Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Declaration of Peace

The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Now it shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow to it. Many people shall come and say, “Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and rebuke many people; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. O house of Jacob, come and let us walk in the light of the Lord. Isaiah 2:1-5

The Declaration of Peace

Isaiah lived some 700 years before Christ. Many call his wonderful book The Gospel According To Isaiah on account of him speaking so much about the Good News of the Messiah or Christ who was to come. In the passage before us Isaiah is talking about the peace that Christ and His kingdom will bring on earth. Isaiah speaks of nations beating their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks, which is to say that the nations will stop fighting with each other, “neither shall they learn war anymore.”
In some ways Remembrance Day, or Poppy Day as some refer to it, reminds us of what God through His Prophet Isaiah is speaking of. For Remembrance Day, or Armistice Day as it used to be called, recalls to our mind a time when peace was declared.
Remembrance Day began as a memorial celebrating the signing of the armistice at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. From there it developed into celebrating the actual end of WWI, The Great War, on 28th June 1919. The main point of it all being that on Remembrance Day those who died in the line of duty while defending us as a people are remembered.
The remembrance poppy came about because of the poem written about the First World War called “In Flanders Fields.” The red poppies that grew on the battlefields came to symbolise the blood that was shed defending our freedom.
War is hell. There is no glamour to it. Yes, stories of bravery, courage and heroism are legion, but primarily these are simply acts of desperate people doing desperate things in desperate times. We honour all who fought and all who died defending our Western freedoms, and hopefully as we get into our text we will see something of the positive influence that the Word of God has had on the nations including ours.
In the following we’ll look at a couple of points that I wish to bring to your notice from our text. Like the old hymn with the words, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before”, we’ll try to keep a military metaphor going…
Marching In
 Notice what Isaiah says at the end of verse two of chapter two, “And all nations shall flow to it.” Flow to what? “The mountain of the LORD’s house.” So the picture is that of nations coming to meet with God in His house.
Napoleon Boneparte said, “An army marches on its stomach.” That may conjure up a strange picture in your mind of people in uniforms crawling on their bellies but Napoleon simply meant that armies have to be fed to be of any use. And so it is with us as Christians. Therefore, I need to feed us a bit of background knowledge to help us to understand what we’re looking at:
You’ll remember that at the time of Moses God had his people erect a tabernacle according to His instructions. God designed it even down to the furniture it was to be fitted with, tables and tongs, lights and lampstands, and even the Ark of the Covenant that was to be deposited therein. This tabernacle was called “The Tent of Meeting” (Exodus 40:2). God, as represented by a cloud, would descend and fill the tent with His glory. The people of God would march up and camp all around the tent but only Moses got to go in and meet with the Commander, i.e., the Captain of the LORD’s Army, in this “Tent of Meeting.”
In the course of time the Tabernacle was replaced by a stone Temple on a mountain in Jerusalem at the time of Solomon. Just as there was in the Tabernacle or “Tent of Meeting” so there was a room in the Temple called “the Holy of Holies,” and it was in this room the God had them place the Ark of the Covenant which represented the presence of God. Only the High Priest got to go in there once a year on the Day of Atonement. He went in to pour the blood of sacrifice on the Seat of Atonement or the Mercy Seat which was the lid of the Ark that contained the stone tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them.
Now, so that we understand what’s going on in our text it’s important to know that The Day of Atonement was a sort of Remembrance Day ceremony. Only there was no laying of a wreath or a placing of a red poppy but rather there was a sprinkling of blood on the Mercy Seat. This was to remind the people of God that they needed to have their sins covered by blood, i.e., they needed to be forgiven for their sins against God.
Why? Why would human beings need to have their sins forgiven? The Bible says that there is no remission without the shedding of blood. Jesus in the Lord’s Supper says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.” What are we remembering in the Lord’s Supper? That Christ shed His blood to cover the sins of all who believe.
Right, it is very important that we understand the broader context of what Isaiah means when he speaks of all nations marching into, or as he puts it, flowing into the LORD’s house “on the top of the mountains … exalted above the hills.” It means that the forgiveness of sin is for all people and not just the Jews. Isaiah is painting for us a picture of God inviting all nations, all humanity, to come to Him to have their sins covered by Christ’s shed blood and thereby be reconciled to Him.
So, the Tabernacle and then the Temple on the mount at Jerusalem were just places where people could come to meet with God and have their sins symbolically covered by blood. But again we ask the question, why? What has humanity done that we as part of all the nations should need our sins covered by blood? For “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” Hebrews 9:22b. Well, it’s all because of war, i.e., the war between the human race and God. That’s where all wars come from, wars as individual against individual, family against family, clan against clan, and nation against nation. These all come from our war against God! That war was started by our forefather Adam.
