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The Promise of Peace

Advent 2018  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Peace comes from handing everything over to God, not by dealing with it in your own strength

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Fire with Fire

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where people start getting a bit angry and raising their voice, and so you decide to step in a set everybody straight… by raising your voice at them!
You know I think it is an easy tendency for all of us. We build up this righteous anger (or at least what we think of as a righteous anger), and then try to deal with it, but only to deal with it in a way that is just as bad, if not worse than what you got angry about.
At the heart of it, I believe we all want peace. But it’s strange. You see, we’ve somehow seemed to develop the idea that peace comes through strength.
You see this on an international level. Peace keeping forces often use strength as a means to keep things down. Now it’s not my intention to critique war efforts. I recognise that there are a lot of complexities in this arena, of which I’m not an expert and of which I have now plan on exploring today.
But I just want to pick up on this idea of trying to gain peace through strength.
The truth is, it actually can work to a degree. You see, people respond to force. Partly because you don’t really have much choice. But unfortunately, that’s not usually the end of the matter. In fact, I want to suggest that quite often it can just escalate the problem.
And so we end up with a big problem - peace becomes something that is just doesn’t seem possible.
This problem exists on a global level - which is very evident with all of the conflicts throughout the world, but also on a more personal level.
You see, when we try to fix our personal problems by going head first into it, that is, trying to fix it with our own strength, usually we just make a big mess of it, and we don’t end up with any sort of personal peace.
Like last week, I want to take you back to the Old Testament again, see an example of this problem of peace, but in the process, what we’ll see is an amazing promise, one that we can cling to , even after the thousands of years that have passed since the giving of this prophecy.

Micah

If you were here last week, I took you to the prophet Zephaniah, which is in the group of books we call the 12 minor prophets.
I explained then how these twelve prophets wrote in a period stretching a few hundred years of each other. Last week, I spoke about Zephaniah being somewhere in the middle of that time period, but today, with Micah, we are actually towards the start of that period.
That relates to the time in which the Northern Kingdom is being wiped out.
Just to fill the picture in a bit more, we are about 700 odd years prior to the birth of Christ. For a few hundred years before this, the nation of Israel had been divided into a northern kingdom and a southern one.
Both kingdoms continued to operate in a way that displeased God, and so God raised up a foreign army, namely, Assyria, who wiped out this northern kingdom.
The prophet Micah started prophesying prior to the northerners being wiped out, but by the time we get to chapter 5, it is the south that are under siege.

The conflicts

But I think it’s worth back tracking to see what happened in the stages leading up to this, because it will feed well into our discussion on seeking peace.
You see, tells us that Micah’s prophecies came during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. We’ll get to the conflict involving Hezekiah shortly, which will be the context of chapter 5, but there is this other conflict during the day of Ahaz.

The earlier conflict

You see, in the day of king Ahaz, Assyria had only recently become the dominate world power, but at that stage had not yet moved it’s full attention to Israel.
But that did not mean that Israel had peace - in fact far from it.
You see, there was another foreign nation that was causing a lot of grief, namely Aram.
Now Aram, with it’s capital city of Damascus, was just north of Israel, but not as far north as Assyria.
Well, during the day of King Ahaz, Aram and the northern kingdom made some sort of agreement and decided that they would make a joint attack on the Southern kingdom.
Now Ahaz was the king of this Southern kingdom, also known as Judah, and he was quite aware that he did not have the power to stand up to a combined attack from the north.
But into this came another prophet, namely Isaiah. Isaiah clearly told Ahaz that he should trust God and he will deliver. Interestingly, it was actually in the midst of this exchange that we get some of our great Christmas promises, like, a virgin shall be with child, and for unto us a child is given (but I’ll leave that for another year).
The bottom line of this story however, is that despite Isaiah urging Ahaz to leave it to God, Ahaz instead chose to go the way of power.
You see, Ahaz had another plan. If the northerners were going to collaborate with Aram, then he would call on Assyria.
Remember, I said at this time Assyria had not yet turned its gaze on Israel. Well now it would turn in a dramatic way.
And you know what - in one sense, it actually worked for Ahaz. Assyria did come and wipe took out the Northern Kingdom and Aram.
Ahaz might have been pleased with himself for such a great tactical move - but it came at a great cost. It now meant that he was subject to Assyria, and the consequences wouldn’t be nice.

