"The LORD will bless His people with peace."
Israel, as a nation, believed that God’s name was so holy that it should not be spoken aloud. One of the ways they dealt with this was to describe the name by way of a euphemism. A euphemism can be a neutral word or phrase used to describe something else. For example, “We are experiencing many casualties” could be put in place of “many soldiers are being killed.” Another euphemism is, “If something happens to me” in place of, “If I die.” The word behind ‘LORD,’ in capitals, is ‘Yahweh’
The word ‘Yahweh’ is from a Hebrew root meaning “breath” (hayah), which has the extended meaning of “to exist.” The first usage of LORD is in Genesis 2:4 and 2:7 where we read of life being breathed into man. Man rose from the dust of the ground as a living being through the work of Yahweh – the LORD – who raises up; the One who can breathe life into the most difficult of circumstances as He brings about His work of restoration and reconciliation. Adam and Eve were raised for their hiding place and coping mechanisms that, unattended, would have destroyed the very life they sought to preserve. Noah was raised up in the safety of an ark and Abram was led out of a pagan city in Mesopotamia (Ur). Jacob was raised out of his doublemindedness and Joseph was raised from death threats and through injustice and prison to be one of the most powerful men in the most powerful nation of the day – Egypt. Four hundred years later a failed hero (Moses) was encountered through a burning bush and raised up to challenge the very heart of Egyptian culture and life. Shortly after this Israel, a nation of slaves, was taken from the illegitimate rule of Pharaoh and rose to freedom in the grace and mercy of the Holy One. Later, Israel entered the Promised Land and rose over her enemies in ways that clearly pointed to the presence of God (Joshua 5:13-6:20). Rahab, a prostitute in a military city was raised out of judgement and brought into covenant love (Josh 6:17, Mat 1:5) and even in Judgement God sought to encourage and raise His people (Dan 1:19-20) from sin and darkness. Throughout Israel’s chequered history God, in grace and mercy, raised up prophets who clearly pointed out that history does not begin with, or continue with human ability, but with the One who holds all things in His hands ( 2 Pet 1:21,Gen 1:1, John 1:1).
Jesus is the reason a wayward son could be brought back into the family home (Luke 15:22-24) and is the reason that you and I are totally accepted by God – through His work. In Christ we find God stooping low so that we can find forgiveness and be raised up and seated in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6).
Will bless His people...
In the Bible ‘blessing’ speaks of stooping before another person and presenting them with gifts and in Genesis we see that the first person who does this is God. He breathed life into man and placed him in a beautiful world – a place where man could know God and benefit from the provision and love of a heavenly Father: God blessed man. Man fell into sin yet God still reaches out without compromise to His holiness and with a patience and love that is immeasurable (Eph 4:16-20).
God is the One who brought His people out of Egypt and later instructed Aaron to say to the people; “The Lord bless you” (Numbers 6:24). In rescuing His people God had stooped low in order to raise His people up and bring them out of Egypt as on the wings of an eagle (Ex 19:4). Centuries later we see this work of blessing transformed into amazing grace, power, mercy and love as Jesus comes as a Servant (Phil 2:6-11) and gives His life as a willing sacrifice so that we can be raised out of condemnation and separation through His gift of life. We are blessed with the peace and security of reconciliation that comes about through His of grace (Eph 2:8).
Many years ago whilst my wife and I were both students we bought a Tiffany print. The picture was full of vibrant colours as you looked out onto a landscape through a medieval window. A few years after our initial purchase we started searching the internet for a similar print and in doing so came across a copy of the one we already had. It was then that we realised how faded our own print had become without us realising it. Knowing that there was no way or restoring the print we soon took it off the wall – it just did not look the same anymore.
Peace is about the restoration of harmony in God’s world – about bringing things back to how they should be. We are faded glory yet do not realise it as we live in a world which, in many respects has lost so much of its vibrancy and colour. We are paupers and rebels through being separated from God in our dysfunctional existence and sin, yet we were created to be sons and daughters in the love and care of a heavenly father.
