The Promise of Peace and Prosperity
The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of darkness, a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased its joy. [The people] have rejoiced before You as they rejoice at harvest time and as they rejoice when dividing spoils. For You have shattered their burdensome yoke and the rod on their shoulders, the staff of their oppressor… For the trampling boot of battle and the bloodied garments of war will be burned as fuel for the fire. For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. The dominion will be vast, and its prosperity will never end. He will reign on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish and sustain it with justice and righteousness from now on and forever. The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:2-7 (HCSB)
In this passage of hope for God’s people, the faithful remnant would continue to face the wrath of foreign armies for centuries. Between the Greek and the Roman occupation, the Jews tried to rule themselves during what we know as the Maccabean period for about a century, but there was bloodshed and fighting for control and domination within the nation of the Jews. By the time of Caesar Augustus, early in the first century, God’s people fervently prayed for the promise of God’s peacemaker.
Had Isaiah gotten the message from God wrong? Every time a supposed “messiah” rose up, the people placed their faith in each of them only to become disappointed, but the people kept looking for an earthly champion to lead them. By the time Jesus arrives, the Jews (Roman derisive name for the residents of Judea – repopulated post-exile Judah) were ruled by a quasi-Jew, Herod the Great (an Idumean, not of Jacob but Esau). Consider the irony; the remnant of the nation of Israel (aka Jacob) had a king from Idumea whose lineage was connected to Esau, Jacob’s brother. [Read Genesis 25-36] Herod wanted to claim to be the king of the Jews and feared any rival to the claim.
Jesus stepped onto the scene and proclaimed loudly that the Jews were so focused on earthly kingdoms and rulers for their salvation they had neglected, just as their forefathers had done, to recognize that there is but one king of kings and lord of lords. He alone can be called the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, and Prince (Ruler) of Peace. In this historical setting of ironies and ongoing domination, Jesus pointed to God making His presence known through the Scriptures and writings of the Prophets. When the people proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah, he claimed no authority except to glorify God as the Heavenly Father. When Jesus said, I and the Father are one, his message was simply that he only offered the exact message that God wanted him to share. Jesus’ words were the words of God, who alone remains on his throne. God guarantees his kingdom will prevail and prosper. However, once again, the arrogance of religious piety fed by jealousy, greed and fear, crucified Jesus because they realized the good news he brought to the people would remove them from power.
So how did God accomplish this promise given in Isaiah’s passage?
The question remains for each of us to answer for ourselves. It is a question that each generation faces as a matter of faith. Since Jesus pointed us to God’s glory and grace, we have created a whole network of churches still claiming to build God’s kingdom. Each claims to be right and the struggle continues for defining the kingdom on earth. God has promised peace and prosperity, but what prevents us from realizing it on earth? Can all the churches be right? Or are we victims of the same failures of the past generations since the first families heard the promises from God?
Why are we still struggling to find peace and prosperity in our own communities, much less country? Is there a trend toward unifying churches or creating more divisions of the vision that Jesus proclaimed? Just ask yourself, why within a few short decades after entering the land the nation of Israel split up and went their own ways into the land? Why did Isaiah speak as God’s agent to a divided nation, Israel and Judah? Are we living according to God’s will, ways, and wisdom or are we too busy, like so many in history, filtering everything through our will, ways and wisdom?
Final question: Why is it that Jesus found oneness with God, his Eternal Father, but we cannot find oneness in His kingdom? The answer is why cannot find the promised peace and prosperity that God promised to his faithful remnant.