December 21, 2017
We once conducted a survey among students by asking, “What do you want for Christmas?” It’s interesting to note that, after giving a litany of material stuff, they would usually add “Oh, and of course, world peace.” If you ask them what they mean by that, you’ll probably get a shrug and a version of this statement, “You know, because there is a need to stop all the terrorism and the civil wars and the social injustice.”
Now peace is a big thing in the Bible; God also wanted it for the world. Jesus actually promised His disciples in John 14:27:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
What kind of peace was Jesus referring to? Absence of war or conflict? The feeling of security in the condition of our finances or health? Confidence in the justice system and the police? Positive forecasts of the economy or in employment? If any of these define peace, why did some of us go through a lot of frustration and disappointment this past year? And how do we look forward to a better year?
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for peace is shalom; one of its definitions is the absence of war or conflict. But in a broader sense, shalom also means (a) a wholeness of life or body, as used in reference to health, (b) a right relationship between two parties, established as a covenant of peace (see Num 25:12-13 and Isaiah 54:10), and (c) prosperity, success, or fulfillment (Lev 26:3-9). It can also refer to renewing or maintaining the relationship with YHWH, as in a “peace offering.”
So when Jesus is referred to as the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6, it was in the context of a more holistic role than just someone who brings about absence of war or conflict, or comfort and external security. There are three areas that the peace of Jesus impacts:
The Trinity is the perfect example of the shalom that means a whole and complete relationship; until Jesus came to earth to live as a man, the unity between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit had never been broken. When Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” on the cross, He became sin for us and the Trinity’s “shalom” was broken. Jesus then became the ultimate outcast because holiness cannot be with sin. This was worse than the worst rejection we’ve ever received, because He did not deserve it, and yet He chose it.
But the good news is that, Jesus, the Prince of “shalom”, overcame death and sin when He rose from the grave. Whoever believes in Him, accepts Him as their Lord and Savior, and follows Him is gifted with “shalom,” a restoration of a broken relationship with God. Because of what Jesus did, we are not just reconciled with God, but we become complete and whole in Him. Jesus went out of His shalom so that He could bring us into His shalom, into His family where we can be loved unconditionally.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We do not need to seek acceptance, outside of this relationship with God. We do not need to prove ourselves. We have confidence and security that we belong, not just to anyone, but to the sovereign God. Imagine that! We are united with none other than the One who holds the universe together! Only when we understand this truth that faith and hope can arise in our hearts and allow us to keep following Him in the midst of challenges this year and uncertainties in the coming year.
“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.”
We who are in a state of “shalom” with God are called to come together in unity with others who have been reconciled to God. This is why it is important to be in a church community. As Paul puts it,
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Keeping this bond of peace should come before our prejudices, our preferences, and our personal comfort. Conflict is unavoidable in any relationship, but the bond of peace enables us to respond in humility, gentleness, patience, and love.
This is hard work and it is definitely not comfortable, because it is not in our nature to overlook offense and ask for forgiveness. It takes effort to be gentle in correcting and rebuking others; it is next to impossible to be patient and loving to those who are unlovable! If you’ve ever walked with someone who keeps straying, spreads gossip and disrupts relationships, or does not walk the talk, you know how challenging this can be. This is exactly why we need the Holy Spirit to help us maintain this “shalom” in our relationship with each other, as He reminds us that each one of us fell short, yet Jesus chose to bring us into His “shalom” at the expense of His own.
When we display the security we find in Christ and choose to maintain the bond of peace with each other in the church, we send a message of hope to a world full of insecurities and broken relationships. We become salt and light to family members, friends, and neighbors who have not yet experienced “shalom.”
But “shalom” goes deeper than just our personal wholeness and our unity with the church. It also means restoration to the right order of things for all the world. In fact, “shalom” was also used in Exodus 22:14 and translated as restitution. An example would be if someone destroyed another’s property, not only should there be an attempt to restore the relationship through an apology, there should be an act of replacing the lost property or repaying it with an equivalent amount.
This is also illustrated by instances in the Old Testament when Israel was not only called to not go to war, but to even seek the welfare of the city of their enemies, for the mutual benefit of the believers and the non-believers (Jeremiah 29:7)! This is why we seek to be socially responsible. This is why we do our best to be good stewards of our environment. This is why we aim to excel in our studies and in our jobs.
In all these, our ultimate hope is to bring as many as possible into “shalom” with God by making Jesus known to them. As you prepare for the new year, can you think of ways that you can do so?
“For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”