this prophecy. But Isaiah was right!
Isaiah prophesied freedom in the place of bondage.
Next, Isaiah predicted that God would shatter “their oppressive yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor” (4). These are all images taken from agriculture. The yoke, rod and staff are all ways that the farmer exercises control over his animals. As such, they naturally stood for political control of oppressive tyrants over the little guys.
Isaiah also adds these words to his prediction. He says God would bring this freedom just as he “did on the day of Midian” (4). He was referring to Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites with only 300 men. I think Isaiah was drawing attention to the fact that once those 300 men gained the upper hand, they sent messengers to the tribe of Ephraim to “come down against the Midianites” as well (Judges 7:24). In other words, Gideon’s miraculous defeat of the Midianites was the beginning.
So, what was Isaiah saying to the Galileans? He was saying that they were going to start the next move of God to bring deliverance from bondage to all his people.
Isaiah prophesied peace in the place of warfare.
But this is where it really gets interesting. You would think that if the Galileans were going to be a force for deliverance, that would mean Isaiah is predicting that they would be like the 300 men under Gideon – amazing warriors. But this is what Isaiah says instead:
“For every trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire” (5).
When I was a soldier, I had to keep a duffle bag ready. It had to contain load bearing equipment, a helmet, magazines for my m-16 rifle, a flashlight, cold weather gear, extra boots and a battle dress uniform.
If you are preparing for battle, you don’t burn your boots and battle dress uniform. But Isaiah told the Galileans not to prepare for war, but to prepare for peace.
He told them about a child who was going to be born “for us” and a son given “to us” and “the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” (6).
So this victory that brings honor to the shameful and freedom to the oppressed is going to be won without a battle. It is going to happen as a result of a child being born.
Then Isaiah tells us that the child will have permanent dominion over a vast territory and “its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever” (7).
Now, Isaiah’s words become even more mysterious because he concludes his prophecy with “The zeal of the LORD of Armies will accomplish this.” The title “LORD of Armies” was usually used to indicate that God could change the world by moving armies to execute his judgment for him. But Isaiah was saying that the same passion that God uses to destroy using the armies of the world will now be invested in the peace he is going to bring about through that one child.
the gospel of Christ’s kingdom is the gospel of peace
When the apostle Paul told the Ephesians to put on their armor for spiritual warfare, he said that their battle boots were going to be “the preparation of the gospel of peace” (Ephesians 6:15).
When we share the good news of the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ, we can tell people that he offers them honor instead of shame and humiliation. He offers them freedom instead of slavery and bondage. He offers them peace on earth, instead of war on earth.
But, let’s be careful when we tell people that. Jesus himself said that his first advent was not to bring peace to earth, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). It is his second advent that will bring peace by destroying all his enemies. At Christmas, we celebrate the peace with God that we can have in our hearts, and the permanent peace that is to come.
During the Advent season it is good to be Advent Christians. We can share the good news of the gospel. That news includes the fact that the Prince of Peace is going to return to set up his permanent kingdom. Our peace is coming.