Israel was a divided nation during Isaiah’s life … and the two kingdoms were under threat of foreign invasion. That threat became a reality in Isaiah’s lifetime.
By 722 BCE the Assyrians had conquered the northern kingdom and ten tribes (of the 12) had been relocated and scattered throughout what is today Syria, Iraq and Turkey (predicted in chapter 7 of Isaiah)
In 586 BCE (as predicted by Isaiah) the southern kingdom was also conquered and the people exiled by the Babylonians.
The result of war and exile: mass cultural genocide. It meant that even after return from exile, only a remnant remained of what was once the Jewish nation … a people set apart by God to be a holy people. In a sense, it’s not unlike the remnants of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples that remain in our nation today. The damage that was done was so significant that culture, language and story were lost forever:
- The people were murdered
- Used for slave labour
- Forced to scatter, in the hope that their culture would soon be bred out of them
Well, that’s the history behind today’s passage (in brief) … and it’s shocking for two reasons:
1. On a human level violence and war is always shocking and distressing;
2. But from a faith perspective there’s another level …. It’s shocking because God had promised peace to this people.
Leviticus 26:6-11 – ‘I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall make you afraid; I will remove dangerous animals from your land, and no sword shall go through your land … I will look with favour upon you and make you fruitful and multiply you; and I will maintain my covenant with you. You shall eat old grain long stored (means there will always be a plentiful harvest) … I will place my dwelling in your midst … And I will walk among you, and I will be your God and you will be my people.”
It’s a beautiful image of a people at peace …. But so far from the reality by the 6th century for God’s people.
In fact this kind of peace, has never been realised in the land of Israel … we’ve looked in the last few weeks at why this is … the chapters preceding chapter 9 tell about how the people have turned away from God and forgotten him and confined him to one option of many gods to worship …
And according to the agreement (covenant) God had with the people, they cannot be blessed with his peace, as long as they persist in sin …
And this makes the situation seem pretty hopeless. But God, in his mercy, makes a promise …
v1 – There will be no gloom for those who were in anguish. In the former time he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations (this is describing the area where the Assyrians first struck the northern kingdom … so God is speaking specifically through Isaiah, to his people – this message is not for the whole world – it’s for us). It goes on:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light;
Those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined (v2)
You have multiplied the nation, you have increased it’s joy (v3)
Instead of depopulation and decline, there will be growth
They rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest,
Instead of poverty and meagre harvest there will be plenty
as people exult when dividing plunder (v3)
Instead of becoming spoil themselves, the people will divide the spoil
For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian (v4)
The people will be free from oppression and no longer living under conquest
For all the boots of the trampling warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire (v5)
There will be an end to war and bloodshed
So, here’s the picture that this prophecy paints (and does so with absolute certainty, speaking of these events in the past tense, as though they have already happened) …
And this is the picture we are given of how life is going to look for God’s people:
- knowledge and understanding (instead of darkness)
- population increase (instead of decrease)
- plenty of food (instead of poverty)
- rejoicing at victory over the enemy (instead of defeat)
God has promised his people peace and prosperity.
Let me ask a question: do we have this peace? Do we have this peace in the life of our church? Are we 100% at peace with each other? Or are we a divided kingdom (under threat)?
As we each drove in this morning, do we have the peace of God, dwelling in our hearts … do we trust him, in all circumstances, that we will prosper?
Here’s my prayer this morning … not one of us is going to go home today, without the peace of God, dwelling in our hearts … you’re not to leave today, without the peace of God dwelling in your heart …
Because not only did God promise it to us, but he had a method to make it happen … and his method works:
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us;
Authority rests upon his shoulders;
(and this is Jesus)
And he is named,
Wonderful Counsellor – which doesn’t just mean he’s got good listening skills and gives good advice … this means he has a plan, a plan he is going to implement
Mighty God and Everlasting Father – he is the fullness of God with us (he is one with the Father of all)
Prince of Peace – which doesn’t just mean he sits on thrones wearing 18th century English tights and high heels, giving orders … nor does it mean he is a pop star from the 90’s who wrote a song called Diamonds and Pearls … no, he is a ‘prince’ in the sense that he is the commander of a great army, he has authority ….
And he uses his authority to strategically and deliberately bring about peace and prosperity for his people. And he has fulfilled this promise:
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” (Mark 1:15)
And this fulfilment of the prophecy in Isaiah …
A prophecy that Matthew, Mark and Luke all make reference to at the start of their gospels …
means that total and complete peace and prosperity can and should be our reality
But see I don’t think we always believe that this prophecy has been fulfilled … that the time of peace, is now.
Because we don’t always have these things, do we??
- knowledge and understanding
- population increase (growth)
- plenty of food (the resources we need)
- rejoicing at victory over the enemy
But the scripture is clear about what Jesus has done … he has fulfilled the prophecy (past tense) …
He says (in the gospels), ‘the kingdom of God is near to you, repent and believe it ..’
Which means that if the peace of God isn’t dwelling in this church (even when we hit hard times) … if Satan’s having a win with us … sowing frustration, or disunity among us … it can only be for one reason …
It’s not because the prophecy hasn’t been fulfilled.
It will be because there’s unrepented sin in his church … coz see, it’s the sin of God’s people that commits a violence against his plan to give us his peace …
So he had to take on our sin and put it to death on the cross … to free us to be at peace … but if sin goes unrepented it will continue to reap havoc on the body …
And so we owe it to each other (and I owe it to you as one of your pastors) … to practice what I call ‘good spiritual hygiene’ … we have to be in the daily habit of repenting our sin, saying sorry when we wrong each other and forgiving each other …
Chapter 8 v 19 on, specifically names a particular sin as having led to the destruction of Israel - consulting mediums to talk to the dead … I know there are people here who have done this (and I’m sure innocently), and I must urge you, not to. It’s unfaithful to the one true God when we look to any source of power beyond him … and any spiritual source that is not from him is going to be demonic. And if this is a question mark for you, please talk to me, or someone in this church, about it.
But we all, whether alternative spiritual practices are an issue for you or not, we all are in exactly the same position with this. We all rely on God’s grace and we all stand at the foot of the cross …
And it’s at the feet of the Lord Jesus, that we find the peace of God … and I want to lead us in prayer now to ask the Lord to establish that peace here today …
Time for Prayer
I want us all to think of a brother or sister in Christ now, who we find difficult … someone who we find frustrating … or who we feel we’re not totally at peace with …
Can we each just imagine now, ourselves, standing at the foot of the cross … and beside us is the person who we find difficult …
- help me to forgive this person
- help me to know how my own sin has contributed to theirs
- help me to know, that we are both sinners, who rely on your grace
- that we all stand at the foot of your cross
- and I’m sorry Lord
- please put my sins to death on your cross and restore peace in your church
He has the power to do this. There’s never a conflict the cross can’t resolve, if we bring it to him.
He is the Prince of Peace … he is the Prince of Peace and there isn’t a single battle we face in his church, that he hasn’t already won. He is the Prince of Peace.