A Reason for Hope
December 5, 2010
by Glenn Myers
This passage is sometimes referred to as the Peaceable Kingdom. As we think of Christmas, I often picture Christ as the Prince of Peace. Isaiah here paints a beautiful picture of living together in Peace. The angels proclaimed “Peace on Earth.” Jesus several times spoke peace to His disciples. My prayer is that this Christmas season we all may experience a new measure of God’s peace in our lives.
I started thinking about how it was in Israel before Christ was born. Rome was ruling Palestine. The Jews resented the Roman rule. Common people were at the beck and call of the Roman soldiers and could be asked to carry their pack for a mile at any time. Some of their fellow men had done the unthinkable thing and contracted with the Romans to collect taxes for them. There they were, God’s chosen people, and they were in this situation. What was going to happen to them? They wanted a king, a Messiah to come and overthrow Rome and bring peace to the land. A strong leader hopefully could give them hope and peace.
But my scripture is from Isaiah, and that was a long time before Christ was born. Isaiah was a prophet about the time the Northern Kingdom was conquered by the Assyrians. Many were then taken into exile and were really discouraged. Isaiah had warned them in the first chapters of Isaiah this would happen. They had turned away from God and worshiped idols and did many other things that were displeasing to God. They were receiving judgment for their actions. Would things ever be right again? If only God would send a ruler, a Messiah to deliver them from the Assyrians. Would they ever experience peace again? Would they have a ruler of their own clan who really cared about them and would rule justly? Did they have a reason to hope?
How about us today? Today we celebrate the 2nd Sunday of Advent. Our country seems to be divided. Many people seem to be more greedy and selfish. There are wars and unrest around the world. Do we have reason to hope for our country? Should we expect the leaders of our country to give us peace of mind? How do we get inner tranquility, that is a state of mind, a state of being, and how does true peace come, even in the midst of turmoil and conflict? How do we find peace? Do we have a reason to hope that things will get better, be more peaceful?
There was a study done at Duke University on factors that relate to “peace.” Their conclusions are interesting, and I’d like for us to consider some of their findings.
One of the factors they found that leads to an increased sense of peace is refusing to indulge in self pity when life hands you a raw deal. A willingness to accept the fact that no one gets through life without some sorrow or misfortune. Although sometimes our misfortunes are a result of our bad choices, we need to take responsibility for our actions and deal with the situation. But not every situation is the result of bad choices and sometimes we need to accept the fact that life isn’t fair and sorrow and misfortune will come our way. We’ve also got to be kind to ourselves and allow ourselves time to grieve and regroup. When Christ is in this process, that’s when we discover tranquility in the midst of uncertainty. James Russell Lowell said, “Sorrow and misfortune are like knives that either serve us or cut us as we grasp them by blade or handle.” So we find that self pity and pity parties do not lead to tranquility.
Another finding is not to waste time and energy fighting conditions you can’t change. Cooperate with life rather than running from it. But there is a danger here we may become apathetic and not try to help change a situation that should be changed. We should be good stewards of our time as well. Perhaps you’ve heard the serenity prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” The key is the wisdom to know the difference. Isaiah promises the Messiah will have the “Spirit of wisdom.” Would you spend 48 hours by the door of a store to save $10 on Black Friday? Well, maybe you think that’s okay, but I think you get my point. We should each seek to spend our time wisely because it is a gift from God. Are we using our time to advance the cause of Christ and to enhance our relationship with Him? Not wasting our time on things we cannot change will heighten our sense of peace.
Another characteristic that brings peace is to quit living in the past. Some people live in the past because they can’t let go of something painful. Perhaps they have regrets that haunt them. They can’t forgive themselves or someone else and bitterness pens them in. Grief controls them. Pain has a way of robbing us of today and trapping us in yesterday. Jesus said “He that puts his hand to the plow and looks back is not fit for the kingdom of God.” I remember thinking many times, if only I’d said or done things differently – it didn’t change the past or give me peace.
There are those who live in the past for the opposite reason: because it being the good old days. The memory of the simplicity and fun of those days keeps them from facing and accepting what needs to be done today and from preparing for tomorrow. And often the good old days were not always so great. Living in the past robs you of today and tomorrow and does nothing to promote peace.
