Would you please open your copies of the Scriptures once again to the prophecy of Isaiah, chapter 9; Isaiah chapter 9. Page 573 in the church Bibles. Let me encourage you to have the passage open before you. We’re going to read verses 2 through 7, though our attention will focus mainly on the words of verse 6. This is now the fourth Sunday in Advent, and if you’ll look at verse 6 for a moment, you’ll see four titles given by the prophet Isaiah to the coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Each is a double-barreled title and our pattern has been over these four weeks to take each title in turn and look at each of the two parts of each title. So far we’ve considered Jesus the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, and the Everlasting Father, which means today we’re thinking about Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Before we consider the passage and think about its message, let me invite you one more time to bow your heads with me as we pray together. Let us pray.
Prince of Peace, Lord Jesus, would You come now to us by the Holy Spirit and rule in our hearts extending the royal scepter of Your holy Word. For we ask this in Your precious name, amen.
Isaiah 9 at the second verse. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil. For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.”
On Christmas Eve, 1914 – you probably know this story from the great war; Christmas Eve, 1914 – candles were lit at various sections along the trenches of German and British forces facing one another across the wastes of no-man's land and carols began to be sung. Then when December 25 dawned, Christmas Day, cold and a frost lay on the ground, shelling and gunfire ceased, at least in a number of places along the western front, and soldiers of both German and British forces enjoyed a short-lived but welcomed ceasefire. Soon, the German troops had actually climbed from their trenches and calling to their enemies in English, “Merry Christmas!” they shouted. And then British soldiers began climbing out to meet them. In safety they were able to retrieve their dead; they even swapped gifts, sung carols together. Apparently an impromptu football match – a soccer match! They played a soccer match! And for a few hours along the front peace reigned; war ceased. It stalled at least.
Isaiah tells us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Often when we think about peace that's what we think of, right? The cessation of hostilities; the end of war. And it's not wrong for us to think in those terms when we think about Jesus the Prince of Peace because Isaiah himself, chapter 2 verse 4, speaks about peace coming in the wake of the reign of Messiah. "He shall judge between the nations," Isaiah says, "and he shall decide disputes for many peoples and they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." One day, because of the baby who was born and the son who was given, war will be an impossibility.
But we don't live in that day quite yet. We live in the "not yet." We live right now before that day dawns. Actually, the way the Scriptures speak about the reign of Jesus Christ, it becomes clear that the end, the cessation of hostility between nations and people, that's actually the final flowering of the final outworking of the present reign of King Jesus. In a sense, it's really the least of the blessings given to us because of the Prince of Peace who was born that day in Bethlehem. It is simply the last reality to be removed as the reign of Christ and the kingdom of peace He brings is consummated. And so to really understand what Isaiah is teaching us here about Jesus, we need to think about each part of this double-barreled title, Prince of Peace, in turn. What do we mean by Jesus as Prince – King, Royal Governor? And what do we mean by Jesus as Prince of Peace – What kind of peace does He gives us?
Let's think about Jesus the Prince first of all. It's more than an honorific, isn't it; just a way to praise Him. It's more than saying something like He's a prince of a man. This is a title, a formal title appropriately given to Him that communicates executive authority. To Him belongs the government. Isaiah has been at pains to emphasize precisely this point in the passage we've read together. "Of the increase of his government and of peace, there shall be no end. And on the throne of David and over his kingdom to establish it and uphold it with justice and righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government shall be on his shoulders." Isaiah later picks up that language about the government on His shoulders in Isaiah 22:22. God says, "I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open and none shall shut, and he shall shut and none shall open." He shoulders the full weight of executive authority governing the kingdom of God. He shoulders the burden of rule. Jesus was born to be King that first Christmas.
Now if you look back at verse 4 for a moment, when the prophet is describing the remarkable transformation that takes place in the wake of the birth of Jesus Christ from a situation of oppression to a situation of liberation, from a situation of sorrow to one of joy, he talks about the staff for the shoulders of the oppressed people; the rod of the oppressor being broken at last. Do you see the message? The burden on our shoulders is lifted because Jesus shoulders the burden of rule for us. The burden on our shoulders is removed because He bears it as the Prince of Peace. And so He calls to us. You remember Matthew 11:29-30? “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In verse 4, the prophet speaks about a terrible yoke of a burden placed upon the suffering people of God. See, there are two ways to live – only two ways to live. Either your shoulders endure the staff of the oppressor and the yoke of this dreadful burden – sin and guilt in the sight of God. Or, you come under the reign of the Prince of Peace and your shoulders bear the yoke of His authority. Those are the only options available to us. Now you might tell yourself that life on your own terms is a life of freedom, but the Scriptures make very clear that the truth, in fact, is that when you live on your own terms you are a slave to sin and to self. True freedom is not radical independence, no matter what pop culture says to the contrary. True freedom is submission to the easy yoke and the light burden of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Those who surrender the reigns of their lives to Him know the relief of not having to be king anymore. What a relief it is!
Here's a large part of what makes the story of that first Christmas such good news – because of Jesus Christ, you can stop trying to make sense of it all. Because of Jesus Christ, you can stop trying to anticipate every possible eventuality. You can stop bearing the crushing burden of kingship. Your shoulders are just not broad enough for it. A better King has come and you can submit to His dominion, bend the knee to His lordship, embrace His mastery. Let Jesus take the reigns. You can trust Him. He is the Prince of Peace. On His shoulders rests the government, "and of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end." Bend the knee to King Jesus and you will find peace. Actually, there's really no other way to have Jesus. You can't have Him on any other terms, you know. You can't have Him as Savior and Rescuer and Friend and not have HIm as Lord and Prince and King. You can't have Him as Savior and Friend and Rescuer without having Him as Lord and Master and King. The life that Jesus redeems, He rules. The heart that Jesus cleanses, He commands. There is no deliverance without the dominion of Jesus Christ.
That means we cannot co-opt Jesus into our pre-existing lifestyle and go on just as we did before. The baby of Bethlehem and the man of Calvary will not allow Himself to fall into the background of Christmas sentimentality. He came to rule. He came to be King in your heart. The government is upon His shoulders. Yes, He breaks the staff of the oppressor from our shoulders. He removes the yoke of the burden from us. He shoulders the weight of rule for us – good news! But He then calls us to submit to His dominion. To be sure, His yoke is easy and His burden is light, but if we are to have Him at all, we must have Him as King nevertheless. God is calling you this Christmas to quit living as if your life were your own. If you are a Christian, you are not your own. You were bought at a price. Jesus is King. Perhaps it’s time we began to learn what life looks like when He is in charge and we submit to His mastery. He is Prince. He is King. To Him belongs executive authority. He wants the lordship of your heart and your life.
But then secondly, Jesus is Prince of Peace. What is Isaiah telling us about the peace that Jesus brings? There are a couple of mistakes to avoid here. One of them we have already mentioned, that is thinking that the peace He brings is simply the absence of conflict, of hostility. No, Jesus brings something positive – not the peace He gives is a positive reality, not just the absence of war. Another mistake in our heavily psychological age is to immediately read "peace" there and subjectively as though all that were meant is something like, "If you know Jesus, He gives you a feeling of peacefulness." And there's certainly truth to that, isn't there? To come under the lordship and the mastery of Jesus means He brings with Him as He takes up the rule of our hearts the peace of God that surpasses understanding to guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus. There is a subjective component to the peace that the Prince of Peace gives.
But that's not the primary reference that Isaiah has in mind. No, the peace that Jesus brings is objective and true and real regardless of how we feel about it. So what does it mean? "He means peace in this nasty world," writes Ralph Davis, "and to bring peace in such a world is no namby-pamby affair. Such peace comes," he says, "by force." Then he goes on to talk about the definition one Jewish man gave him of this peace, the shalom in Hebrew. "Shalom," this Jewish man said, "means ‘We win, you lose.'" It's a different way of thinking about peace. Peace, shalom, is a victory word, you see.
If you'll look back again at verse 4 for a moment you'll get to see some of this. You'll notice the prophet describes the rule of Messiah breaking the staff of the oppressor from the shoulders of his people and he says it will happen "as on the day of Midian." Do you see that little note? It's easy to pass it by. Probably it is intended to remind us of the way the Midianites oppressed the people of God back in Judges chapters 6 through 8. And if you know that story, you will remember that God raised up a savior for the people of Israel in Judges 6 through 8 in the form of Gideon. And Gideon was able to triumph over the Midianites and brought peace to the land and to the people of God. Messiah, the prophet is saying, will be like Gideon. He will bring peace but He will bring it in the wake of His triumph, in the wake of His victory. Interestingly, Judges chapter 8 verse 9, we find Gideon in the middle of his campaign against the Midianites. And he tells the men of Penuel, "When I come again in peace, I will break down this tower." He clearly doesn't mean when he comes back he will destroy their power peacefully like he was going to wrap each bring in cotton wool or something. He means, "When I have finally defeated the Midianites, when I have triumphed and established a hard-won peace, in the wake of a final victory then I am going to come back and deal with you people." That's what he means.
In Wake of Victory
So here's the point. The peace that Messiah, the Prince brings, is a peace that He fights for and wins. It's a peace in the wake of victory. That's actually the point of verse 5. Look at verse 5. "For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult and every garment rolled in blood will be burned as fuel for the fire." So get the image clear in your mind. Imagine the scene of a great battle and the enemy has been utterly defeated and the smoke of the battle finally lifts and you see everywhere the paraphernalia of combat lying strewn about the place – shoes and garments rolled in blood, and here they are now all gathered up in the wake of the great victory and burned as fuel for the fire. The message is simple. Jesus wins. He wins an absolute victory. The peace He brings is the peace of victory, of triumph.
Listen, if the only image you have of Him is of gentle Jesus, meek and mild, you will certainly misunderstand what the prophet intends to communicate by this fourth title in verse 6 of chapter 9 – Prince of Peace. He came to triumph, and in the wake of his victory, He brings peace. Isn't it interesting to notice how at the beginning and at the end of His earthly ministry there are earthly rulers who are terribly threatened by Jesus. You have King Herod who, when the wise men come to visit, inquiring about the place where the one born to be King of the Jews should be found, orders the massacre of male children in an attempt to snuff out what he perceives to be a rival to his rule. And at the other end of the Gospel story, at the climax of Jesus' earthly ministry, He's dragged before Pilate who asks Him, "Are you the King of the Jews?" You see, Pilate wants to be clear – "Is this man really a threat to the rule of Caesar?" You remember Jesus' answer? "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world." So Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual kingdom. He is a King, but His kingdom is not a geopolitical thing. And it does not progress by means of political instruments. It's a spiritual kingdom. It advances by different means – not by the sword but by the Word, by the Gospel.
And yet it is a kingdom and He is a King and the peace that characterizes that kingdom is a peace that’s won on the back of a victory. He engages in real battle and He triumphs. Revelation 17:14 pictures the world in opposition to the Gospel and says this. “They will make war on the Lamb” – a picture of Jesus – “and the Lamb will conquer them, for He is the Lord of lords and the King of kings, and those with Him are called and chosen and faithful.” How does Jesus win His victory? He wins His victory by obeying and bleeding and dying and rising and reigning. He triumphs over Satan and sin and death and hell. And now He is seated at the right hand of the majesty on high, governing all things and reigning as Lord.
Contempt of the World
I hope you have been prompted at the news of fresh persecution in China for God's people there. I hope you've been prompted to prayerfulness as you see the suffering Church endure the malice and hatred of the world. That's how the world responds to the Gospel. Perhaps in our wealthy, enlightened context, the world responds more with sneering contempt and indifference and only gets hostile when you insist that there is no other way to God but by the Lord Jesus Christ. But the world still holds the exclusive claims of Jesus, even in our own neighborhoods and communities, in contempt. But in other places in the world, that contempt overflows into open persecution and hostility and wrath. The Church is suffering. Today, just like John's day when he wrote that in the book of Revelation about the nations making war against the Lamb, or in Jesus' day when He faced the malice of Pilate, today, just as Psalm 2 puts it, "The nations rage and the peoples plot in vain. The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, His Christ, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.'" That's how the world thinks about Jesus.
