Summary: How Shall We Attain Lasting Peace? 1) By streaming to the Lord’s mountain 2) By walking in the Lord’s light
A bronze statue with the inscription: “Let us beat our swords into ploughshares” stands in the North Garden of the United Nations (UN) headquarters. The words, a slight paraphrase of Isaiah 2:4, express the sculpture’s hope that the UN would help the nations of this world find lasting peace. Is it a vain hope? Maybe not. Last week brought word that the Israelis and Palestinians have opened up peace talks with the goal of reaching an accord in 2008. Then again, they’ve been here before, have even signed peace deals but the killing and wanton destruction of property has continued.
The Middle East isn’t the only place where peace is in short supply. The home of newlyweds, the bedroom shared by siblings, the playground at school, the lunchroom at work are often scenes of bickering, shoving, and psychological bullying. Is there hope for anyone, much less any nation, to attain lasting peace? There is. The Old Testament lesson from Isaiah this first Sunday of Advent teaches us that we attain lasting peace by streaming to the Lord’s mountain, and by walking in the Lord’s light. Let’s find out what these things mean that we may enjoy a peace-filled life.
Peace in the Middle East has always been elusive. There wasn’t any peace there in the prophet Isaiah’s day, 2,700 years ago. The Assyrian army was threatening Jerusalem and years later the Babylonians would destroy it. In the midst of these threats Isaiah prophesied something incredible. He said: “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. 3 Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob… 4 He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:2, 3a, 4).
Some Bible students understand this prophecy to mean that one day the pip-squeak peak Zion (Chad Bird), the mountain on which the temple once stood, will literally be raised thousands of metres so that it will eclipse even Mt. Everest in height. Now certainly that would be nothing for God to accomplish. But is that what God is saying here? No. Instead God is using figurative language - the same kind of language he used when he spoke about John the Baptist’s coming. He said about that time: “Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low” (Isaiah 40:4a). But when John the Baptist came there were no earth tremors that dramatically changed the landscape of Israel. What did change through the power of God’s Word, however, were hearts. Despondent hearts were lifted up and proud hearts were brought low through John’s preaching of repentance and the announcement of the imminent arrival of the Messiah (Luke 3).
If Isaiah is speaking figuratively in our text, then what does the mountain of the Lord’s temple represent? What is it exactly that will be raised? Let’s turn to the New Testament for help. The writer to the Hebrews said to his Christian readers: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:22, 23). Throughout the Bible, Mt Zion is used as a picture of the Christian church. So according to Isaiah it is the Christian church that is exalted above every other religion and faith. Does this mean that biblical Christianity is or will be the most popular religion in the world? No. In fact Jesus said that as the End draws near, more and more people will leave the faith. Christianity is exalted because it’s the only religion from which we can reach heaven and attain lasting peace. With their teachings that we need to make ourselves acceptable to God, all other religions and philosophies aren’t nearly tall enough from which to reach heaven. It would be like trying to change the spotlights that hang 30 ft. above our sanctuary floor by standing on a chair. The chair won’t give you near the height you need to reach those bulbs. Nor will Islam, Buddhism, or any other non-Christian religion give you the height you need to find lasting peace.
Christianity towers above all other religions because it tells us what God has done to bring us to heaven. Mt. Zion was an impressive place during the time of Isaiah. There stood the temple King Solomon had spent seven years building with tons of gold. But Jesus raised the profile of that mountain when he ascended the cross. Through the death of that God-man, sinners have been lifted to heaven’s door like a feather shooting skyward when a gold bar is placed on the other side of the scale. We need Jesus to lift us up to heaven because the pitch of God’s mountain is too steep for us to climb. Like a doubled-over mountaineer trying to catch his breath we gasp to hear God say to the temple-going Israelites of Isaiah’s day: “11The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?…I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. 12 When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!…15 When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; 16 wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, 17 learn to do right!” (Isaiah 1:11-13, 15-17a) The church doesn’t raise us to heaven because we offer God here praise and the sacrifice of our offerings. We may do these things but isn’t our worship like that of the Israelites – a gift smeared with sin? With the lips I sing God’s praises, I also brag about my accomplishments and complain about my neighbor. With the hands that I pulled the church door open this morning for another, I shoved a sibling earlier. With the eyes that read the Scripture lessons a moment ago, I looked down on those not as neatly dressed as I. God says to us this morning as he did to the Israelites: “wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight!” (Isaiah 1:16a)