Peace: Swords to Plows
On the grounds of the United Nations, there’s a sculpture titled Let Us Beat Swords Into Ploughshares. The sculpture, as you might see, depicts the figure of a man, holding a hammer aloft in one hand and a sword in the other hand, hammering the sword into a ploughshare. It symbolizes man’s desire to put an end to war and transform tools of destruction into tools to benefit mankind.
This morning and for the next 5 weeks, we’ll be in the book of Isaiah, hitting sort of a highlight reel of his visions of the glorious kingdom of the Messiah. Our text today focuses on the peace promised in the Kingdom of God, and was the inspiration for the sculpture at the UN. You can turn in your Bibles to Isaiah 2. That’s on page 383 of the pew Bible.
Nailing down a singular idea of peace is an interesting exercise in our world today. On one hand, we’re actually in one of the longest periods of worldwide peace in all of human history. Since World War 2, the world's major powers have not been in formal, open conflict. Of course, we’ve had smaller conflicts, localized conflicts, cold wars…but lack of global conflict has been the normal state for nearly 80 years — there are few people alive today who have vivid memories of the last major global conflict.
And yet, no one of rational mind would call our world peaceful. As I said, there are constantly smaller conflicts going on all the time. And in a different way, very few of us have a sense of peace in our own lives.
I’d be willing to bet that you are already stressed out about Christmas, even though today is the first day of Advent. For the next few weeks, you’ll probably enter into a frantic time of gift-buying, party-going, time-negotiating, self-loathing because you don’t feel like you can do it all.
And in the midst of all of that, you may find a few moments of quiet contemplation while looking at Norman Rockwell Christmas paintings, but even those moments will turn into reflections of your past life and the plaguing question, “When did things get so crazy? I don’t remember Christmas being this chaotic before. Certainly when I was a child we were satisfied with an orange in our stocking, not all of this stuff that the kids get nowadays.
And before you know it, the nostalgia for Christmases past and the remembrance of childhood wonder have turned back into anxiety and a desire to believe in things that seem impossible as an adult — things like peace on earth and goodwill toward men.
And recognizing that deep longing in our souls, Isaiah speaks to the peace available in the kingdom of God.
Let’s read our text,
The vision that Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s house will be established at the top of the mountains and will be raised above the hills. All nations will stream to it, and many peoples will come and say, “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will settle disputes among the nations and provide arbitration for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plows and their spears into pruning knives. Nation will not take up the sword against nation, and they will never again train for war. House of Jacob, come and let’s walk in the Lord’s light.
Grant, Almighty God, that as you shine on us by your Word, we may not be blind, nor willfully seek darkness, and thus lull our minds asleep; but may we be roused by your words, and may we stir up ourselves more and more to fear your name and thus present ourselves as a sacrifice to you, that you may peaceably rule and dwell in us, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Isaiah, of course, was a prophet of God, and those prophets in the Old Testament were often called seers. They were given supernatural sight which could pierce through the gloom of the present and see the glory of the future. Though they saw through a dark glass, they were given vision empowered by the Holy Spirit such that they could picture that future it in words so that we also might see the glorious things that they saw.
In this vision, Isaiah stands looking upon Mount Zion, the hill where Solomon’s temple stood. You can imagine him looking around in this vision, seeing all of the hills and the mountains — most of which dwarfed Zion. The hills of Lebanon stood much taller than that of Jerusalem. Mounts Bashan and Carmel tower above it. Even the Mount of Olives, just a few miles east of Jerusalem looked down upon the Temple Mount.
And yet when Isaiah looks, his eyes are drawn to Zion, because there stands the temple, the house of the living God. He saw the place where sacrifices were made for the atonement of sin, where the people gathered to worship the Holy One, and there his eyes were fixed because there was God.
We know from his other visions that he saw that temple’s destruction. He saw the Temple Mount diminish as Babylon tore the structure down stone by stone, burned and left in ashes. He saw the people carried away into exile.
But here, he sees the temple rising again from the ashes, Mount Zion rising above all other hills and the Holy One sitting upon his mountain throne. He saw the New Jerusalem descending from above, and God dwelling among men.
And toward that raised temple he sees the nations flowing, people from every tribe, ethnicity, and tongue streaming toward the mountain temple of God.
