A Child Who Brings Peace
by Jack Wald | November 4th, 2018

Isaiah 9:1-7

What do you do when you have a bad president? Or a bad prime minister? Or a bad king? What do you do when the person running or ruling your country is operating out of self-interest, self-preservation, concerned only with protecting his or her power and wealth? What do you do when the person running or ruling your country is not serving the people of your country, not seeking justice for the people of your country?

This was the problem Judah faced with Ahaz as king. After the death of Solomon, Israel split into two kingdoms: ten of the twelve tribes formed the northern kingdom of Israel with Samaria as its capitol and two of the twelve tribes formed the southern kingdom of Judah with Jerusalem as its capitol. Ahaz was the twelfth king of Judah. The first two were considered to be bad kings. The next two good kings. Then three bad kings followed by four good kings. Ahaz broke with the precedent of the previous good kings and is evaluated as a bad king.

Judah had prospered under the rule of Uzziah and Jotham, but now Ahaz came to the throne at a turning point in the history of Judah. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, Ahaz was a weak ruler who gave himself over to idolatry.

Ahaz was threatened by the combined forces of Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel. In his panic, trembling like a leaf in the wind, he rejected the counsel of Isaiah to seek God’s wisdom and help. Instead, he turned for help to the greatest threat to Judah and made an alliance with the king of Assyria. He gave the sacred gold and silver in the Temple to the king of Assyria. He visited Nineveh, the capitol city of Assyria, and admired the altar they used for worship of their god. When he returned to Jerusalem he had a copy of the altar made and put it in the Temple in place of the altar God had instructed Moses to make for worship. Ahaz rejected worship of God and turned completely to idol worship.

The consequence of Ahaz’s actions was to bring disaster and judgment on God’s chosen people. Judah descended into darkness.

In setting the scene for the good news that is to come, Isaiah shows the disastrous consequences of idol worship.
When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.

Isaiah talks a lot about the foolishness of idolatry. I was reading this week in Isaiah 44 about how a man will cut down a tree, use part of it as fuel for burning, some to warm himself, some to make a fire and bake bread. Then he also takes some of the tree and fashions a god and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god.”

We read this and agree it is ridiculous. But the world has many other idols. In the Western world we make an idol out of reason. We have put our faith and trust in science and technology. All the problems of the world can be solved as we develop new understanding of how the universe works and create new technologies. We have adopted the conviction that science and technology will bring happier days. “In time, science will reveal all falsehoods and decipher all mysteries. It will end all problems and create a blissful, flourishing society.”

Because of this, the Western world has stopped looking to the wisdom and values of any ancient religious belief. The modern Western world says that in the past, because people did not know any better, they looked to gods to find meaning. But now, with our more enlightened minds, we can figure things out for ourselves and solve our own problems. We can give life our own meaning and purpose.

So there are no more moral norms of truth to which all people must adhere. There is no higher value than the right of each individual to live freely. The individual’s right to choose cannot be restricted. Each person must find their own truth.

Ahaz and Judah replaced worship of God with idol worship and made the descent into darkness. The modern Western world is replacing worship of God with its own form of idolatry and what we see as we read the news and observe the behavior of our cultural, civic, and political leaders is a descent into darkness.

When a culture rejects God’s word, it moves toward darkness. It may think it is moving toward enlightenment, but it is turning to darkness.

So it came as good news to those who despaired of the poor leadership of Ahaz when they heard Isaiah’s prophetic word – and it comes as good news of great joy to us as well.

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 nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

Nevertheless – when every human attempt to bring light has failed, God will bring light. God does this, not because he must, not because humans have figured out how to get him to act, but simply because of his grace. God will act because he freely chooses to act.

God will not do this only for those who have pleased him, only for those who have obeyed him, only for those who have not rejected him. God will do this for all. Why? Because of his great love for his creation, God will bring light into darkness.

Paul wrote in his Romans letter: (Romans 5:6)
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.

When we read about Zebulun and Naphtali, we have no idea what those places have to do with what Isaiah is saying. But to his hearers, they knew immediately what those two lands signified.

Zebulun and Naphtali were the first parts of Israel to be stripped away by the Assyrians. The people who lived there were carried away into captivity and new settlers were brought in to take over the land. Isaiah is speaking after this has happened. “In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali.”

But then Isaiah looks into the future.
In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—

Zebulun and Naphtali, in the region of Galilee, had been humbled, but honor will be restored in the future to this land.

How will this happen? In place of an unfaithful king with shortsighted political skills that led Judah into a desperate crisis, there is an ideal king, a child, who is coming. This child is the culmination of the children in Isaiah’s prophetic life. He had two sons: Shear-Jashub which means “a remnant will remain” and Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz which means “quick to the plunder.” These sons brought a prophetic message to Ahaz and Judah. But now there is a child who is coming who will be the ideal king. He is not named but his character is detailed. He is not named but he is the ultimate Immanuel, God with us.

2 The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.

Light is coming into the darkness of Isaiah’s world. David wrote a psalm in which he said, (2 Samuel 22:29)
You, Lord, are my lamp;
the Lord turns my darkness into light.