But the psalmist goes on. “He who sits in the heavens laughs. The Lord holds them in derision. Then he will speak to them in his wrath and terrify them in his fury saying, ‘See, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’” Jesus reigns! Let the nations do their worst! That’s what Psalm 2 is saying. So if we are Christians, we should take heart. If you think back over 2018 and you see perhaps moral decay, you see perhaps the Church in our nation weakened and values that we cherish and hold dear undermined and rejected and denied, it’s easy to be discouraged. Or you look around the world and you see the church persecuted and suffering, it’s easy to be discouraged. But we should take heart because Jesus Christ is seated on the throne. He is the Prince of Peace, “and of the increase of His government and of peace there will be no end.”
You see, the outcome of the mission Christ has given to us is no in doubt; it’s not in doubt. “Go into all the world and make disciples.” Will the mission succeed? Yes, it will. How do we know? Because Jesus has already won the victory and is seated on the throne and His kingdom and peace will increase without end to the glory of His great name. You can face 2019, those of you who live under His rule, without fear. Not because you’re competent for whatever may come. Not because you are smart and wise and capable. You can face 2019 in all your weakness, in all your uncertainty without fear because your times are in His hands and you live today under the reign and the lordship of the Prince of Peace. Please do not face 2019, don’t face tomorrow without knowing what it is to come under the reign and lordship of the Prince of Peace. How can you face another day without knowing the one who holds the future in His hands and reigns as King, working all things together for the good of those who love Him.
Now just before we conclude, let me ask you if you know the greatest enemy of all facing people in the world today? How would you answer that question? Who is the greatest enemy facing people in the world today? It's not famine or disease. We can rule out rogue states – Russia, North Korea, ISIS. If you're not a Christian, if you don't know the Prince of Peace Himself, your greatest enemy is Almighty God Himself. Your greatest enemy is Almighty God Himself. We are, Paul says, "by nature children of wrath. Friendship with the world," he says, "is enmity against God." We are alienated from Him by our sin. Would you listen to me carefully, please? There is no way to understand what Christmas is about, no way to understand why Jesus was born, what it means that He came as Prince of Peace unless we get this clear above everything else, before everything else. The only way to know the peace He can bring us is by first having Jesus Christ make peace for us with Almighty God. He must make peace by the blood of His cross.
Today, if we’re not believers, we stand under the wrath and curse of God; His righteous judgment burns white-hot against us. But at the cross, Jesus bore the full fury of divine judgment that we who believe in Him might be pardoned and reconciled to God. God was, in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Do you have peace with God through Jesus? The Prince of Peace came to make peace for you with God, to reconcile you to God. Are you at peace with God? How terrifying to face the future still at enmity against Him. Well, whatever else it means to have the Prince of Peace give you peace, it must mean this first – to have been reconciled to God by the blood of His cross. And for that, you must come and give up the reigns of your life, surrendering them into His hands, asking Him to come and be Lord and King, my Prince of Peace, my Master; taking His yoke and His burden, which is easy and light, you will find rest for your souls. He invites you, He invites you into His kingdom where there is rest for the weary and the heavy laden. Will you come and bend your knee to Him, the Lord Jesus Christ, our great Prince of Peace.
Let’s pray together.
Lord Jesus, we do confess to You that we often cherry-pick the parts of the Gospel story we like and we co-op them into our pre-existing lives and we carry on as if nothing had changed. We've used You to solve our consciences while we indulge our sin. We've lived as though our lives were our own, as though we were King and Master, as though executive authority rested with us. What rebels we have been. And yet, we have to confess to You, attempting to carry them, to shoulder the burden of kingship on our own is overwhelming, it's crushing, and we are defeated by it. And so now here this morning before You we ask You, Lord Jesus, to come and rule in our hearts, to take Your place as King of kings and Lord of lords. We surrender the reigns to You. Our shoulders are not big enough. We bless You that the governance is upon Your shoulders, and upon Your shoulders rests the keys of David and You can open and none shall shut. Please, would You open the kingdom to us and bring us in. We would shoulder Your easy yoke and light burden that we might find rest for our souls, peace with God and peace from God, from the hands of the Prince of Peace. For we ask this in Your precious name, amen.
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