“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2.14)A Revolution in a Manger: (Peace on Earth), Part 3 of 4
“Peace on those whom he favors.” That was the promise Rome was making to the people. (See Part 1) These were the words Luke placed in the mouth of the angelic host. Peace, not through the militaristic violence of Rome, but peace through the other-centered, enemy embracing, self-sacrificial, enemy forgiving, humble, servant love of a new kind of King—King Jesus.
The prophecy had been given by Isaiah:
“In days to come the mountain of the LORD’S house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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 any more.” (Isaiah 2.2-4)
This was why this Baby had come! This is Jesus’ dream, his pearl of great price, for which he gave up all and asks us to do the same. It is the restoration of his reign, the reign of Christ, The Kingdom, on earth, once again, as it is in heaven. (See Matthew 13.45-46, 6.10)
But what I want you to notice in particular is what the nations would actually learn from this new King. “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 any more.” A few chapters later, Isaiah refers to this King again in a passage that is quoted over and over this time of year: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority [remember Luke 4.5-6 and Matthew 28.18-19] rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9.6, emphasis added.) Yet what is missed so often is the very next phrase that follows this, “His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace.” (Isaiah 9.7, emphasis added.) What Isaiah is telling us is that this little Baby lying in a Manger, in a very real sense, is not just your average baby. THIS Baby, is an incarnate Revolution of Divine origin, which would continue to grow until eternal peace would, once again, reign on earth. (Luke 2.14. Matthew 6.10)
How did this revolution begin? Not only were the angels of Luke’s story proclaiming another King other than Caesar, not only were they proclaiming peace through something other than the Pax Romana, they were pointing to a helpless Baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger as the means through which all of this would be accomplished. With keen perception, Dorothee Sollee looks into the manger of Bethlehem and has this to say:
“In Jesus Christ, God disarmed himself. God surrendered himself without protection and without arms to those who keep crying for more and more protection and arms. In Jesus Christ, God renounced violence. And of course, he did this unilaterally, without waiting for us to lay down our weapons first.”
This Baby had not come to bring peace through a sword, but peace through the way of the cross, teaching us too, how to love, forgive and embrace our enemies. This is the testimony of the early church for the first three hundred years:
“We (Christians) no longer take up sword against nation, nor do we learn war any more, but we have become the children of peace.” — Origin
“And shall the son of peace take part in the battle when it does not become him even to sue at law? And shall he apply the chain, and the prison, and the torture, and the punishment, who is not the avenger even of his own wrongs?” — Tertullian
“Anyone who has the power of the sword, or who is a civil magistrate wearing the purple, should desist, or he should be rejected.”—Hippolytus
“Rather, it is better to suffer wrong than to inflict it. We would rather shed our own blood than stain our hands and our conscience with that of another.” —Arnobius
“It makes no difference whether you put a man to death by word, or rather by the sword, since it is the act of putting to death itself which is prohibited.”—Arnobius
“When God forbids killing, he doesn’t just ban murder, which is not permitted under the law even; he is also recommending us not to do certain things which are treated as lawful among men . . . whether you kill a man with a sword or a word makes no difference, since killing itself is banned.”—Lactantius
“…no exceptions at all ought to be made to the rule that it is always wrong to kill a man, whom God has wished to be regarded as a sacrosanct creature.”—Lactantius
“In disarming Peter, [Christ] unbelted every soldier.”—Tertullian
But (someone always asks) what about Jesus’ words in Matthew’s gospel, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” At face value, and taken grossly out of context, this seems to be a direct contradiction to the angelic host in Luke as well as the prophecies we have just seen from Isaiah. Just keep reading Jesus’ words in Matthew and you will see exactly what He’s saying. Here is the entire passage:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (Matthew 10.34-38)
What we must distinguish is peace as the means, verses peace as the end goal. I think we all can agree that Jesus came to bring peace as the ultimate end goal. We all have the hope that Christ will one day bring an end to the violence that so riddles our world. But how would the Baby lying in a manger accomplish this? This passage seems to indicate that the means whereby peace would be accomplished would not be so “peaceful.” There are two ditches that we must remain out of with this passage. The first is to say, “See, Jesus said not peace, but a sword,” and to rush into using the sword (violence) to try and establish peace. This is NOT what Jesus is saying in the least! (Verse 38 proves it.) The other ditch, which Jesus is actually addressing in this passage, is to say we are to be people of “peace” and therefore we are never to be a source of conflict in the world; we are to always simply go with the flow and not cause waves; we are to be about private piety, post mortem bliss, and personal holiness, never provoking the systemic injustice that is proliferated by the way this world is presently structured. (As a tangent, some interpret Romans 13 this way as well, but remember Paul was writing Romans 13 from a Roman jail cell.) Jesus taught neither using violence to accomplish peace nor did he teach passive nonresistance in the name of keeping the peace, which only allows evil to grow unchallenged. What Jesus taught is nonviolent noncooperation in response to evil. What Jesus is addressing in Matthew 10 could not be more clear. He is not saying that his followers should take up a sword themselves. No, NO! What Jesus is saying is in response to those who would use the label of “peace” for a veil to hide their cowardice, fear, and desire to avoid conflict. Jesus is telling us in clear tones that following Him and his revolution will produce a sword, not in the hands of his followers, but in the hands of those for whom the present structure of this world is stacked in their favor and who see Jesus and his followers as a threat.
