In recorded history there have been over 14,500 major wars, killing around four billion people. Since 1495, the world has not gone 25 years without war, and it certainly isn’t getting better; the last decade has seen a historic decline in world peace, interrupting the long-term improvements since World War II. In 2014 an IEP study found that only 11 out of 162 countries were not involved in some kind of conflict. Where civilians were once far-removed from the fighting, they made up a shocking 90% of casualties in armed conflicts between 1945 and 1999. In 2015 there were approximately 60 million people displaced by war.
It can all seem pretty bleak. But as we enter Advent, as we start to turn our thoughts to the coming of Christ, there is a unique message of hope for our world. In the book of Isaiah, some 700 years before the birth of Christ, God speaks through the prophet to His people about the golden age of peace that was – and still is – approaching.
Isaiah 35 talks of the peace and prosperity, both physical and spiritual, that will one day be brought to God’s people. It describes how even the wilderness and the desert will be glad and blossom, and how sorrow and mourning will be completely replaced with joy and gladness. Through the prophet, God commends His people to strengthen and encourage each other with this news, to remind those that are afraid that He Himself is going to save them; that they have nothing to fear.
Isaiah 11:6-9 describes the extent of the coming peace; the wolf lying down with the lamb, the calf and the lion together, all led by a little child. This is a level of peace that we have never known, that harks back to the innocence of Eden. Competitors become companions. There is no hurt or destruction at all.
How is this peace to be brought about? Isaiah tells us that it’s through knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9):
“Nothing will hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain,
for as the waters fill the sea,
so the earth will be filled with people who know the Lord.” NLT.
The word ‘for’ here is significant because it ascribes cause. It is because all people will be in relationship with God that true peace will come, just as there was peace when God walked in the Garden with Adam and Eve. It was separation from God that introduced sin and discord in the first place, and reconciliation with God will be its undoing.
Isaiah also alludes to how our separation from God is to end, and how peace will be brought (Isaiah 9:6):
“For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” NLT.
It is by Christ that we are brought back into relationship with God, therefore it is by Christ that we are delivered peace.
I want to briefly mention four key natures of the peace we hope for:
Political peace (external)
In the Old Testament, religion and the state were intimately linked, because God’s chosen people were of a single nationality. When Israel went to war with another nation, it was both political and spiritual in nature. When another nation became involved in sin, God used Israel as the bringers of justice.
Now though, there is no distinction between nationalities in God’s eyes (Galatians 3:28). Thanks to the actions of Jesus Christ, no one on earth is excluded from being a child of God. It is the desire of our Father to bring us all together as one big family, and for there to be no conflict between nations. In Isaiah 2:4, God speaks these words through the prophet:
“The Lord will mediate between nations
and will settle international disputes.
They will hammer their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will no longer fight against nation,
nor train for war anymore.” NLT.
Personal peace (internal)
But God’s peace goes further than mere large-scale lack of conflict; it will flood every human heart. This is a peace that we can already get a flavour of, through the Holy Spirit (Isaiah 26:3):
“You will keep in perfect peace
all who trust in you,
all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” NLT.
Worldly peace is temporary escape from our problems. Biblical peace goes beyond the absence of turmoil; it is a deep, rich wellbeing that pervades any situation. In John 14:27 when Jesus promised to leave the disciples peace, He actually said ‘my peace I leave you’. The personal peace of Christ was quite staggering, leaving Him calm and unfaltering even in the presence of those He knew would ultimately kill Him. It allowed Him to love those that mocked and rejected Him, and in the face of death say to His Father ‘your will be done’ (Matthew 26:42). That’s a wow kind of internal peace, and we all have access to it by the Holy Spirit.
Promised peace (awaited)
Isaiah 54:10 tells us that:
“Though the mountains be shaken
and the hills be removed,
yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken
nor my covenant of peace be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” NIV
It’s no secret that we do not experience God’s full intended peace today. God’s kingdom is still advancing, and so we still reside in an imperfect world where peace can often seem impossible. But no matter what, God’s promise to give us peace remains. Nothing can shake the promise, and nothing can shake the peace. We can rely on them.
Provided peace (achieved)
In this broken world we are compelled on occasion to fight for peace. But thank God that we are eagerly anticipating a peace that we don’t have to fight for, because it has already been won for us! True, complete, everlasting peace could never have been won by bullets and airstrikes. Achieving victory in this Ultimate Battle meant dying, not killing.
We live in a strange, in-between time in terms of Isaiah’s prophecies of peace. Parts have been delivered to us (personal peace via the Holy Spirit, for example) and parts we are still waiting for. But it is all guaranteed. It is all coming. It has already been achieved.
In this time of Advent, as we allow our hearts to be squeezed by longing for peace, we can all be peacemakers in our own way – at home, at work, in our communities and in our churches. We wait, but not passively, not with resignation. Because of the Holy Spirit we all carry a little piece of God with us, and so until He comes again, God’s peace is made through the everyday actions of each and every one of us.
Oh, come, Desire of nations, bind
In one the hearts of all mankind;
Oh, bid our sad divisions cease,
And be yourself our King of Peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel