When the prophet Isaiah wrote of a future benefactor of the world, he had no idea that nearly 2,500 years later and 2,500 miles away his words would be set to music in a grand oratorio—The Messiah by German-born composer George Frideric Handel.
When performed for charity in Dublin in 1742, The Messiah was an immediate success, falling on receptive ears in Ireland and England. The impact of Handel's music, especially this monumental work, is evidenced by the 3,000 admirers who attended his funeral in Poet's Corner at Westminster Abbey in 1759. And of course the impact has been felt far and wide since.
Unlike many popular visionaries, Isaiah's words highlight the coming of a Messiah, a great event to benefit all mankind. Not least among the benefits to follow the Messiah's appearance will be genuine, lasting peace, as reflected in the prophet's encouraging words so well known and often sung in The Messiah: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6, King James Version, emphasis added throughout).
When the Messiah did appear on earth in the person of Jesus Christ ("Christ" being the Greek-derived term for Messiah), He taught and practiced the way of peace as no one before or after Him. Yet Christ's first coming did not leave this present world a legacy of perpetual peace. At the time of Jesus' birth, a chorus of heavenly angels announced, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:14). But now, 2,000 years later, where is this universal peace, as also proclaimed by Isaiah? What went wrong? And will we ever see it actually come?
Only a dream?
The people of the earth have seen little true peace, even though the name of Christ is esteemed. The Holy Land has for centuries seen war after war, conflict after conflict. The only periods of peace in that embattled area seem to be the intervals leading up to the next armed conflict—as attested to by five wars in modern Israel's brief 60-year history.
Much of the world can only dream of peace, and only the Messiah could make that dream a reality. "The way of peace they have not known" is Isaiah's divinely inspired assessment of man's typical behavior (Isaiah 59:8). This sobering statement is echoed by the words of the prophet Jeremiah: "It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).
History verifies this assessment of human conduct throughout the ages. Left to our own devices, people seem utterly incapable of keeping the peace. The past century witnessed innumerable bloodstained episodes of strife and war, and the 21st is continuing that trend. The world has rejected the peace God so freely offered.
The promise of peace
How have human beings put aside peace? They have rejected Jesus Christ and His message, disregarding the way to reconciliation, respect and cooperation He taught and exemplified. But help is on the way. God will keep His promise by sending the Prince of Peace to earth a second time (Hebrews 9:28) to at last inaugurate the long-hoped-for utopia.
So peace is surely coming, but the world at large will have to wait a little longer to experience it. Yet not everyone has to linger on a waiting list to find peace. Some are called to embrace peace now, well ahead of the rest of humankind, as the emissaries of God's way of life.
To those who accept this special calling, Jesus Christ promises: "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; [but] not as the world gives . . ." (John 14:27). The real peace Christ offers is genuine and "surpasses all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). It is yours for the asking!
Christ offers, on an individual basis, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to embrace peace today rather than waiting for the universal calm and accord that will dawn when God intervenes mightily in world events.
Yet living a life in which peace is foremost in our minds isn't easy. In a chaotic age engulfed in turmoil and strife, finding the pathway to peace requires skill and initiative and has to be pursued in humility. It can, however, be achieved!
The prize for peacemakers
The world tends to elevate its military heroes. Many visitors down through the years have seen the Duke of Wellington's massive monument in St. Paul's Cathedral in London with its impressive list of his victorious battles. Few tourists have failed to notice the sky-high victory column of the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim Palace or the towering monument to "Braveheart" William Wallace near Stirling in Scotland.
True, these men of renown registered impressive military achievements in this age of man. But greater conquests than the spoils of war—the accomplishments of peace—are too lightly esteemed.
"Peace has her victories," noted the 17th-century poet John Milton. King Solomon, a scholar in his own right, reflected on this theme: "He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city" (Proverbs 16:32). Gaining the victory over our own base instincts is a worthy accomplishment, said Solomon—and so it is viewed by our Maker.
Notice God's words to Solomon, who on becoming king requested wisdom and understanding to better serve his people: "Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you" (1 Kings 3:11-12).
God heard and acted on Solomon's request. This king would be blessed with a reign of peace in an otherwise bloodstained, violent age. In the eyes of our Creator, esteem and honor go to those who seek the well-being of others.
Good intentions and praise of peace are not in short supply. Yet a genuine, heartfelt desire to work out matters peaceably among nations or in our personal relationships all too often goes begging.
The God-inspired Scriptures make it clear that Christ's first coming—beyond His sacrifice for the sins of the world—served to invite a group of people from many nations to individually embrace a life of peace now (John 14:27; 16:33).
Surprising to some, Jesus Christ did not come 2,000 years ago to establish pervasive peace for one and all. The promise of peace for the world in general is for a time yet future when the Prince of Peace Himself will force an end to war (Revelation 2:27). Beginning at that time Christ will teach the way of peace to one and all—assisted by converted individuals already trained as messengers of peace (Revelation 5:10).
The personal touch
What is this peace that Jesus Christ taught 2,000 years ago and that He will teach to the whole world at His return? It is, first and foremost, a way of life. It is a state of mind—God's mind in us. It is a mind living in harmony with the Word of God, the Bible.
As Psalm 119:165 tells us, "Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble." Those who put into practice Christ's teachings about peace will focus their minds on loving others rather than taking advantage of them. They will place the well-being of other people equal to, or even higher than, their own wants and needs. Because of this, "nothing causes them to stumble."
Christ has shown us in God's Word the way to peace. But how much do we make that way an integral part of our lives? We may not be able to bring our influence to bear on the world at large in any compelling way, but we can successfully heal a soured relationship.
To practice peace, as exemplified by Christ, we have to be at peace with ourselves and firmly believe that a peaceful approach is the only practical avenue to healing hurts and building amicable, friendly relationships. Embracing Christ's way of peace pays valuable dividends.
No one ever set a better example than Jesus Christ. He reached out to make peace with the Samaritan woman, as recorded in John 4. At that point in history, relations between the Jews and Samaritans had deteriorated such that they were no longer on speaking terms with each other. Worse yet, this state of affairs was accepted as normal.
But Christ would have none of it. As a result of His desire to heal broken bonds, He made it clear that salvation would be made available to Samaritans as well as Jews. Later His stirring parable of the good Samaritan raised the anonymous Samaritan—viewed as among the most despised social class by Christ's audience—to a position of honor and respect. Jesus' message? All men and women are of equal potential in God's sight, and He had come that all might ultimately experience the peace and salvation that can come only through God.
Pathway to peace
Of the Prince of Peace, the apostle Paul wrote, "And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near" (Ephesians 2:17). Our Savior included all who were willing to pursue peace. No one is barred from emulating Him as a messenger of peace. Making peace is an art, and we have Christ's example and His teaching to guide us.
The lesson for us is that we must build strong bonds and heal relationships where they have been bruised and broken. A personal touch from you is of paramount importance. Someone out there needs you—requires your example as a peacemaker—just as the world at large needs the Messiah.
Isaiah's prophecy of a benefactor, stirringly presented in Handel's oratorio, materialized in part 2,000 years ago in the first coming of Jesus Christ. Of course, this prophecy will find ultimate fulfillment in the age to come. Yet the Prince of Peace will work in us today if we embrace Him and His teachings. Remember His promise, "Peace I leave with you!" Why not take Jesus Christ up on that promise and accept His invitation to be a messenger of peace? GN