What a blessing it has been to spend the last four weeks taking a look at Isaiah 9. I hope you have been blessed and that all of us have come to better understand the One who was born as a Child, given as a Son, and is called the “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah delivered the promise of the coming One to those who were distressed, suffering anxiety about their enemies who were plotting and planning their demise, and who would face even more difficult days in the future. The atmosphere was thick with tension and fear and yet the prophet of God stood up and spoke, “Thus saith the Lord…” Listen once again to his comforting words of reassurance that God has not, nor will He ever, forget and abandon His people. Isaiah writes,
1 Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the Gentiles, by the way of the sea, along the Jordan– 2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. 3 You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as men rejoice when dividing the plunder. 4 For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor. 5 Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire. 6 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. 7 Of 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. (Isaiah 9:1-7 NIV)
Isaiah describes the Promised Messiah as “the Prince of Peace” and then he elaborates upon his description by saying that the government will be upon His shoulders and there will be no end to the peace that He will bring. When the Messiah initiates His perfect peace it will not be an eye-in-the-hurricane-of-the-calamities-of humanity or a lull-in-the-storm-of-world-strife, but it will be a perfect peace that will never end.
There seems to be a pervasive yearning within the human heart for peace and yet peace seems so elusive. We have “peace conferences” to try and teach us how to establish peace, “meditation gardens” to try and quiet our restless souls, “Visualize World Peace” bumper stickers, and “peace” demonstrations full of angry protestors like we see on the news from time to time. Yet, with all of our desire to experience peace in our hearts, society, and our world it seems like conflict, chaos, and carnage are far more prevalent.
Many believed that things were looking up at the beginning of the 20th century. The brightest and best felt like we were headed into a new age of enlightenment. They believed that with modern-day advances we would be led to the Utopia we all long for in life. As the century unfolded new advancements were made in science, technology, and education. Midway through the century, in 1945, The United Nations came into existence, but during the last 65 years we haven’t witnessed much unity among the nations. There were big hopes and lots of optimism at the beginning of the century, but by the end of the 20th century many were saying that it was the bloodiest century in the history of the world. I don’t know how they arrived at their conclusion, but I do know that in the 20th century we had two World Wars, Hitler’s Holocaust, Josef Stalin’s annihilation of well over 20 million of his own people, another 40-70 million who were killed under Chairman Mao in China, and these atrocities don’t include the loss of human life in Eastern Europe, Cambodia, Korea, Vietnam, Africa, India, Iran, Iraq, and Bosnia. Instead of a new age of enlightenment we got a century of slaughter.
When we turn our attention to the search for peace a little closer to home we really don’t find the possibility for the advancement of peace any more promising. There are wars in our neighborhood between rival gangs. There’s animosity and outbursts of anger between husbands and wives, parents and children, co-workers, and classmates. There are gunmen who shoot and kill folks in schools, movie theaters, and malls–people they don’t even know. The list goes on and on and on. I think it would be best to conclude that if peace is dependent on us, then any hope of experiencing a lasting peace is out of the question. Maybe that is why Paul qualified his statement in Romans 12:18. Let me read it to you.
18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18 NIV)
“If it is possible…” Is it possible to experience peace? If so, then what do we need to “do” in order to experience peace? Those are great questions and I want us to spend the rest of our time seeking some answers as we search God’s Word.
First of all we need to define the word “peace.” If your definition of peace is the absence of all conflict then I hate to break the news to you, but you are out of luck. If your definition of peace is skipping through open fields full of daisies, hand-in-hand with the one you love, then I would tell you that you’ve watched too many movies. Well, I’ve told you what peace is not, but we are trying to find out what “peace” means right?
When Jesus is called the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9, Isaiah uses one of the most well known words in the Hebrew language. You and I don’t live in Israel and I bet you are not Jewish, but I’m sure you’ve heard the word, “shalom.” The Hebrew word, “שָׁלוֹם” (shalom) means, “Completeness, soundness, welfare, peace, safety, prosperity, quiet, and friendship.” The word is found 236 times in the Old Testament. The majority of those times (175) it is translated “peace” in our English Bible. Let me show you just a few of the ways the word “shalom” is used in the Old Testament. In Job 5:24 we find Job’s friend, Eliphaz the Temanite, using the word “shalom” when he was counseling Job about his problems. Eliphaz said,
24 You will know that your tent is secure; you will take stock of your property and find nothing missing. (Job 5:24 NIV)
The word isn’t translated, “shalom,” but I bet you recognized it didn’t you? It is translated, “secure,” in this verse. The book of Esther is one of the most beautiful stories in all the Bible. If you’ve ever read the book then you know that Esther had an older cousin named Mordecai who had taken her in and raised her like his own daughter because she didn’t have a mom or dad. Esther was beautiful and she was chosen to be part of the king’s harem. In Esther 2:11 we read that Mordecai continued to keep an eye on Esther. Read along with me and see if you can spot where the Hebrew word “shalom” is found.
