“Peace; The Prince of Peace”
Micah 5:2-5 and others
December 19, 2004
Peace is found in a Person!
I. The Prince of Peace (Ezekiel 37:24-27, Isaiah 9:6-7, Micah 5:2-5)
II. The Practice of Peace (Isaiah 26:3-4, Isaiah 48:17-18, Psalm 55:16-18, Psalm 37:11)
MessageIn 1898 Francis Thompson, a failed medical student, drug addict and street person, wrote a famous autobiographical poem, The Hound of Heaven. It tells the story of frantic discontent, and of the one who sought to bring peace. Let me read a few excerpts:
I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years;
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter.
Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, Adown titanic glooms of chasmèd fears,
From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with unhurrying chase,
And unperturbéd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat
and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.
And so he flees - to nature, to mankind, to hedonism, to the faces of children, and ultimately to the drugs that were his downfall. (For, though I knew His love Who followèd, Yet was I sore adread Lest, having Him, I must have naught beside.) But he cannot escape the hound that pursues him. Still with unhurrying chase, And unperturbéd pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, Came on the following Feet, And a Voice above their beat Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.
Finally, at the end of the poem, having run constantly from the one who followed, chased everything else looking for peace, the flee-er gives up:
Now of that long pursuit Comes on at hand the bruit;
That Voice is round me like a bursting sea:
And is thy earth so marred, Shattered in shard on shard?
Lo, all things fly thee, for thou fliest Me!
Strange, piteous, futile thing! Wherefore should any set thee love apart? Seeing none,
but I make much of naught (He said), And human love needs human meriting:
How hast thou merited Of all mans clotted clay the dingiest clot?
Alack, thou knowest not How little worthy of any love thou art! Whom wilt thou find
to love ignoble thee, Save Me, save only Me? All which I took from thee
I did but take, Not for thy harms, But just that thou mightst seek it in My arms.
All which thy childs mistake Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home:
Rise, clasp My hand, and come! Halts by me that footfall:
Is my gloom, after all, Shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly?
Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, who dravest Me.
You drive love from yourself when you drive him away: you drive peace from yourself when you drive him away. Thats the message of the Hound of Heaven and of the Prince of Peace.
Our neon word for today is peace, Hebrew shalom. Its used several hundred times in the Old Testament, though often translated by a word other than peace, such as welfare or safety. The Theological Wordbook says its uses include completion and fulfillment, restored relationship with God, a perfect or whole heart, prosperity and health, the absence of strife and war, and unimpaired relationships with others. Significant concepts. On the other hand, about twenty_five times in the Old Testament it just means hello or good-bye, as it does in modern Hebrew.
But I want to begin this morning by focusing on one special use that is neon here in the Christmas season: the uses of peace associated with the person of the Messiah. My contention is that for all people at all times, peace is a Person; our peace is found in that Person, Jesus. Isnt that the message of the Hound of Heaven? Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest, I am He Whom thou seekest! Peace is found in a person.
I. The Prince of Peace
The Old Testament depicts the Messiah as one who brings personal, national and world peace. The promises of an eternal Davidic king include this concept. Ezekiel 37:24-27 " 'My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.
The promise of peace is mixed in with the neon promises of the Davidic king. Remember that in Ezekiels day David had already been dead for hundreds of years. But Ezekiel believed Gods promise that a descendant of David would sit on Davids throne and reign eternally - he will be their prince forever. And he will be Gods servant: Jesus the suffering servant. And he will be a shepherd: just as David was a shepherd, Jesus was to be the Good Shepherd.
Whats new here is verse 26: I will make a covenant of peace with them. That phrase covenant of peace is used only a couple times in Scripture, but both words are neon. God is saying he will pledge himself by a binding agreement to peace and to the provision of peace, just as he pledged himself to Abraham, Moses and David. And this peace has tangible results: God says I will establish them - or make them secure. I will increase their numbers - through national peace and freedom from natural disasters. And I will put my sanctuary among them - the mark of his presence. Verse 27 is one of the key promises of the Old Testament: My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. Weve traced this promise before, seen how it is central to Gods heart, to be with us and be our God. His presence means peace. It is found in his Person.
And this peace is not just associated with the second coming of Christ, though the Ezekiel prophecy mostly is. Peace is also associated with what we would call Christmas prophecies. Isaiah 9:6-7 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. 7Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.
