Most of us know the word Shalom as a Jewish greeting. Shalom Aleichem means "Peace be with you." It's a greeting. The problem with seeing Shalom as a greeting is that it soon becomes just another version of hello. Shalom means much more than that.
Shalom is one of the most significant theological terms in Scripture. More than that, it's one of the deepest desires common to people everywhere. It's not a greeting. It doesn't refer to the quiet that comes over the house when the kids are in bed. Peace isn't the absence of war. Peace is what we're all looking for.
Shalom is a word that appears all throughout Scripture. When Aaron was given a blessing to give to the people, this is what he was commanded to say:
The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
"Give you shalom." This isn't just something external. The word means much more. It's the condition of everything being set right. It's about fulfillment, completion, maturity, soundness, wholeness, harmony, tranquility, security, well-being, welfare, friendship, agreement, success, prosperity. It's about the total well-being of the person and the community. It's one of the deepest longings of the human heart.
It's Christmas, and it's a time when we talk a lot about peace. With wars going on around the world, we long for peace. The news comes on the radio and it's sometimes overwhelming. We get news from the doctors and feel anything but peace. Tragedy, busyness, and just life has a way of knocking us off balance. A lot of the time we experience anything but peace. We long for more. We long to experience a sense of wholeness and healing inside.
In Scripture, you sometimes read of someone dying in peace. That isn't just dying comfortably with loved ones around. It means that you're dying, having lived a full and satisfying life. That's the ultimate: not just experiencing peace here and there in the craziness of life. The ultimate is getting to the end of life and sensing that your life is complete in the fullest sense of the word. It's getting to the end and being happy with where you've been. Shalom is what we long for in our lives.
Longing for Wholeness
For the past four weeks, we've been looking at a passage of Scripture that was written over seven hundred years before Christ was born. Isaiah was speaking to Judah at a very bleak time. The world situation was not positive. The country was being threatened by more powerful nations with huge armies. People were stressed. Isaiah called it a time of great darkness. Things weren't looking good, but Isaiah pointed to a note of hope. In a time of great darkness, a light was about to dawn:
For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. And the government will rest on his shoulders. These will be his royal titles: Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this! (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Seven hundred years before Jesus is born, we have four names that describe what Jesus is like. He's the extraordinary strategist (Wonderful Counselor), the one with the power to carry out his strategy (Mighty God). He's a king who protects and cares for his people forever (Everlasting Father). Today, we come to the last of the four titles: Prince of Peace or Prince of Shalom. Jesus is the Prince of Wholeness. It's the result of the other titles. Because he is the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, he brings us peace. This last title describes who Jesus is because he is the other things that Isaiah mentions.
According to Isaiah, Jesus is a king who isn't passive. If you read the passage, you see that he establishes his peace through military strength. Two of the titles are about that. He is a king, though, who brings peace to his people. He is the king who defeats the enemies, and who brings peace and prosperity to his people. He defeats his enemies, and brings Shalom - peace and wholeness - to his people.
This is what we long for. We long for the sense that all is well inside no matter what is going on around us. We want that sense that our inner world is experiencing health and healing even if the world around us is falling apart. I want to explore this in a couple of areas - personally, and then the bigger picture of what the Prince of Peace is accomplishing around us.
1. The Prince of Peace brings personal wholeness
Ted had just returned from a business trip and went to get his luggage at the baggage area of Chicago's O'Hare Airport. Almost everyone had gotten their luggage, but there was one man older than Ted slowly making his way toward his bags, which were just behind Ted's on the conveyor belt. Ted figured he could beat out the older man and grab his bags before they cycled through the canvas flaps into the back room.
Ted's health condition makes him a little shaky on his feet. As he reached for his bag, he became dizzy, lost his balance, and fell onto the stainless steel snake carrying his bag. So there he was, flat on his back, hanging tightly to the handle of his suitcase over his head, and riding the conveyor through the flaps into the darkness beyond. Several thoughts were going through his mind: I've been wanting to do this for years. I could get arrested. Now is probably not the best time to get off.
