Isaiah 11:1-9 (This Sermon was preached at Holden Beach Chapel)
This morning I want to talk to you about peace. In the Scripture peace takes at least four forms.
The Peace between God and humankind, that God achieves in the Messiah
The Peace we achieve in our own hearts and minds as the result of belonging to the Messiah.
The Peace which the Messiah will someday make between the nations .
And, finally, a peace we don’t think about very often: The peace the Messiah will make between humankind and the animal kingdom. I am pretty sure you have heard about the first three. This morning I want us to consider the fourth.
In chapter 34 of the book that bears his name, the prophet Ezekiel tells us that when the Messiah comes in power, the LORD God will cause , “…the evil beasts to disappear from the land.” After that, people will “live safely in the wilderness and sleep safely in the woods.”
In chapter 11 of the book that bears his name, the prophet Isaiah says that when the Messiah comes:
“the wolf will share a barn with the lamb,
and the leopard will lie down with the kid.”
“The lion will eat straw like the ox, and
the cow and the bear will eat their supper out of the same dish.”
“The newborn child will play over the hole of the copperhead, and the toddler shall put his hand into the Rattlesnakes’s den.”
The prophet sums up saying:
In my Holy Mountain, no animal will hurt hurt or kill another. Even human beings will cease to make war!
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
Both prophets describe a “Peaceable Kingdom.”Ezekiel describes a Peaceable Kingdom where all the dangerous beast have been banished. And we are tempted to say, “Hey, it doesn’t get any better than that!” But it does! Isaiah describes a Peaceable Kingdom in which all the dangerous beast have become as much our friends and companions as the domestic beasts that already share our lives. I vastly prefer Isaiah’s vision of the Peaceable Kingdom. It puts me in mind of a child’s world inhabited by characters like Timothy Robin, Winnie-the-Pooh, Tyger, Eeyore, and Heffalump.
What is Isaiah trying to tell us?
1. Perhaps the prophet is trying to tell us that the Messiah’s kingdom is for those who become like children. Several times in the course of his ministry, the man, or men that we call Isaiah had glimpsed the coming of the Messiah and his kingdom. In chapter 1, the prophet had premonitions of the Messiah’s mission. “Come now, let us reason together says the LORD, though your sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow.” In chapters 7 and 9 the prophet had premonitions of the Messiah’s birth. “Behold, a young woman shall conceive, and bear a son, and he shall be called Emmanuel..and his name shall be called ‘Wonderful, Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.’ In chapter 53 the prophet had premonitions of the Messiah’s suffering and death. “He was despised and rejected of men. A man of sorrows acquainted with grief…he was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” Perhaps, here in chapter 11, the prophet had premonitions of what it would take to for us to enter the Messiah’s kingdom. Did not Jesus himself say, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” What does this mean? It means that we will never enter God’s kingdom based on age, or rank, or wealth, or achievement. We enter the Messiah’s kingdom as we enter this world, in helplessness and humility. When we physically into this world, life is an unfolding mystery. As we grow we learn that it is filled with difficulties and possibilities. Sometimes, the greater the difficulty, the greater the possibility. Likewise, when we are spiritually born into the Messiah’s kingdom, our spiritual life is an unfolding mystery. As we grow we simply know it is filled with greater difficulties, and greater possibilities. Sometimes, the greater the difficulty, the greater the possibility. Only God can sustain us along this path,
2. Perhaps the prophet is trying to tell us that the Messiah’s kingdom must be a kingdom of security? It must be the ultimate failsafe. Thus in Romans 8 the apostle writes.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The late Bishop Herbert Spaugh used to tell the story of a photography contest. The object of the contest was to portray what peace really means. Most entries showed pastoral scenes of meadows and glens filled with blooming flowers and singing birds. The winning did feature a bird, but it was not singing. It showed a mother bird, sitting on a nest she had built on a single limb that stretched out in front of a roaring water fall. True peace can sustain any assault.
3. Finally, perhaps the prophet is trying to tell us that Messiah’s kingdom must be a child’s world of health and endless possibilities.
Perhaps you remember the comic strip, “Calvin and Hobbs” by Bill Watterson. It was about a small boy, and his stuffed tiger Hobbs, whom he saw as real. The strip came to an end on December 31st 1995. In the last panel, Calvin is heading out into a fresh snowfall with his sled and his tiger. He says, “It is a magical world, Hobbs, old buddy, let’s go exploring.”
I always tell all the kids at my church that they have the best job in the world. All they have to do is go out into a world of possibilities and discover them.When we are born, our life is filled with mystery and opportunity, and almost unlimited choices. Then we make our choices and our choices make us. The older we grow, the fewer choices we have.
Likewise, when we are young, we take our health for granted. How did John Greenleaf Whittier put it:
Blessings on thee little man, with hair of gold and cheek of tan,
Knowledge never learned of schools, health that mocks the doctors rules.
We all remember a time when we were rose lipped girls and lightfoot lads, but that time is no more. By the time we hit 60 or 70, we begin to notice that half the names of people in the obituaries are people our age or younger. We become aware that the Biblical promise is “three score and ten, and, if by reason of strength, four score.” Now every illness, no matter how minor reminds us that we owe God a death. Thankfully, every recovery, no matter how mundane and ordinary, reminds us that God has promised us a Resurrection.
At our time of life, many people go through a Renaissance of faith. Pope John 23rd was right, “As the body wears out, the soul gets in shape.” We spend more and more time each day centering our thoughts upon God. This is a good thing. Research has proven that a negative thought, that comes and goes in the twinkling of an eye can color our days, gray, for hours and hours. By contrast, a positive thought must be held for a minimum of 15 seconds for it to effect us in a positive way, and that affect is not lasting. This means we must make thanksgiving and praise a perpetual habit. I have tried to do this more and more. From time to time, throughout the day, I say to myself, “God is good!” And I think spend a few seconds thinking of the people and things that I love. Then I say again, “God is good!” And then I respond, “All the time!”
The Messiah’s kingdom is is a kingdom of health and wholeness.The Apostle Paul reminds us that flesh and blood cannot inherit that Kingdom; but that is okay, something better waits for us. In 2nd Corinthians 4 and 5 he writes:
“16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 5:1 For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. ”
I am not suggesting that we stop living and start waiting for our promotion to the Messiah’s kingdom. Quite the contrary. I am suggesting that our citizenship in the Messiah’s kingdom, and our knowledge of what awaits us, should give us the courage to live this life to the fullest. It may even inspire us to pattern our lives after the life of the Messiah who said, “I came not to be served, but to serve.”