Topical Scripture: Isaiah 11:1-9
Have you seen the television program Extreme Makeover? If not, that makes two of us. And apparently, only two of us. Makeover shows are multiplying faster than interest on your Christmas credit card purchases. I heard on the news this week that 40 such shows are in the planning stages now. Everything from people being kidnapped and “made over” to houses being “made over” without the owner’s knowledge or consent. If there’s a Purgatory, television viewers don’t have to go there.
Hollywood is an effective barometer for our culture. They only make shows which will sell advertising. And they can only sell advertising if we watch. So the popularity of “makeover” shows tells us something about our dissatisfaction with our lives. Surveys indicate that two out of three Americans are not happy with their appearance, their finances, or their lives. And Hollywood knows it.
What would you like made over in your life? I’ll bet your answer relates to peace, a solution to turmoil or conflict somewhere in your life. And I’ll bet that you have struggled to find that peace. You may be looking in the wrong place. The way to peace is simpler, and more surprising, than you may know.
Define peace properly
Let’s ask first, What is “peace?” Most of us think of peace as the absence of war or conflict, the presence of harmony in our lives. We have physical peace when there is no pain in our bodies. We have relational peace when there is no conflict with others. We have emotional peace where there is no turmoil in our minds or hearts. We have political and military peace when there is no war with other nations or within our nation.
But true and lasting peace is far more than harmony or the absence of conflict. It also requires the presence of justice. Martin Luther asserted: “Peace, if possible, truth at all costs.” Dwight Eisenhower believed, “Peace and justice are two sides of the same coin.” And Benjamin Franklin warned, “Even peace may be purchased at too high a price.”
We can achieve peace with nearly anyone at any time, if we are willing to forego justice. We could have had peace with Hitler without World War II if we were willing for Nazism to control Europe; there could have been peace with Japan, if we were willing for the Emperor to control Southeast Asia. We could have peace with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda now if we are willing for Israel to be annihilated and fundamentalist Islam to control the Middle East. There could be peace in the Middle East if Israel were willing for the Palestinians to control Jerusalem and the region, or if the Palestinians were willing for Israel to control Jerusalem and the region.
True peace requires justice and righteousness, in all three dimensions of life: with ourselves, with others, and with God. Not just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice. Where do we find such peace?
Admit your need for peace
How do we find peace with ourselves?
We ask ourselves, is my life fulfilling its purpose? Am I all I should be? Most of us would answer in the negative. For most of us, the burdens of our failures, guilt, and shame are heavier than the joys of our successes. Philip Yancey wrote a bestseller, Disappointment With God. Most of us could write the sequel, Disappointment with Us. Do I have hope? Direction? Purpose? Do I even believe in hope, direction, and purpose?
No society in human history has witnessed the proliferation of self-help books, magazines, and television shows we have seen. None has ever had so many counselors or drug therapies available to it. None has ever been wealthier. But by every measure, none has ever been unhappier.
Detailed research has proven that Americans need about $50 thousand to be happy. Once we reach that level, our happiness does not increase with our income. Those who make four times that much are no happier than those who make that amount.
Have we found peace with ourselves? Have you?
Have we found peace with others?
We seek peace with others. We face conflicts at work, school and home; and terrorism abroad and at home. We now take for granted a Department of Homeland Security. “9-11” will forever be this generation’s Pearl Harbor. And conflicts are nowhere near an end.
The “Road Map to Peace” in the Middle East now appears to be potholed beyond repair, its asphalt buckled in the hot sun of terrorism and violence.
Things are better in Iraq without Saddam in power, but the conflict continues and terrorism still threatens us. Fifty years after the United Nations was created to “make the world safe for democracy,” is the world safe for democracy?
Ambrose Bierce calls peace in international affairs, “a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.” And Lloyd Cory adds cynically, “Peace is the brief glorious moment in history when everybody stands around reloading.” Have we found peace with each other? Have you?
Have we found peace with God?
If you knew somehow that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords were returning to this planet in the next ten minutes, how would such knowledge make you feel? If you could choose whether he returns this morning or not, what would you decide? Are you ready to stand before your God? Are you at peace with him? How can we be?