And finally, most of all find something bigger than yourself to believe in- which would be God. Jesus said in Matt. 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom and His righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” Actually, how can we do the other things that I mentioned without the power of God present in our lives? We can overcome self pity by looking to Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith,” and focus on Him, not ourselves. To receive wisdom, James writes if any of you lack wisdom let him ask of, who gives wisdom. Don’t live in the past, live in the future, God is the one who has plans for our future. Jeremiah 29:11 states, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
What is so interesting about this present day study from Duke University is that each of the characteristics can be applied to the Hebrew situation. They needed to quit wallowing in self pity. The reason they were in exile under Assyrian rule was their own fault. Because they abandoned God and worshiped the idols of their neighbors, they were suffering the consequence of their own actions. So now is not the time for self pity. In Matthew 6 Jesus tells us not to worry. Often worry and self pity are related.
Isaiah also says now is not the time to waste time and energy fighting conditions they cannot change. The Assyrian Empire is here and it’s useless to resist their rule. Instead time and energy should be used to renew their relationship with God, the one who can lead them out of exile. Isaiah is also saying, quit living in the past, and quit resting on your favored status with God. Yes, Moses and David were great leaders, but a greater Messiah is coming. Even in Jesus’ day the Pharisees were bragging they had Abraham as their father. Seek God now and be open for what He wants to do in and through you today and in the future.
Remember God is greater than the Assyrian Empire. The past has had its problems, but look at what God is promising for the future. A shoot will come forth out of the stump of Jesse. Jesse, remember was the father of David so God is promising a new king will be brought forth from the Davidic line, this new king will rule with righteousness and justice to the point the wolf will lie down with the lamb, the calf and the lion will be together, the cow and the bear will graze, and the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord. I love this picture of peacefulness.
All of this language is future tense: the wolf shall, the lion shall, the calf shall. Isaiah is pointing toward a future that will be defined by peace. Common enemies will rest together comfortably in peace because the one who is to come wears righteousness and faithfulness about Him.
It is the birth of this tiny child that will fulfill these words of peace. Christ’s message was not one of self pity. On many occasions his instructions were to take responsibility, but He also promised He’d be with us always in every situation. He also encouraged us to make wise use of our time and energy. Christ said, “Don’t resist evil doers. Turn the other cheek. Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the peacemakers.” He also said to quit living in the past.. He honored past tradition and looking to the future by saying, “I did not come to change the law, but to fulfill it.” The religious leaders of the day were so caught up in the past they couldn’t see the new relationship God was leading them to. That’s something for us to think about today, honor the past, but don’t live in it. And Christ definitely taught that there was something bigger to believe in. He constantly told parables about the kingdom – a peaceable kingdom.
Isaiah was not only offering hope, but he was promising peace. That peace will only come through the shoot that shall come from the stump of Jesse, for the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him. True peace comes from God, because his promise is not the absence of trouble, but the promise that He is always there. Several of us were at a silent retreat led by Elaine. I was able to journal a prayer about my anger toward God for not answering my prayers the way I hoped they would be answered. As I confessed this, I felt more peaceful and close to God.
Let me close with a story of how God can be with us even through the most difficult times and give what we need to survive with our faith. H. O. Spafford was a lawyer in Chicago. He was a dedicated Christian who lost most of his possessions, including his home, in the Chicago fire of 1871. He realized his family needed to get away for a vacation. Spafford decided to take his entire family to England. He sent his wife and four daughters ahead of him. In mid-ocean, the French steamer carrying his loved ones collided with another ship and sank within twelve minutes. 230 people lost their lives. His four daughters were drowned, but Mrs. Spafford was rescued. Spafford was (understandably) almost overcome with grief. He had lost his property, his four daughters were buried under the waves of the sea, and his wife was prostrate with grief on the other side of the world. Distraught, Spafford began his journey across the ocean to his wife, and as he came across the spot where his daughter’s boat went down, he could have relied on earthly wisdom and turned his grief into bitterness. He could have tried to get his pound of flesh from the French steamer company by filing lawsuits. He could have justified in his own mind being angry with God, and shaken his fist at the one who allowed his earthly life to seemingly be destroyed. Instead, on that spot he put all his trust in God and wrote a song that has comforted thousands since that time.
When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul
I hope – whatever your situation – it is well with you.
The peaceable kingdom is available to all, but only if we don’t give in to self pity, quit wasting time on things we can’t change, quit living in the past, and believe and trust in something or someone bigger than we are. O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel (and me).