And they are crying out “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. When we get there He will teach us His ways so that we can walk in his paths.
They’re saying, when we are there we will see his judgment go out and disputes among the peoples will be settled. They’re saying, In the temple, we’ll see God’s perfect arbitration; He will be the advocate for the oppressed and the poor.
Isaiah sees God’s intervention to settle disputes in the temple and he sees an end to the hostilities between the various peoples and tribes of the earth —
It’s important to remember when we see that word “nations” in Scripture, it is not referencing geo-political entities, what we tend to think of as nations today. Rather, the Hebrew word goyim which we see here and the corresponding Greek word ethnos in the New Testament are referring generally to people groups. It speaks of kinship, not sovereign borders. When you read nations in Scripture, don’t think Scotland, India, China, Nigeria, but rather Scottish people, Indian people, Chinese people, Nigerian people. The Bible speaks little of borders but much of people whom God loves. And in the raised temple, the hostilities between people will cease.
In the raised temple, there will be no more need for war, there will be no more need to train for it, because there will be peace on earth. There will be no more need for weapons of war, and what was once used for taking the lives of our fellow images bearers will be melted down and reforged into instruments of their flourishing. Every sword will be beaten into a plow, every spear into a pruning knife. One day, every assault rifle will be turned into a gardening implement. Because in the temple which is raised up, there will be peace on the earth, and there will be good will toward our fellow man.
Despite the hostility in the world and despite the restlessness of your own spirit, peace on earth and goodwill toward men is not an unattainable dream. It is a promise of God for the last days when the temple is raised and God’s judgment of sin is poured out.
And the last days began one morning in a tiny town of Bethlehem when the cries of a little baby pierced the night proclaiming freedom for the captive by the grace of God who took on flesh. The mighty were toppled from their thrones and the lowly have been exalted. The hungry were satisfied and the rich were sent away empty by this little boy. The God of the universe became a human and dwelled with us. Jesus is the temple that has been raised from the ashes of the grave to tower above his enemies, and it is to him that the nations stream for salvation and peace.
This is not just a future promise for us, but a present reality because Jesus — the meeting place between God and man — has been raised from the dead and is the living mountain of God.
Verse 5 is a call for us to live in the reality of the peace of God today:
House of Jacob, come and let’s walk in the Lord’s light.
Though we do not yet see his kingdom of peace in its fullness, nonetheless, it is here, a present reality for those who are plagued by anxiety, depression, and turmoil during these days of longing and waiting.
The call of the gospel is this: Come to the mountain temple that is Christ. There, and only there, you will find the peace for which your soul longs.
In Christ, God has made access to the temple free and open to any who would come. Sinai, the mountain where the law was given, had a boundary set around it so that the people of God could not come close. But this mountain temple has no boundary, the law does not restrict access. There is no duty to be done in order to be welcomed, the burdens of a past need not be a hindrance. Christ said himself, Come to me, all who are weary and weighed down, and I will give you rest, for I am lowly and humble of heart and you will find rest for your souls.
And you might ask, how can I possibly climb a mountain when I am already exhausted and emotionally spent? Climbing a mountain seems like an awful lot of work when I barely have the mental energy to just get through the day.
Again, that is the good news of the gospel for you that Christ has climbed the mountain for you when he carried his cross up the hill of Calvary. And now he simply says come: if the Father has given you the will to come by the Holy Spirit, then he has given you the grace to follow him, so come and ascend the mountain.
Now, this present reality and future glory of Jesus’ kingdom leaves a few practical matters for us who are of the Church. Jesus said blessed are the peacemakers and that is what this text calls us to be. I want to look at two practical applications of our calling to be peacemakers in the peace of Christ.
First, there is the matter of how the nations will stream to the mountain. Look at verse 3 again:
and many peoples will come and say, “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us about his ways so that we may walk in his paths.” For instruction will go out of Zion and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
For those of us who are on the journey of faith, part of that journey is an increasing desire to see others come along with us. The supernatural disposition of a pilgrim making their way toward the Celestial City is to turn to others they meet along the way and say, “Come, let’s go up to the mountain.” To look at the others who are burdened and directionless and say, “Yes, I too was lying in the ditch until some person told me of the glory that awaits and the King who set my soul free. Come with me.” Then link arms with them and set them along the path of the Way.
