Because we live in a world that is longing for peace, Prince of Peace is a wonderful name. The world is not just longing for peace but is also worrying about whether it ever will or can achieve real peace.
I’m reminded again this year of how much presidential candidates, when they give their stump speeches, describe themselves and what they’ll do for the country as though they were the child being described in Isaiah’s prophecy.
It’s a remarkable thing when someone running for President of the United States can, without blushing, promise that if elected, he or she will “keep America safe,” “make America great again,” “restore our standing as leader of the free world,” “fix the mess in the Middle East,” or “usher in a new American century.”
The candidates might as well be saying to the American people, “Hey, vote for me, I’m the person in Isaiah’s prophecy, that’s me! I’m the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace! Put the government on my shoulders, and see what happens. Of the increase of my government and of peace there will be no end!”
My point is simply this: In presidential politics, the rhetoric gets messianic; the language gets almost eerily prophetic as candidates offer hope for the future that only God could ever deliver. That is perhaps why presidential races in America are such a toxic mix of intense hope followed by anger and resentment as we come to realize that another would-be Messiah promises more than he can deliver.
The twofold task of the Prince of Peace
There is, though, one who never overpromises or under-delivers but always makes good on precisely what he says and what he promises. He is the child described in the passage, the one Isaiah prophesied about many centuries ago, the one whom Christians now call Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, and Everlasting Father, and as the focus of our attention in this message, the Prince of Peace. He is the one who actually brings peace into the world and into our lives—God’s “shalom.”
What a wonderful word shalom is; it has all the connotations of peace in English but includes a whole lot more. It means not simply psychological ease but a holistic sense of fulfilment, well-being, and flourishing. That kind of comprehensive shalom-peace is what the Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah, envisioned for the future.
They dreamed of a new age in which human crookedness would be straitened out, rough places made plain. The foolish would be made wise, and the wise, humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would flower, the mountains would run with wine, weeping would cease, and people could go to sleep without weapons on their laps. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. Lambs could lie down with lions. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder; all humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, walk with God, lean toward God, and delight in God. Shouts of joy and recognition would well up from valleys and seas, from woman in streets and from men on ships (Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, pgs. 9-10).
“The webbing together,” the writer continues, “of God, humans, and all creation in justice, fulfilment, and delight is what the Hebrew prophets call shalom.”
That’s shalom, the kind the Prince of Peace will bring, and according to Isaiah’s prophecy, he achieves this peace in two ways. First, he achieves it by ending war. As we read in Isaiah 9:4-5, the Prince of Peace is going to break the rod of the oppressor, and every blood-soaked garment worn in war will be rolled up and burnt for fuel.
Secondly, he will extend well-being, or promote safety, security, and human flourishing. We see in Isaiah 9:7 that “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end.” He will rule with “justice and with righteousness” and thus cause everyone under his reign and rule to flourish.
This is the twofold task of the Prince of Peace: the way he will put our world to right, a process of peace-making that Christians believe began at Christ’s birth but won’t be completed until Christ returns in glory to consummate what he has begun.
Mutual hostility between God and man
Do you know where the Prince of Peace must begin if he is going to achieve peace? Do you know what is at the root of every lack of peace or at the core of all the violence and injustice and hostility in the world? Do you know the one thing no politician can do anything about because it can only be dealt with by the Prince of Peace?
That thing is our enmity with God. In our sin, we are at war with God. We are, because of our sin, combatants of God. That is our condition apart from saving grace found in Jesus Christ.
We are, the Bible says, enemies of God. In fact, the Bible says that in our sin we are hostile toward God. Paul explains it this way, “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot” (Rom. 8:7).
Whether we’re fully aware of it or not—and often, we aren’t—there is a deep-seated, internal hostility toward God in every fallen human being. Because of that, we instinctively suppress the truth about God. We don’t want to be confronted with the reality of his presence, and so we have very subtle and sophisticated defence mechanisms; we “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom. 1:20). It’s like if you have had a falling out with someone, and whenever that person is near, you have a hard time acknowledging their presence. We do that with God. We are hostile toward God in our minds; we are at enmity with him.
But, check this out, the Bible also says that in our sin, God is actively opposed to us; God is angry with us. We have, understandably, a very hard time with that truth, not least of all because we view God often in an unbalanced and unbiblical way as only a God of love and nothing else. We lose sight of the fact that God is also holy and by virtue of his nature is forever opposed to sin and evil in the world and in our lives.
Take a look at Romans 5:8-10 where we find a sobering description of our human condition. The point of the passage is to celebrate God’s amazing love in reconciling sinners to himself. But what we find in Paul’s celebration of God’s amazing love for us is a sobering description of our situation apart from the saving grace of God.
(Read Romans 5:8-10)
Notice a few key phrases: We were “sinners” (v. 8), upon whom the “wrath of God” rested (v. 9), and so Paul says, we were “enemies” (v. 10).
