Sermon for Advent 2 - Micah 4.1-7 - December 7, 2014
1) “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 anymore.” These words found here and in Isaiah 2, have been used by many in throughout the ages as a goal for humanity. True peace will be achieved when there is no more war and when the weapons of war are decommissioned because of their out-datedness. Everyone has their opinions about how the governments of the world can bring about this peace. But it doesn’t matter. The government, ours or any other, cannot achieve true peace in this world. World peace, in spite of all the beauty queen contestants that wish for it, is impossible to for the world to achieve. It is simply not in our sinful human nature to make peace. Humanity is afflicted with the spirit of Cain, that first murderer, the same Cain who rebelled against God’s commands and slew his dear brother in the field. It is only in the sinful nature to harm and destroy those whom we perceive to be threats to our lives, our advancement, our secrets, and our pride. Peace between nations cannot and will not be attained by nations because the nations are run by sinful men and are full of sinful men living in their borders. The best peace which the world can attain is a peace through the strength of arms. Every peace in history has only been achieved through a show of might and victory on the battlefield, from the Pax Romana of Caesar to the Armistice of 1945. Humanity is not peaceful bunch.
2) But this peace which the prophet describes is not given to us as a goal to set our minds to and eventually achieve. The peace which is described by the prophet Micah is a spiritual peace because it issues forth from a spiritual place. “Now it shall come to pass in the latter days.” Right from the start we see that this peace only comes with the advent of Christ. Whenever the prophets use this sort of phrase they are not speaking about a time in the distant future. They are speaking of the arrival of Christ Jesus in the flesh. It is not a physical peace. It is a spiritual peace. So Christ can say during the days of His earthly ministry something like Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.” Jesus can truthfully say to Pilate in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.” Yet He can tell the hemorrhaging woman in Mark 5:34, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction.” To the paralytic lowered into the house through a hole in the room Jesus says in Luke 7:50, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” The angels will sing on the night Jesus is born, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:14) Jesus will confront his unbelieving disciples on the night of His resurrection with these words, “Peace be unto you.” (John 20:21) The peace that the Messiah brings is a spiritual peace.
3) Because Christ has already came in the flesh to suffer and die for the sins of the world, since our Lord Jesus spoke peace to hearts of many during His earthly ministry, the peace that Micah describes in today’s Old Testament lesson is a peace which is already present in the world. But it is not present everywhere. “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established on the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it. Many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; He will teach us His ways, and we shall walk in his paths.’ For out of Zion the law shall go forth and the word of the lord from Jersualem.” The Zion of which Micah speaks isn’t the spit of the hill in Jerusalem today. It is the spiritual Zion, for this Zion will be elevated “in the latter days.” The spiritual Zion is the church, for St. Paul calls Christians the “Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16. The church is that Zion to which countless people of “the nations” or “the Gentiles” flow into, desiring to hear the Word of the Lord. The law that goes forth from this spiritual Zion is not merely the law which commandments how we ought to live according to God’s will. It is Torah in Hebrew, teaching, instruction, revelation. Even in the Old Testament, Torah is more than a list of “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt not’s.” It contains the great mercies of God the Lord in creation and the mercy of His redemption through faith as told by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The “law” that goes forth from this spiritual Zion is not the Law but the Gospel, the fullness of God’s revelation to mankind.
4) The Gospel teaches us the ways of the Lord, for His ways are repentance and faith, both of which are gifts from the Lord. The “ways of the Lord” are to repent of our sin, to sorrow over our sin and to turn from our sin and turn to the Lord in the Gospel. The Gospel teaches us true peace of conscience because only the Gospel of Christ crucified for sinners can still the trouble conscience. Only the Gospel can wash and cleanse the mind from the stain of guilt from our sin because the Gospel wipes away our sins so that they are no more, never to be recounted or remembered. The Gospel teaches us that we have a God who is for us and not against us because the Gospel shows us that God the Father would go the great length of sacrificing God the Son so that all who believe and are baptized might be saved from the damaging, damning effects of their sin. Hearing the Gospel from the heavenly Zion, the church, we hear the absolution spoke by the pastor as if from God Himself. By faith in those absolving words you have as you believe and so are justified of all of your sins. And as St. Paul says in Romans 5:1, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” God is no longer the enemy of all who are found in Christ through faith and true confidence in Him.
5) When this peace is understood as a spiritual peace given through faith in Christ, the pictures that Micah use show us the great spiritual peace become comforting to the Christian. Swords beaten into plowshares is a metaphor for the peace that Christ gives us. Nowhere in Scripture does the Lord forbid self-defense and protecting one’s family. St. John the Baptist does not tell the soldiers who come to the Jordan for baptism to stop being soldiers and stop bearing the sword. The physical sword is necessary in this life. But Micah is speaking spiritually. We are not to take up the weapons of this world against our spiritual enemies, namely the Devil, the influence of the world, and our own sinful nature. These cannot be fought with sword and defended against with shield. We defend ourselves against the Devil’s schemes, lies, and false teachings with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:17) By using the Word of God as our true sword, we know that Christ Jesus fights for us against our enemies to subdue them, breaking their power over us.
6) Micah says, ““Everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid.” The true spiritual peace giving by the Gospel is that we live in our vocations unafraid our sins, unafraid of God’s wrath, and unafraid of the wiles of the Devil in the world. We tend to our vines and figs, our homes and families, our marriages, our children and grandchild, our neighbor and all the tasks we are given to do daily. We do all of this in boldness and confidence, knowing that all of these vocations are blessings from the Lord, divine callings which call forth our best and noblest work. Even the smallest of task is to be done as if doing it for the Lord, as St. Paul says in Colossians 3:23-24, “And whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance; for you serve the Lord Christ.” Do the work of God in your vocations and do it heartily, confidently, and unafraid, for your Lord has forgiven your sins when you repent and requires nothing of you but true faith, and even that is a gift from the Lord which He implants in your heart through His Gospel. Living by faith, unafraid of our spiritual enemies and unafraid of the changes and chances of life is how we are to “walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever,” as the prophet says.
7) This peace is not one that the world can accomplish. Nor is it a peace which you can accomplish in your own heart and mind because before God we as the lame and outcast. But we are not disabled as was Mephibosheth, grandson of King Saul. We are lame as the Patriarch Jacob was made during His encounter with the Lord by the fords of the Jabbock River. The Lord made Jacob lame in his life so that Jacob would learn not to trust in his own strength but that he might learn to trust in the strength the Lord provided in His promise. The Lord had made Jacob as an outcast before his family and drove him to a foreign land for the same purpose, that Jacob might always learn to trust in the Lord instead of trusting in his own strength, cunning, and intellect. So the Lord gathers all His saints, as Micah calls them, “those whom I have afflicted.” He reminds us always of our spiritual frailty, so that though we may limp through this life, we trust not in our works, not in our own cunning, intellect, or sheer luck. He afflicts us in this life so that we, like Jacob, will always be trusting His promise given in Christ Jesus. He afflicts us lest we think that peace can be achieved by our own actions, compromises, or concessions. He afflicts his children so that they limp along relying not upon themselves, but the “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,” (Philippians 4:7) because that’s exactly what He gives us in today’s Old Testament lesson: peace that we do not always understand, peace that we cannot always feel, peace that we do not deserve, peace that we cannot earn, peace that is not physical and worldly, but the peace of sins freely forgiven by Christ Jesus. Which is why we end our proclamation in the way we always do: May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.