11 Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her. (Esther 2:11 NIV)
Did you find it? Pretty tough huh? Mordecai checked on Esther to see how she was doing. He was checking on her welfare, her well-being.
The last instance I want to show you is found in Isaiah 26:3. This is the one verse I want to show you where “shalom” is translated “peace.” Read along with me.
3 You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3 NIV)
Now, do you have a better idea of how to define “peace?” I hope so. It is being secure, well, complete, experiencing peace rather than having turmoil, strife, and anxiety rip us apart. Isaiah’s declaration is that one day in the future the promised Prince of Peace will usher in an age of unending peace, perfect peace, undisturbed peace. That day is yet to come, but rest assured my friend, it’s on its way.
This morning I want us to focus on the question, “Can we experience peace in this life?” Is it possible to experience peace in this life? If so, then what do we need to do to experience peace as it is defined by God’s Word? The answer to the question, “Can we experience peace in this life?” is, “You bet you can!” My answer is not the result of listening to some Tony Robbins motivational speech or reading Eckhart Tolle’s, “Peace In The Present Moment,” but it is a result of taking Jesus at His word when He said,
27 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 NIV)
It is easy to conclude from Jesus’ statement that the peace He gives to us is not the peace the world is searching for—it is something different. Yet, we can experience what Jesus has to offer if we will simply receive His peace.
What do we need to do to experience the peace of Jesus? That is a great question. The peace that Jesus offers to us is rooted in obedience, in following God’s Word at all times. Let me show you what I am talking about. In Isaiah 48:17-18, God spoke to the people and said,
17 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. 18 If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea. (Isaiah 48:17-18 NIV)
God says that He “teaches us what is best for us, He directs us in the way we should go.” That is the fact. That statement is the truth of God. The problem was not with God; the problem was with the people. If you go on and read verse 18 you will see that it says, “If only you had paid attention to my commands…” If they had only paid attention to God’s teaching, if they had only paid attention to His leading, then the results would have been far different than what they had been experiencing. Instead of strife, turmoil, anxiety, fear, despair, rebellion, and defeat they would have experienced peace and righteousness.
Rather than following God’s counsel, rather than heeding His Word, and doing what He says, we take matters into our hands. We “work” for peace, strive for peace, and search for peace, but to no avail. If we do not listen to what God says and then put what He says into practice then we will experience chaos and a lack of peace at every turn. On the other hand, if we cherish God’s Word and follow His lead then we will know peace regardless of what the circumstances are going on around us. Psalm 119:165 says,
165 Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. (Psalm 119:165 NIV)
Wow! Did you hear that?! If you love God’s “law,” or love His teachings, then He promises that we will have “great peace.” Nothing will be able to make us stumble. I wonder if nothing means nothing? I wonder if God means that financial hardships will not trip us up? I wonder if God means that even the death of a loved one won’t be able to crumble us? I wonder if God means that the threat of terrorist’s attacks won’t paralyze us? I wonder if God means that a rebellious child, a wayward husband or wife, or an absentee parent won’t be able to destroy us? I wonder if God means that health issues won’t be able to immobilize us? I wonder…
There is an assumption here that I don’t want to assume you are aware of. You would assume that if someone loved God’s “law,” if someone loved God’s teaching, that they would have a right relationship with God right? Sure we would assume that, but I want to state that a right relationship with God precedes a love for God’s Word. We can love God’s teaching when we are in a pinch and not be in right relationship with God. We can love God’s teaching and look for God to bail us out when we are in a jam and not be in right relationship with God. Do you know what I mean?