Unlike my inability to restore a picture back to former glory, we have a heavenly Father who is willing to help restore man’s broken relationship with God, ourselves and with those around us. Due to our often- distorted vision and pressures of the world upon us, we easily fail to see what has happened and is happening to our lives. Yet there is hope because God is willing to come after the rebel and place the pauper back in the family, so to speak, clothed in the work of another. He is the only One who can offer peace and reconciliation and in looking through scripture we see that He has always been in the business of restoring broken relationships (Gen 3:15; Isaiah 11:7-9) right from the very beginning.
A key ingredient in the word ‘peace’ is restoration with God’s initial walk into the Garden of Eden being a clear indication of how God, the injured party, was willing to initiate the process of restoration as He reached out to Adam and Eve. God was also aware that this ‘walk towards restoration’ would involve His Son being ridiculed, deserted, and put to death - yet His Son still came so that we could be reconciled and receive great blessing and peace. God loves us.
In John 3:16 we see that God’s love (1 John 4:8) is an intense love that has always been present. The word ‘loved’ in John 3:16 is in the past tense and points us back to “In the beginning” (John 1:1, Rev 13:8). Yet we can go further back than this because eternal life was promised before time began (Titus 1:2) in a Trinitarian decision between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Peace comes about when restitution is made for wrong-doing as can be seen in looking at Exodus 21:35-36 where we read…
“If a man's bull injures the bull of another and it dies, they are to sell the live one and divide both the money and the dead animal equally. However, if it was known that the bull had the habit of goring, yet the owner did not keep it penned up, the owner must pay, animal for animal and the dead animal will be his." Exodus 21:35-6.
In these verses see a clear picture concerning restitution. God states that if an ox that was known to be dangerous gored and killed an ox belonging to another man, the owner should pay ox for ox. The word ‘pay’ used in this verse is shalem (to be safe) and literally means, ‘to make whole; to restore’ This is a major ingredient - ‘flavour’ - in the Hebrew word ‘Shalom meaning, “To be whole - to be at peace.” Throughout the Old Testament we see that God allowed man to come before Him through the sacrifice of an animal (Ex 12:21) which brought temporary remission and which ultimately, in the Passover Lamb, points to Christ (1 Cor 5:7). God has paid the price for our wrongdoing.
Concerning mankind restoration speaks of the restoration of a right relationship with God and therefore about coming home. We were not created to live our lives in isolation having been created to live with and receive from another: our heavenly father. Therefore, at its heart, the peace that Jesus offers is a peace that is the reality and effect of reconciliation with God: He alone being the One who can bring us home with this coming about through His sacrificial death, the death of the One who takes victory over all the powers of darkness as the prophesied Prince of Peace.
In Isaiah 9:6 the forthcoming Messiah is spoken of as the Prince of Peace because in Isaiah’s day the king’s son would be the one who went out to deal with trouble in the kingdom. This is why the term ‘prince’ came to speak of the one who destroys evil as power is brought to bear on all that would disrupt harmony in the kingdom. In light of this we clearly see why Isaiah speaks of the coming Messiah – Jesus – as the Prince of Peace. Jesus came to preach good news to the poor, proclaim freedom for prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind and the release of the oppressed (Luke 4:18).
Jesus is the true Judge, and the picture of a judge in His day was that of one who brings freedom. Jesus knows exactly how all things should be; He is the way to perpetual life – the door to life. This is why He says, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:9-10).
In Jesus’ ministry we see Him disrupting the oppressive thinking present in the Roman Empire, and the dead religious pseudo-peace of Judaism. He came to destroy the authority of fallen man that so often oppressed others and distorted truth and dealt with all that Satan could throw at Him, binding the strong man and setting captives free (Luke 11:20).
In Matthew 10:24-5 we read that Jesus did not come to bring worldly peace but a sword. This does not mean that we rise up with physical weapons but in the strength of His word which is likened to a sharp two-edged sword (Heb 4:12) and speaks of the One who wields with greater precision than a surgeon’s knife as He brings judgement and restores justice.