The shepherds of Bethlehem were keeping watch over their sheep when the sky lit up with a great light and an angel said to them, “I bring you good news of great joy!”

Jesus said, (John 8:12–13)
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

We remember this when we celebrate the birth of Jesus. At the end of our Christmas Eve service we darken the lights and light a candle from the birth candle in the center of our Advent Wreath. From that candle, the candle each person is holding is lit as we sing “Silent Night.” The dark room becomes filled with light.

Light has come into the darkness. We did not manufacture the light. We do not have to maintain the light. The light is not dependant on us. Even if we continue in our sin, the light will shine. Jesus is the light of the world. Even when the world persists in its self-centered sin, the light of Jesus shines. In the darkest moments of human history, the light of Jesus shines. The light of Jesus cannot be extinguished.

3 You have enlarged the nation
and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
when dividing the plunder.

Assyria had already taken part of Israel and was threatening Judah. The fear was that Judah and Jerusalem would suffer the same fate as Zebulun and Naphtali. But there is joy in this word from God because their nation that was being taken from them by Assyria would, in this prophecy, become enlarged. Instead of facing a meager harvest, there would be an abundant harvest. Instead of becoming the spoil taken by the victors into Assyria, they will conquer and divide the spoil among themselves.

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.

Assyrian kings delighted in telling how they imposed their heavy yokes upon captive peoples but Isaiah prophesies that the yoke imposed on them will be shattered. The bar that marks them as slaves will be shattered. The rod their oppressor uses to beat them with will be shattered.

Because we live on this side of the death and resurrection of Jesus we know that God also offers a yoke, but this yoke will not be a punishment. (Matthew 11:29–30)
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

As a carpenter, Jesus made double yokes for pairs of oxen. He knew how to make a yoke that fit comfortably on the necks of oxen. One commentator suggests that Jesus is inviting us to come to the double yoke that he himself is wearing and pull alongside with him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light because he is at work beside us.

Will this happen? Is this news too good to be true? Isaiah says, “As in the day of Midian’s defeat.” He reminds his hearers of the victory of Gideon and his men over the army of Midian. Gideon began with 32,000 men but God reduced that number to just 300 and with these 300 men God brought a great victory.

“As in the day of Midian’s defeat,” God will once again shatter the weapons of the oppressors.

How will God put an end to oppression?
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.

God will put an end to oppression by putting an end to war. The boots and garments of warriors will be burnt. It goes without saying that if even these are destroyed, so will the weapons of war be destroyed.

How will God put an end to oppression and war?
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.

A child will be born. The simplicity of the solution is astounding. Seriously, the solution to war and all the reasons people go to war is the birth of a child? Try telling that to a diplomat negotiating for peace. That is not in any way, shape, or form how the world solves problems.

How will God deliver us from arrogance, war, oppression, and coercion? By being more arrogant, more warlike, more oppressive, and more coercive? God has the power to do this. God brought Israel victory over the Midianites with just 300 warriors. When Elisha was in a town that was surrounded by the army of the king of Aram, his servant feared until Elisha prayed that his eyes be opened and he saw the army of God surrounding Elisha.

God has the power to subdue all those who work against the peace he wants to bring. God has the power to force people to live peacefully.

This is how we would bring world peace. We would subdue all the tyrants and enforce with our power a peace among the nations. We send UN troops to patrol and enforce a peace. But God is far more powerful and far stronger than we are. God is so much more powerful and strong than we are that he is strong enough to overcome his enemies by becoming vulnerable, transparent, and humble – the only hope, in fact, for turning hostility into friendship.

Let me repeat this. Don’t miss it. God is strong enough to overcome his enemies by becoming vulnerable, transparent, and humble – the only hope, in fact, for turning hostility into friendship. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

The child who is to be born does not have a name but his titles tell us who he will be. He will not be a normal child; he will be a royal child. He will not be just a royal child; he will be divine.

His birth points back to the Immanuel prophecy. Somehow a virgin-born child will demonstrate that God is with us. “For to us a child is born” and this child has the attributes of God’s presence with us. This child is the fulfillment of the Immanuel prophecy.

He will be “Wonderful Counselor.” Wonderful because his counsel goes beyond the merely human.

He will be “Mighty God.” The king will have God’s true might about him, power so great that it can absorb all the evil which can be hurled at it until none is left to hurl.

He will be “Everlasting Father.” He will not be a father who demands from his children, who makes his children serve him, who uses his children to make his life better. He will be a father who sacrifices himself for his children. He will be the good shepherd who lays his life down for his sheep.

He will be the “Prince of Peace.” He will be a peaceful king. He will be a king who is gentle with his people. He will come in peace and he will establish peace. He will do this, not by brutally squashing all defiance, but by having a transparent vulnerability which makes defiance pointless.

When the Temple guard came to arrest Jesus, Peter picked up a sword to defend him. But Jesus rebuked him, (Matthew 26:53)
Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?

