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Peace and Comfort

Date: Nov. 29, 2020

Author: Bob Henkins

Isaiah 9:1-7

Key Verse: Isaiah 9:6

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.

Lately, whenever we read the headlines, watch the news, look at social media, it seems like the world is a chaotic place. With all the talk about the expanding pandemic, racial tension, continuing election fights, skyrocketing carjackings (around Chicago) there just seems to be so much negativity. Whether it’s just a function of us being more connected, or the media reports, or the world really is just a chaotic place, there doesn’t seem to be a way for us to get a break from it. We are constantly being bombarded with noise and quite frankly it gets tiresome and wears us out. I remember a commercial from long ago about a bath soap called Calgon where the actor in the commercial experiences a series of stressful situations, the traffic, the boss, the kids, the dog, until they finally just shout out, “Calgon take me away,” and instantly they were whisked away to a beautiful, private, quiet bubble filled hot bath where they could relax, lose their cares, pamper themselves in luxury and lift their spirits. Doesn’t that sound wonderful, especially if you’ve had a very hectic day.

But the problem with this is that the bath is only temporary, eventually we have to return to the real world. The real world is full of problems. People are worried about the nation shutting down again because of the pandemic outbreaks, many have lost their jobs or being furloughed. People are worried about the presidential transition, will it be peaceful, will it even happen? For some, the holidays are a normally a difficult time and this year they may be even harder because of social distancing guidelines and maybe even the loss of a family member. This year has been particularly hard on people, we are lonely, isolated, frustrated and maybe even angry. We can easily be filled with anxiety and lose heart.

By ourselves, it’s difficult to have peace. If we pickup our phone, our laptop, or turn on the TV, we are bombarded with the noise. But if we completely disconnect, then how can we exist in the world? It seems to be a paradox. But Jesus told his disciples they must be in the world but not of the world, so he prayed for them that they would not be taken out of the world but that they would be protected in the world (Jn 17) and now I see that we need this all the more in our time. We need to live and function in the world but not let it affect us. But how can we do this? We need to have the peace of God in our hearts.

Because of this, we chose peace to be our theme for Advent this year. So that we might have the peace of God within our hearts. Advent, in Latin, means ‘Coming,’ therefore, the Advent season celebrates the coming of Christ. We celebrate when Jesus first came into the world, as a baby in a manger and we look forward to when he will come again and return as King of kings. So, we designate the four weeks before Christmas as Advent in the hopes that we can prepare our hearts and remember the real meaning of Christmas, which is the birth of Christ.

When Jesus first came into the world, this was God declaring a peace treaty with his enemies, us, mankind. And it’s because of Jesus, and what he’s done, through his death and resurrection, that our war with God can end, and we can have peace. When Jesus comes again, and returns for the second time, God promised that we will have eternal peace, peace that will never end, when he takes us to the heavenly kingdom. However, in the meantime while we wait for Jesus to return, we need the peace of God which transcends all understanding to guide and comfort us.

Did you notice that our passage reading this morning started with the word, “Nevertheless”? Take a look at verse one, “Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress. In the past he humbled the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the future he will honor Galilee of the nations, by the Way of the Sea, beyond the Jordan—” So what does the “Nevertheless” refer to? Let me read from the previous chapter for you, “21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness.” (Isa 8) Doesn’t this sound like 2020 if we replace “land” with “streets of Chicago” and “king” with “Trump?” So what Isaiah is getting at here is even though you see all this darkness and terrible things going on, something good is going to happen. Isaiah is saying that this is a promise from God. When you look at Isaiah’s writing, you see the different structures of the verses. You can see verse one is written one way and then verses two to seven its structured in a different way. So what we have here is the way to distinguish the words that God gave Isaiah to say and what is Isaiah’s commentary.

