Isaiah 9:8-10:4 is made up of four sections each ending with the refrain: “for all this His anger has not turned away, and His hand is stretched out still” (9:12, 17, 21, 10:4). The good news is that not only was the Prince of Peace born but He also died on the cross turning the anger of God away from His people. The good news is that the hand of God stretched out against Jesus and so it is not stretched out still. The good news is good news because there is bad news first — the dark side of Christmas — bad news about the darkness that filled the earth, bad news about who we are apart from Christ. Click the read more button to read the sermon, there is no audio file.
There is a dark side to Christmas that we see in the light-saber of the word of God. We see the dark side in the deaths of the children two and under in the region of Bethlehem. We see the dark side in the simple comment that there was no room for them in the inn. Indeed, the good news is good news because there is bad news that is delivered first – bad news about the darkness that filled the earth – bad news about who we are apart from Christ.
This passage was bad news for Israel and Judah. Remember that the Lord is slow to anger but once the Holy-Warrior God is angry in His righteousness that is bad news. And so the refrain is repeated after each of the four sections of text: “for all this His anger has not turned away, and His hand is stretched out still!” (9:12, 17, 21, 10:4). Israel and Judah have a problem and it is not the surrounding nations that will invade them and destroy the land. Ultimately their problem was not even the anger of God toward them. It is not as if God could simply decide not to be angry with them and all would be right. The problem was not even their behavior. And it was awful – including killing their brothers, robbing the poor, the widows, and orphans. But the problem was not even their behavior though clearly their words and actions were symptoms of the illness – the bad news was that they had diseased hearts. They were filled with pride, they believed in lies, they were godless, they were insatiable in their hatred, and they were filled with greed. These are heart problems. It would only be faking peace for God to simply decide not to be angry with them, they needed a cure for their heart disease.
But the birth of Jesus was the birth of the Prince of Peace. The birth of Jesus is good news because He would save His people from their sins and reconcile them to God – He would bring peace between them and God. And He brought peace by undergoing the anger of God on the cross and sending the Holy Spirit to transform hearts.
In order to hang in our place on the cross and undergo God’s anger for us, Jesus had to be born to the virgin Mary being made fully human. The original sin of Adam passed by ordinary generation to all of Adam’s descendants except Jesus because Jesus was born of a virgin – it was an extraordinary birth – He did not inherit the sin of Adam. Thus Jesus was born fully human but without sin.
And the good news is that not only was the Prince of Peace born but He also died for our sins and gave us the Holy Spirit. If you have a saving faith you can know that Jesus died for you and gave you the Spirit. God is not faking peace with His people – Jesus is the peacemaker between us and God and therefore we can be peacemakers with each other. Hear the Good News! The hand of God is not still stretched out against those who are in Christ because He stretched it out against Christ! God turns His anger away from those who believe because Jesus paid the penalty for our sins!
Unbelievers live under the wrath of God. What is necessary to move from being under the wrath of God and curse for sin to being under the grace of God in Christ Jesus is faith in Jesus Christ and repentance unto life with the diligent use of the means of grace – the word, sacraments, and prayer. This is the way God normally moves us from the living death of His wrath and curse to life everlasting.
The peace secured on the cross is actually applied to the believer through faith. And so we are to be ambassadors of the Prince of Peace taking this message of the forgiveness of sins to everyone. But the gospel is not irrelevant after a decision that is made one time. We will find that during this life peace is something that we are called to make.
Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. The kind of peace that we are talking about is complete. And it begins in the heart. The first section of text (v.8-12) tells us that the people in the northern nation of Israel speak “in pride and in arrogance of heart.” What they are saying is that they can rebuild what God has said He will tear down. But Jesus is the answer here. The Prince of Peace transforms prideful hearts into humble hearts with the gift of the Spirit. It is not enough that the people avoid open rebellion against God – that is not peace – it would be faking peace. For them to be at peace the heart needs to be changed.
