We are promised a king who will reign in the wisdom, power, and faithful love of God; therefore he will be the Prince of Peace. Remove any of the first three names, and this fourth one becomes impossible, inconceivable, unfathomable. Coming after all three of them, however, this one is almost inevitable. Isaiah describes a ruler with the love and commitment to desire only what is good and right, the wisdom to understand how to make all things good and right, and the power to make that happen and to defeat any who would try to oppose him. What else would such a monarch bring but peace?
This doesn’t just mean the absence of war, either. If a king were powerful enough, he could accomplish that without being either wise or loving. The biblical concept of peace is much bigger and much greater than that. As I’ve said before, this is one of those Hebrew words that’s worth learning for everybody, because you can’t translate it with anything less than a paragraph. This is the word shalom.
At its root, it means to be whole, perfectly complete and unmarred; it carries within it the concept we call integrity. To experience shalom, to live in the peace of God, is to be in complete harmony: first of all with God and his will; and because of that, second, within yourself. The result is a calm, unshakeable sense that all is well, and freedom from anxiety. This in turn creates harmony with others, to the extent that they are willing to be at peace with you. There will always be those who aren’t, whatever their reasons; the peace of God gives you the ability to behave peaceably toward them regardless, and to pursue peace with them even so. A life of shalom is a life lived in tune with God, ordered by his order, in accordance with his will.
The Prince of Peace, then, must first be one who is himself perfectly at peace with God and within himself, who is perfectly whole and unflawed in his integrity. Out of his own peace, he will bring peace to others, and ultimately to the whole world. As we see in the gospels, he lived in peace even toward those who adamantly rejected him and were determined to destroy him—to the point of allowing them to have their way. He didn’t defeat them by force, but by making himself vulnerable and turning their force against them. His mission was to reconcile the lost people of the world to God, and he would not do anything which would compromise that mission.
Now, it’s important to bear in mind that this doesn’t mean Jesus was passive. In fact, it doesn’t even mean he was completely non-violent. He harshly criticized his enemies among the leaders of his people, calling them whitewashed tombs and exposing them as spiritual frauds. Twice, Caiaphas the high priest made it impossible for Gentiles to worship in the temple by setting up a marketplace in the outermost court; twice, Jesus launched a one-man assault. He flipped over the tables and drove out the merchants and the moneychangers. The first time, he even had to drive out livestock with an improvised whip. (Caiaphas didn’t risk trying that one the second time.) Jesus wasn’t just nice to everybody no matter what they did. He came down hard on those who were mis-leading his people. But here’s the thing: he never did any of that to protect or defend himself, and he never harmed anyone. He used force for appropriate discipline, nothing more.
Jesus set his peace loose in the world by sacrificing his life for us. He paid the price our sin demanded so that he could reconcile us to God, so that there would be the peace of perfect justice between us and our Father in heaven. He sent his Holy Spirit into our hearts so that we would receive the gift he has given us, so that his Spirit of peace would be at work in us. This isn’t, however, just something we receive—it’s also something we’re called to give, something we’re called to do. He modeled a life of peace for us, and then called us to go into the world and live the way he did. He gave us his ministry, the ministry of reconciliation, and left it to us to carry it on. He set his peace loose in the world by setting it in our hearts to spread it abroad through us.
To put this another way, the Prince of Peace is the Lord of Hosts, the commander of all the forces of heaven, and we’re his army on earth. He has made us his army of peace, to wage peace against the forces of evil and the powers of darkness, and he’s told us that not even the very gates of the fortress of Hell will be able to stand against us. This is powerful language, but it’s also challenging language. Paul says in Romans 12—I alluded to this a minute ago—“If possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” On the one hand, this is a recognition that we can’t makeanyone live peaceably toward us. We can only control ourselves, and we aren’t responsible for other people’s choices. On the other hand, Paul says, “as far as it depends on you.” How far is that? Well, how far did Jesus go? He went to the cross, and he died, so that there would be peace between him and us. Have you gone to the cross yet to live at peace with everyone? If not, then you aren’t done.
This is critically important, and we need to remember that we don’t read the Bible as it’s addressed to anyone else, we read it as it’s addressed to us. If there is not peace between us and anyone else, and particularly a brother or sister in Christ, if we look to Jesus and ask, “Whose problem is this? Whose fault is this? Whose responsibility is it?” we’ll get only one answer back: “Yours.” Remember, Peter went to him and asked, “My brother keeps sinning against me—how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?” Jesus answered, “No, seventy times seven.” In other words, until you’ve lost count and have to start over, and then keep on forgiving.
If any of us recognizes that we are not at peace with another, we have no right to demand that they make the first move. Each of us bears the full responsibility to reach out and seek to make peace. Some of you might object that this lets them off the hook—no, it doesn’t. Responsibility doesn’t add up to 100% and then stop. Each of us bears the full responsibility to seek peace, and so does each of them. Their responsibility is none of our business—we’re only responsible for our own responsibility, and our own choices. We aren’t responsible for what they do with our efforts; but we must go all the way to the cross before we’ve fulfilled our responsibility to the Lord toward them. By the simple fact that we recognize that we are not at peace with another person, it’s our job to reach out to them and seek to change that.