December is the time to visit with family and friends. It is usually the time when food is more abundant than air. Interestingly, it’s that time of the year when you will hear no one say they are fasting. In my part of the world, December 12th marks Jamhuri day. Following closely on its heels is Christmas, Boxing Day, and New Year. In other words, beyond December 12th, one can hear a deep sigh of relief after a long year. At last it feels like we can recalibrate, refresh, and rejoice. But the only hope we have of truly enjoying this season is if we look to the Prince of Peace.
But on the African continent, several countries have had elections in 2021 with political unrest: Benin, Chad, Djibouti, Niger, Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, South Sudan, and Uganda. When you add personal and business losses, the cultural pressure on the church from state sanctions, the loneliness and isolation this side of the COVID-19 global context, peace seems elusive.
The question arises: where does true peace come from? Will it be won through twitting away with a liberal dose of earthly rage? Will this peace be procured through the careful socio-cultural implementation of philosophical ideologies? Is it merely utopian, part of other-worldly sentimentality? The answer to these questions can be found in a strange place: the Old Testament book of Isaiah. For it is there that we first meet God’s Prince of Peace.
Isaiah: God is both Judge and Saviour
Fortunately, God’s word offers a timeless response, through both the judgement-shaped and hope-filled visions in Isaiah. Isaiah ministered through the political turmoil of a divided kingdom (740 to 680 BCE). The focus of his ministry was directed to Judah, whose fading political significance coincides with the meteoric rise of ruthless Assyria. In refusing “the waters of Shiloah that flow gently” Israel thirsted after the political powers of “Rezin”. So the waters that would have quenched them, ironically, become the waters that drown them (Isaiah 8:7).
Yet, in that morally frayed and politically charged world, God commanded his people not to cave in to the culture of rebellious despair. This command applies to their speech. For God called them to reflect the timeless truth of his character, rather than cushioning their words in the conspiracies of the day. This counter-cultural proclamation was anchored in the fear of God. “The LORD of hosts, him you shall honour as holy. Let him be your fear and let him be your dread” (Isaiah 8:13). The results, however, are not an immediate state of peace, but varied. God is simultaneously a stone of safety for his people and stumbling to his enemies (Isaiah 8:14-15; 1 Peter 2:4-8).
The Pathway to Hope-Giving Peace
These divergent themes of peace and peril, of safety and stumbling, salvation and judgment, are combined into the grand theme of light and dark (Isaiah 9:1-2). For the God of light intervenes in the darkness of his people. Centuries later, this message of consolation and hope would come to the whole world through a child, through Immanuel, “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). A few chapters later we learn that this is also the Prince of Peace.
In the darkness of turmoil, there is a promise of peace for the nations.
In the darkness of turmoil, there is a promise of peace for the nations. Turmoil today looks like political unrest in Ethiopia and the endless conflict in Nigeria. The absence of peace, we learn, isn’t first a result of political arm twisting. The absence of peace is nested in a heart that is at war with God. Out of such hearts hostility flows towards other human beings.
So Isaiah’s prophecy is a valuable reminder that God is with us. He is not far removed, like a disinterested father. God is present in our world, acting to bring an end to darkness and despair. He does this through the work of his Son. Since titles are a big deal in Africa, these four in Isaiah 9:6 are worth our pondering:
The remainder of my article will focus on the last of those, though I encourage you to read the other three articles in this series. The fourth title gives us a hopeful vision in this hate-filled world.
Earthly Peace is Always Precarious
Like Egypt and Assyria, we peg our hopes on different political coalitions and outfits. But these coalitions satisfy the short-term interests of their “diehards” for only a season or term. Even the superpowers of the world hold sway only for a time, whether those kingdoms are powerful countries in the West or historical dynasties in the global South.
God’s people are translated from God’s wrath to God’s peace.
Messianic peace, however, knows no end. God’s people are translated from God’s wrath to God’s peace, not only in their conversion, but throughout their pilgrimage into all eternity. Together with Christ, the Prince of Peace, they enjoy the reign of this other-worldly peace, without end.
While earthly powers concentrate their efforts on a country or an entire region, God’s peace is cosmic in its scale. It is global and for all of time. What I find interesting is how peace is wedded with power. Authority is not stamped through wanton oppression of subjects, but God’s king rules in “justice and righteousness” (Isaiah 9:7).
Look to the Prince of Peace
The Messianic King, Jesus Christ, shows us the way to true and lasting peace. He:
- Is our Peace (Micah 5:5; Ephesians 2:14)
- Purchases our peace with God and men (Isaiah 53:5)
- Enables our peaceful co-existence with others (Ephesians 2:15).
In his commentary on Isaiah, Old Testament scholar Alec Motyer excellently captures this ideal of peace along with its culmination in Jesus Christ. He writes, “This prince, then, himself a whole personality, at one with God and with his people, administers the benefits of peace/wholeness in his benign rule. This rule, however, will be unchanging in its character…without end in space and time (forever), the fulfilment of the Davidic ideal (Psalm 2:8; 72:8-11).”
Jesus:”I Have Overcome the World”
Thus, peace ties the thread of God’s story together. As you and I look upon the world, with all its darkness and despair, we can do so through the peace-coloured lens of our Saviour. Through our experience of true peace with God, we can be carriers, proclaimers, displayers of peace within the spaces he sends us.
When for us it seems as if violence is overwhelming, as if discord is the order of the day, and it seems as if terror will have its final say, remember that peace has been won for eternity. Peace has the final say in the grand scheme of things. For the Prince of Peace is reigning, and we shall experience his perfect kingdom, one day. As we observe the yellow lights and red textures of Christmas, we can observe it not with a resentment from a panicky place or the ignorance of a utopian vision, but with the light of Jesus Christ and confidence in his crimson red blood. Peace has the final say!