Look at it this way. How did Rome respond to the early Jesus revolution? According to Luke in Acts 17, the disciples were accused of “turning the world upside down,” of “acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor,” and “saying that there is another king named Jesus.” (Acts 17.6-8) But what I want you to notice is that this is what was spoken from the perspective of Rome, from a Roman paradigm. It is true that the disciples were acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor, and it is true that they were proclaiming a different King other than Caesar, but they were NOT turning the world upside down. The world was already upside down; the disciples were working to restore, heal, and turn the world right side up once again, enlarging the reign of Christ. Herein though, lies the rub, and that which helps us understand Jesus’ words in Matthew. The way the world was structured in the days of Rome and the way the world is structured today favors a very few at the top, at the expense of the masses at the bottom. It may help you to imagine a pyramid. What Jesus had proclaimed was this Kingdom he had come to establish would be a “blessing” to the “poor,” but it would be a “woe” to those who were “rich.” (Luke 6.20, 24) Jesus had come to turn the world right side up again, which would be a blessing to those the present structure was oppressing, but it would be seen as a threat to those whom this present structure was rewarding. How would those who were being benefited by the systemic evil of this world respond to Jesus and his followers?
“I have come to set a man [whom this present structure favors] against his father [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution], and a daughter [whom this present structure favors] against her mother [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution], and a daughter-in-law [whom this present structure favors] against her mother-in-law [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution]; and one’s foes [those whom this present structure favors who are threatened] will be members of one’s [who has decided to follow Jesus and this radical revolution] own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
What Jesus is saying is that the ultimate goal of peace is not going to be accomplished by living a life of no conflict and calling it “being peaceable.” The goal of peace will be accomplished through embracing a cross, both his and ours. Yes, Jesus’ peace, in a way, will be accomplished by a sword, but a not by a sword wielded in the hands of the peace maker. No, it will be a sword in the hands of those who are threatened by the Jesus revolution being wielded against the peace maker, while the peace maker responds in nonviolent, other-centered, enemy-embracing and forgiving love.
Remember, peace brought through nonviolent noncooperation is nonviolent, but it’s non-cooperative too. Peace is accomplished by nonviolent noncooperation in three steps, the first of which does not appear to be very “peaceful.” First, Jesus calls us to provoke that which is out of harmony with His reign on earth, which is around us today. This was demonstrated in His cleansing of the temple. Second, those who are being benefitted by that which is out harmony with the reign of Christ here on earth, lift the sword against us. The sword is lifted against us because we are interpreted as a threat to their way of life. This was demonstrated by Jesus’ arrest by the Temple police. And third, we are called to respond to those who lift the sword against us by “embracing the cross.” This was demonstrated in Jesus’ nonviolent, loving response of embracing and forgiving those who crucified him. (see Luke 23.34)
I want to wrap up this week with the words of a sermon, A Christmas Sermon, given in 1967, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which I believe is incredibly appropriate entitled Peace of Earth. Read it prayerfully.
“I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.’”
By the time of Constantine, the Jesus revolution was growing so exponentially that it had become a significant threat to even Rome herself. Nero had tried to crush it and failed. (Remember, the way that nonviolent noncooperation works is that when the sword is raised against it, the sword/cross cause it to propagate rather than be extinguished. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the proclamation of Christ’s reign, the Kingdom.) Diocletian had tried to crush it and failed. Constantine had to do something. What did he do? With the skillful help of others, Constantine coopted the Jesus revolution from the inside out. If this had not happened, yes, Jesus followers would have still continued to have “the sword” lifted against them, and many would have continued to lose their lives. But eventually, the Jesus Kingdom would have been the last Kingdom standing. This is what Constantine foresaw and feared because it would mean the end of Rome. The kingdoms of this world would have become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ (Revelation 11.15). History has gone a different direction now for a time. But the promise still remains:
” . . . all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; 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 any more.” (Isaiah 2.2-4)
1.This week, I want you ponder the last two eSights along with this one. What is God saying to you this week as you ponder Jesus’ coming being a challenge to the Kingdoms of this world? (Part 1) So far, we have looked at two ways in which Jesus’ Kingdom accomplishes this. We considered how reign of this Baby lying in a manger frees us from the fear of death (or penalty), which is the very power the kingdoms of this world use to rule over others (Part 2). And this week (Part 3), we have looked at how being freed from that fear of death enables us to follow the way of peace, or nonviolent noncooperation, like the early church, in endeavoring to enlarge Christ’s Kingdom in putting the world right side up again. (Which we will be looking at in Part 4)
2. I want you to dedicate a small portion of time each day pondering these themes. Take time to look up the passages and ponder them. During this time I want you to also write down (journal) the thoughts and insights God shares with you during this time.
3.Share what you feel comfortable sharing with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.
According to that little Baby in a manger, His way of peace implies voluntary submission to the penalty for noncooperation with evil.
The King of the Earth has come! (Luke 9.2)
Now let’s go enlarge His Kingdom, one human heart at a time!
Next week, we’ll wrap up this four-part series with a look at how this Revolution lying in a manger brings restored Justice. Nowhere do we see how threatening the Jesus Revolution is to those who are being benefited by the systemic injustice of our world more clearly than when we look the reign of Christ in relation to restorative justice. But we’ll get to that next week.
May the truths proclaimed by the events that this season brings to the minds of so many be ever-present in your heart.
I love you guys; I’ll see you next week.