In our present day society most of us would associate judgement with being sentenced or acquitted in a court of law. Yet the biblical words for judging and judgement convey a much more powerful picture and are linked with peace. This is because the biblical words have the connotation of “to arrange,” or “to put in order again”; think of it this way. Using your imagination think of a one-thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle that has been emptied out of its box with the pieces then been scattered over a large field. Over the next few weeks the rain washes off the colours and then, over the following weeks the sun is so strong that it curls up the edges of the individual pieces. Whilst you and I have no hope of collecting up the pieces and putting the jigsaw together, God does. God sees and knows all about our lives, even the bits that are missing in our thinking, and He is the One who can put things back as they should be. This is why an important ingredient the word ‘judgement’ is that or arranging and putting in order again. As this happens there may be those who come against us, even in our own families, yet as part of His family and are never left or forsaken (Rom 8:37-9; Heb 13:5).
In Jesus’ teaching, actions and sacrificial giving of His own life we see God’s desire to free us from the destructive thought patterns and unbalanced emotions that so often stain our lives. His peace is the presence of the All-Powerful One who seeks to bring about the re-establishment of right relationships with God, self and others. Therefore shalom peace is all about what normal life should be like with our heavenly father. For example, it is not normal to think of yourself as a failure just because you have not succeeded in life in the way that the world expects you to succeed. Don’t write yourself off – God does not see you as worthless, but as His son or daughter. He knows how precious our life is and reaches out to us in love, grace, mercy and compassion (Matt 13:45; Eph 2:8).
Throughout His three year ministry we find Jesus speaking into broken lives and bringing healing and wholeness as He fellowshipped with social and religious outcasts (Mt 11:19; Luke 17:11-16). In His ministry we see Jesus loving the unlovely and not writing off those who had fallen by the wayside. He spent time in the home of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:5f), healed the centurion’s servant (Matt 8:8f), and gave life back to the daughter of a synagogue ruler (Luke 8:49f). Jesus is also the One who dealt with an adulteress (John 8:3ff) in a way that revealed compassion and love; yet did not overlook her sin. Jesus is the One through whom so many people have found forgiveness, healing and restoration through His work and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
At a time of great turmoil and difficulty and when most of the disciples were about to desert Him, Jesus sought to encourage them and said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:1, 27). This peace was not like the ‘Pax Romana’ of Rome who ruthlessly imposed her will on others as a means of controlling the masses. Instead it is a peace brought about through the death and resurrection of Jesus and the sending of the Holy Spirit in to the life of all who turn to Him.
The peace that Jesus offers is a peace that is the reality and effect of reconciliation with God: He alone can bring us home. He alone can truly set us free from destructive thought patterns and unbalanced minds. He is the All – Powerful One who offers freedom, wholeness and well being, and His peace is like nothing else on earth. It is a peace that is not all about the absence of trouble, but instead is about the presence of a Person. At the very heart of peace is the sacrificial death of Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit; it is the re-establishment of right relationships with God, self and others.
Peace is part of God’s character in that He is complete and perfect in every way, with scripture referring to Him as, ‘the God of peace’ (Romans 15:33). His offer of peace – His very presence - results in wholeness and integrity of living that blossoms and flourishes no matter the opposition. The opposite of this is suffering and chaos, when we allow anything in the created order to come between us and God. This could be anything from a negative view of self-based on the words of others or wrong goals and ambitions. To live as sons and daughters of His kingdom we need to put God first and understand ourselves and life around us from His perspective with an open heart that desires to serve.
Shalom peace is all about what normal life should be like with our heavenly father. For example, it is not normal to think of yourself as a failure just because you have not succeeded in life in the way that the world expects you to succeed. Don’t write yourself off – God does not see you as worthless, but as His and a work in progress. We are of great value because God says so (Matthew 13:45) and are indwelt by His Spirit (1Cor 3:16).
The Spirit of God who was present at creation (Gen 1:2), is present with us today, through the work of Christ (1 Cor 3:16) and in and through Him we can know peace. God loves us and He is a God of order and not disorder (1 Cor 14:33). He will keep in perfect peace the one whose mind is steadfast because he trusts in the Lord (Isaiah 26:3). So be encouraged because you are cherished and loved; you are part of His story and life is not so much about who you are but about whose you are. Look to Jesus and live by submitting your life to the power and presence of the Holy Spirit each day.
“History is not our story – it is not the story of the progress of humankind. Rather, history is the narrative of God at work bringing creation to a divinely intended goal. And the unity of history lies ultimately in the activity of the one God.”
Dr S.J. Grenz in, ‘Created For Community’ p 257.