Jesus chose not to use power to protect himself. He had a better way. Jesus was not going to eradicate evil, he was going to absorb it.

Pontus Pilate saw this quality in Jesus when he was being asked to have him crucified. Pilate was brought over to the innocence of Jesus because of his peaceful tranquility in the midst of the traumatic events of the day.

The Prince of Peace will bring reconciliation between man and man, not by crushing opposition, but by changing the hearts of the opposition. Force will bring obedience, until there is a time when the person being forced to be obedient has the opportunity to rise up in revolt. But when the heart of a man is changed, then there is no need for force.

This is how the Prince of Peace will bring reconciliation: by changing, one by one, the hearts of men and women who will then become bearers of his light and working with him to change the hearts of others.

7 Of the greatness 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.

This is no mortal king. This is a divine king who will reign forever. This will not happen and could never happen in the ordinary course of affairs; this will be a supernatural event.

Some 700 years later this prophecy became a reality when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her, (Luke 1:28–33)
“Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

This is a wonderful prophecy, an exhilarating prophecy. How long did it take for it to be fulfilled? 700 years. What happened in those 700 years? Assyria decimated Judah and came to the walls of Jerusalem and laid siege to it. They were delivered by God. Isaiah had prophesied that they would fail. Judah would find themselves in a flood up to the neck, but Immanuel, God with us, would deliver them from the fatal blow.

But then, 150 years later, the Babylonians who defeated the Assyrians came to call. They laid siege to Jerusalem and conquered it. They took the treasures of the Temple, they took the elite of Jerusalem into exile, they destroyed the walls of Jerusalem.

For 80 years the Jews lived in exile in Babylon before they were permitted to return, rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and rebuild the Temple.

For 400 years Israel lived under occupation. For 400 years Israel waited for the Messiah to come and restore Israel to the grandeur it had experienced under King David.

And then the child was born.

The child lived, died on a cross, resurrected from the dead, and promised to return. 2,000 years later we are still waiting for his return.

Why did it take so long for the prophecy of Isaiah to be fulfilled? Why has it taken Jesus so long to return?

Why are we still having to endure leaders like King Ahaz? If you sit down to make a list of self-centered, unjust leaders of the nations of the world, it is a long list.

In the midst of this darkness, the light of Jesus is shining. The spiritual battle is being fought. The battle is not being won with armies and swords. The battle is not being won with military or political victories. The battle is being won as heart after heart is being transformed. Jesus has been busy these past 2,000 years. Jesus comes to each generation with vulnerable transparency and says, “I love you. I created you to be in an eternal relationship with me. Come to me and find peace in the light of my love.”

We may respond by mocking him, rejecting him, ignoring him, and still he comes to us again and again to tell us, “I love you. Come to me and be loved.” He absorbs our insults, our mockery, our rejection, our indifference and continues to come to us with his unconditional love. He seeks a transformed heart.

We sing and pray for God to act in power.

We sing glory, and honor, power and strength to the Lord.

Show your power, O Lord our God,
show your power, O Lord our God, our God.

When we sing and pray for God to act in power, what are we thinking? We are thinking that God will overcome those who oppose him. We are thinking that bad rulers will be deposed. We are thinking that there will be a military victory over a terrorist group. We are thinking that unjust forces in our societies will be cut down.

But how is the power of God at work? Jesus is working through all the sin and dysfunction of our chaotic world to transform the hearts of men and women.

A military action can destroy an army, destroy cities, but what remains are the hearts of people who are embittered by those actions. Who started the conflict between Israel and Palestine? You can debate that, but what is clear is that regardless of how many times rockets are fired, no matter how many buildings are destroyed, no matter how decisive the military victory, young people grow up with embittered hearts that carry the conflict into the next generation.

How can this ever bring peace?

But thanks be to God. Jesus is at work to bring peace. He is the Prince of Peace and his work is in the hearts of men and women. Let Jesus work in your life and bring you peace. Let Jesus make you a peacemaker.

Where is the peace Jesus has been working to bring for the past 2,000 years? We look for peace and cannot find it. We read or listen to the news and are dismayed. Where is the peace Jesus came to bring? We look for peace but we are looking in the wrong place.

Don’t look for peace in the news; look for peace in the lives of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Rejoice when you receive news that new followers of Jesus are being baptized. Rejoice when you hear a testimony about how God brought reconciliation between former enemies.

Battles are won and lost. Empires rise and fall. A lot has happened in the past 2,000 years. We read about it in history books. But what we don’t read in history books or in the news is the peace Jesus is bringing as hearts are being transformed.

Don’t despair. Jesus is bringing his peace to the world and in the process Jesus is creating peacemakers who will bring light to the world around them. In Matthew 5:14–16 Jesus said,
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

As a follower of Jesus, you are light in this world of darkness. Let the peace of Christ transform your heart so you will bring peace into the lives of others around you. Love from the heart. Forgive from the heart. Love those who are against you. When someone strikes you, turn the other cheek. Don’t repay evil for evil. Let your light shine brightly. Bring peace.

The zeal of the Lord will accomplish this.