Text: Isaiah 2:1-5
First Sunday in Advent, Series A
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
At the United Nations headquarters in New York City there is a large sculpture of a blacksmith beating a sword into a plowshare. On the wall of the UN building behind the statue appears a text lifted from Isaiah 2:4. “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 any more.” This text with the accompanying statue were a gift of the Soviet Union to the UN. On the base of the statue appear the words “we shall beat our swords into plowshares.” This represents a sort of goal or motto which the UN is working for in the World. We certainly would not doubt that the goal of organisations like the United Nations is very lofty and just. It is good for us to strive and work for peace among the nations. We all wait to avoid another world war.
But, we all live with a certain level of discontent when we look at the world. Idealism gives way to the harsh realities of life. We long for and desire “peace on earth, good-will to men” but despite our best efforts, that kind of peace which beats swords into plowshares, remains elusive. We have a hard enough time trying to keep the peace within our families, let alone among nations! People are not peaceful, they are fighters. People do not love their enemies, they want to get even. So, this text may appear to some as being the stuff of dreams. Some see this text as an idealistic fantasy — something for humanity to strive towards. But, Isaiah promises a peace which isn’t only idealistic, but a reality already making itself known in the world.
Where Heaven and Earth Meet
Isaiah reveals a glorious future. The Temple Mount was perhaps the most notable sight in all Israel. The gleaming temple built by David’s son Solomon stood on a top of Mount Zion for about four hundred years. The temple was the spiritual centre of Israel and the goal of the nation’s annual religious pilgrimages. Daily and special sacrifices were offered there. However, Mount Zion is not the highest of mountains—even near Jerusalem. The Mount of Olives, just outside the city, is higher. So this isn’t referring to topography or physical size. It refers to this place becoming of central importance— preeminent throughout the world. So what’s so special about this mountain?
This Temple, on this mountain, in this city, was the heart of everything, the holiest spot on earth. It was the place where God himself had promised to come and live. This was where God’s glory, his tabernacling presence, his Shekinah, had come to rest. The Creator God desired to live with his human creation. That’s the way it was in the garden. God was “walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze” (Gen. 3:8). And it was from God’s presence in Eden that humanity was exiled. And so, the Temple was a miniature Eden, a place where God would meet with his people. This Temple on this mountain is the spot where heaven touched earth. It was the place where Heaven and Earth came together and the creator God mysteriously and graciously dwelt among his people.
The New Testament tells us how this prophecy is fulfilled. The creator of the world had condescended to take up residence in a building in fulfilment of the promises made to King David. Remember the promise to David — that God would build him a “house”, a family, founded on the son of David who would be the son of God? David wanted to build a house for God, and God replied that he would build David a house. David’s coming son is the ultimate reality; and the Temple on Mount Zion is the advance signpost. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14). In Jesus, the New Temple has been built, and the divine Glory has returned at last. Just as God dwelt with his people on Mount Zion in the Temple, the Word who was and is God has became flesh, and he is the true meeting place of Heaven and Earth. Heaven and earth are being joined up — but no longer in the Temple on Mount Zion. The joining place is where Jesus is and in what he was doing. Jesus is, as it were, a walking Temple. A living, breathing place-where-Israel’s-God-Was-living. Jesus was behaving as if he were the Temple, in person.
Jesus hints at this to the Samaritan woman when he told her: “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.…” (Jn 4:21, 23). The church is called the Body of Christ, and in each of us, Christ comes to dwell in our hearts through faith. (1 Cor. 12:27; Eph 3:17). That means that the Church is the Lord’s temple—the place where the Lord is present. (Eph 2:22) Jesus himself tells us: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them,” (Mt 18:20). And this mountain is exalted. Jesus Christ is not only preached in every nation on Earth, but there is also not another name under heaven, given among men whereby we must be saved. (Acts 4:12). Jesus himself promises, “I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.” (Jn 12:32)
Where the Nations Learn God’s Word
Isaiah also describes an endless stream of people from all over the world who will encourage others to join them as they go up to Mount Zion. Instead of these nations coming to wage war against the city and its temple, the nations are coming for another reason. Once, God’s instructions went out from Mount Sinai. In the future, God’s instructions will go out from Mount Zion. At Sinai it was the Lord who spoke; from Zion, what is spoken will again be “the word of the Lord” (v. 3). This is why the nations are coming to Jerusalem. They are not coming to wage war. They are not making a pilgrimage to bring gifts, nor are they coming to take part in a festival in Jerusalem. These people are coming to receive instruction. And the result is peace and disarmament.
War is the ultimate expression of the unease, the dissatisfaction, the greed, violence and anger of the human heart. In most people’s thinking, the destruction of armaments that Isaiah describes in verse 4 is the hoped-for cause of peace. That’s what the United Nations hopes for. If only we could reduce the number of weapons in the world, there would be peace. But we should not kid ourselves. For the UN it is the United efforts of humanity that will bring peace. For Isaiah, disarmament does not lead to peace; it’s the result of peace. It is striking then that the first part of that verse posted on the UN wall has been deleted. The verse begins: “And HE shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people.” The peace which Isaiah prophesied in the 700’s BC is a peace that will be brought not by an international committee, but by Christ himself. Isaiah says that peace among the nations will only become a reality when the nations willing submit to the Word which goes forth from Christ himself.
If the temple on the mountain being exalted refers to Jesus, what does the coming of. nations refer to? God’s Word judges between nations and settles disputes for these peoples. Jesus shows us how this is fulfilled when he said, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me“ (John 6:45) His Word alone is the standard of right belief and moral behaviour. His Word alone tells us about what he has done for us. Nations come to hear this Word of God, both law and Gospel, in Christ’s holy Church. Christ himself dwells in his Church through Words, water, and wine. Christ himself rules in his church as king. In Christ’s church there is peace because Christ is our peace and has made us all one.
And so real peace will only come when the root cause is put right. Peace will only come when people realise that we are the problem. The law like a mirror, holds up what God wants before our eyes, and shows the need for Christ. It shows us that our wars with each other stem from our war with God. But, God shall judge nations and settle disputes among peoples. Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, settled our dispute with God. Our war and rebellion can end because Jesus Christ, by his death upon the Cross, made reparation for our sin. The hostilities between humanity and God have ended by the blood of Christ. The barriers that we have put up between ourselves will also be broken down. We forgive others because we have been forgiven ourselves. We strive to be reconciled to others because God, for Christ’s sake, has been reconciled to us. In Christ there is no longer any petty divisions because our identity is in Christ and we are all one in him.
Isaiah is prophesying that the Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ is the true Temple. Wherever the message of the crucified and risen Savior is proclaimed and his sacraments are used as he ordained, there God is present with his grace and favour drawing people of all nations to himself. God moves hearts through his Word of law and his Word of gospel. In his body, the Church, we hear his Word and are instructed in his ways. That’s why there is no lasting peace without Jesus Christ. Through his Word he teaches us how he saved us, and how the saved should live. As his people who trust in him learn his Word, their lives increasingly reflect his will. As we, the church share the good news, we hold out to people of all nations the gifts of salvation purchased by the priceless blood of God’s Son!
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding,
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.