"Peace through God's Planting and New Covenant"
Dec.5, 2010 Jer.31:23-34
YOUR IDEAL PREFERRED FUTURE
As winter truly sets in with icy temperatures and treacherous snow and slushy roads, there's a sort of advertising that becomes particularly appealing to Canadians. Perhaps it's a 'Freedom 55' scheme from your financial planner or insurance company, or a special offer from a travel agent, but you've all seen it - it shows a couple linked hand in hand, strolling across a vast beach in tropical sunshine, or plunging into aquamarine waters ready to go snorkeling to investigate the coral. Ah - 3 primary ingredients draw us in: sun, sand, and sea. Usually whoever's presenting the offer is trying to persuade us this is what we'd really want to do with the rest of our life if we could but afford it. A 'preferred ideal future', perfect peace.
But, appealing as that might be at first glance, is it actually realistic? Would there be any guarantee things couldn't go wrong? Could that type of peace be a transitory mirage? Let's imagine we've just settled ourselves on our reclining beach chair on some warm Caribbean beach. What could possibly go wrong?
- The couple ten feet away from you starts arguing.
- There's a sudden increase in the queasy feeling inside your stomach from that exotic seaweed-and-octopus appetizer you sampled last night.
- The portable radio you've tuned in for music suddenly reports any number of things:
- your flight home just got cancelled due to a bomb threat at the airport.
- the stocks underlying your retirement nest-egg have suddenly plunged due to market jitters about yet another European nation going bankrupt and requiring an expensive financial bail-out.
- there's been a violent murder of a tourist coupleat the neighbouring hotel up the beach, and police warn the killer is still at large.
- or, the news reports that while you've been outside lying on the beach, the concrete floor in the foyer of the hotel you're staying at suddenly erupted, perhaps due to an explosion of trapped gas from the reclaimed swampland the hotel was hastily built on 6 years ago.
- Or, maybe it's not the news on the radio. Instead your cell phone chimes with a text message. It's your high-school-aged granddaughter. She's just found out she's pregnant. Her folks have kicked her out of the house and she's asking you for money so she can find some place to live.
Sun - sand - sea - what could possibly go wrong and disturb the peace? Any number of things!
By contrast, the Bible's picture of true peace, its 'ideal preferred future', has much more to it - and is actually infinitely more satisfying - than any poster of sun, sand, and surf.
WHAT MAKES FOR PEACE?
What are the requirements for peace? People at all levels have wondered about this, from the mother striving to referee between her multiple battling boys to UN ambassadors. U Thant was once Secretary General of the United Nations. While speaking in 1965 before sixty-seven distinguished scholars and states men from nineteen countries of the world, who were convened to talk about the requirements for world peace, he asked these questions about the evasiveness of peace: "What element is lacking so that with all our skill and all our knowledge we still find ourselves in the dark valley of discord and enmity? What is it that inhibits us from going forward together to enjoy the fruits of human endeavour and to reap the harvest of human experience? Why is it that, for all our professed ideals, our hopes, and our skills, peace on earth is still a distant objective seen only dimly through the storms and turmoils of our present difficulties?"
The Bible suggests some answers to such questions about what makes for lasting peace. First, many mistakenly identify peace with prosperity, supposing much money would make one happy. But in Scripture, peace is only associated with prosperity IF one hasn't gained the funds by wicked means. The Psalmist in puzzlement said, "For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked." (Literally, shalom - a Hebrew word meaning completeness, soundness, wealth.) The Psalmist was confused because he saw some wicked people doing well materially. But the Lord clarifies through the prophet Isaiah, "...the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.There is no peace,' says my God, 'for the wicked.'" (Isa 57:19-21)
Shalom-style peace is much more than mere prosperity; there's an element of protection, feeling safe, watched-over. Salvation or saving accompanies peace. Psalm 4(8), "I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety." Aged Simeon admits that after holding the infant Jesus in his arms he's ready to die, saying in Luke 2(29f), "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen your salvation..." When Jesus forgives a woman who had lived a sinful life in Luke 7(50), He said, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Peace is linked to safety.
