Peace Through… What?
December 09, 2018*
(Second Sunday of Advent)
By Pastor John Partridge
Malachi 3:1-4 Luke 3:1-6 Philippians 1:3-11
In our modern world, we have often heard the phrase, “Peace through strength.” Nations, from ancient Rome, to Hitler’s Germany, to today’s military-industrial machine, have all claimed to bring about peace through having a powerful military, but it has rarely worked out that way. Peace through strength only works when that strength is used to threaten the peace of others. Granted, used rightly, and justly, that same strength can be used to rescue people, and nations, from abuse by other nations or from terrorists. But God’s story leans in another direction. God’s story bends the claim of “peace through strength” into a different shape entirely. In Malachi 3:1-4, God says:
3:1 “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.
God says that he will send a messenger to his people and this will be the messenger that Israel has desired, and has prayed for, for thousands of years since the time of King David. But this promise also comes with a warning. When God’s messenger, God’s Messiah, appears, he will prepare the way for God by refining and purifying his people. God’s message is that there is strength through purity and strength through righteousness.
But let’s look a little deeper and understand why this is a warning.
Malachi says that God’s messenger will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver and will purify the Levites, the priests of God, and refine them like gold and silver.
Why is that a warning? It is a warning if you understand how silver and gold are purified.
When silver is refined, the silversmith places the silver over the fire, in the middle of the furnace, where the fire is the hottest and waits while the fire burns away all its impurities. During this process, the silversmith can never take his eyes away from the silver or it might overheat and be destroyed. But the silversmith knows the precise moment when the silver has been purified, because at that moment, he can clearly see his reflection in it. God’s warning is that that he intends to purify his priests, and purify his people, by burning away all of their impurities so that they will reflect his image and his glory.
Peace through purification.
Peace through trials.
Peace through the refiner’s fire.
We await the return of Jesus. We are expectant. But we are warned that, for us, his return may not be easy.
John the Baptist reinforces this same image in Luke 3:1-6, where we hear these words:
3:1 In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— 2 during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. 3 He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 4 As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:
“A voice of one calling in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him.
5 Every valley shall be filled in,
every mountain and hill made low.
The crooked roads shall become straight,
the rough ways smooth.
6 And all people will see God’s salvation.’”
John preached that God’s people must busy themselves preparing the way for the arrival of the Messiah by repenting of their sins. “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked roads shall become straight, the rough places smooth”, and only then… “all the people will see God’s salvation.”
Peace through repentance.
And finally, we come to the Apostle Paul as he writes to the church in Philippi and prays for them as we see in Philippians 1:3-11.
3 I thank my God every time I remember you. 4 In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
7 It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. 8 God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
9 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, 10 so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
Right off the bat, Paul begins by saying that God has begun a good work in his church and prays that God will continue the work that he has already started. And, just in case you missed the importance of this, I want to restate it. Paul tells the church that what they are doing is good, but that God isn’t finished with them yet, that there is more work to do, that we are a work in-progress, and he is praying that God would continue to move us in that direction until we have accomplished everything that God has intended for us to do. Second, Paul reminds the church that whether we are together or apart, we share God’s grace and we share God’s work. And finally, Paul’s prayer is that the love of the church may grow greater and greater, that the people will grow in the knowledge of God and in depth of insight into the mind of God so that we might be able to discern what is best, so that we might be pure and blameless on the day of Christ’s return, and so that the church will be filled with the fruits of righteousness, so that God would be given praise and glory.
And if we boil that down, we find Paul’s prayers for the people of Jesus Christ are these:
Peace through the perfecting work of God.
Peace through the grace of God.
Peace through love.
Peace through the knowledge of God.
And we hear the united voices of Malachi, John the Baptist, and the Apostle Paul saying,
“Peace through the righteousness of God.”
The second coming of Jesus Christ will not be easy. We must work diligently to live up to the high calling as a kingdom, and as priests, of Jesus. We are being refined and purified into something better. We must daily work to move toward the perfection of Jesus, to struggle daily to be more like Jesus, so that we can love others like Jesus.
It is no accident that Isaiah 9:6 describes the Messiah this way:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
We are a kingdom of priests, be he is…
The Prince of Peace
No matter the strength of a nation, or it’s swords, horses, and armies or navies, peace through strength will always fail… without the Prince of Peace.
There can only be peace…
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