The Prince of Peace is the Suffering Servant
Being an enemy of God is our natural condition apart from the saving grace of God. That is why the cross of Christ is not optional but is necessary. If we are going to enjoy real peace with God, it is only going to come one way. It will not come by God ignoring our sin or making light of it, letting bygones be bygones, overlooking things and playing nice, or by moving on and not holding grudges.
The only way peace with God will come is by God dealing head-on with our sin. That is precisely what he’s done through the birth of the child and the gift of the Son, the one whom we rightly call the Prince of Peace. Before Jesus was the Prince of Peace, he was first—for us and because of our sin—the Suffering Servant.
Isaiah 53 is perhaps the most powerful and moving prophecies about Christ to be found anywhere in the Old Testament. That’s why the first generation of Christians loved the passage and turned to it again and again to make sense of who Jesus was and what he had done.
Listen to Isaiah 53:1-5 which fills out the picture of the child to be born, the Son to be given, by describing in concrete detail what it is he will do for sinful humanity:
(Read Isaiah 53:1-5)
God put an end to the hostility between himself and sinful humanity at the cross when Jesus Christ, who knew no sin, became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in him. He thus made peace through the blood of his cross, peace between God and man, by dealing with sin.
Do you know that peace? Have you embraced Christ by faith to find it?
The peace we now enjoy
Perhaps it’s worth pointing out that the peace we enjoy through Christ is not necessarily circumstantial; that is, it’s not the case that the Prince of Peace will fix everything in your life or mine.
There almost certainly will be continued difficulties and hardships we have to face, the conflicts we have to endure, and broken relationships we have to navigate and learn to live with. The Prince of Peace doesn’t promise perfection in this life. What he does promise is deep personal and spiritual peace even in this life. Jesus talked about that kind of peace with his disciples; he promised them just that kind of peace even in a world he knew would be hostile to them.
In what is called his Farewell Discourse, his last teaching before he was betrayed and crucified, Jesus levelled with his disciples. He told them plainly that the world wouldn’t take kindly to followers of another King whose reign disrupted the powers and patterns of this world. “In the world, you will have tribulation,” he says to them candidly (John 16:33). He also tells them, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace” (v. 33).
Earlier, he told his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (John 14:27). When Jesus appeared to his disciples after the resurrection, do you remember his first words to them? Here is what we read, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you” (John 20:19).
That is what the Prince of Peace offers his followers, and it isn’t just pie-in-the-sky peace but is the kind of peace that steadies in storms. This is the kind of peace that sustains us, the kind of peace you long to have when the world teeters out of control, or when circumstances in your life take a turn for the worse. This is the kind of peace that Christians have always known in hard times, the kind of peace they have celebrated in their lives, and have sung about in songs. It is the kind of peace celebrated in the powerfully moving hymn “It Is Well with My Soul” when the hymn writer says,
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
Embody peace as the church, anticipate peace at his return
Those of us who have been reconciled to God now enjoy peace with God. Because of this peace with God, we can enjoy peace with one another, with those who are united to Christ as members of his body, his church. The vertical peace we have with God translates into a horizontal peace we can enjoy with one another.
Paul celebrates this horizontal peace in Ephesians chapter two.
(Read Ephesians 2:14-19)
Christians are then to embody this peace in our relationships with one another in the body of Christ. The church is to be a place of peace, not a place of conflict, petty politics, broken relationships, or other kinds of rivalries or infighting.
Instead, as Paul goes on to say in Ephesians chapter four, we’re “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” (v. 1-3).
As we embody peace in our relationships, we proclaim peace to the world. God has given the church, Paul says, “the ministry of reconciliation,” which is not primarily horizontal reconciliation, though that is it’s necessary fruit and proof, but vertical reconciliation; “that is,” Paul explains, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19). Therefore, as Paul says, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20).
The famous English poet John Milton, the author of Paradise Lost, penned many lesser-known but powerful poems, one of which was an Advent or Christmas poem entitled “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity” that he composed in 1629.
It speaks of how God the Father in his infinite grace and condescension toward us graced us with a perpetual peace through the gift of his Son whom we know as the Prince of Peace. The poem goes,
This is the month, and this the happy morn
Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King,
Of wedded maid, and virgin mother born,
Our great redemption from above did bring;
For so the holy sages once did sing,
That he our deadly forfeit should release,
And with his Father work us a perpetual peace.
Our Prince of Peace, prophesied long ago, promises to us a perpetual peace—inaugurated now, in this life, as we find the peace that he offers to us through his death and resurrection. It is a peace that will be consummated one day when he returns with trumpet sound and the whole host of heaven in his train to finish what he has begun and to usher us into a never-ending era of peace, joy, and life with one another and with God forever and ever.
But until that day, may the peace of Christ rule in our hearts (cf. Col. 3:15).
Todd Wilson (PhD, Cambridge University) is Senior Pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, IL, cofounder of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and author most recently of The Pastor Theologian and Real Christian.