Jean’s Gospel: Shalom
“And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.’ ” (Luke 19:41-44)
Shortly before the birth of Jesus, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, prophesied: “because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:78-79)
Jesus is our sunrise. The Evangelist John wrote: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4). Jesus gives light to our dark, dead souls, to guide us out from under the shadow of death and into life by the way of peace.
God in Christ visits us with a message of peace. On the night of Jesus’ birth, a company of angels appeared to a few shepherds outside of Bethlehem, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14)
The birth of Jesus was God’s visitation to His people. Jesus would be the way in which God would make peace with sinful human beings. In His righteous judgment, God condemned the sin of Adam and Eve, who ate the forbidden fruit, and justly barred them and their children from the tree of life. Yet, in His great mercy, God promised salvation (or peace) by a second Adam, His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, and made His cross a life-giving tree for all who trust in Him. Jesus accomplished peace with God for us, as a gift to be received by faith.
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.” (Rom 3:1-2)
The Jews were given the Torah and the prophets. Jesus, himself a Jew, was the ultimate Divine communicator. He bore witness to His peace-making ministry through miracles and by fulfilling the Old Testament prophesies of His coming. Whether it was His early claim to being Israel’s Messiah prophesied in Isaiah 61 (see Luke 4:16-21), or His later claim to being Israel’s returning King enacted from the pages of Zechariah 9 in His final ride into Jerusalem (see Luke 19:28-38), Jesus telegraphed to His people that this was the time of their visitation. Therefore, Paul wrote of their advantage.
How then did the Jews squander their advantage and miss the time of their visitation? It was not due to a lack of knowledge, hope or zeal. The reason was that His people rejected “the things that make for peace!”
The Jewish leaders sought peace in the wrong things. They believed their election meant peace; their piety and magnificent temple meant peace; their arrangement with Rome meant peace; and their Messiah, when He did come, would bring peace by the sword.
To the Jewish leaders, Jesus appeared to have brought anything but peace. Jesus rejected their claim to election on the basis of ethnicity; He condemned their piety as hypocritical and their temple as a den of robbers; He prophesied that their “peace” with Rome was a mirage, destined for disaster; and He offered peace, not by a metal sword, but by the sword of His Word and ultimately His blood.
Jesus came across as a trouble maker, not a peace maker. Therefore, the Jewish leaders chose their version of “peace” over the peace offered by God in Jesus: “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” (John 11:48) Jesus wept because He foreknew the catastrophe which would consume His people in just a few decades time.
“For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Cor 1:25)
According to the wisdom of man, Jesus and His cross appear weaker than the human empires; loyalty to human government appears to be a better bet than loyalty to a poor, itinerant, foot-washing Messiah (if the goal is securing wealth and status); and, of course, human reason appears far more trustworthy than faith in the Word of God.
But the appeal to empire, human government, and reason are man’s vain attempts to secure peace on our own terms. We want physical peace and peace of mind. But such peace is illusive. Our bodies are all dying from one cause or another. Who can guarantee us tomorrow? The powers of empire and government cannot shield us from sin, which dwells within our very own hearts. Our wisdom has made us more efficient at killing one another, but has not made us more efficient at making peace. Some people attempt to fashion peace in forgetfulness or distraction, through drugs, alcohol, sports, video games, sex, etc. But, in the end, we cannot achieve lasting peace for ourselves.
“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” (Gal 6:14-16)
Real, durable, lasting peace is only available in Christ. It is not the kind of peace which the world offers (or even understands). We cannot work for this kind of peace; it must be received as a free gift through faith in the Prince of Peace, who won our peace with His own precious blood.
The peace of Christ is the forgiveness of sins; it is reconciliation with God; it nullifies divisions based on gender, race and ethnicity in us who share in one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of us all; it is salvation; it is new creation and everlasting life; and it is the fruit of the Spirit dwelling in us, who works through us, to proclaim peace to our neighbors.
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” (Luke 9:20)
Where God’s Word and Gospel are rightly proclaimed and the Sacraments are rightly administered, God in Christ visits us! Let us not miss nor neglect the time of our visitation by trusting in false messiahs. Jesus has a question for each of us: “But who do you say that I am?” May the Holy Spirit grant us the faith by which we might join with Peter and the saints of all time who confess: “The Christ of God.” Amen.