I find it helpful to picture the Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah, standing on a hill looking out over a valley with the mountains off in the distance, and further out is the horizon where sky meets land. God grants prophets keen insight to see the valley in front of them—their current situation. But then they lift their eyes to the mountains beyond and see what God will do in the future, maybe years or decades ahead. Then, at times, God grants them the foresight to see further still. Out on the horizon they see—perhaps a bit hazy—what will happen hundreds or even thousands of years in the future. This is the sort of vision Isaiah is allowed. Not only does he clearly see and call out Israel’s current rebellion, but he foresees a future captivity and then the arrival—the advent—of a Deliverer.
Perhaps not knowing precisely what he is foretelling, Isaiah sees persons walking in darkness who suddenly see a great light (Is 9:2). The light comes from the birth of a child who will be the long, expected ruler of Israel. His kingly qualities, Isaiah foresees, will be wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, prince of peace. Somehow this child’s rule and the shalom it brings will never end. With a Deliverer like that, who would want his reign to end?
A “prince of peace” is the one who administers shalom. The peace in question is not just what we might call “inner peace” but that sturdy wholeness and wellness captured by the Hebrew word ‘shalom.’ The Messiah—Jesus—is the prince of that kind of shalom. That means he’s in charge of it, he’s found his way into it, and he knows how to help us into it whenever there is conflict of any kind. Jesus is the maestro of shalom.
Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus says to his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid” (John 14:26–27). Jesus doesn’t leave behind any old peace. Jesus calls it, “my peace.” The prince of shalom bequeaths to his followers his kind of peace—the sort of peaceful disposition he himself experienced. Just as he lived a way of life that was not troubled and afraid, his students can learn to live in that same way. Jesus ushered in a way of life in his Father’s kingdom by his Spirit and one dimension of the fruit of his Spirit is “peace” (Gal 5:22).
As we mark the coming of the prince of peace onto the stage of human history, the first thing we must do is make sure we are pursuing Jesus as a real, living person—the Lord of all, the holy one of Israel, the one who administers shalom. Jesus is still in the business of teaching his students how to be conformed to his image and take on his kind of peace. When it comes to conflict, anxiety, and fear, our first turn needs to be to take Jesus seriously as the way, the truth, and the life. He is not just the means by which we have forgiveness of sins (though, thanks be to God, he is that), he is also and even more deeply the means by which we have new life in his Father’s kingdom by the sanctifying Spirit who reorders and renews our minds in such a way that we can experience more and more shalom.
It is crucial to note that Jesus goes on to tell his disciples that his kind of shalom exists side-by-side with troubles and suffering. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation [trouble and suffering]. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Jesus does not promise that our troubles and suffering will be removed just as his “cup” of suffering was not taken from him. But he does promise that there is a way of peace through the middle of whatever it is we are going through. As Jesus’s ancient ancestor, King David, testified, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps 23:4).
What better way to celebrate the arrival of Jesus on earth—the prince of peace—than to come to him and learn from him how to practice his way of life when it comes to the various situations in which we lack peace.
Consider taking the following steps as you take seriously Jesus’s offer of shalom.
- Jesus says that he leaves his followers his kind of peace (Jhn 14:26–27). Not, he says, the sort of peace that the world offers. What are some of the ways you have tried to find peace on your own in this world that have come up empty? Spend some time confessing to yourself and to the Lord (and maybe a close friend) your failed attempts to find shalom apart from Jesus.
- Identify a conflict (inner or outer) that is causing you distress and ask Jesus to teach you how to find his kind of shalom in the midst of that lack of peace. You can certainly pray that he would take the problem away, but also ask him to teach you how to find shalom in the midst of that circumstance. Be on the lookout for Jesus leading and teaching you in this.
- One of the primary ways Jesus shepherds us is through others. Jesus himself turned to Peter, James, and John in his moment of deepest trouble (Mt 26:36–46). Who are the people you turn to and invite to sit watch with you in your times of distress? How might you share with one or two friends in Christ where you are struggling to find peace? Look for how God might utilize them to teach you how to enter more deeply into his shalom.
- As we enter into Jesus’s shalom, we are enabled to be persons of peace for those in distress and in response to distressing conditions in our world today. Is there some departure from shalom that you are being called into to help stand for peace? What tangible act of shalom might God be calling you to bring into existence today?
Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons
Steve Porter is a Senior Research Fellow and Executive Director of the Martin Institute for Christianity and Culture at Westmont College.