Here is the cartoon that accompanies this post.
Was it the right target?
At the start of the first millennium of the Common Era, when the Bethlehem innkeeper hung out his “No Vacancy” sign and angels were preparing a concert for shepherds, the Pax Romana (“Roman peace”) had just begun. After a generation of civil war it was an uneasy peace, because only gritty determination and legionary steel prevented invasions along the borders of the empire and uprisings from within it.
Inside Palestine, Judaism had shattered into rival factions; Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, Therapeutae, Herodians, and zealots competed with, manipulated, and irritated one another. The Judeans looked down on Galileans, who in turn resented their elitism, and both of them despised the half-breed Samaritans.
Could such a world be the intended target of a 700-year-old prophecy? The prophet had said, “Peace, peace, to those far and near, says the Lord. And I will heal them” (Isaiah 57:19).
The man who would become Prince of Peace had nothing going for him except the love of his family. His country village was within sight of the new provincial capital, whose extensive building projects provided steady jobs for construction laborers. But oppressors filled many of the org chart slots on the local, provincial, and imperial levels. Making a living was almost always as difficult as making a life.
The radical ethic
When the Carpenter became the Rabbi-Preacher, little he said was as radical as these words: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called God’s children” (Matthew 5:9). He followed this up by urging his disciples:
I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you…. Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. –Matthew 5:39-48
Such a radical ethic challenged the competitive, confrontational status quo of Roman Palestine. In fact, it led Jesus inevitably to the cross. Yet in that cross, “God was reconciling the world to himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19), and He committed to the apostles and to all of us who have followed the task of proclaiming peace to those who are far away and those who are near (Ephesians 2:17).
“For he himself is our peace, who has made Jews and Gentiles one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…. Its purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God to the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (Ephesians 2:14-16).
In the opening years of this, the third millennium, let us make room for the Prince of peace in our lives. Let us kneel before Him and provide Him with a continuing concert of our praise. May we see in our world His peace overflow from our reconciled hearts into our communities and our nations. Let us take up the challenge to be His peacemakers, thereby proving that we are God’s children.
Want to dive deeper?
Leon Morris – The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Erdmanns, 1955. Ongoing reprints.
Read Morris’s discussion of reconciliation on pp. 214-250.
Douglas James Harris – Shalom! The biblical concept of peace. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1970.
Perry B. Yoder – Shalom: The Bible’s Word for Salvation, Justice, and Peace. Nappanee, Ind.: Evangel Publ. House, 1970.