Monday, November 28, 2016

"It Shall Come to Pass...A Day of Peace"

Isaiah 2:1-5 We live in a world that is anything but peaceful.  Our soldiers continue to die in the Middle East.  Japan and China are rattling sabers in the South China Seas.  Almost every nation on earth has military personnel involved in some kind of armed conflict somewhere in the world.
So it was in Isaiah’s day.  Assyrians and Babylonians fought for domination in the Middle East-- and the people of God were caught in the middle.
It was in the midst of this warring madness that the prophet Isaiah proclaimed that a time of peace would come when “The Lord shall judge between the nations and settle disputes for many peoples.”  A time of peace when peoples and nations “will beat their swords into plowshares and the spears into pruning hooks.”  A time of peace when warfare would come to an end and “nation shall not lift sword against nation neither shall they learn war anymore.”
This promise of peace must have seemed too good to be true to the people of Isaiah’s day–I know it seems that way for us.  We live in a world that is so steeped in violence that it is hard to imagine what true and lasting peace will look like.  But the Lord promised that day of peace would come through his Messiah—that he would be the Prince of Peace.  At his birth the angels proclaimed peace on earth and good will towards men.
But much of our world is still at war.  So was Isaiah wrong?  Had he misheard the Lord?  Were the angels mistaken in their proclamation at Bethlehem?  Has God failed to make good on his promises of peace through the Messiah?  No! God is faithful and always keeps his Word!
Still, we have to admit that there is a seeming disconnect between the Lord’s promise of peace-- and its fulfillment as we experience it at this moment in time. 
And so then, how do we resolve this tension between what God promised through his Messiah and what we experience in our lives right now? 
At least part of the answer is that the prophets of God were looking far into the future.  When they spoke of the person and work of the Messiah, they saw what would take place at his first coming and what would occur at his second coming.
And so they portray Jesus as suffering and weak–but also as mighty and strong.  They saw him as the Virgin Born child and the ancient of days.  They told of his death on the cross and his judgment of the world as the living King.  All of it, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was as present to them as the events of their own day–all of it equally true–some of it accomplished at our Lord’s first coming--some of it to be accomplished when he comes again.
As we look at the words of the prophet Isaiah over these next three weeks, we will get a complete picture of the work of the Messiah–what he did in his first Advent as the Babe of Bethlehem and Man of the cross and what he will do in his second Advent as the returning King who comes to judge the living and the dead. 
We will hear what his work means for us and for us as we live in this “in-between-time” as we celebrate Jesus’ birth and wait for his return.  Isaiah said:
“It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the LORD shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it.” 

The last days of which Isaiah prophesied began with the coming of the Son of Man into the human flesh of a newborn baby.  The writer to the Hebrews says that “in many and various ways God spoke to his people of old but now IN THESE LAST DAYS he has spoken to us by his Son.”  These are the last days of which Isaiah prophesies–these are the last days in which God promised that the people of the world stream into the Lord’s house.  But what is the “house” of which Isaiah prophesied?
It is not a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem or a renewed Levitical priesthood as the false prophets of our day proclaim.  Instead, the Bible tells us that the house of God is the Body of Christ–the holy Christian church.  Paul says that:
We are no longer strangers and aliens, but we are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, a holy temple in the Lord…a dwelling place for God...
Wherever two or three Christians gather together in the name and remembrance of Jesus Christ, there is, in that place, is the house of the Lord—the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit—where the Good News of God’s peace in Jesus death and resurrection is proclaimed and believed.    
A renewed and right relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ is the promise of peace that has made us a part of the house of God and it is our proclamation to this warring world.  Peace with God is what the Messiah of God came to give in his first Advent. 
When it comes to peace, the world focuses its hope on peace accords and cease fire agreements-- but fails to recognize that there is no foundation for peace apart from Jesus.
They fail to realize that all warfare and bloodshed is a reflection of the warfare between God and man over sin.  And because they do not know and believe that the warfare between God and man has been brought to an end through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they have no way to be reconciled and at peace with one another.
But wherever that Good News of peace with God through faith in Jesus has been proclaimed and believed, people have flocked to the house of God and abandoned their warring ways.  Isaiah promised that it would be this way.  He said: 
“Many peoples will come and say, ‘Come let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths’.  For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”
We see how true Isaiah’s prophecy was as we view the church today filled with people from every tribe, language, nation, and culture who know what it is to be at peace with God through Jesus–a peace that can even transcend violence and warfare and death.
But we also see in the world around us the consequences of those who do not know the Messiah as the Prince of Peace–who turn away from the peace he gives and prefer to follow the prince of this world in lives of hatred and violence.  We see it in racial discord and in broken homes and destroyed families.  We see it in a culture that calls violence “entertainment” and we see it in wars around the world.
This culture of death exists in direct opposition to the will of God who wants his world and his people to be at peace.  And so these days of violence and hatred and warfare will be brought to an end once and for all at the return of the Prince of Peace.
On that day of our Lord’s return in glory, those who were unwilling to be reconciled to God--those who were unwilling to let the peace treaty signed with the blood of Jesus at Calvary be their peace-- those who promoted violence and death-- will face the Son of Man’s righteous judgment.  Isaiah promises that the Lord will:
“Judge between the nations and shall settle disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”
At the second advent of Jesus, the culture of death in which we live will come to an end.  The way of war will be no more.  Instruments of death will be turned into implements of life. 
And those who are unwilling to have peace with God- will be punished by God- so that we who are reconciled to him through faith in Jesus can live in peace with one another.
Those who have come to the mountain of the Lord’s temple to be saved become different people–we lose our warring ways—and God teaches us his ways so that we can learn to walk in his paths. 
Just like our Savior, the Prince of Peace, we live as peacemakers in a world that is broken by violence and hatred.  Jesus assures us that ‘blessed are the peacemakers” and Paul says that “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
And so then, what does this mean for our day-to-day lives as we await our Lord’s return?  That’s what Isaiah is talking about when he says:  “Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord”.   What does it mean for us who live in God’s peace?
1. It means that we value and protect all human life–especially that which is weakest and lest valued by the world.  2.. Living as followers of the Prince of Peace means that we let the Lord settle our disputes with one another through his Word-- and where the Word is silent we yield in love to those around us.  3.. And living in the Lord’s peace, means that we work and struggle and sacrifice to bring about peace and justice for all people.

Advent is a waiting time—but it is not an idle time.  We wait for the fullness of the salvation that God has promised at the return of his Son and that includes the final peace he comes to give.  But we do not have to wait to live out the realities of that day, and that promised peace, in our own lives.  In fact, we must not wait.  We can begin tonight to walk in the light of the Lord and bring the peace of Christ to bear on all our relationships.  Amen.

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