So he rode the belt, still gripping his suitcase, till he and his bag passed through the flaps again into the light. At this point he looked up into the face of an official-looking woman who said, "You're not supposed to do that!" To which he replied, "Have you ever tried this?!" And she bellowed, "No!" And he said, "Don't!" Then he swung his feet to the floor, tightened his grip on the suitcase handle, stood on the edge of the conveyor belt, and walked off.
I don't know if you ever feel like your life is like falling on that conveyer belt: sometimes fun, sometimes out of control, a little chaotic. Maybe you get the feeling that you want to get off. Life has a way of knocking us off balance and taking us where we don't want to go.
Sometimes we slow down enough to want more. Maybe you can relate to what Henry David Thoreau was looking for when he moved to Walden Pond:
I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.
You see some people who seem to have found that peace. It's not because their lives have been easier. They have often been through far worse things than I could imagine. When you look into their eyes, you see that there's a calm and a sense of wholeness there that's intact even in the middle of crazy circumstances.
Jesus came to be the Prince of Shalom. He came to bring wholeness and health and healing to us even in the most unbelievable circumstances. He has come to bring well-being and health to his people by destroying our enemy - Satan, who Jesus calls a liar and a murderer. He came to bring us prosperity and well-being and safety. He's come to heal our souls.
You are going to go through tough times. Nobody is immune. Maybe you are going through tough times today. Jesus is the Prince of Wholeness, who brings peace to us even in the worst circumstances.
Jesus said, "I am leaving you with a gift-peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn't like the peace the world gives. So don't be troubled or afraid" (John 14:27). Paul wrote:
Don't worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God's peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)
Here's the thing about us. We want peace. We long for that sense of well-being and wholeness. But we are not capable of producing this for ourselves. People are incapable of getting what they long for the most.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace. His kingdom brings hope and health and peace to his people. We're going to see in a minute that his kingdom has started, but it's not yet fully present. Already, though, we can experience his peace. One of the qualities that the Spirit produced in us is peace. This is what Jesus came to this earth to bring to us. He came to give us peace.
2. The Prince of Peace brings wholeness to this world
Jesus is the Prince of Peace who is already bringing health and wholeness to people within his kingdom. This is just the start of what he is doing. You are part of a stream of wholeness and healing that is streaming across the entire world. The Bible talks about the earth's longing for this healing:
For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, everything on earth was subjected to God's curse. All creation anticipates the day when it will join God's children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. (Romans 8:19-22)
This world is longing for that peace right now. The Bible says that God will sweep this peace over the entire world. He will create a new heaven and a new earth. We're in the in-between period. We've seen the start of his kingdom, but it's not fully here yet. We're still waiting for this peace to come to the entire world.
But it's started. We get to be the beginning of seeing what the Kingdom of Christ will bring. But it is coming. "His ever expanding, peaceful government will never end. He will rule forever with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David. The passionate commitment of the LORD Almighty will guarantee this!" (Isaiah 9:7)
When Jesus was born, angels announced that this peace was coming to the entire world:
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and peace on earth to all whom God favors. (Luke 2:14)
This is the message of Christmas. Jesus is the king who has come to bring peace to individuals and ultimately to the world. He did this through defeating our enemies. He did this by bringing health and wholeness and well-being to those who follow him. He is ultimately doing this by bringing healing to the entire world.
The message of the angels has two parts. First, "Glory to God in the highest heaven." Our first and main response to this message has to be praise. I read this week that there is a tendency to focus on what the birth of Christ means to us, whereas in previous years, the emphasis was on worshiping God as a result of the birth of Christ. We need to make sure that worship is our first response. The Prince of Peace is worthy of our worship and our praise for the arrival of Christ, and for the kingdom he has started.
The angels also said, "Peace on earth to all whom God favors." This peace is a gift from God. At Christmas, we can receive the gift of peace. This is a king who will ultimately receive our worship one day. One day, "at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11).
Not everyone worships him now. Not everyone joins his kingdom. But some do. I invite you to enter the kingdom of the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Shalom who brings healing and wholeness and health. Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to those upon whom his favor rests.