So, as the Bible understands it, peace is much more than just a state of not being in conflict with anyone; it's associated with wholeness, soundness, things going well, and being protected, living in safety. Another quality often found associated with peace in Scripture is righteousness. That makes sense - when there's injustice going on, or you're morally out of sync with God, how can you be at peace? So peace isn't just about what's going on 'out there' - it's tied to your ethical state 'in here', our personal holiness, whether we're right with God. Some verses that suggest this: Psalm 85:8&10, "I will listen to what God the LORD will say; he promises peace to his people, his saints-- but let them not return to folly...Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other." (Isn't that beautiful poetic imagery, personifying these attributes that belong together?) The literary parallelism in Isaiah 48:18 also associates peace and righteousness: "If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea."
If you're not feeling at peace in your life - if there's a lot of stress, tension, or conflict - what's the reading on your 'righteousness' gauge? Have you been getting out of whack in a moral sense? Is your thought life pure? Have those flyers been suggesting new idols for you to worship? Have you been making unjust criticism of others, or been envying them? You may have internal factors by which you've unconsciously been sabotaging your peace.
In his oral history of World War II, author-historian Studs Terkel related the experience of David Milton who was an eighteen-year-old merchant seaman aboard ship in 1942. Milton told of one time when his ship was transporting Sherman tanks across to Europe. "In the middle of the Atlantic, these tanks broke loose in a big storm.They were Sherman tanks, twenty, thirty tons.As the ship would roll, these tanks would just slide through the hold and bang up against the bulkhead.Then they'd roll the other way, just shaking the ship apart.So we pulled out of the convoy. We headed into the sea, while the deck seamen went down below to secure those tanks.They were riding them like cowboys, trying to hook cables through.Finally, they got the tanks lashed down..." The great danger to Milton's ship came, not from the storm on the outside, but by the disturbance on the inside. We can handle the stresses without only when we are battened down within.
Through time, Biblical prophets began to point to the Messianic age as the period when true peace would be instituted; for Christ Himself would teach God's law, and dispense God's justice perfectly. When Messiah came, God's anointed servant would ensure lasting peace. Some of these are the church's favourite advent texts. Isaiah 2:2-4, "In the last days...the law will go out from Zion, the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." A true era of peace!
Isaiah 9:6-7, "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. Of the increase 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." And Zechariah 9:9-10, "...See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations..."
When we come to the New Testament, the message of Jesus and the apostles is that this age of peace has already begun through the insertion of God's Son in a saving way into our hurting, hating human history. How did the heavenly host announce it to the shepherds? "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests." (Lk 2:14) Simeon takes the baby Jesus in his arms and prays, "You now dismiss your servant in peace.For my eyes have seen Your salvation..." (Lk 2:29f) Jesus says directly to His followers, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (Jn 16:33) Preaching to Cornelius and other gentiles, Peter refers to God's message as "the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all." (Ac 10:36) Writing to the Romans, Paul maintains, "...since we have been justified [ie received God's righteousness] through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Rom 5:1) And to the Colossians he explains that God was pleased through Christ "to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Col 1:20) Here then is the key ingredient that makes peace: Jesus' blood, the pouring out of His life as a sacrifice on the cross, in order that we sinners might be put right with (viewed as righteous by) God. Once we acknowledge and perceive that - by contrast, what claim or beef can we possibly hang on to as a grievance with any other human?
JEREMIAH'S PROPHECY - A PREVIEW OF PEACE
In Jeremiah 31, we see echoes of this Biblical appreciation of true peace/shalom. There's an element of restoration and prosperity for the Israelites who will, after 70 years of captivity, return from exile to once again inhabit the land. Vv11-12a,14: "For the LORD will ransom Jacob and redeem them from the hand of those stronger than they...they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD-- the grain, the new wine and the oil, the young of the flocks and herds.They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more...'I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty,' declares the LORD."
There's protection, making safe - in vv12-13 and 16 we see God pacifying their sorrow and loss. "...they will sorrow no more...I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow."