To be in right relationship with God means that we have been justified by God by confessing our sin and our need for Jesus as Savior of our lives, and then following Him in the way we live the life He has given us. In the Bible, “righteousness,” means, “right relationship.” In Isaiah 32:17 we read,
17 The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever. (Isaiah 32:17 NIV)
When we take a look at an orchard we can easily determine that the fruit of an apple tree is what? Apples, right? And the fruit of a pear tree is…pears. Now, you are catching on. And Isaiah says the fruit of righteousness, or right relationships, first with God, and then with people, is peace. The effect of righteousness, or a right relationship with God and others is quietness and confidence forever. What a powerful statement that is for you and me.
Scripture is clear that we do not have the ability in and of ourselves to establish and maintain peace. In Isaiah 9 we are told that the Prince of Peace will be in charge and that it will be the “zeal of the Lord” that will accomplish all of this.
This morning, just two days before we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, we are a world in conflict and strife, burdened down with sorrow, but even more than this—we are people plagued by conflict and strife. Our time is no different than the days in which Isaiah 9 was written. Our world is no different the world into which Jesus was born. The world will never experience peace until the hearts of the people of the world turn to the Prince of Peace. This, my friend, is impossible without the Prince of Peace reigning and ruling in our hearts–not just in what we believe, but in how we live. You may not agree with me. You may be convinced that if we were to put our mind to it then surely we can come up with some kind of personal peace plan that would lead to a world of peace. Scripture teaches that if we neglect the call of God, the invitation of God to walk with Him in obedience, then we are destined to never know peace. In Isaiah 59 we read,
7 Their feet rush into sin; they are swift to shed innocent blood. Their thoughts are evil thoughts; ruin and destruction mark their ways. 8 The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks in them will know peace. 9 So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. (Isaiah 59:7-9 NIV)
By the time the New Testament came into being the status of the hearts of people had not changed one bit. Listen to these words by Paul to the Church in Rome.
12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” 13 “Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit.” “The poison of vipers is on their lips.” 14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.” 15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood; 16 ruin and misery mark their ways, 17 and the way of peace they do not know.” (Romans 3:12-17 NIV)
How can we draw up a plan for peace when we don’t have any idea how to leave our bags of strife, division, and contention and move into the land of peace and serenity? Our plans for personal peace, apart from Christ, would have as much of a chance of success as the peace plans of the Israelis and Palestinians.
Peace will only come to a broken world when peace first reigns in the hearts of broken people. It is only when the Prince of Peace comes to reign and rule in the hearts of people that peace will then move from the hearts of individuals into their neighborhoods, towns, cities, states, countries, and world.
During Jesus’ ministry He told His disciples that He was going to leave them His peace. Jesus’ acknowledged that they would have trouble in this world, but in the midst of the troubles of life they would know His peace. Listen to John 16:33.
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV)
Many of you who are here this morning have just come through a year of hardships, heartaches, hassles, strife, and great anxiety. Let me ask you something: Have you experienced the peace that Jesus spoke about when the troubles came? Do you know His peace that surpasses all understanding even though your world and life have seemed to be unraveling at the seams? Remember this my friends, Jesus said that the peace of God is available “in Him.” You and I must abide in Him if we are going to know the perfect peace of God in troubling times.
I know the trials that many of you have experienced during the past year. I have friends who have experienced divorce during the past year and it has broken your heart. I know others who have faced hard financial situations this past year and it has crushed you in more ways than one. I have other friends who have attended the funeral of a spouse, parent, grandparent, or one of their children and you have wondered if life is really worth living. I know people who have had their sin dragged out of their secret closet for all the world to see and the embarrassment that you have faced has humiliated you beyond anything you could have imagined. Each of these situations have kept you up at night, they’ve stolen your appetite, and left you wondering if there was any hope of a brighter day for you.
I want to speak for God this morning and let you know that the days of darkness are about to dawn with the glorious hope of the Savior who was born on Christmas morning…if, if you will but put your trust in the One who came to save you from the sin that desires to destroy you and me. A new morning is on the horizon if we will put our trust in the One who came to forgive us, cleanse us, and give us a new beginning, a new beginning rooted in Him that leads to peace! He will not only forgive you, but He will surround you and under gird you with His perfect peace. Won’t you accept the Christmas Gift this morning? It is time for you to lay down your Christmas list and receive the Christmas Gift, the one gift that will truly keep giving for the rest of you life. Won’t you invite Him in this morning before you leave this place?
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
Oklahoma City, OK. 73114
December 26, 2010