“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Ah, let the words of the angel of the Lord wash over you today. The time of peace and goodwill has come! Yet, war, violence, and unrest are rampant all around us. It often makes me wonder if peace is something God is reserving for later? After recently reading over a familiar passage, I was struck with a renewed sense of hope that peace is God's plan for Christians now. We don't have to wait!
The Prince of Peace has arrived. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. He was born in Bethlehem and crucified in Jerusalem. He rose from the grave and currently reigns as King over the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah's famous prophecy. Let's review that familiar promise Isaiah declared 500 years before Jesus arrived in a stable. This is found in Isaiah 9. Some of you may even sing it to yourselves.
6 For unto us a Child is born,
Unto 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.
7 Of the increase of His government and peace
There will be no end,
Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
From that time forward, even forever.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.
Here's the deal. Many of us know this passage back and forth. I'll be the first to admit I don't know the verses surrounding it very well at all, but was struck by the promise as a whole. There's much more included in this passage than the arrival of a child. It's the promise of the Kingdom He would lead us into.
Check out the verse that come immediately before the famous part we all know.
For every warrior’s sandal from the noisy battle,
And garments rolled in blood,
Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.
Now, what's this business about warrior's sandals and bloody garments being used as fuel for fire? It's what it sounds like. An end to our participation in war. Literal, bloody and violent war. We burn our military garb and retire from war. When will this happen? "For unto us a child is born..." Yes, the Prince of Peace that puts an end to our violent battles has come! So, why are so many of us, as Christians, still involved in violent battles?
It's not that Christianity, as a whole, has missed this teaching. It's just that most of us have missed it for the last 1700 years or so. The Christians of the first three centuries after the arrival of the Prince of Peace understood Jesus' teaching on peacemaking and non-violence quite well. In fact, with all the diverse understanding of doctrine that was being sorted out by the early Christians, the doctrine of non-violence was understood and taught universally. The Prince of Peace had arrived and brought a Kingdom of Peace with Him. The early Christians overcame, not with the blood of their enemies, but by the blood of the Lamb. They loved even those that burned them alive and fed them to wild beasts. Yes, it was in that very time that Christians, as a whole, consistently practiced the peaceful ways of their Prince. Those early followers of Christ burned their warrior's boots and garments rolled in blood. They, along with Peter, put down their swords for "those who live by the sword, die by the sword." They loved their enemies, which meant they prayed and blessed those who killed them. Even the threats against their lives and the lives of their families didn't provoke them to violence. Peace was their practice.
Now, obviously, the kingdoms of this world don't follow Christ's teaching, which is why there are wars today. In fact, the kingdoms of this world wouldn't survive if they followed Jesus' teaching. It's true. But His teaching isn't for the kingdoms of this world, it's for His Kingdom. A Kingdom that is not of this world. “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” (John 18:3).
Hence, Jesus told Peter "Put your sword in its place." and it took the Church roughly 300 years before they picked it up. Under a newly converted Emperor of the Roman Empire, the Church dropped their crosses and picked up swords (You can't hold onto both). The Church, once persecuted by the kingdoms of this world, married the kingdoms of this world. The Church became powerful and the only way to keep that kind of power is by force. The Cross quickly became the emblem on the soldier's shield. The Cross became the ensign of armies and a symbol our enemies came to fear. The Kingdom that "is not of this world" took a major step toward looking just like the kingdoms that surrounded it.
For all the Church has done to remain distinct from the world, we have yet to remove the violence that has stained our white robes and blemished our testimony. Are Christians known as peacemakers in this violent world or fellow participants? Are we known for loving our enemies or are we participants in their destruction? While Christians currently try to stand separate from the kingdoms of this world when it comes to things like sexual purity, we are blended with them when it comes to national violence.
The fulfillment of Isaiah 9:6, which we celebrate at Christmas, includes the promise of Isaiah 9:5. The end to Christian involvement in war. So, let's be sure to include this as part of the Good News we've been commissioned to share. We really can burn those boots and bloody garments. We can put down the sword, beat our swords into plowshares, and learn war no more. We can now be at peace with men. The Prince of Peace has come so that even our enemies can be loved! We can turn the other cheek. We don't have to avenge ourselves ever again. This is the new way of life that came with the Prince of Peace when He arrived in that stable. Not to be set aside until there's no one left around to strike your cheek or go to war with anyway. The teaching is meant to be practiced now.
Putting down our swords, burning our warrior's boots, and setting aside our means of violence comes with its difficulties. Just as remaining sexually pure or refraining from gossip doesn't come easily. But, the Holy Spirit offers peace as a slice of the fruit of love (Gal. 5:22). The same Spirit that helps when we lack self control or gentleness will help when we, filled with the Spirit of the "Prince of Peace", choose to respond as peacemakers. Our first step is to acknowledge our need to live in peace by peaceful means. This is part of the Gospel package Isaiah announced all those years ago. May this be what comes to mind when you see or hear the term "Prince of Peace" this Christmas.
If you'd like to see what the Early Church taught about peace and non-violence, check my earlier blog here: www.thecrossingchurch.net/pastors-corner/the-early-bird-gets-the-worm-and-the-early-church-gets-jesus
I highly recommend further reading on this subject:
Dave became the Senior Pastor in April 2015 at TCC after serving as the Director of Children's and Praise Ministries for 9 years. He graduated in 2011 from A.W. Tozer Seminary with a Masters in Christian Leadership. He and his wife, Katie, live in Sequim with their 6 children, 2 dogs, 15 chickens, and 50,000 honeybees.
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