A little more back-briefing will help to better understand the magnitude of the good news of what Isaiah is speaking of here. If we had an easel with a map on it overlaid with transparencies I’d have a pointer and I’d be pointing you to a geographical location on a map: The Garden of Eden!
God created Adam and put him in a beautiful garden, the Garden of Eden. Then God entered into an agreement with Adam, a covenant; that should Adam remain obedient to God for an undefined length of time, then God would bless him with even more than He had already blessed him, which is also to say that the Triune God would bless him as the head and representative of the human race, which human race of course is comprised of all the nations.
Adam knew right from wrong because God, as He has with every human being since, had written His Law on humanity’s heart. Adam was to love God and his neighbour as himself. God gave Adam a wife made from one of his own ribs, and He gave what we call The Cultural Mandate. Adam and Eve and their future offspring were to “be fruitful and multiply; [and] fill the earth and subdue it” Genesis 1:28a. But what did Adam do? He sided with the devil and instead declared war on God. Adam as it were beat his ploughshare into a sword and his pruning hook into a spear to be used in humanity’s war against God!
So, after all of that what we have here in this beautiful piece of Scripture are words that speak of a reversal of humanity’s rebellion against God. It speaks of reconciliation, “And all the nations shall flow to it,” i.e., to the LORD’s house which “shall be established on the top of the mountains.” The nations, including you and me, will as it were march in to meet with God!
So, we are left with a couple of connected questions that we need to attempt to answer in our second point: 1. What is meant by the words there at the beginning of verse two, “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days…”? And. 2. What is meant by “The mountain of the LORD’s house”? Well, to answer our second question first: There is no more Tabernacle and there is no more Temple on the mount. Therefore, either the temple will need to be rebuilt or there is something else going on in these “latter days.”
Marching Out
Some 700 years after Isaiah Jesus predicted the demolition of the Temple on the Mount which took place in 70AD. The “Wailing Wall” is the contemporary reminder of that destruction. The invading Roman armies levelled the place and many Jews who did not heed our Lord’s warning to flee Jerusalem were put to the sword.
Now, as you know, there was a period of transition from Old Testament practices to New Testament practices. The Book of Acts in particular records that period of history. Practices such as Old Testament Circumcision and Passover were superseded by Jesus’s introduction of New Testament Baptism and the Lord’s Supper respectively.
Israel ceased to be a theocratic nation with the Roman army’s demolition of the Temple as the Church as we know it began to emerge. Therefore, the LORD’s house is no longer the Temple on the Mount at Jerusalem. Rather it is wherever two or three gather in Jesus’s name, such as we do each Sunday as the Church. It’s as Matthew Henry says about our text, “Christianity shall then be the mountain of the Lord’s house. The Gospel church shall then be the rendezvous of all the spiritual seed of Abraham.”  
So, generally speaking the “latter days” that Isaiah is referring to is from the time of Christ, i.e., the time when the Mosaic administration was ending and the new administration of the covenant was beginning. In particular the demolition of the Temple at Jerusalem signalled the beginning of the “latter days.” In other words, it was from that time that the Gospel, i.e., the Good News was sent out into all the nations. It is as Jesus said to His Apostles in Matthew 28:19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.”
Again Matthew Henry looking at these verses said this, “In the last days of the earthly Jerusalem, just before the destruction of it, this heavenly Jerusalem shall be erected, Hebrews 12:22; Galatians 4:26.”  
In the Galatians 4:26 verse the Apostle Paul while contrasting the earthly Jerusalem which is in bondage with her children says, “but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.” In other words, no longer is God centred at the Holy of Holies at the Temple on Temple Mount. He is now marching out of Jerusalem with His people who are filled with the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity. And the message His people are to proclaim as they march into all the nations is the Gospel. The Good News then truly is “The Declaration of Peace”!
So, are you beginning to understand what’s going on in our text? We come to God for instruction and then God sends us out again. It’s like in the Military where we attend a meeting to receive our orders then we go out from the meeting to put those orders into practice.
When I was becoming an army chaplain my eldest brother said, “Great! God’s army is invading the Australian army!” We Christians belong to God’s army. The difference between God’s Army and the Australian Army is that we already have beaten our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Our banner is Christ and His cross, the banner of peace! Again, as the old hymn puts it, “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.”
For part of my training when I was becoming an army chaplain was to be sent to the Royal Military College at Duntroon, (RMC) to learn how to be an officer. Early each morning we formed up on the parade ground and were marched up to the top of the hill and fed breakfast and then we were marched back down again. It was kind of like the Grand Old Duke of York, “He marched us up to the top of the hill, and then he marched us down again!”