There is no more Christmassy prophecy than this, of the child whose birth we celebrate this week. Yet this son given to us is also the king who will reign on Davids throne, and of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end. This is not the promise of an eternally increasing government bureaucracy, but of his rule or dominion over all things. Because of that abundant dominion, there will be abundant peace for his people, so that Isaiah calls him the Prince of Peace, the prince who brings peace, the prince who is peace. Our peace - yours and mine - is found in the Prince of Peace and nowhere else - thats the good news of Christmas.
There is at least one more Christmas prophecy that emphasizes this peace. Micah 5:2-5 "But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times." 3Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. 4He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5And he will be their peace.
This is again a promise of a Davidic king, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times, but it focuses the promise on Bethlehem. This little town, in the region of Ephrathah, or Judea, was Davids birthplace and therefore the fitting birthplace for great Davids greater son. At the time of Jesus birth people knew that. Even King Herods advisors, his political cronies, chief priests and magistrates, knew enough Scripture to say Bethlehem when asked where will the messiah be born?.
Out of Bethlehem, after a long period of decline and obscurity, would come a ruler, one who would shepherd his flock as David did, in the strength of the Lord, and in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. Do you remember Davids response to Goliath in that famous battle: David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. Thats the kind of ruler promised to Israel, one utterly dependant on the Lord for his strength and effectiveness - as Jesus was. He said I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing.
Under his rule Micah says they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. The phrase living securely means dwelling, settling down to inhabit a place. In that day, as part of Christs second coming or second advent, the people of God will no longer be aliens and strangers, mere visitors and foreigners on earth, but they will inhabit the place God prepares and dwell there in safety. Thats one of the key images of peace - to dwell securely. God offers it to his people - including us - through the Messiah. Verse 5 says what weve been saying: and he will be their peace. Peace is found, ultimately, in a person - not in a set of circumstances, not even in a mental attitude, but in the Person of Jesus.
Thats the Christmas promise of the Prince of Peace, made to you and to me. And if we flip over to the New Testament, we find that promise beautifully fulfilled in Jesus. In the Christmas stories themselves, peace is promised. Its in Zechariahs prophecy in Luke 1, where he says Jesus is coming to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace." Isaiah 9:2 says that the people walking in darkness have seen a great light, the light of him who is the Prince of Peace, and therefore guides us into the path of peace.
Again, when the angel announces the Good News about Jesus to the shepherds, the whole company of angels joins to say Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." The result of Jesuss presence, of his incarnation is glory to God and peace for men - men and women like you and me. Thats what Simeon experienced a few days later when he saw the baby and said Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For Simeon, who had waited so long, the person of Jesus, even as a baby, was peace.
And the rest of the New Testament confirms what the Old Testament predicts, that through Jesus and only through him can people have peace with God. The apostle Peter, in the first sermon to Gentiles says, Acts 10:36, You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. The Good News isnt just about Jesus: its also about peace through Jesus. Paul says to the Colossians that God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. Isaiah 53 foresaw that the punishment that brought us peace was upon him. He bore our punishment for sin by dying on the cross, so that we might be righteous in Gods sight. And we receive that gift by faith, by trusting in the risen Jesus. So Paul says, since we have been justified - or made righteous - through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. The Christmas message is a message of peace because the Easter message is a message of peace. Its good news about having a restored relationship with God through Jesus, because of his incarnation, his death, and his resurrection. If youve been fleeing Jesus, youve been fleeing peace. If you choose to trust Jesus, youll find forgiveness and peace.
II. The Practice of Peace
But if you are a believer, how do you practice this peace? I had a morning this week, working on this sermon, when I looked at everything I had to do, for Christmas, and the District Conference and the office remodeling, and I was overwhelmed, bordering frantic. Then I looked back at my notes, and realized there are a lot of practical helps in these Old Testament verses for focusing on the person of Peace. I found it possible to summarize those practices with this phrase: Trust, obey, pray and get out of the way. Im not giving those to you as a sequence, but as individual practices which the Old Testament says will promote peace.
One is trust: The most fundamental attitude that a Christian can have toward the turmoil of the world is to trust God anyway. We just saw that because we are justified by faith, or trust, we have peace with God. Isaiah 26:3-4 puts it this way You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. 4Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord, is the Rock eternal.
Perfect peace is promised to those who trust God. Trust is what makes the mind steadfast. And trust is a choice; it is the practice, when un-peace threatens to well up inside you, of deciding again that God is the Lord, that he is the Rock; that Jesus is the person of peace; that he hasnt panicked, hes in control.Trust is another neon word. Its used dozens of times, especially in the Psalms, to describe the attitude God wants from his people. And I dont know of any Biblical practice more important than the practice of trust. Id call it a spiritual discipline right up there with prayer and Bible Study. The discipline of trusting God, the daily choice to trust Jesus, leads, Isaiah says, to perfect peace or complete peace.