Hezekiah’s conflict

Well fast forward a few years and Ahaz has passed on, and we have his son, Hezekiah as king now. Nothing has improved since his dad made a deal with Assyria, in fact things had progressively got worse.
The Northern kingdom have now gone, but with the few people that were left up there, Hezekiah made an effort to unite them. In some ways this again was an attempt at reaching peace.
But all of that will count for nothing because after Hezekiah decides that Assyria have started asking for too much and consequently stops paying the required tribute, Assyria crack down hard.
And when I say crack down hard, I’m talking about an army of about 185,000 people surrounding Jerusalem.
This is not a drill - this is serious. The outcome essentially seems inevitable. Jerusalem does not stand a chance.
But in the midst of all of this, that character called Isaiah pops his head up again.
Again he has the same message - don’t trust man, trust God.
Thankfully, this time, things go differently. Hezekiah takes a letter given to him by Assyria, and physically lays it down before the Lord… and prays!
That very act shows just how very much King Hezekiah realises that this is beyond him and he needs God.
And then, the most amazing thing happens.
Well, let me read to you the outcome as read from
Isaiah 37:36 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!
It is one of the most dramatic turn arounds of all time - in my view, even greater than the odds of David beating Goliath.
Apparently some have suggested the army might have died of the bubonic plague as apparently from another source it was suggested rats or mice were involved. How reliable that is I have no idea, but however God did it, it shows his great power.

Micah’s vision

But let me rewind just a bit because it is while Assyria surrounded Jerusalem. It is generally thought that this is the very context for the start of , when it says: “Marshal your troops now, city of troops, for a siege is laid against us.
Now, knowing the background that I’ve just mentioned, you might wonder, why on earth is he telling them to marshal their troops.
But I’d suggest that this is his way of saying, don’t back down now, you haven’t been defeated yet.
That first verse then goes on to say, “they will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod”.
In other words, Israel will have some damage and humilitation, but it’s not going to be fatal.
But then in verse 2, the picture suddenly changes.
You know, sometimes you get those moments where there is absolute chaos all around you, but even in the middle of all of that chaos, suddenly it becomes clear.
Sometimes movie makers will depict similar moments. If you think of many action movies, often it will start to climax towards the end of the movie with lots of chaos, but then as the hero comes to the realisation of what he has to do, the movie maker will cut all noise as the way forward becomes clear.
In someway, I think that is what is happening here.
The siege is under way. They are about to be struck. But then the noise stops.
But in view is not just the victory I mentioned before. Instead the view goes even further afield.
You see, in view is a new leader. A leader who is to come out of Bethlehem Ephrathah. Now just for clarity, Bethlehem is the name of a town and Ephrathah is the name of the region, so it’s a bit like saying, Tanilba Bay Port Stephens.
This mention of Bethlehem would have been really surprising. You see, while we might be very familiar with Bethlehem for an obvious reason, the truth is, Bethlehem wasn’t very significant at this time. It was just a small town that didn’t feature much.
But in many ways, this is part of God’s style. You see, very rarely does God choose the powerful. Rather he is about turning upside down the wisdom of this world. He shows how we get power out of weakness.
And so from this lowly town we get the promise of a new ruler, a ruler whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.
There’s almost a sense in which this designation of ancient times almost leaves a mystical feel to it - which I think actually really fits this mysterious vision inside a very chaotic time.
In verse 3, the mysterious vision continues.
Now in some ways, knowing the context and what is about to happen, you might think that the vision might say - oh, and you’re about to have a massive unexpected victory - however, this vision has it’s sights set further afield.
Because, even though they are about to win this particular battle, it’s not going to last, because Israel will turn bad again and we eventually be taken into exile, and even though they may be able to return to their land at a later point, they will never regain their position like they’ve known to this point.
And so, verse 3 tells us - Israel will be abandoned, but only to the time when she who is in labour bears a son.
Now, of course this makes sense for us now, but just for the moment try to listen to it from the perspective of someone living in Jerusalem at the time in which it would seem they are about to face inevitable defeat.
It would have been a real mystery.
Verse 4 then tells us about what this mysterious person will do. Using the metaphor of a shepherd, which is a common metaphor used throughout the bible, we see the way in which this person will bring people together in such a way that they will be kept safe and protected.
At the end of verse 4, we even get to the fact that the security brought by this shepherd will reach throughout the ends of the earth.
Certainly in verses two through to four, the picture goes beyond just the immediate context of Assyria being at their doorstep.
But verse 5 reminds us of the original context by reminding us that Assyria is about to invade the land.
Now I need to point out that this is where the prophets of this time can get very confusing. You see, they’re not writing to suit our modern, logical way of thinking. That’s not to say they are not logical, just that this wasn’t meant to be read in a scientific sort of way, rather these authors are happy to conflate times and future happenings in order to make a point.
What I mean, is that it seems strange that he talks about Assyria invading the land when we know that God actually defeats Assyria - however it is looking forward at a time when another nation will invade them.
If we try to fit verse 5 to the immediate context, we will struggle, however it makes much more sense when we look at it from the bigger picture, that is that this mysterious shepherd that is in picture is going to be the peace of the land, even when everything seems to be falling apart.

