Fear, Love and Peace

Gordon MackleyPosted on Monday, November 9th, 2015 by Gordon Mackley

Readings

Isaiah 10:33 – 11:9 and John 14:23 – 29

Introduction

Two very different passages here; one Old and one New Testament.
There is God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, ‘Three in One’ in both readings. There is war and violence and a saving from violence. There is fear and there is inward peace. There is love, sorrow and teaching. It includes events far past, not so far past and still to come. There is prophesy fulfilled and prophecy still to be so. You even have some cuddly animals and some not so cuddly ones as well! If all that were not enough there is a phrase which some cults use to deny the Trinity and another phrase that finally divided the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church in 1054.
That’s not bad for just two relatively short passages!

I shall not try to explore all of these many issues in great detail but there are I suggest, two intertwined major themes;

  • God rules, so do not fear evil one’s temporary successes
  • Do not be afraid but be at peace with yourself and with God

Here are two more quotes to go with these passages one Old and one New Testament:

“When you lie down, you will not be afraid; when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet. Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked; for the Lord will be at your side”.Proverbs 3: 24

‘But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened”.’1 Peter 3:14

The passage from the book of Isaiah

So what is the Isaiah passage about and how does it fit into that?
The time is 700 or so years before Jesus. Israel is by now split and the Northern Kingdom has already been in trouble for disobeying God. The Southern Kingdom has done the same and Isaiah, just before this passage prophesies that they will be invaded by Sennacherib the then king of the great world power of the time, Assyria. He lists the villages which the Assyrians will conquer as they march south through Judea towards Jerusalem (Isaiah 10: 28-32). The last village in the list is Nob. We can imagine how frightening this would have been to the inhabitants of all of those places but from where Nob was (present day Mount Scopus) you could clearly see Jerusalem (Isaiah records in verse 32 that ‘they will shake their fist at the mount of Daughter Zion, at the hill of Jerusalem’). So they also would be the next in line for invasion, a terrifying prospect, physically and from a spiritual viewpoint also.

Like many prophets’ warnings though, there is not just bad news but also some good news (at least in this part for Judea although not for Assyria!). The passage at the end of Isaiah 10 is the prophecy for what will happen next and is the first part of the good news. It is all about a forest of Cedar (of Lebanon) trees and the trees being felled. This is not a Monty Python sketch with God as some sort of supernatural lumberjack! This is an allusion; Assyrian troops with their tall spears looked like forests of tall straight Cedar trees. The prophecy is that God will wipe them out supernaturally before they can manage to invade Jerusalem and then the fallen troops will look like felled trees. This is what actually happens. (The story is in 2 Kings 18 and 19 with the supernatural destruction of the Assyrians in 2 Kings 19:35). We can see from this that although bad things happen God only allows it to go so far and no further. A remnant of the ‘good’ are thus protected from harm.

A descendant of part of this remnant will be the person referred to in the phrase which starts Isaiah 11:1:
‘A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit’. Jesse was David’s father so this is a person who is ‘of the house of David’ and whose attributes are described in the first of the verses that follow. These are very similar to the words familiar to us from Christmas services in Isaiah 9: 6 – ‘For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. The reference in Isaiah 11 as with the earlier one in Chapter 9, is a prophecy of the incarnation of Jesus.

Verse 4 onwards may still refer to Jesus first earthly appearance: ‘He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked’ but as it continues we clearly move into a future context and possibly Jesus’ second coming. Verses 6-9 picture wild carnivorous animals lying down with peaceful domestic ones. Interestingly the wild animals are all those which would have been found around Judea at the time. This could be taken literally as an idyllic world after the ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus as in Revelation 21 and many people take it that way. It could also be symbolic. The wild animals are tamed like domestic ones and led by innocent children perhaps an allusion to the righteous and innocent controlling the fierce and preventing wickedness. There is no ‘definitely correct interpretation’ of this type of passage. We may all have to wait to find out its true meaning!

Verse 9 refers to the ‘Holy Mountain’ which is literally Mount Moriah on which Jerusalem is built. This is saved from being a place of harm literally in Isaiah 10 but is also the location of the ‘Holy of Holies’ in the Temple, the place where the Chief Priest connected humans with God ‘in heaven’ so there could be a symbolic connection with the future as Jesus (our peace – ‘no harm’) connects humanity with the heavenly realm.

In case you have lost sight of the main message at this point, it is;
Those who trust in God should not fear the power of might and evil, in modern speak, God rules OK! God will therefore give his people peace in their hearts.

The passage from the gospel of John

We now move to 700 or so years later than Isaiah and in the John passage Jesus is talking to his disciples (or all of them less Judas Iscariot who has by now left) in the Upper Room at what we call ‘The Last Supper’ just before Passover and his crucifixion.