No peace in darkness (v1-3)
When Isaiah wrote this, he is writing about both, past events that have already occurred and future events that are yet to be fulfilled. Isaiah wrote this during one of the darkest periods of Israel’s history when they were being attacked by Assyria (732 BC). The king of Assyria, Tiglath-Pileser, attacked and took Gilead and Galilee, including all the land of Naphtali, and deported the people to Assyria. (2 Ki 15:29) Isaiah wrote this around 701 BC, after the Assyrian invasion and about 700 years before the birth of Christ.

Isaiah implied that God allowed this to happen – God humbled Israel (the tribes of Zebulun and Naphtali). And yet, even though it was a dark time, Isaiah’s prophesy brought hope to the people of Israel by saying, God would once again honor Israel. This would later be fulfilled by Jesus when began his public ministry in Capernaum (Mt 4:13-15). During Isaiah’s time, the people of Israel were in spiritual darkness, for they had turned away from God and were worshipping idols. Because of their sins they were in darkness and distress being oppressed by Satan and Assyria. As a result of their distress they did not have peace.

Now let’s take a look at verses 2-3, these speak of future events yet to occur. “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy; they rejoice before you as people rejoice at the harvest, as warriors rejoice when dividing the plunder.” Here, Isaiah is speaking about the birth of Christ, the Messiah. When Jesus was born, it was also considered a dark time. There were no prophets at the time, therefore the word of God wasn’t being spoken. Not only had God had been silent for 400 years, but Israel was also being oppressed and invaded by Romans. Since Israel was a hot bed, the Romans delt with the Jews very harshly. However, when Jesus is born it will be like a BRIGHT LIGHT shining in the darkness. The birth of Jesus will be the dawn of a new era, Immanuel, that is God has come to be with his people.

The people would rejoice because their oppression would be relieved. They were waiting in faith and hope, they had hope because of Isaiah’s prophecy of the great light that shines into the darkness. It was such a sure hope to Isaiah, that he wrote it in past tenses as though it had happened already.

The Prince of Peace (v4-7)
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat, you have shattered the yoke that burdens them, the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor.” In verse 4, Isaiah refers to Gideon’s victory, against the Midianites and the Amalekites who number was so great that they were described as thick as locusts and their camels were as numerous as the sand on the seashore. They had around 120 thousand soldiers, but God told Gideon to take 300 men (armed with only trumpets and torches) and fight them. (Jud 7:22-25) It was 120K vs 300 clearly an unfair fight. The Israelites routed them without a fight. It was clear that the victory was because of God. In fact, that’s why God had Gideon reduce the number of his men to only 300.

Verse 5 says, “Every warrior’s boot used in battle and every garment rolled in blood will be destined for burning, will be fuel for the fire.” This shows that peace was coming, and all traces of war and death would eventually be destroyed. Later God reveals that this happens when God’s kingdom is restored.

In verses 6-7 are the sign that God’s promise is true. Let’s read them. “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 greatness 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. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” Seven hundred years before it happens, Isaiah predicts that a child will be born, not just any child, the birth of Jesus would be a royal birth, from the line of David, and he would rule. He would reign with justice and righteousness, something all people long for. Especially in our time people long for social justice, you can even major in that in college if you want. Jesus’ rule would be marked not with conquest but with a peace that never ends.

Jesus is described by four main qualities: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Jesus is our Wonderful Counselor, he is like a good lawyer that defends their guilty client in court and frees them from all charges. Not only that, Jesus gives us the best advice and counsel. Mighty God: Jesus is Mighty God. Jesus is fully man and fully God. He performed many miracles and has power to raise the dead. He defeated death. Everlasting Father: Jesus is our Everlasting Father, he loves us and we are his precious children. He corrects us when we need it and protects and provides for us. We have an eternal inheritance that he is keeping in heaven for when we get there. And it say at the end of verse seven that God will accomplish this, he will carry it out by his power and might. He is a might God.