The words coming out of their mouths reveal the pride and arrogance in their hearts. It would not be enough for the words coming out of their mouths to change if they are still full of pride and arrogance on the inside. If they were not saying that they could rebuild what God had torn down and if they were not physically trying to rebuild then on this front it might seem that there is an absence of conflict. But as long as their hearts are filled with pride and arrogance the people are at war with God. If every unbeliever acted with complete consistency to their hearts then there would be utter chaos.
Instead God restrains us from speaking and acting on the evil in our hearts to the fullest extent. For example, He restrains us through the threat of punishment by the government – an institution God designed to punish evildoers and praise those who do good. But there are also ways that the inhibitions God uses to restrain us can be lowered – like the use of alcohol. There is nothing that comes out of the mouth of someone who is intoxicated that was not already in their heart. It was there but it was being restrained. And so the judgment on Israel was that God lowered their inhibitions and took away many of the other restraints holding them back so that their ugly hearts could be more consistent – so that their diseased hearts would speak and do awful things.
The solution to this is not constraints that merely touch the surface – that keep us from saying and doing certain things. The solution is nothing less than the Prince of Peace giving the Spirit who transforms prideful hearts into humble hearts.
So we have seen that peace is not simply the absence of open conflict. The kind of peace we are talking about is complete – it is not enough for the mouth to stop speaking prideful and arrogant words if the heart is desiring, thinking and feeling them. The second section of text (v.13-17) says something similar to the first. It says “for everyone is godless and an evildoer, and every mouth speaks folly” (9:17). So the heart problem is godlessness and this is expressed openly as doing evil and speaking folly. The people are evildoers and without God in their heart. This is why they did not turn to God and seek Him when He sent judgment upon them. To simply stop sending foreign troops to destroy the nation would not be to usher in an age of peace. The people would not be at the kind of peace with God that we are talking about without them turning to God and praying to Him.
The leadership is a big part of the issue here – the elders could have been leading the people to seek out God and the prophets could have pointed the people to the word of God for direction. Instead, the elders and false prophets were leading the nation astray – they were leading them to a pit to be swallowed up by death. Of course, the solution is for Jesus Christ to be our guide and since He is the way as well as the guide we will not fall into a pit if we follow Him. He will lead us into heaven itself using the Spirit He has made to dwell in us.
The next section of text (v.18-21) tells us that the people had hearts of wickedness. This came out in their behavior toward one another. They killed one another. Manasseh and Ephraim were the two sons of Joseph but even though they were so close, even though they were brothers, even though they are really one people, they were consuming each other and then turning against Judah.
The Prince of Peace having died for His brothers and sisters enables us by His Spirit to make peace with each other rather than consuming our brothers and sisters. Rather than eating each other with our words and actions – rather than setting each other on fire with our words and actions – we can make peace with each other.
And the last section of text (10:1-4) reveals that their hearts worshiped their wealth – they were ruled by greed. The rich would take advantage of the poor in court – they robbed the poor. God said that the widows were their spoil and the fatherless their prey. So they are taking advantage of the widows and their children rather than providing for the widows and their children. But Jesus is the Prince of Peace. And as a Prince He is an excellent administrator of the kingdom of God so that the poor, widows, and the fatherless will all be treated justly and have their needs met.
And so this passage is full of bad news for Israel and Judah but for us remember that the Prince of Peace was born, even more the hand of God stretched out against the Prince and God’s anger has been turned away, in fact the Prince of Peace has sent the Spirit into the very hearts of His people and in light of these things we know that there can be true peace on earth among those with whom God is pleased. This is good news indeed. And so whenever you find yourself in a conflict let the Spirit speak to you through the word – He has given you everything you need to know in order to make peace with one another in the word. And He has given you Spiritual leaders who know the principles of peacemaking that Jesus has given us. Do not just replace open conflict – breaking peace – with faking peace.