Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
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The Hope of Peace

Isaiah 9:2-7 and 11:1-9

Two of the texts in the Service of Lessons and Carols are from the prophet Isaiah, chapters 9 and 11. Pretty much all Christians agree these prophecies are about Jesus the Messiah. But did Isaiah have the Messiah in mind when he spoke them? Maybe, and maybe not. One of the things we see about prophecy is that it can mean one thing at the time when it’s spoken, but it can also come to have a greater meaning. That might be the case here.

These words of Isaiah were spoken around the year 725 BC. That was a turning point in the history of Judah, the southern half of what had been the Kingdom of Israel. Things had been going badly. The previous king, Ahaz, was not a good character. He rejected God and participated in the pagan practices of the day. He even offered his own son as a human sacrifice. He made an alliance with Tiglath-Pileser, the king of Assyria. And he endorsed the worship of Assyrian gods as part of this alliance. At the same time, he was at war with Samaria, the northern half of what had been Israel, their own relatives, and with Aram, a neighboring nation. Tiglath-Pileser conquered both Aram and Israel and turned them into subject states. But then both Tiglath-Pileser and Ahaz died within a year of each other.

And onto the throne came Hezekiah, one of Ahaz’s sons, who was not like his father. He was a good king who trusted God. He is remembered as one of the most godly and capable kings of the Old Testament. These prophetic words were likely first spoken when he ascended to the throne. They sound like the kind of language used in a coronation ceremony.

“The people who live in darkness, the land where death casts its shadow, have seen a great light.” One of the lines often used at funerals is, “In the midst of life, we are surrounded by death.” Death is a constant companion in this life. We hear of it daily. We certainly hear it all the time in the media, because there’s no news like bad news. For people in 8th century BC Judah, death was a lot closer to home. Disease, famine, and war were almost constant threats.

“God will break the chains that bind his people and the whips that scourge them, just as he did in the days of Gideon and the army of Midian.” Gideon’s victory over the Midian, which is remembered in Judges chapter 7, was seen as the highlight moment of God delivering his people from foreign oppression and domestic tyranny.

There will be an end of war and a coming of peace. “For unto us a child is born, and a son is given. The government will be upon his shoulders. And these will be his royal names: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” In the ancient Near East world, when a king ascended to the throne, he was given throne names, royal titles. These royal titles mean that the king in question will be a wise ruler, that he will love and protect his people, that he will champion the poor and oppressed, and he will bring security. In short, he will establish a kingdom defined by justice, fairness, and peace.

Chapter 11 continues, “He will be from the line of David. And the Spirit of the Lord will rest on him, giving him wisdom, strength, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord. He will judge fairly. He will defend the poor and exploited. He will rule against the wicked. And he will be clothed with fairness and truth.”

Under his reign, there will be peace, peace between human beings and the creation, which was understood to be a sign of a return to the paradise of the Garden of Eden. But more than that, it means an end to violence, cruelty, exploitation, and oppression. It is the coming of a new world order of peace, righteousness, and justice.

Did King Hezekiah live up to all that hype? Well, more so than his father, but in the end, no. And that’s why we understand these prophecies to refer to be more than just rhetoric about an ancient king. We read them and say, “This is about Jesus and what he will do. These promises are about him.”

If there were ever promises of God the world really needs to hear right now, then these must be them. We live in a world that is full of injustice, full of cruelty, full of violence, full of oppression, full of war, full of wickedness, and so on. We need this message.

“Well, yes, it’s a nice promise and all, but it certainly hasn’t happened yet.” That’s true. That is all too true. But I think we need the promise of what will be to bring us through the difficulties of what is. God’s promise is that Jesus isn’t done yet. He will come again to finish the work he began. And talking about him coming the first time is never complete without remembering that he is coming again to finish his work.

And so we say, “Come, Lord Jesus, come. Amen.”

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