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Advent Peace

 


In April 2002, an article about Afghanistan appeared in Time magazine. The author of that article wrote that…

 

One [arms] dealer tried to interest a Time reporter in a Kalashnikov for the bargain price of $200, with 100 rounds thrown in “to close the sale.” The man, who identified himself only as Abdul, said he wouldn’t need his weapons anymore. “Peace has come to Afghanistan,” he said. “The King is coming home, and people are sick of fighting.”[1]

 

19 years later, has peace come to Afghanistan? It is very doubtful. The need for peace in Afghanistan is probably just as great today as it was in 2002. Furthermore, though our country is more stable, the need for inner, spiritual peace is just as great among Americans as among any other group of people in the world.

 

Peace, Hope, Joy, and Love are the four traditional themes of Advent that the Church of Jesus Christ has celebrated and preached for hundreds of years. We are going to consider these four themes from the prophet Isaiah over the next four Sundays. Today, we focus on peace from Isaiah 2:1-5. Allow me to read again the words we heard earlier in our service, this time, in context. Listen for God’s Word to you…

 

The word that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall 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 forth instruction and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

 

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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.

 

O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

 

I invite you to consider five key phrases from these five verses. The first phrase is “The Word that Isaiah Saw”.

 

Isaiah was a prophet in the land of Judah around the year 740 BC. God’s call came to Isaiah in the year that good King Uzziah died. Uzziah’s reign spanned the first half of the eighth century and offered unparalleled stability. However, this equilibrium did not last beyond Uzziah’s death. In 745 BC, an ambitious and capable new ruler came to power in Assyria, to the north of Israel and Judah; the name of this new ruler was Tiglath Pileser III. He quickly took control of Babylon as well as ruling his own region with an iron fist. Soon, other rulers were bringing tribute. Following Uzziah’s death, Judah lurched from crisis to crisis. In 734, Pekah of Israel and Rezin of Damascus formed a defensive alliance against Tiglath Pileser and tried to persuade King Ahaz of Judah to join them. When Ahaz refused, Pekah and Rezin invaded Judah. Isaiah counseled Ahaz to stand firm and trust the Lord. Instead, Ahaz appealed to Tiglath Pileser for help. Pileser did help Judah, but at great cost. The tribute Tiglath Pileser required of Judah put a great drain on the tiny nation’s finances. By 722, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrian ruler. It would be many more years before Judah would fall to the power of Babylon, but it was a troublesome time for Isaiah and his fellow Jews.

 

Amidst this tumult, Isaiah had a vision, a series of visions really; we are looking at the second of these visions in Isaiah 2. In it we have an interesting expression: “the word that Isaiah saw”. Usually, we think of hearing words, but Isaiah saw this word from the Lord. It was visual, not merely auditory. It was a vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem.

 

I wonder, have you ever felt like Isaiah and his fellow Jews did? Do you ever feel like a Lilliputian kicked around by the giants of this world?

 

Francis Schaeffer once wrote:

 

But if a Christian is consecrated, does this mean he will be in a big place instead of a little place? The answer, the next step, is very important: As there are no little people in God’s sight, so there are no little places. To be wholly committed to God in the place where God wants him—this is the creature glorified…

Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the … syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc. This is not so. Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but he even reverses this (especially in the teaching of Jesus) and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us. We all tend to emphasize big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh. To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centered Me. This attitude, taken from the world, is more dangerous to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice. It is the flesh…

The people who receive praise from the Lord Jesus will not in every case be the people who held leadership in this life. There will be many persons who were sticks of wood that stayed close to God and were quiet before him and were used in power by him in a place which looks small to men.

Each Christian is to be a rod of God in the place of God for him. We must remember throughout our lives that in God’s sight there are no little people and no little places. Only one thing is important: to be consecrated persons in God’s place for us, at each moment. Those who think of themselves as little people in little places, if committed to Christ and living under his Lordship in the whole of life, may, by God’s grace, change the flow of our generation. And as we get on a bit in our lives, knowing how weak we are, if we look back and see we have been somewhat used of God, then we should be the rod “surprised by joy.”[2]

 

The second key phrase we see in this passage is: The Mountain of the Lord.