There's also the permanence of being planted in a way that promises safety. Vv5,27f: "Again you will plant vineyards on the hills of Samaria; the farmers will plant them and enjoy their fruit..."The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will plant the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the offspring of men and of animals.Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant," declares the LORD."
You can sense the grounding and safety of this planting. A ship was wrecked in a furious storm and the only survivor was a little boy who was swept by the waves onto a rock. He sat there all night long until, the next morning, he was spotted and rescued. "Did you tremble while you were on the rock during the night?" someone later asked him. "Yes," said the boy. "I trembled all night--but the rock didn't." Being planted on the solid rock helped him have peace.
And most of all, alongside the prosperity, protection, and planting, peace is assured through the pact of God's presence through personal relationship. Vv31:31-34 is the longest sequence of Old Testament verses to be quoted in its entirety in the New Testament - very key for understanding how the two parts of the Bible tie together: God's agenda is to bring us peace for His glory; that's prophesied and portrayed by types in the Old Testament, and brought to pass, put into place in the New. In these verses Yahweh predicts a 'new covenant' [testament] or new deal He's going to make with Israel; "It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the LORD." The old arrangement had broken down - not because of any inadequacy on God's part, but because sinful Israel had rejected Him so continually and completely.
God's vast everlasting love overcomes, makes allowance for, human weakness and shortfall. That's grace - only made possible in a just way by the substitutionary death of God's Son. Jeremiah describes further what this 'new covenant' or deal will look like: ""This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD."I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.I will be their God, and they will be my people.No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the LORD."For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."" Here we're getting at the heart of God's purpose and intent for His creatures: intimacy of us being His people and He owned/acknowledged/looked to as our God; His law or will written on our hearts, us wanting to do what He wants, knowing Him and relating to Him personally. A profound picture of peace.
How could that possibly come about in a just way when He is such a holy God and we are such sinful people? Only through some mechanism of forgiveness. The old way with its tabernacle or Temple and altar with animal sacrifices was only a shadow, an illustration pointing to the covenant's fulfilment in Jesus Christ. The letter to the Hebrews makes this connection most thoroughly - see chapters 8 and 10 where this passage from Jeremiah is really brought into focus through the lens of Christ crucified. 10:12-14, "But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool [there will be actual peace externally], because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." Jesus has become the means for our forgiveness, the vehicle by which God's love reaches out and draws us near. Something radical had to happen to deal with our 'incredible evil', our 'incurable wound' sprouting from our corrupt heart (30:12ff) that made us enemies with God. What was required to bring about peace and reconciliation was the cross, the most unjust thing that could ever come about: God turned it around and made the unthinkable our way back to Him. By that one sacrifice we who believe are being made holy, made perfect or complete and adequate forever.
PRINCE OF PEACE PAID THE PRICE
The Puritan Thomas Watson put it this way: "God the Son is called the Prince of Peace. He came into the world with a song of peace: 'On earth peace...' He went out of the world with a legacy of peace, 'Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you.' Christ's earnest prayer was for peace; He prayed that His people might be one. Christ not only prayed for peace, but bled for peace: 'Having made peace through the blood of His cross.' He died not only to make peace between God and man, but between man and man. Christ suffered on the cross that He might cement Christians together with His blood; as He prayed for peace, so He paid for peace."
It's been purchased and provided for you to have personally, this peace. Will you 'own' it - avail yourself of it? Will you carry it out in your relationships? Would those around perceive you as a 'man of peace' / 'woman of peace'? Jesus said an interesting thing to His disciples about how they should approach situations. He implied it's not necessarily a matter of discovering peace IN a setting, but that we actually bring our peace (His peace, really) TO the situation. Luke 10:5-6, when He's sending out the 72 on mission as His advance messengers - listen to this closely: "When you enter a house, first say, 'Peace to this house.' If a man of peace is there, your peace will rest on him; if not, it will return to you."
Be His ambassador of peace this week - Him who is the Prince of peace. Let's pray.