‘Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me”.’John 14:23

These two verses together make an interesting contrasting pair. In verse 23 which is a spiritual or ‘heavenly’ reference has Father God and Jesus together (‘we will come to them’). In verse 24 where Jesus is referring to his earthly words, Father God and Jesus are separate (‘they (the words) belong to the Father who sent me’). Thus here we have a statement of Jesus’ divinity in verse 23 and his humanity in verse 24.

What is it like to love Jesus and thus God by “obeying Jesus’ teaching”?
We should need to follow Jesus (which is what the word disciple means) and to do that we need to try and copy not just what he said but also what he did. This is an easy to understand concept but one which is not so easy to do! We note though that those who do it will have Jesus living inside them in the form of the Holy Spirit (verse 26 coupled to verse 23).
This Holy Spirit will “teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” i.e. he will give wisdom concerning scripture and peace. This is echoed in other passages such as 1 Corinthians 2:12:

‘Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God and we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual’.

Despite Jesus’ words, the disciples are troubled and do not understand what Jesus is saying and why he must go away. Jesus tells them not to be troubled or afraid. If we first look at the last part of verse 27 and verse 28:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you’. If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I”.

Jesus is trying to explain that as God he has to return to be in glory with the Father and not be restricted as he has been whilst incarnated as a man on earth. But we should always remember the promise of Jesus’ return and in the meantime the disciples then, and we the disciples now, have the Holy Spirit with us so we should not be afraid but be at peace.

Verse 29: “I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe,” gives a further advantage to Jesus’ prophecy of his going back to the Heavenly realm in that the disciples faith in him will be improved when they see Jesus’ prophecy fulfilled.

So what about peace and the first part of verse 27?

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives&rsdquo;.

This ‘peace’ is more than just an absence of conflict as we might normally associate with the word in English. The Greek is ‘Eirene’ which translates the Hebrew ‘Shalom’. Shalom is a much wider concept than the English peace. Here are some of the meanings: completeness, safety, soundness, in body, welfare, health, prosperity (spiritual, not necessarily material), tranquillity, contentment, peace with God.

This is a description of what this type of peace might mean from Oscar A. Romero, a bishop in El Salvador who was shot to death in 1980 by the government after publicly criticising their repressive policies.

“Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty”.

Here are a couple of other quotes:

“Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal,” Martin Luther King.

“If you want peace, you don’t talk to your friends. You talk to your enemies,” Archbishop Tutu.

And a connection between love and peace from someone you would not usually regard as a theologian,

“When the power of love overcomes the love of power the world will know peace,” Jimi Hendrix.

So peace is something given to us by Jesus not so that we can have an easy life but because The Holy Spirit is with us to see us through rough times. This type of peace is not sitting in the armchair relaxing with your feet up, drink in hand watching the television, it is a dynamic striving to make things in the world more loving and peaceful. This may be cause difficulties for you. Ten of the eleven disciples of this passage traditionally were martyred. This concept is captured in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”.

This brings us back to the theme: Those who trust in God should not fear the power of might and evil. God rules! The enemy has been defeated already. We can be at peace!

I mentioned the interpretation of a verse of this passage that Jesus was not God. This is part of verse 28:
“…for the Father is greater than I”
At first sight this does seem to have that meaning but it has to be remembered that at this time Jesus is talking as a man on the earth. Jesus “was made lower than the angels for a little while” (Hebrews 2:9). This refers to Jesus’ status on earth as a human being. Many other passages confirm Jesus as God and God cannot stop being God. Philippians 2:5-11 explains this more fully:

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In other words Jesus as God voluntarily gave up many of the divine attributes and subjected himself to the limitations that being a human being implied whilst he was on earth and thus at this time (temporarily) the Father was greater than Jesus (as a man) in terms of attributes.

And what about the split between the churches the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church in 1054? This is based upon verse 26, “…But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name…”
This was converted into the Nicene Creed but the Eastern Church considered it meant that the Holy Spirit emanates from the Father only, whereas the western Roman Catholic Church decided that it meant that the Holy Spirit emanated from both Father and Son. Thus a split started which has continued for nearly a 1000 years. This is not perhaps so pertinent to us personally except as a lesson to us as Christians that we can sometimes place an undue importance over disagreements of interpretation when we undoubtedly have so much more that we agree about.

Much more important than all that is the principle of ‘Do not be afraid’ which appears 207 times in scripture and having peace. (Peace is mentioned 445 times).

Conclusion

However bad things seems to be and even if evil seems to be succeeding at every turn, we need to not fear what goes on but to live in God’s peace and love. We do not do that by doing and saying nothing and by ‘keeping our heads down’ but by being true disciples – followers of Jesus in thought word and deed, even if that causes trouble for us. The Holy Spirit will be our guide, our friend and our comforter in times of trouble.

We must trust in God to be in control. Even though evil seems to be winning, evil’s success is only temporary. So we should not fear its (temporary) power or might. Do not be afraid but live at peace with yourself, with one another and with God.

GOD RULES OK!

Amen.

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