 

This mountain has more than one name in Scripture. The Jews believed that Mount Moriah, where Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, was the same mountain where the Temple in Jerusalem was built. It is also called Mount Zion.

 

Just as Isaiah was one small person serving a tiny nation as their prophet, so too Mount Zion was not and is not a large or tall mountain. It is a small, seemingly insignificant hill. It is a place we would not even call a mountain by our American standards. And yet, Isaiah says: “In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.”

 

The theme of “the mountain of the Lord” is a common one in Isaiah. This theme reverberates in passages that depict the coming of both Jews and Gentiles to Jerusalem in the last days.[3] Various commentators interpret this passage differently. Some believe that the situation prophesied in this passage has come to pass through the first coming of Christ and the preaching of the Gospel, and that this vision will be fulfilled most gloriously at the Second Coming of Christ. It this is true, and I believe it is, then one can see why the Church chose this passage for Advent. Advent means “coming” and this text, at least in the ears of Christians, has echoes of both the first and second comings of Christ.

 

Barry Webb writes:

 

Mountains played an important part in the religions of Israel’s neighbours. They were the points where heaven and earth were thought to meet and were therefore highly favoured as sites for altars and temples. The Canaanites worshipped their gods at the ‘high places’, and these became a snare to the Israelites. Even when such high places were removed from within Israel’s borders in times of religious reform, the surrounding nations continued to worship their gods on their holy mountains.

Isaiah here foresees the day when one holy mountain will stand supreme, reducing all others to utter insignificance.[4]

 

Perhaps everyone who is small dreams of one day becoming tall. Perhaps every child who has a father who is physically small and weak, dreams of his or her father being big enough to fend off all the bullies of the world. Perhaps every citizen who belongs to a small nation, wonders what it might be like to belong to a superpower. In this sense, Isaiah’s vision is a dream common to many people at many times and in many places. However, Isaiah’s vision was also unique in that it was given to him by God, and God was really going to make it happen, not in Isaiah’s lifetime, but eventually.

 

The third phrase we need to pay attention to is: “Many peoples shall come…”

 

Isaiah envisions a day when not only his fellow Jews, but also people of many nations will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This was fulfilled, at least in part, on the Day of Pentecost, when people from many nations flowed into Jerusalem and heard the disciples of Jesus declaring the Good News in their own languages.

 

Barry Webb tells this story…

 

Not very long ago I stood with my two daughters one Sunday morning in the huge, circular forecourt of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. There was the usual press of tourists, pilgrims, officials, and traders. Would we like a postcard, a cross, a souvenir spoon, or perhaps a rosary or holy picture? No, we found our way past these distractions as quickly as possible; they were so tawdry compared with the magnificence of the place itself. At first it was the basilica that captivated us. The whole forecourt seemed designed to produce precisely this effect; the magnificent curving colonnade, the fountain, the grand staircase, all drew us towards it. But then we noticed the barricades, the seats, the music and the children’s choir and realized that a quite deliberate strategy was being put in place to focus our attention elsewhere, at least temporarily. The crowds seemed to be aware of it too, for they were obediently falling into line, so to speak, and expectantly looking across the square towards a far less impressive building situated to the right of the basilica and partly hidden behind a wall. It had long rows of identical windows, so there was no obvious point of interest until about ten minutes to eleven, when a figure appeared briefly at one of the windows and draped a richly coloured banner from it. The effect was immediate. A murmur of anticipation went through the crowd, the volume of the music lifted as the choir went into its carefully rehearsed routine, and the basilica receded entirely from our consciousness as every eye became riveted on that one small window. We were soon rewarded. At exactly eleven o’clock the Pope appeared at the window and addressed us.[5]

 

In a similar fashion, we can see that the whole point of the mountain of the Lord being lifted up is so that many people will be drawn to it, not for the sake of the mountain itself, but so that those same people might hear the word of the Lord.