The second practice is obedience; trust, obey. Isaiah 48:17-18 This is what the Lord says your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: "I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go. 18If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea." God is the one who teaches you what is right and what is best, who directs you in the way you should go. He does that through the Word, and through the Spirits application of the Word to you. But if you want peace, you need to obey these directions. God will not give peace to those who dont do what God says is right. It would be cruel of him to do so. He will give peace to you if you choose to obey him even when its inconvenient, or when your feelings dont support your obedience. If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river. A great promise.
And he goes on to say that your righteousness would have been like the waves of the sea. Righteousness is clearly associated with peace in the Old Testament. Righteousness is obtained as a gift through faith in Jesus - were justified by faith. But its worked out in our lives over time by the Holy Spirit so that we grow in holiness, we become who we were made to be, we start to look like Jesus.
With that in mind, listen to Isaiah 32:17, one of my favorite verses in this whole study: The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. Quietness and confidence almost a definition of peace. Arent those the things you want when turmoil threatens? You want to be able to handle crises or challenges or difficulties with quiet confidence.
A story is told of a king who offered a prize to the artist who would paint the best picture of peace. Many artists tried. The King looked at all the pictures, but there were two he really liked and he had to choose between them. One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a perfect mirror for peaceful towering mountains all around it. Overhead was a blue sky with fluffy white clouds. All who saw this picture thought it was a perfect picture of peace. The other picture had mountains too. But these were rugged and bare. Above was an angry sky from which rain fell, and in which lightening played. Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming waterfall, not peaceful at all. But behind the waterfall a tiny bush was growing in a crack in the rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. There, in the midst of the rush of angry water, sat the mother bird contentedly sleeping on her nest. This was the picture the king chose, for as he said peace does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. Peace means to be in the midst of all those things and still be calm in your heart. Quietness and confidence are the result of righteousness and righteousness is a growing gift from the Prince of Peace.
So: trust; obey; third, pray. Psalm 55:16-18 But I call to God, and the Lord saves me. 17Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice. 18He ransoms my soul in peace from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me. Peace is found in calling on God, in crying out in distress and trusting that he hears my voice. As we cry out we consciously turn our distresses over to him, and in return we receive peace. The feeling for me is a little bit like the feeling you get when youre holding a pot or something hot out of the oven, and its really not hot enough to burn you right away, but its hot enough to get increasingly uncomfortable. And then you put it down and you have this immediate sense of relief.
Such is the peace God gives when we turn our anxieties over to him, just as Paul says so strikingly in Philip. 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Anything you are anxious about should be prayed about: you should present your requests to God. And as you hand him your anxieties, he hands you peace. He becomes your peace, a peace that defies understanding - peace when there is no reasonable reason for peace. Its a peace that guards both your heart and your mind - your will and emotions. And its a peace that flows from Christ Jesus, the Person of Peace: his presence becomes more important than your problems.
So: trust, obey, pray, and finally, get out of the way: this is rhyming shorthand for a humility that refuses to focus on self. Its captured in a simple verse like Psalm 37:11 But the humble will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. Humility is in many ways the opposite of pride; it is selflessness rather than selfishness, it is other-centeredness rather than self-centeredness, and also God-centeredness rather than self-centeredness. When we get our eyes off ourselves and our own situations and put them on others and on God we gain peace. Thats why Romans 8 has become such a key text in my life: Romans 8:5-6 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. There was no compelling contextual reason for Paul to bring up peace at that moment: he was simply telling the truth as he knew it through the Spirit and had experienced in his own life. So when I say get out of the way I mean that often you yourself stand between your soul and the peace you desire. If you can put self aside youll be open to God and to the peace that He gives.
So what have we learned? That peace is found in a person. Its found in God, throughout Scripture, and the Christmas prophecies weve looked at today show us clearly that peace is found in the Prince of Peace whose birth we celebrate, the one of whom it is said he shall be their peace, who comes at Christmas to guide our feet in the path of peace. If youve been fleeing the Hound of Heaven, youve been fleeing peace, and only by turning to him in utter dependence will you find what you seek.
But how can you experience the reign of the prince of peace? Trust, obey, pray, and get out of the way. I needed this to be as simple as possible this week. I didnt have time for a complicated discipline. But the discipline of trusting him, the blessings of obeying him, the solace of prayer to him, the shift of your focus onto him, these are things that I could do in the midst of busyness and find peace. Has it worked perfectly; no. Has it helped? A lot. Why dont you try it?