Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8, 2 Peter 3:8-15a
Today our theme is “Peace.” The word “peace” is used 246 times in the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament, and 86 times in the New Testament.
In the Bible, peace is sometimes peace between nations, and peoples, and individuals, too. Sometimes it is the peace between God and humankind. And sometimes, it is the peace that God’s people possess internally, even when the world at large is going to hell in a handbag.
Israel was often at war. When they were faithful to the Covenant of the LORD, God gave Israel victory over the nations that threatened and opposed them. When Israel sinned and abandoned the Covenant of the LORD, God punished Israel and gave the nation’s victory over His disobedient people. “The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand.” (Isaiah 1:3)
God spoke through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel to warn against false prophets saying:
“They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace. “ (Jeremiah 8:11)
Despite the nation’s disobedience, the prophet Isaiah, perhaps the greatest prophet between Moses and John the Baptist, saw the coming of a time when Mt. Zion, the mountain of the house of the LORD, would be established as the highest of the mountains, and the nations would flow to it, and many peoples–not just Israel, but many nations, would 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.” And the Law would go forth from Mt. Zion, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem, and the LORD will judge between the nations and decide for many peoples. And nations and people will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:1-4)
Eventually, Isaiah and other prophets tied “the coming time” with a great King, a son of David, the Messiah. Isaiah himself spoke of that time saying:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
In the Gospel According to St. Luke, an angel of the LORD announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds, keeping watch over their flocks in the fields by night. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. But the angel said to them:
“Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among all with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:8-14)
In the course of his life and ministry, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God, when God’s will would be done on earth, and the peace between nations and peoples will be established by God rule in the hearts of all men and women. The prophets spoke to God’s people as if to say, “If you want peace, work for justice.” Jesus spoke to God’s people saying, “If you want peace, accept me, and work for me.”
The New Testament teaches “none is righteous, no not one,” but Jesus Christ died for our sins “in accordance with the Scriptures,” that we might have peace with God, peace with one another, and peace with ourselves.”
In Romans 5, St. Paul wrote:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
Peace with God means nothing less than a cessation of hostilities. When God’s grace invades the lives of men and women, many oppose it with all the weapons at our disposal, but some of us come to realize that the struggle against God is a struggle against all that is loving, and good, and kind, and lasting.
Peace with God inevitably leads to peace with our brothers and sisters. We forgive, because God, in Christ, has forgiven us. Jesus said peace with God also leads to peace even with our enemies. Therefore he taught his disciples saying, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44).
In Philippians 4:7 St. Paul spoke of “the peace of God, which passes all understanding, (that) will keep (our) hearts and (our) minds in Christ Jesus.” The New Testament teaches that the followers of Jesus have peace on the inside, in our hearts and minds, even when there is no semblance of peace on the outside, in the world.
In one of his books, the very late Bishop Herbert Spaugh once told the story of a photography contest. The object of the contest was to promote a feeling of peace in those who viewed the pictures. Most of the entrants submitted photos of peaceful moments or pastoral scenes. One picture showed a newborn baby snuggled into her mother’s arms, under her mother’s chin. Another showed a shepherd holding a little lamb in the light of his campfire, with the rest of his sheep lying down under a blanket of stars. The winning picture was different. It showed a single branch of a tree, stretching out in front of a cascading waterfall. One could imagine the constant roar! However, on the branch there was a nest, and in the nest, there was a half-dozen baby birds, nestled down around their mother, sheltered by her protecting wings.
According to the New Testament, the only peace worth having, is the peace that only Jesus Christ can bring. I have two questions for you: 1) How do we draw on that peace, and make it our own? And 2) Give me an example of a time when you have known peace on the inside when the world around you was “going to hell in a handbag.”