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Isaiah and Jesus: Prince of Peace

January 11, 2017

For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 NRSV

Prince of Peace is the last of Isaiah’s four royal titles and for many of us, perhaps, the most familiar. (Our series on these titles began here, and continued here,and here.)

When the Bible speaks of peace it is talking about something more than the absence of conflict. While ending war would significantly improve the lives of many people, God has an even grander vision. Peace, as the prophets speak of it, is a world where people are secure, are not afraid, have enough to eat, are healthy, have meaningful work and so on. God’s peace is a place and time where everyone can reach their full potential, where everyone can be the person God desires them to be. Biblical peace is big, inclusive and so wonderful that it is nearly unimaginable.

In the ancient world, as today, rulers were charged with keeping the peace. The security and prosperity of their kingdom was the ruler’s responsibility. Often to achieve “peace” rulers and nations used force.The “Pax Romana” was a peace that benefited the Roman Empire and was imposed upon conquered nations and peoples. As Brueggemann asks in his book, Names for the Messiah, can real peace be imposed?

We can think of times when peace was the result of treaty, or defeat and see that that sort of enforced peace is not true peace for everyone. Winners live in peace because the losers can no longer fight. Losers live in peace because the winner’s stop (mostly) killing them.

Rulers, in addition to keeping the peace are also expected to ensure prosperity. Sadly, war is more prosperous than  God’s peace. So we live with peace that is not true peace. No wonder we are confused by Jesus.

The Prince of True Peace does not bring the peace we know and expect. Perhaps most confusing is that the Prince of Peace does not impose peace, because peace cannot be imposed. The Prince of True Peace shows us what true peace looks like in a world filled with false peace.  True peace is so different from the false peace we are used to, that true peace doesn’t even look like peace to us. For that true peace to become reality, we must accept and seek true peace. The Kingdom, at least for now, comes one person at a time.

Now that the Advent and Christmas talk of peace has died down. How do we go forward as people who bring and embody true peace into an unpeaceful world?

My reflections this Advent and Christmas are based on Walter Brueggemann’s book Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study Guide.  

Isaiah and Jesus: Mighty God

December 31, 2016

For a child has been born for us,

a son given to us;

authority rests upon his shoulders;

and he is named

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6 NRSV

To think of Jesus as “Mighty God” may not be difficult for us as Christians who affirm the Trinitarian nature of God. Because the “Son” is the second person of the Trinity, we can think and speak of Jesus as part of the Trinue God.One blog post can’t possibly cover the pertinent church history, however simply put the church wrestled with question of who Jesus is for a very long time. Our understanding of Jesus as truly human and truly divine, as well as our understanding of the Trinity is the result of much thought and prayer by the early church. But things were not as simple for the first believers. (I’m not saying that understanding the Trinity is simple, but it does give us a way to make sense of the relationship between Jesus and the Father.)

In ancient times, when Isaiah was writing, kings were often believed to be a god. And if not a god, the son of a god. And if not that, someone who ruled because god placed the ruler in power. Rulers; kings, pharaohs, emperors; ruled on behalf of the gods and were believed to embody at least some of the god’s attributes and powers. If the people were polytheists, as most of the ancient world was, thinking of the ruler as another god was not a theological problem.

But the Jewish tradition was different. They were always very clear that their ruler was not God. There is only one God. So how can Isaiah and Israel speak of the coming king as mighty God? There is more than one possibility.

The phrase that is translated as “Mighty God” can also be translated as “mighty hero” or “divine hero”. These four titles may also have been understood to be describing the God who placed the ruler- God’s representative- on the throne. The Bible is full of examples where someone’s name was a phrase about God. For example; Elijah- YHWH is my God. Isaiah-YHWH saves.

What about the early church? To speak of Jesus as God presented a problem. No one should be called God, but the one true God. When Jesus closely identifies himself with God (The Father and I are one,   John 10:22-39) it is considered blasphemy.

Nevertheless, the New Testament does describe Jesus as one who does divine, God like things. In ancient literature, what one did was a statement about who one was. When the early Christians talked about Jesus as one who cast out demons, as one who nature obeyed, as one who forgave sin, as one who healed, and so on; they were ascribing and describing divine actions to Jesus. Jesus showed the mighty power of God and that revealed  who Jesus was.

The question for us to reflect on is, what does Jesus’ actions tell us about mighty God? And then how do we as modern disciple continue to reflect and reveal the power of God?

My reflections this Advent and Christmas are based on Walter Brueggemann’s book Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study Guide.  


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