They give you breakfast in the mess at the top of the hill, and it’s all-you-can eat. I stuffed my face on the first morning only to discover when they marched us down again that we had to do Physical Training (PT) for a whole hour. It was a real battle to hold my breakfast down. I learned my lesson. The next morning I only had a small bowl of healthy cereal!
What our text is teaching us is that God’s people come together to meet with Him to be fed by Him. We are marched up to the top of the hill! Then after we are fed we go out and put into practice whatever we have been taught. But, unlike the burden of physical food before physical labour spiritual food enables us to perform spiritual labour!  In Old Testament times God’s people at least four times a year for annual feasts would walk up the hill to the Temple and then they would walk back down again.
Nowadays we gather together at church every Sunday where we are taught from Scripture and then we disperse again out into the community hopefully after having a “mountaintop experience”. Another way of looking at this, if you will, is that of the living and true God breathing in and then breathing out. His breath draws us in and then He sends us out again full of His Word and His Spirit on the first day of every seven. Thus, He marches us up to the top of the hill and He marches us down again.
What does God do with us at the top of the hill, i.e., in church of a Sunday? Well, we see there in verse three that, “He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in His paths.” His ways are good ways, and His paths are well-lit paths.
One of the chaplains I was training with badly sprained his ankle. We were out doing some night navigation with luminous compasses among the gum trees under a million stars when he put his foot in a hole. He was on crutches for the rest of our time down there! God’s paths of righteousness may be narrow but, unlike the ways of the world, they are bright with no potholes lurking in the creepy shadows.
And look what it says at the end of verse three, “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Just before He went up to heaven from whence He came Jesus told His disciples to “tarry in Jerusalem” where they would receive the “Promise of the Father.” i.e., the Holy Spirit who is also known as the Breath of God.
His followers were to gather in Jerusalem where they would meet with God the Holy Spirit and then they were to take God’s Word the Gospel of Peace into all the nations. They were to “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising [and] teaching them.” And so God’s Law and Gospel began to spread throughout the world even to this very day. God’s Law shows us our need for Christ and God’s Gospel shows us how He saves us.
Like love and marriage going together like a horse and carriage, when it comes to Law and Gospel you can’t have one without the other. The Gospel saves us from the Law’s condemnation. You know that you have been saved and are no longer under the condemnation of God’s Law when you begin to beat your sword into a ploughshare and your spear into a pruning hook. This is to return from the battlefield to the Garden as it were.
And notice what Isaiah through the Holy Spirit is saying about whole nations. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” Isaiah 2:4b. Yes, but what about all the wars of recent history? The Napoleonic Wars, the Boer War, the Crimean War, the First World War, the Second World War and so forth? Well, this alerts us to the idea that maybe the time of world peace is not quite yet but up ahead.
Of course, most if not all of the Western nations have been Christianised to various extents. One only has to look at the debates that armies of Militant Atheism are having on social media and even public media to see the influence Christianity has had on society. The recent debate over the definition of marriage attests to it! Should we retain the Biblical definition rather than change it to the Secular definition? That is the question.
So, we see that the time of national peace with God has not quite yet arrived! Therefore, could it be that there is a future Golden Age ahead, a period when the world is at peace with itself and with God? Well, here we are in the nation of Australia hearing about God’s Declaration of Peace! Are they hearing God’s declaration of peace in any other nations? New Zealand? Canada? America? Scotland? England?
It’s happening, isn’t it? The Good News is spreading. The leaven is leaving the whole batch. The mustard seed is slowly growing into a giant tree! To be sure Christ’s Kingdom is not of this world. It is an invisible entity. It is spiritual. But it certainly is in this world and the influence and growth of Christ’s Kingdom cannot be denied. It started in Jerusalem. “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” Isaiah 2:3b.
Would you agree with me that Christianity is still spreading among the nations? That it’s no longer contained in Jerusalem but is marching out into all the world? I hear the Gospel is making huge inroads in China, India and South America.
Anyway, enough prayers have gone up over the centuries seeking for God to bring this about. The so called Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Those are the words Jesus taught His disciples to pray, those are the words that God’s Army are praying. Therefore, it is the promise of God that there will be a time of world peace, for God cannot break His Word!

As we conclude, remember then where Remembrance Day fits into the grand scheme of things. It’s a hint of things to come. And remember where you fit in. You are part of God’s Army and you have the message of peace, The Declaration of Peace, whether it’s through telling others about Christ or simply inviting them to church so that they will hear the Gospel. Therefore, don’t be “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” Hebrews 10:25.
 And be encouraged, the promise of God still stands: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.”

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