Perfecting Peace: “Prince of Peace”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
October 16, 2016
This morning we begin a new series on peace, called “Perfecting Peace”. In the troubled world we live, peace should be a topic we spend much time studying, learning and practicing. All we have to do each day is to turn on the news, read a paper, or log onto the internet to see that war, discord, division and hostility abounds, not only in our national politics, but in the world, here in our local community, and in our homes, behind closed doors.
Our series on peace is designed to answer the pressing questions we all have about peace. First we have Jesus, who is known as the Prince of Peace. We read that in scripture but what does that really mean? What is a Prince of Peace and how can this Prince make a difference in our lives? Next we have the “peace that surpasses all understanding.” How can we get it? Or more importantly how can we share it with others once we have it ourselves? Third, we have the peacemakers, who are known to be blessed, at least that is what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5. Is it possible that we can learn to be peacemakers? I hope so. And finally, we have “peace on earth?” What does that look like – is it only an impossible dream? In the weeks to come we will be stretching our ideas about peace and it is my prayer that we all would come away with a revived sense of purpose and commitment to our faith, and that we would be peacemakers and change agents.
I think that is especially important given what is going on around us today. I can’t help but be bombarded by the political process that is churning around us. The disunity, division and antagonism breaks my heart. I’ve never seen anything like it and I fear what will be left of our country when the voting is over. How will we reunite and be truly the United States of America? As Christians we have a role in peacemaking, we have a responsibility to God to work to bring peace and that is what this series is about. It couldn’t come at a better time than now, as we enter the last three and a half weeks before election day.
Let’s begin with Isaiah, chapter 9. This scripture is usually read as a precursor to the Christmas story, the prophesy of the coming of Christ. The words are spoken to Yahweh by the prophet Isaiah, on behalf of the people. It is written in the past tense, “a child has been born,” giving God the ultimate authority that this “thing” will be done. It isn’t written as a maybe, or perhaps, or a might be. It is written in the context of something that will be done, has already been done.
From the perspective of the stable in Bethlehem, we see this as an announcement of the birth of the Messiah. Some suggest though, that it was written with another royal child in mind, one already born or one not yet born, not everyone believed it was about Jesus. But this scripture in Isaiah for us. It is a scripture of hope, hope of a “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” “The ancient promise of a son of David on the throne is reaffirmed in this scripture. Both the names of the child and the final lines of the poem promise perpetual peace with justice and righteousness.”
We love to read the prophesy of the birth of Christ. The long awaited messiah, predicted by Isaiah and birthed into the world, in a stable in Bethlehem. “In a world filled with war and violence, it may be difficult to see how Jesus could be the all-powerful God who acts in human history, the embodiment of peace. But physical safety and political harmony don’t necessarily reflect the kind of peace Jesus is talking about.” Shalom is peace in Hebrew and refers to an appearance of calm and tranquility within groups, individuals or nations. The Greek word for peace is Eirene and means “unity and accord.” “But the deeper, more foundational meaning of peace is “the spiritual harmony brought about by an individual’s restoration with God.”
Can any of you remember what your lives were like before you became acquainted with Christ? Do you remember the disunity and discord, the confusion and chaos that ran your life? Can you think back to the times when decisions that were made were ungodly and led to disastrous results? And then can you recall the moment or time in your life when you made the decision to accept the peace that Christ offers, when you put aside your selfish ways and committed to being a disciple of Jesus Christ?
Your life was transformed; it has never been the same. But that doesn’t mean that it has been without strife, without conflict. It means that through the trials we have a peacemaker in our corner, offering support and guidance to lead us back to him. When we become followers of Jesus Christ, the love, joy and peace that floods us to our very core, is provided by the Holy Spirit working in our lives. When we are filled with this love, joy and peace, we can’t help but share it with others. We witnessed that earlier this morning in the experience that Connie shared with us.
Which brings us to our second scripture this morning, Ephesians 2:13-18. Here we can see the fulfillment of the prophesy in Isaiah 9. It is Christ who is the Prince of Peace. In this scripture we can see that it is Christ who is the bridge that unites us in peace. It is Christ who is our peace, not the world, not our bank accounts, not our shoe collections, or our fancy automobile. It is Christ alone who is our peace.
The passage in Ephesians talks about “both groups” that will be reunited – of course they were originally speaking about the Jews and Gentiles, but I would also argue that you could replace Jew and Gentile with black and white, republican and democrat, rich and poor, Christian and Muslim. The divisions are all around us and it is Christ alone who can reunite us and bring us a lasting peace.
