Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Path to Genuine Peace is Paved with Conflict.

Isaiah 9:1-7
But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles.
The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. Thou shalt multiply the nation, Thou shalt increase their gladness;
they will be glad in Thy presence as with the gladness of harvest, as men rejoice when they divide the spoil. For Thou shalt break the yoke of their burden and the staff on their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, as at the battle of Midian. For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire. For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will accomplish this.

Here we have a text that describes a land (a designated group of people, a nation) that was facing serious conflict. The conflict was due, as it generally is, to bad civil government and irresponsible, self absorbed citizenry. Surely, this is not unlike today in many "lands" throughout the earth.

The reference to Zebulon, Naphtali and Galilee speaks of areas that had a bad reputation due to pagan influence. In every age, we must discern whether we, as a people, in our personal, individual lives and our corporate, institutional spheres are operating according to principles of God’s kingdom, as revealed in Scripture, or being influenced to think and act according to the deceptive philosophies, ideologies and principles of "the world". Many years after the text we are considering, a Messianic Jew living in the Roman Empire warned the people of his day by writing, "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ." (Colossians 2:8, NASB) The warning is not against philosophy itself, but against philosophy that promotes ideas that do not further the administration of God. He also wrote, " not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2; NAS)

Isaiah speaks to the people of his day about a day of light and joy and deliverance that is to come. The joy he refers to is compared to the joy one experiences at the time of harvest and during te dividing of the spoils of war. The time of harvest refers to the end of a process after labors wisely designed and engaged in toward that specific end. Dividing spoils of war has the same implications within the context of the end of a victorious battle. It's important to recognize the prevalence of the theme of battle in text such as this as it sets a meaningful and pertinent stage for accomplishing the work of God and furthering His kingdom, increasing His government. I am not suggesting that we can advance the kingdom of God by way of military force as some religious groups assume and attempt. I am, however, declaring that advancing the kingdom of God by way of persuasion and influence will take place in an atmosphere of conflict. One might say that the path to genuine peace is paved with conflict. This involves spiritual warfare and ideological battles.

The reference made by Isaiah to the battle of Midian would turn our attention to the victory Gideon had with limited manpower. This is a form of encouragement to workers who are few. It often appears to our natural senses that the task is too great since the workers and resources are limited. Victory, however, is at hand when the faithful few, in the power of God, put their hands to the plow and move forward.

Albert Barnes states, “Most of the picture seems to have been that of battles, conflicts, sieges, dimness, and thick darkness. But in one portion of the passing scene there was light. It was the light that he saw rising in the distant and darkened Galilee. He saw the joy of the people; the armor of war laid aside; the image of peace succeeding; the light expanding and becoming more intense as the darkness retired, until he saw in this region the Prince of Peace - the Sun of Righteousness itself. The eye of the prophet gazed intently on that scene, and was fixed on that portion of the picture: he sees the Messiah in his office, and describes him as already come, and as born unto the nation.”

It is noteworthy that passages such as this are spoken in a present moment about the future in language that speaks of certainty. These things will happen. Isaiah speaks of something that is not yet a reality but will be. A word of caution is appropriate at this point. We should not allow this to encourage a passive attitude or approach on our part. This is often a tendency. What we must understand is that Scripture everywhere affirms that such things become a reality through an appropriate process. We must humbly realize that the process involves plans and provisions made by God along with a proper response on the part of God's people. Understanding and recognizing this is of great importance to the church and its mission in the world today! Our mission involves the proclamation and advancement of the kingdom of God. Isaiah says, "the government will rest on His shoulders". This speaks of the idea that Jesus will reign as king of a kingdom. The goal is that all earthly kingdoms will rightly be subordinate to His ultimate authority and leadership. A "yoke" that is easy. An authority (as bad as this word appears to some) that eventually produces genuine peace, as opposed to counterfeit, make-believe, pretend peace that comes by ignoring unrighteousness and moral evil. One of the parables presented by the Messiah spoken of by Isaiah was, “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field; and this is smaller than all other seeds; but when it is full grown, it is larger than the garden plants, and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and nest in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-32, NASB) The rulers and kingdoms of the earth will someday find their proper "resting place", their Sabbath in Him. This will come about, not through the power of military force and takeover but through the power of persuasion in the midst and atmosphere of conflict.

Though there is much more that could be said, I will draw my conclusion by referring to one of the titles given in Isaiah's prophesy.

Prince of Peace

Consider these words spoken by the one referred to as the Prince of Peace. “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life shall lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake shall find it." (Matthew 10:34-39, NASB) And again, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; for from now on five members in one household will be divided, three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” (Luke 12:51-53, NASB)

I would suggest that redemptive history unfolds in degrees, according to appropriate stages and processes. The path to genuine peace is paved with conflict. As in His days on planet earth, we do not currently see Jesus governing as the Prince of Peace. The conflict has not yet been properly addressed and resolved. There is more energy put into avoiding conflict than facing and resolving it. This conflict is essentially over ideas, philosophies and ideologies. We might say that they are the presuppositions upon which all of life, personal and corporate, is lived. All of the provisions for victory have been made but the church in this age, like the nation of Israel in the past age, has a role to play in the ultimate fulfillment of this victory.

A Child was born and a Son was given because God uses humans to reach humans. Do we really believe that God would have the government will rest on His shoulders? That He is a Wonderful Counselor, a Mighty God, an Eternal Father, the Prince of Peace. Do we want to experience the reality that there will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace? Let us turn our attention away from speculations that do not further the administration of God. Let us free ourselves from the entanglements of everyday life, put our hands to the plow and fulfill the mission / task we've been given. Proper doctrine will encourage the body of Christ to see its "calling" in the right light and inspire us to accomplish our mission.

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