Seward United Methodist Church
Wednesday, January 19, 2022
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Seeking Peace

Micah 5:2-5a and Hebrews 10:5-10

We heard earlier from Micah’s prophecy about the coming Messiah. That message was delivered sometime in the 8th century BC, around the time when the Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire. For several hundred years, the people of Israel were divided into a northern kingdom called Israel, and a southern kingdom called Judah, where the line of David continued. The northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC. This part of Micah’s message was delivered after that fall, since it speaks of exiles returning. The Assyrians took a large part of the Israelite population away as captives and replaced them with their own people. This was something they did in the ancient Near East world to ensure that a conquered kingdom would never recover and become a threat again.

The prophecy speaks of Bethlehem, the city of David. “And out of Bethlehem will come a ruler with origins in the distant past.” This was a common piece of rhetoric in the ancient Near East, to suggest that a king was ordained from long ago. But we know it points to Jesus, the eternal Son of God.

After this ruler is born, the exiles will return. This was interpreted by later Hebrews that the Messiah would establish a political kingdom, rather than a spiritual kingdom, and restore Israel to its former glory. We understand it now to mean that Christ will establish an eternal kingdom for all God’s people in his second coming.

“He will lead his flock.” Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. And “he will be honored all around the world,” which is true today. There are followers of Jesus in every nation the world over.

“And he will be our source of peace.” I don’t think I’m the only one, but I find myself longing more and more for peace. And there just seems to be less and less of it to go around. I started working on the message for today just two days after the massacre in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. That’s the kind of thing that will make you long for peace. And it seems like we never run out of occasions to ask, “When will all this madness end?” There seems to be no relief in sight.

I think of the message of the angels that we hear repeated so many times at Christmas: “Peace on earth, goodwill to men.” Here’s the thing: That’s really not the best translation into English. The Greek word used there is EUDOKIA. It can mean good will, but it often means “favor,” especially God’s favor. The better translation is

probably “Peace on the earth among those of God’s favor.” In other words, yes, God gives peace. Jesus brings peace. But not peace for the world; at least, not yet. The peace of Christ is for his people, not the whole world.

When will the madness end? Not till Christ returns. For now, peace is available to all people in Jesus. But it is peace with God and peace within oneself. Not peace in an absolute sense; not yet.

The letter to the Hebrews speaks of how we have peace through Christ. And that is the true purpose of religion: To bring peace. Peace with God, peace with oneself, peace with neighbor, and peace with the creation.

Hebrews 10:1, which we didn’t read, says the old system under the Mosaic Law, the system of sacrifices, was only a pale shadow of the real thing. Animal sacrifices could not cleanse people. They could only serve as a reminder of sin, not as the cure.

That’s not to say sacrifices were bad. They did serve as a reminder of the seriousness of sin. Its wages are death. And a sacrifice can be a good and meaningful thing. But too often, it becomes an easy substitute for what God really wants, which is genuine obedience.

We find this to be a repeated emphasis in the Old Testament, that obedience is better than sacrifice:

1 Samuel 15: “Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.”

Psalm 51: “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one… The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.”

Hosea 6: “I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings.”

Isaiah 1: “I am sick of your burnt offerings… Give up your evil ways. Learn to do good. Seek justice. Help the oppressed. Defend the cause of widows and orphans… If you will only obey me.”

Micah 6: “What can we bring to the Lord? Burnt offerings? Thousands of rams? Ten thousand rivers of oil? No, the Lord has told you what is good and what he requires of you: Do what is right, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”

Only through real obedience can sacrifice gain real meaning. Jesus’ sacrifice meant so much because it came out of a life of complete obedience.

The author of Hebrews quotes from Psalm 40. If you go to Psalm 40 in the Old Testament, you will find it says something different. Here it says, “You have given me a body.” In the Old Testament, it reads, “You have opened my ears.” The reason for the difference is that the author of Hebrews is quoting from the Septuagint, the translation of the Old Testament into Greek. But both have the same meaning: Obedience. We have ears with which to hear and a body with which to obey.

Christ came into the world to do God’s will. He ended the first covenant with its animal sacrifices and established a second in which we become living sacrifices. And Jesus offered the one, true sacrifice of himself. Only through his perfect obedience could he be a perfect sacrifice that opens the way to peace with God.

Jesus told us that we are to be peace-makers. We should be people who bring others to peace with God through the gospel message. We should help people have peace within themselves by letting go of their failures and mistakes. We should bring peace in relationships through reconciliation.

We should be peace-makers, and yet, we have less and less peace in our world, it seems. We see division, hatred, and strife all around us.

Don’t look to politicians to fix it. I read one time that “Politics becomes a substitute for religion when religion is discarded by a society. People try to find ultimate meaning through political victory.” I think the person who wrote that was right. Don’t look to politicians to bring peace. They make their living off of division. As long as people are divided and fighting with each other, then politicians can blame your problems on “those people.” Then people will give their votes and donations to politicians who promise “I’ll protect you from those people.”

There is only one who can set things right. His name is Jesus, and he’s not running for office. He doesn’t want to be your representative, senator, or president. He wants to be your King, your Lord, and your Savior. Peace in our world is impossible unless people have peace with their Creator. And peace with God is found in Jesus, and nowhere else.

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