Christian, if you want to see the peace of God on earth, if you want to see the nations stream to Him, then your call is to ask them to come. Jesus told us to pray “thy Kingdom come,” and God has ordained the mean to be us saying come to His kingdom.
This brings us to the second call to the Christian from this passage: the call of the peacemaker. Verse 4 tells us that the Kingdom of God is not won not by swords and spears, but by plows and pruning knives. Remember, verse 5 calls us to live the promise of this future glory in our present reality. Therefore, Christians are peacemakers, not warmongers.
I see two implications of this truth.
First, the peace of God streams across the earth one soul at a time. It cannot be coerced or forced by our strength or power.
Charles Spurgeon said this,
They are to come willingly to Christ; not to be driven, not to be pumped up, not to be forced to it, but to be brought up by the word of the Lord, to pay him willing homage; they are to flow to it. The grace of God shall be so mightily given to the sons of men, that no acts of parliament, no state churches, no armies will be used to make a forced conversion. Whenever the church of God is increased by unwilling converts it loses strength; whenever men join the church because of [coercion], which would drive them to make a profession of religion, they do not flow, the church is weakened, and not strengthened.
The mission of the people of God is not to make Christian nations but to make disciples in every nation. Our goal is not dominion; it’s discipleship. We do not build the Kingdom of God by fighting for control, but by putting our hand to the till and working for the flourishing of every human being so that the glory of God is revealed to them by our love toward them.
Which, by the way, is the second implication of our call to being peacemakers. We are not at war with people.
Make no mistake, we are called to war, but it is not ever against another of God’s image bearers.
Listen to what Paul says in Ephesians 6 about our call to war:
Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. Which means if something is made of flesh and blood, we are not struggling against them.
We are not at war with Democrats. We are not at war with the LGBTQ community. We are not at war with Muslims, we are not at war with Jews. We are not at war with socialists or liberals. We are at war with the cosmic powers of darkness which hold souls captive in sin.
The battle of the Christian life is not a crusade but a rescue mission, and our battle cry is, “Come, let’s go up to the mountain of the Lord.” Our weapon of war is not a pointed finger, but an extended hand, “Come.”
Which means we must be full of love and compassion for the captive, not condemnation and repulsion. Let me be very clear, if you are disgusted by the very idea of a homosexual person you will never get close enough to them to embrace them with a welcome from Christ and that sin is on you — repent, and let the Holy Spirit beat that sword into a plow. If you are sickened by a sex worker because of their profession, you will never invite them to come with you to Jesus and that sin is on you — repent, and let the Holy Spirit reforge that spear into pruning shears. If you are enraged at Jewish people because of a lie that an evil cabal is running the country, you will never tell them that Jesus is the Messiah for whom they wait and that sin is on you — Repent, and let the Holy Spirit melt your war-filled heart and shape it into one which proclaims peace and forgiveness. You cannot do the peacemaker's work of sowing seeds of the gospel if your heart and hands are full of weapons of war.
Do you long for peace in your life? Start by letting the Holy Spirit make you a peaceful person. Quit trying to parent the whole world. Quit offering advice when exactly zero people asked for it. Quit being shocked when people don’t share your morality. Quit appointing yourself as judge and jury of that person who did something to you. Quit thinking you need to “discern” what others’ motives are. And quit rehearsing in your mind what that other person did to you.
It’s all so exhausting. And it kills your peace.
Have you ever seen the movie The Help? As I’ve been working on this sermon I kept being reminded of the scene with Abilene and Hilly. Hilly is a judgmental, racist, conniving busybody full of religiosity and full of anger. Aibileen is her friend Elizabeth’s hired help. She’s a wise woman who, when she finally confronts Hilly, is bracingly honest but still, somehow, loving:
“Ain’t you tired, Miss Hilly? Ain’t you tired?”
Ain’t you tired? Ain’t you tired of the chaos of your life? Ain’t you tired of being angry at the world all the time? Then come up to the mountain of the Lord. Let him beat those swords into plows. Come and walk in the Lord’s light, and have peace.