The Prince of Peace audio (4MB)
If you could have anything for Christmas, what would it be? It would be peace, right? Peace in the CBDs of the world's cities to have a coffee, peace in our homes - the beating-heart of our nation, peace in neighbourhoods instead of the consequences of ice addiction, peace in every school so innocent children can learn, peace to travel by air without fear, safety on public transport ('stand with me'), peace in our jobs from workplace bullying, peace about our health or our future - just peace...peace on earth.
As we look closely at Micah 5v1-5, we're going to find the way to this level of peace is not quite what we might think.
The way to peace on earth is found in at least three ways here in Micah: firstly – we're not to look for it – the state of peace, like in Buddhism, but for a person. Secondly, the way to peace is not by wresting power but receiving it. Thirdly, the way to peace is to understand its timeless quality.
So, firstly, we're not to seek for a state of peace, but for a person. Look first at the last 2 verses, verses 4-5.. they're pictorial, but let your imagination work, 'And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one - of peace'.
Sound amazing? Being led by someone... who is endorsed and empowered, to bring international security, and peace?
Now Micah's day was one of economic advancement, increasing prosperity and globalisation through trade. 700 years before Jesus was born, Micah lived in a time of expansion and optimism. But there was a dark under belly – poverty....sound familiar? So Micah pleads with people to stop making prosperity their route to peace. 'Where's peace if one becomes prosperous and another descends into poverty' Micah asks? Its a valid question. Peace must be distributed to all, it must pervade a nation...no scheme or system will achieve it – human beings will always subvert a system - it would take a person.
But Micah warns that beforehand, calamity would strike God's people and Jerusalem would be surrounded, see in v1 '..a siege is laid against us, with a rod they strike the ruler of Israel'. This in fact happened – Jerusalem was besieged, her king lost his throne, she fell to general Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon in 597 BCE.
But, as God's spokesman, Micah can immediately speak of hope in v2, like the flowers in Martin Pl. After unspeakable suffering, hope would arise, emanating from the little Judean town of Bethlehem. Look at v2: 'But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little towns of Judah, from you will come forth for me (notice it's God himself speaking) one, who is to rule over Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days'.
So we see in v2 and v4-5, a person, a ruler, would bring peace.
Now in English, to 'rule' (from dictionary.com) is 'to control' or 'exercise dominating power over', but in Hebrew, 'to rule' is the same word as 'to shepherd'. So ruling taps deep into Israel's history as keepers of flocks. Ruling is the way a shepherd provides for the nurture and protection of his flock, at his own expense. Do you see the difference in meaning? English emphasises the ruler's power, but Hebrew emphasises the flock's benefits - being able to lead their lives in peace because the shepherd creates this safety. In v4 we read – he feeds them (symbolising their total well-being and flourishing), and extends their boundaries to the ends of the earth (symbolising security and peace).
But v2 says this shepherd-ruler will come unexpectedly from Bethlehem. Do you see where Micah is going here? Remember, King David was a young shepherd from Bethlehem when God chose him as Israel's future king. So God is going back to David's stock to find and endorse another great ruler.
The prophet Isaiah, was a contemporary of Micah, and he says the same thing, 'A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse'. Jesse was David's father. So this new ruler will be from the family line, the royal line of David.
But, notice the ending of v2. This new Davidic king has connections that are even older than David. His 'origin is from of old, from ancient days'. The ancient one, the Ancient of Days, is a reference to God, from Daniel 7. So this ruler will be a descendant of David from Bethlehem, but at the same time, originating from God himself.
And our reading from Luke carefully describes how this was fulfilled in history, under Emperor Augustus' decree, when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, to human parents who were from the family of King David.
So Micah and Luke both teach that peace is to be found in the rule of a historic person – Jesus, God's endorsed 'shepherd-ruler'. And his task is the well-being and protection of his flock i.e. peace. Are you searching for a state of peace, or a person who brings peace?
Well if Micah's right, and the way to peace is a person, secondly the way to peace is not to wrest power, but to receive it.
Let's think about that for a minute. Look how Micah describes the new ruler. See in v2 the ruler is raised up 'for me' says God. And in v4 the ruler 'stands and feeds his flock in the strength of the Lord his God, in the majesty of the name of his God'. He's not an independent operator, but closely connected to and dependent on God – empowered by God. He's dependent on the majesty of God - speaking of God's ultimate power over all life. So the ruler is empowered - he's very active, but he doesn't wrest power. He receives it and uses it for the flock.
So for us, to belong to this shepherd, he sets the pattern. We're not to be sheep who wander off to achieve personal prosperity (or any other goal) in the hope of peace. We're to recognise our connection and dependency on the shepherd to lead us. We don't know what tomorrow or next year, holds...how long we have on this earth.
But we're not powerless. We all have lives to live and tasks under Him to do. Do you realise that in your daily life you can call on the majesty of the Lord your God, for help? But how do we do this... receiving power through the shepherd, rather than wresting power?
A few days ago, one of our pregnant mums knew something was wrong with her baby. She went to Box Hill hospital. She shared her anxiety and pain on face book, asking for friends to pray. Annette saw it and many started to pray. Pastor Ivy looked after her the entire day as scans confirmed her worst fears. During the day, George and Sarah happened to be in the hospital and could offer their support. And the obstetrician who looked after her was Amanda. As this tearful mum went home that evening, in her loss, she asked how it was that she was so loved. She'd placed herself in the hands of the shepherd, and his sheep had heard his voice and served Him, in caring for her. Sometimes we are recipients, sometimes we are actors, but we are not to wrest power, but receive it and use it for the shepherd.
Now its not always as clear as this example but the principle is clear – the way to peace isn't by wresting power but receiving it and using it for the shepherd...this is how we under Him, spread - multiply peace.
Thirdly, the way to peace is to understand its timeless quality. God is the Ancient of Days - he's eternal, timeless. And his shepherd-ruler, whose origin is with God, has brought peace into time, into human history, into our real lives.
The young mother knew both the grief of losing a baby, and that she was dearly loved. Peace is like this, it surprises in difficult times, sometimes it's most felt, in the darkest times. In v3 there would be a difficult time in Israel's history when God seemed absent, as if he'd given them up. They would suffer...but knowing that the stump would put forth a shoot, created hope, and with it, God promised, would come peace.
Although Jesus came 2000 years ago, and we live in the light of his coming, trusting in his death to reconcile us to God, we're in a time of waiting too. We may experience suffering and grief, because peace does not yet extend to the ends of the earth. But if the Ancient of Days is the orchestrator, his shepherd-ruler stands in the majesty of his name, and 'shall be the one of peace' v5 says. This is a promise that the peace of God, will one day be distributed to the whole earth.
Peace is connected to the eternal, timeless purposes of God. It is not fully here, but we become part of it as we place ourselves in the care of the shepherd, the one who brings peace. We become part of it, not when we don't wrest power, but receive it, under the shepherd. We trust his peace will one day pervade the whole earth.
May you place or re-place yourself in the Shepherd's care and find peace.