Sunday, December 21, 2008

prince of peace (a sermon)

Following is the text of a sermon I gave last night in which it is stated that peace forms the central motif of the good news of God's kingdom. I hope it helps you in some way. --Troy

Prince of Peace
a sermon by Troy Cady

I have a rather embarrassing confession to make. It has only been in the past 5 years of my life that I have even cared about the notion of peace. In fact, at one point in my Christian life I even thought that Christians who spent their energy working towards peace were just wasting their time. It wasn’t that I believed their efforts were merely exercises in futility. It was that I believed, in some way, that they were wrong to do as such.

Yes, believe it or not, I viewed Christians who desired world peace as misguided (at best) or as theologically liberal—and therefore heretical (at worst). Here’s why—this gets really weird, so brace yourselves now:

My pastors and professors told me that, in the end times, a one-world government would be created. This one-world government would be established under the pretext of world peace, but it would really be ruled by the anti-Christ. The one-world government would be marked by tolerance (which, I was told, was another deceptive force). Tolerance was necessary (I was told) because that was the only way a one-world religion (a deceptive, all-inclusive religion) would be created. The creation of this one-world religion was an important ingredient in creating this false world peace because it would signal a new spirit of cooperation and it would enable people all over the world to stop the wars that sprang from religious differences. At least, this is what my teachers told me the false teachers wanted us to believe. This new spirit of cooperation, however, was portrayed as amounting to little more than unholy compromise. Pastors, professors and authors all around told me that the steps towards the creation of this one-world government and one-world religion (that is, this unholy alliance) would be small and subtle. It was our job to remain vigilant about the signs of slippage.

Because of this, I was taught (between the lines) to distrust everything about any religion outside of Christianity. If I heard a Christian say something nice about Hinduism or Buddhism (in which it was insinuated that one or two things might be true in those other religions) I became worried--fearful that, yes indeed, Christians are starting to be deceived. When Christians said things like this it reinforced my worst fears: that we were indeed headed towards this one-world government. The end was near.

I noted that those who admired various facets of other religions also had strong beliefs about the notion of peace. And, uh, most of them happened to be vegetarians, wore hemp, and gave their children names like Starr (always with two r’s on the end). These kinds of people were always concerned about world peace; some of them liked the Peace Corps, which I took as another sign of liberal, one-world tree-hugging. I distrusted PBS, National Geographic, evolutionists and Christians who were concerned about AIDS or hunger or social work in general. I distrusted people like this because I thought that world peace equaled an anti-Christ agenda, so anyone who worked towards world peace was deceived. I viewed it as proof that evolution was a hoax because, I was told, the world was getting worse and worse and would keep worsening until the end came, so Christians had no right trying to make this world a better place since it was just going to hell in a hand-basket anyway. In this way, I came to view working towards peace as a key component in the formation of an anti-Christian platform.

There was just one niggle concerning my stance: the Bible talked a lot about peace. Yes, I would become particularly annoyed at Christmastime when people quoted Luke 2:14: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

I noted that the hemp-wearing peacemakers were fond of quoting this bit of Scripture at Christmastime and I surmised (probably correctly) that they were likely emphasizing the “peace to the world” bit. So I would scoff at them, thinking, “That’s not the kind of peace the Bible is talking about.”

Basically, I started to “yes, but” the Scriptures. It went something like this: “Yes, the Bible talks about peace, BUT it’s more an inner kind of peace. Call it a feeling, if you will.” So, when Billy Graham came out with an evangelistic tract called “Peace with God”, I felt assured that he was probably talking about that peaceful feeling one gets when one prays to ask Jesus into one’s heart.

So, yes, believe it or not, I grew uncomfortable with the text in Luke 2:14. I preferred to focus on the parts of the story that surrounded the angel’s refrain, rather than on the refrain itself. And, should I ever have the chance to preach on Luke 2:14 itself, I would certainly emphasize the first half of the verse over the second half. “After all,” I thought, “the verse does begin with the words ‘Glory to God in the highest’.”

“That confirms it,” I thought. “God is more concerned about his glory than about some silly, fuzzy notion of peace on earth.”

I didn’t stop to think that, perhaps, God’s glory became more evident and God was more clearly glorified only in the aftermath of peace’s creation. And I didn’t stop to think that what Billy Graham was talking about in his evangelistic tract was more like a peace accord between enemies than a cuddly feeling. I didn’t stop to think that, actually, the creation of peace lay at the center of the good news of God’s kingdom. In fact, it could be said that the good news itself amounts to peace.

In time, I came to see that the Bible is loaded with this idea. Second Corinthians 5:19 says that God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. The word “reconciling” means, essentially, to make friends. The apostle Paul tells us in Colossians 1: 19-20 that God reconciled us to himself “by making peace” with us through Jesus’ blood. And, in case we missed the concept, he goes on to explain that we were once “alienated from God and were enemies…But now,” Paul says, “he has reconciled us [that is, made friends with us] by Christ…”

Far from being an anti-Christian idea, making peace is the central theme of the good news Jesus came to announce. Peacemaking is written all over the pages of the New Testament.

What’s more, this was not a new idea. God had woven this into the fabric of his people centuries before the New Testament period. In the days before Israel had a king, during the time of the judges, the Israelite leader Gideon built an altar to the Lord and called it “The Lord is Peace.” The expression he used here was Yahweh Shalom. “The Lord is Peace”: Yahweh Shalom.