“Paul describes to us how Christ does this, how peace can be brought in any area of conflict or hostility, whether among individuals or groups or nations.” Through this letter to the Christians in Ephesus, Paul says that Christ is our peace, has made peace and he came to preach peace. Peace is oneness, it is harmony, it is the sharing of mutual enjoyment, it is being one with God. The peace that Christ offers us is a lasting peace, it is not fleeting or temporary. Consider those who think peace only in terms of the cessation of fighting. It may appear that peace has been ushered in, because there is no evidence of the conflict. But if the peace is not centered in Christ, then the peace is temporary as the conflict may continue to fester just under the surface.
Christ is the author of peace; he is the Prince of Peace. He owns it. He ushers in the peace that will be satisfying, permanent and genuine. “What Paul is saying is that in order to live at peace, you must have peace, first. The problem with most of us is that we want to start by clearing up the results of conflict, not the cause of conflict. God never starts there; he starts with the cause of the conflict, the person, the most likely cause. He says peace is a Person, (capital P, Jesus) and in order for you to live at peace with someone else, you must be at peace with the Person of Christ. If you have His peace, then you can start solving the conflict around you. But you can never do it on any other basis. So the place to start, the origin of peace, is the settling of any problems you may have between yourself and Jesus Christ. That is the best place to start.”
I am often asked to meet with people who are in the midst of disagreements, things aren’t going well and they come to me seeking guidance for their problems. More often than not, the place we all need to begin, before we can resolve our problems with others, is to refocus ourselves on Christ. If we don’t have the Prince of Peace firmly planted within us, everything we try to do will fail. Everything we try will be colored by the emotional state we are in – anger, frustration, fear, sadness, or a self-righteous attitude that believes that the problem really is the “other” person, not me. It couldn’t be me!
Before we can begin to bring peace or healing to the situation, we must first declare that Christ is our peace, our Prince of Peace, and he alone can bring resolution and peace upon us. Christ alone can make us one. Christ alone can make us whole.
Once we have Christ firmly planted, we must look for the walls that divide, those things that are causing the divisiveness and seek Christ to heal it. What is it that creates the hostility that robs us of living in peace? What is it that makes us so convinced that our problems aren’t ourselves, but those who we are trying to work with – our spouse, our children, our parents or maybe our co-workers. We are blind to our own self-righteous hypocrisy and until we admit that we are no better than the other. We must realign ourselves with Jesus, leveling the playing field and recognize that we are all in need of grace; we all need forgiveness, and when that is accomplished, then the hostility can be removed.
We see this in John chapter eight when Jesus confronts a woman who has been caught in adultery. Although the Law is clear in this situation, she must be stoned to death, Christ was able to direct those in the crowd to think about their own guilt. They all realized very quickly that none of them were without sin, all of them, like the adulterous woman needed grace and grace was what Christ gave them.
Jesus Christ came to abolish the law. By changing our focus, from the hundreds of ordinances and commandments, to refocus on Christ. And refocusing ourselves on his ways, on his new commandment to “love God and love one another,” in doing so we are able to access the peace he offers. Christ “fulfilled the Law in himself, and by doing so, he rendered both Jew and Gentile (rich and poor, republican and democrat, black and white) unacceptable before God. All of us are unacceptable. He showed them how the Law was meant to be fulfilled. And when they saw his impeccable life, the Jews knew they were just as guilty as the Gentiles. This is what Paul argues at great length in Romans 2, 3, and 4 – that the Jew has no advantage over the Gentile, simply because he knows more truth, but that he stands on exactly the same ground – Jew and Gentile both are in need of forgiveness. And so our Lord gave them a common ground of forgiveness. And when he did that, there was no hostility left.
“So this is the way to start ending hostility and move toward peace: Stop being self-righteous. Remove the demand that one must change without acknowledging that we must change ourselves. When we can admit that we must stop focusing on the errors of others, hostility can be removed. It is us who must change. But as long as one insists that the other is all wrong, and there is nothing at all she needs to change, then of course hostility and resentment remain. Hostility comes by self-righteous demand. Remove that demand, and the hostility ends.” When we can do that, real Peace can be achieved. When we step outside of ourselves, when we acknowledge that we need grace more than the “other” guy, we can begin to access the peace that the Prince of Peace offers us. Amen
 Philippians 4:7
 Isaiah 9:6b
 John 13:34