So, what does all this mean to us? We joke about 2020 being bad, (like 1918, 1929, and 1956 all rolled into one) and it’s true, it’s been pretty bad, but truthfully, it’s not unique. When we look at this passage, we can see a lot of parallels between Isaiah’s era, Jesus’ era, and our era. All of those were dark times, people suffer. These days Covid seems to be what people are talking most about, as of October, it became the third leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only cancer and heart disease. Yesterday we had a new world-wide record high of with over 200k new cases in one day and there is still more than a month to go. But this is only one thing, we suffer in so many ways, economically, physically (health/abuse), family, politically, and mentally. In 2017, one study reported that 792M people (slightly more than 1 in10) people worldwide suffered from mental health issues. When we think of mental health issues, we usually think of the major ones like schizophrenia but depression, anxiety, and bipolar are the most common affect nearly twenty percent of Americans. Some believe that holiday cheer amplifies loneliness and hopelessness in people who have lost loved ones, or who have high expectations of renewed happiness during the holiday season, only to be disappointed. And that was before the stress of Covid hit. Each of us have our own personal darkness and our own distress to deal with. Jimmy mentioned in last week’s message, how Justin Bieber sang that even though he had everything, he suffered from loneliness.

Given all this, it’s evident that we need peace. We need peace WITH God, peace OF MIND, and peace WITH OTHERS. If we lack ANY of these, we fall into distress. But how can we have even one of these, let alone all three, when we have very little control in the world? Peace is not the result of our situation. We shouldn’t go looking for peace in the wrong areas. It won’t work. True peace can only come from God. We have to realize that the lack of peace, begins with our sins. When we rebelled and sinned against God, our relationship with him was broken and as a result we became God’s enemy. The peace was shattered as war broke out. Then Satan swooped in and began to attack and accuse us bringing mental distress and our inner peace drains away. So, with a broken relationship with God and Satan’s inner torment, our selfishness rages within us and there goes our peace with others. So, what do we do? We try to solve this humanly, maybe with meditation, or self-help methods, or by medicating (pharmaceutically or on the street) but without addressing the root problem, none of these solutions can last. It all starts with our relationship with God.

Jesus is the solution. Jesus is the great light that shines in the darkness. Jesus said that he was the light of the world and whoever follows him will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life. (Jn 8:12) In darkness, you can’t see anything, you don’t know what’s going on. It can be distressing. So, we need a light to dispel darkness, which takes away fear and shows us which way to go. Jesus is that light, because he gives us the truth. Jesus gives us knowledge. There is darkness in the world, because of sin. Only Jesus is the solution to sin. Jesus’ death on the cross paid the price of sin and he opened the way for us to come back to God and restore our relationship. Jesus gives us truth, sometimes hard truth. These days it’s hard to know what truth is. There was a time you could trust a photograph, but not now with photoshop. And with deep fake video technology, you can’t trust video either. These days with all the noise and misinformation out there it’s very difficult to know what truth is. What Isaiah prophesied about Jesus came true, it is the light, it is the truth.

Not only did Jesus restore our relationship with our Creator and established peace between us, but he came to give us peace personally. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jn 14:27) “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) Through Jesus’ resurrection, he overcame death and defeated Satan once and for all. Because of this, Jesus can give us inner peace by silencing Satan and protecting us from his attacks.

Lastly, Jesus gives us peace with others because he loved us. God is love and whoever lives in love lives in God and God in them. We can love others because Jesus loved us first. Jesus filled our empty hearts with his love, he drives out our fear and makes us able to love others. (1 Jn 4) Jesus leads by example of how we are to love others, even as Jesus hung on the cross, he did not curse his accusers and betrayers, rather instead he cried out to God and said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Lk 23:34) As Isaiah says, Jesus is the prince of peace, he is not the prince of war or the prince of darkness, but the prince of peace. Jesus brings real peace, a peace that lasts. Real peace solves our problem with God. Real peace solves our inner anxiety problem. Real peace solves our problem with others. Jesus gives us a full and complete peace which can only come when we receive Jesus into our hearts and accept him as our Lord and Savior. Jesus is our prince of peace. Isaiah proclaimed to us that a great light has come, for unto us a child is born, to us a son is given and he will be our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.

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