Finding Jesus

Now of course we all recognise who this mysterious shepherd is. This picture is certainly of Jesus who fulfills the picture so clearly.
What I just love so much about this passage is the way that it is in the middle of a crisis… when Jerusalem is about to be wiped off the face of the earth, just like many other significant cities before it. But rather than focussing on the immediate problem, Micah is able to look further afield, to a time when all of this is about to make sense.
And that is exactly what Jesus does for us. He brings it all together. In him it all starts to make sense. Can I suggest that when life gets chaotic and we can’t make head or tail of it, it’s probably because we’ve taken our eyes of Jesus.
Now just for clarity, even when we do look to Jesus, we will still go through chaotic times, that’s a part of living in the world in which we do, however in Jesus we see the bigger picture and in doing so it makes sense.

Application

In this way, Jesus is our peace.
Jesus is the one that we can turn to when everything else is falling apart.
Understanding the context of this passage before us, helps us grasp just how amazing all of this is.
Now just remember, having 185,000 soldiers surrounding a city like Jerusalem spells certain defeat. It doesn’t matter how valiant the Jewish fighters are, they just cannot stand up to an army that size.
Now compare that to the chaos in your life. Your chaos is probably of a very different nature.
But as I started by saying, our tendency is to fight fire with fire. We try to get peace by being more chaotic.
But it just doesn’t work. Peace will not be found with more chaos.
We saw that with the example of King Ahaz (he was the one that dealt with the threat by calling on another earthly power). The result might have been a temporary reprieve, but not in the end it just became even worse.
That is the same with us. When we try to deal with the chaos by earthly means, the chaos will remain.
This is why the prophecy Micah gave us is so powerful. You see, in the midst of it all, he looked forward to Jesus.
For us, living after the time in which this child was born in Bethlehem, we have the benefit that we don’t have to look forward to this, rather we can dwell on it with great delight.

Conclusion

This is one of the beautiful things about Christmas. December is a crazy time of year - you could say chaotic! But in the middle of it all is actually something very simple.
You see, at the heart of it all is a baby. A baby in which we know peace is actually possible.
Jesus represent peace. Though the chaos will remain in an earthly sense, we can still know the peace of Jesus, just by surrendering ourselves to him.
This means, however, that we can’t do it in our own strength, rather we allow Jesus to take over, and then we will find peace.
Let’s pray...
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