Seek righteousness to find peace
One of the most famous passages in the book of Isaiah predicts that God’s Messiah will one day come to his people. He will “come from the stump of Jesse,” the father of King David, thus from David’s royal line. And he will “bear fruit” (v. 1).
What kind of fruit? The Spirit of the Lord will enable him to give:
“Wisdom,” the comprehension of truth in our lives, and “understanding,” the ability to apply this knowledge to our daily problems. In other words, he will guide us to peace with ourselves.
He will give us “counsel and power,” practical attributes which enable us to be at peace with each other.
And “knowledge and the fear of the Lord,” spiritual qualities which lead to peace with God.
But this harmony will be partnered with justice:
He will not judge by appearances or hearsay (v. 3). Unlike fallen humans, he will not listen to gossip or slander.
With righteousness he will help the needy and the poor, and punish the wicked (v. 4). In fact, righteousness and faithfulness will be his “belt” and “sash” (v. 5).
And then true peace will come:
There will be peace in nature (vs. 6-8). Isaiah partners the predator with his most desired prey, and promises they will live together.
We will have peace with ourselves and each other, so that we “will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain” (v. 9a).
And we will have peace with God: “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (v. 9b).
The path to peace is simple. We seek not peace, but righteousness, and peace results. When we are right with each other, we will be at peace with each other. When we are right with ourselves, we will be at peace with ourselves. When we are right with God, we will be at peace with God. And we must be right with God before we can be right with each other or with ourselves.
Billy Graham claims, “Christ alone can bring lasting peace—peace with God—peace among men and nations—and peace within our hearts” (Billy Graham).
Dante’s most beautiful line of poetry states simply, “In Thy will is our peace.”
Julian of Norwich taught, “Peace reigns where our Lord reigns.”
At Christmas the angels rejoiced: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:14).
He came to make it possible for us to be right with God, and then with others and ourselves. To pay our debt, purchasing our salvation, redeeming our souls, making possible a right relationship with our righteous, pure, and holy God.
To transform our natures by the miracle of his grace, making us God’s new creation so that the lion and the lamb might lie down together inside our hearts and homes. To make possible that righteousness with God, others and ourselves which leads to true and lasting peace. To be our Prince of Peace.
And so the Bible teaches, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7). The “peace which understanding cannot produce” will be yours. This is the promise of God.
Where do you most need peace in your life?
The next time you find yourself in conflict with someone else, in need of relational peace, remember that righteousness is the foundation for peace. Do the right thing, no matter the apparent cost. Do whatever you must to be right with that person, and peace will result.
The next time you find yourself in inner conflict, go to God and get right with him. He will carry you through your circumstances, however hard they may be. He will give you strength, no matter how heavy your load. He will give you comfort, no matter how difficult your pain. Stay right with him, and you will know his peace.
The next time you are tempted to sin, know that your enemy is trying to steal your peace with God. When you are wrong with him, you cannot be right with yourself or with others. The momentary advantage or pleasure that sin offers you will cost you your peace. The deal is not worth its price. Stay right with God, and you will know the peace which passes understanding, the peace his Son came to give us all.
After World War I, the Prince of Wales visited a military hospital and its 36 injured soldiers.
In the first ward he visited, he went from bed to bed thanking each soldier for his sacrifices for his country. When he left the ward he told the official in charge that he had counted only 29 soldiers, and asked where the other seven were being kept. The official explained that they would not recover, and had been left alone to die.
The Prince refused to leave until he found their ward and visited with each one. But he counted only six and asked about the missing soldier. He was told, “That soldier is in a little dark room by himself. He is blind, dumb, deaf, and completely paralyzed by his injuries. He awaits release by death.”
The Prince of Wales quietly opened the door and entered his darkened room. He could not speak to the man, or shake his hand. Finally he went slowly to his bed, stooped over the wounded soldier, and kissed him on the forehead.
The Prince of Peace who came at Christmas has come again today. To your room, no matter how dark or lonely. To bring you his peace. This is the promise of God.