Languages often have a way of adopting a word in such a fashion that the word itself comes to represent a summary of the culture. For the Jewish people that word would be shalom. I find it significant that both the Jewish and the Arabic people use shalom (or a variant of shalom) in greeting one another. By doing so they are saying, “Peace be with you.”

The word shalom took such prominence, in fact, that it quickly developed a fullness of meaning, connoting completeness, soundness, welfare, health, prosperity, safety and friendship. Shalom became a way of life for the Jewish people. However, they were not the sole cause of this way of life. It happened because God, Yahweh Shalom, authored this way of life.

Because God wanted his people to understand that he is Yahweh Shalom, he instructed the high priest to pronounce a profoundly simple blessing over the nation of Israel on a regular basis. This blessing contained shalom as its central motif. In Numbers 6 we are told: The LORD said to Moses, “Tell Aaron [the high priest], 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them: "The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace." 'So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."

Yahweh Shalom, because he is the God of Peace, designed shalom to hold a central place in our cultures. He reminds us that he does so because his very name is peace. The essence of this simple blessing confirms that.

Beyond that, this blessing tells us some other things. First of all, God is quite simply a God that longs to bless us. Secondly, this blessing tells us that the greatest blessing God can impart to us is the blessing of peace.

Because this is what God has had in mind all along, when God spoke to his people through the prophets he wanted to remind them of this. In the midst of strife, God assured his people that one day shalom would be restored through the advent of Messiah.

The prophet Isaiah tells about the restoration of shalom when he writes: “For to 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 Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

Literally translated, Isaiah tells us that the Messiah will be a ruler that is both characterized by shalom and that brings shalom. Keep in mind that the promise contained here is but a fulfillment of the priestly blessing that had been used for centuries.

Remember that the original blessing states the Shalom of God can come only through God’s face shining on us and his grace coming to us. Isaiah’s prophecy, then, tells us that God’s face will literally shine on us in the child that is to be born, the son that is to be given. The ruler that is characterized by shalom and that brings shalom (as was stated in the blessing) shall reign over his people.

There is but one condition. Because he is a ruler that is characterized by shalom, he never forces people to live in his kingdom. He is not a tyrant. He uses love to woo us. He grants forgiveness to win our allegiance. He would have us choose his lordship freely, so he gives us grace.

So the condition is this: to embrace the shalom he is offering he but asks us to trust him, to receive his forgiveness and to live our lives guided by the golden rule of mercy. When we do this Isaiah tells us in chapter 26, verse 3 that “[the Lord] will give perfect peace to anyone who commits himself to be faithful to [him].” He goes on to state that the “perfect peace” God grants comes as a result of placing our trust in God.

Make note of those two words “perfect peace.” Literally, Isaiah states that God will grant “shalom shalom” to the person who places their trust in Jesus. No, I did not stutter, and nor did Isaiah. You heard it right: “shalom shalom”. Perfect peace.

There is an interesting parallel here, when Jesus, on the eve of his crucifixion proclaims: “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)

Like Isaiah, Jesus repeats the word “peace” twice. Do you hear it? Peace…peace. He gives the “perfect peace” because he does not give as the world gives. Because of this, he is able to relieve us of all our fears.

It is significant that Jesus talked about peace on the eve of his crucifixion, for peace comes through his forgiveness. In fact, there is no peace without forgiveness. Both Jesus and the ancient priestly blessing remind us of this. There is no peace without grace.

So, the vow of allegiance we make to Jesus, our Prince of Peace, involves a choice to accept his forgiveness and a commitment to follow in our Lord’s footsteps by extending forgiveness to those who have hurt us.

In light of this, I am convicted that it is a supreme hypocrisy to proclaim with our lips Jesus is Lord while simultaneously harboring hatred towards our fellow human. In Jesus’ domain there are no grudges held. There is no bitterness, envy, division. Peace is woven into the very fabric of the culture of true Christ-followers, for the Shalom of God serves as both preamble and conclusion in God’s Constitution. Shalom is the organizing principle of God’s society. The beauty of God’s country is therefore reflected in the freedom that results from a life ordered by the practice of forgiveness. Forgiveness is the currency by which peace is purchased. It bears the backing of our Prince of Peace and, as such, he asks us to traffic in the market of mercy.

Is there someone you have hurt recently? Admit you have wronged them. Say you’re sorry. Ask for their forgiveness. Is there someone who has hurt you? Grant them forgiveness. Lay your ill will towards another to rest. Do not let your hearts be troubled any longer. Jesus grants peace, peace. Trust in his way. Greet and bless one another with peace this season, proclaiming with the angels: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

For when we follow Yahweh Shalom we shall have perfect peace: Shalom shalom.


rjlight said...

Beautiful quote. And yes, grew up thinking the same way -- all those years wasted looking down on people. We talked about how God came to reconcile the whole world--to bring peace the other night with the kids. Thank you. Miss and love you guys!

curlyheadedtuba said...

Excellent! I have to admit that I was right there with you for several years-- the whole "why work toward peace if it will just usher in the anti-Christ?" attitude. Thanks for a beautiful reminder!