 

As I have suggested, I believe this was fulfilled, at least in part, on the Day of Pentecost as recorded in Acts 2. However, there is another part of Isaiah’s vision that has not yet been realized.

 

This leads us to the fourth phrase in this passage that we must notice: “Swords into Plowshares”.

 

Notice that the beating of the swords into plowshares, the conversion of weaponry into “livingry”, follows the judgment. From a Christian perspective, we believe that real and everlasting peace will only come to this tired and sorry world of ours when Christ returns for the final judgment to establish his everlasting kingdom on a renewed earth. This text is an Advent text in that it looks forward to the Second Coming of Christ, as well as, from Isaiah’s perspective, the first coming.

 

As we are all, no doubt, aware, there is a problem with the kind of peace this world achieves. It always passes.

 

One of the most striking illustrations of this comes from the First World War. One cold, moonlit, Christmas Eve, the soldiers on both sides of the conflict huddled in the trenches. Because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches, a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” and the sound floated up into the clear, moonlit air.

 

Then from the German trenches, a rich baritone voice joined in, singing the same song in German. For a few moments, everyone in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful music and the harmony. The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the Lord who was their shepherd. The singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away.

 

All the soldiers, on both sides, huddled in the bottom of their respective trenches, trying to keep warm until Christmas Day dawned. Then, early on Christmas morning, some of the British soldiers climbed out of their trenches into No Man’s Land, carrying a football (what we Americans would call a soccer ball). These English soldiers started kicking around the football, in a pickup game in No Man’s Land, between the trenches.

 

Then some of the German soldiers climbed out of their trench, and England played Germany at football in No Man’s Land, on Christmas Day, in the middle of the battlefield in France in the First World War. England won the game, by the way.

Then, the next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting. Everything was back to “normal”.[6]

 

That is the way of this world. However, the vision of Isaiah tells us that one day the song about the Lord who is our Shepherd, and the game, and the peace will be real and lasting.

 

Does that mean we do not need to work for peace now, that we can just wait for the Lord to bring it about in his own good timing? No, I do not believe so. I believe the Lord will bring about that final, everlasting peace through us. It is something we need to begin working toward even now in this war-torn world of ours.

 

That is why Isaiah adds, “O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord.”

 

As N. T. Wright has written,

 

Isaiah’s promise of universal peace must therefore be read, like Paul’s call to personal holiness, as our present agenda. We must neither look helplessly at a dark and sleeping world, nor think complacently that we, the church, are all right as we are. We must wake people up to the fact that the sun is already shining, and that the judge of the nations is at the door, longing to see his justice and peace enfold the world in a single embrace.[7]

 

The great nineteenth century London preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had some wonderful commentary on this verse. He said this about the light of the Lord….

 

No other light is comparable to it… No other walking is so safe, so gladsome… In this light, we find certainty for the mind… In this light, we find rest for the conscience… In this light, we find direction for the judgment… In this light, we find delight for the soul… In this light, we find communion for the heart.

 

Then Spurgeon went on to tell this lovely story….

 

A weary and discouraged woman, after struggling all day with contrary winds and tides, came to her home, and flinging herself into a chair, said: “Everything looks dark, dark.”

 

“Why don’t you turn your face to the light, aunty dear?” said a little niece who was standing near.

 

The words were a message from on high, and the weary eyes were turned toward him who is the Light and the Life of men, and in whose light alone we see light.

 



[1] Simon Robinson, “Today’s a Great Day to Buy a Used AK,” TIME.com (4-9-02), (accessed 4-17-02); submitted by Lee Eclov, Lake Forest, Illinois

[2] Francis Schaeffer, No Little People, No Little Places.

[3] NIV Study Bible

[4] Barry Webb, The Message of Isaiah, Downer’s Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1997, p. 45.

[5] Ibid, p. 28.

[6] Stuart Briscoe, “Christmas 365 Days a Year,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 135.

[7] N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year A, London: SPCK, 2001, p. 3.

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