Second Sunday in Advent
December 8, 2013
Heaven on Earth
Now 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, and 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 Jerusalem. He shall judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off; 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. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken. For all people walk each in the name of his god, but we will walk in the name of the LORD our God forever and ever. "In that day," says the LORD, "I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast and those whom I have afflicted; I will make the lame a remnant, and the outcast a strong nation; so the LORD will reign over them in Mount Zion from now on, even forever. Micah 4:1-7
Many churches no longer teach that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. If the Bible contains errors it cannot be the standard for what we teach. Instead, whatever society dictates will become the standard. A high view of the Holy Scriptures is essential if we are to preserve the truth that God has revealed to us.
A high view of the Holy Scriptures requires us to acknowledge that it is without error and the literal truth. A high view of the Holy Scriptures also requires us to acknowledge that the Bible, from cover to cover, teaches us about Jesus Christ as our Savior from sin. An inerrant Bible is of no value to us if the gospel of Christ is covered up. The purpose of the Bible is to lead us to faith in Christ our Savior. The central teaching of the Bible is that God forgives us undeserving sinners of all our sins freely, by his grace, on account of Christ’s redemption and that this forgiveness is ours through faith alone. This is the golden thread woven throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
The Bible is about Christ. Christ’s rule over us is of a spiritual nature. It is not about making money, exercising political power, achieving worldly success, and having many well-connected friends. It is about being taught by God, receiving his peace, and living under his grace. During Advent we talk about Christ’s coming. It was predicted through the prophets of old. Micah foretold it in the words before us this morning. Words nearly identical were spoken by the prophet Isaiah. Whether Isaiah got them from Micah or Micah got them from Isaiah or they both got them directly from God is not important. What is important is that God promised peace to his people and that peace has arrived in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ.
If we are to understand the Bible rightly we must affirm that it is the inerrant and infallible word of God that cannot mislead us on any matter and that the substance of its teaching is the gospel of the forgiveness of sins that is through faith in Christ Jesus.
Let us then consider the beautiful description before us of the messianic kingdom of God’s Son, Jesus.
We see right away that the prophet is speaking in figurative language. Micah is not saying that the relatively small Mount Zion will be placed on top of Mount Everest. The mountain of the Lord’s house will be established above all other mountains and hills when the gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed throughout the world. Mt. Zion is Christ’s authority. His authority is greater than any other. His mountain is above all others. The prophecy continues:
The mountain of the LORD is not literal Mt. Zion. It is wherever the gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and believed. The house of the God of Jacob is not a rebuilt temple in Jerusalem. Jesus tells us that his body is the temple. The church is his body. Thus, the church is the temple of the living God. Many nations shall come and say, “Come and let us go to the holy Christian Church to be taught by Christ.” When the prophet writes, “For out of Zion the law shall go forth, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem,” this is a feature of Hebrew poetry known as synonymous parallelism. “Out of Zion the law shall go forth” means the same thing as “and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.”
Out of Zion the law shall go forth. But didn’t the law come down from Sinai? Wasn’t the giving of the law accompanied by thunder, lightning, earthquakes, and thick smoke? Weren’t the people kept away from Mt. Sinai? Didn’t they ask that God speak only through Moses because if he talked to them directly they would die? The Law that came from God from Sinai demanded obedience and what it said should be obeyed was not unreasonable, not arbitrary, but good and right and holy. Do it! But they did not do it. They worshipped idols, misused God’s name, ignored his word, dishonored their parents, hurt their neighbor, lusted and committed adultery, stole, and lied, and coveted what wasn’t theirs. The law from Sinai revealed the spotlight of God’s holiness upon their sin and showed them to be as guilty as sin.
The nations don’t run to Sinai. They run away from Sinai. They hide behind their self-justifications, rationalizations, and lame excuses. They cannot bear to run to the God who speaks judgment against them for their sins.
But the nations run to Zion. Zion is where the Lawgiver suffered and died for his disobedient people. They broke the law he gave them. So he joined the human race and obeyed it. This is not just a moral example. This is a divine fulfillment of a human requirement. God said do it and we didn’t so God did it for us. This is why God was born as a baby in Bethlehem. He didn’t join the human race just to become one of us. He joined the human race to make peace with us. He established peace between God and sinners by taking the place of sinners. He obeyed and he suffered. He did so vicariously, as the substitute for sinners. This is how he established peace between God and the world.
This is what is proclaimed from Mt. Zion and this is why nations run to hear it. Jesus is the Prince of Peace. Where his gospel is preached there is peace. As the prophecy continues:
Nations rise and fall while the Church remains. She is the kingdom of God in this world. The Christian Church is where Christ rules. Where Christ rules is where his Spirit leads us to repentance and faith and to find in the obedience and suffering of Jesus our true peace with God. The nations of the world cannot provide this peace. This is a peace that comes from God forgiving us our sins. Where this gospel is preached and believed is where swords are beat into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks. When this gospel penetrates our heart God sets us at peace and he changes our hearts to seek peace with others. Nation does not lift up sword against nation and nobody learns war anymore.
This is a spiritual reality. A spiritual reality is greater than a political reality because it lasts forever, whereas this world will be destroyed someday. Some dismiss the claim that this is a spiritual peace, insisting that if it isn’t a literal political peace, we are spiritualizing the Bible. But Jesus said “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) The prophet speaks of spiritual peace in political terms. The Old Testament must always be read in light of its New Testament fulfillment. Christ made it clear that his kingdom is not of this world. There is peace on earth right now even as there are wars and rumors of wars that will last until the end of time. In the midst of hatred, strife, war, and violence of every description, the Prince of Peace provides a haven of peace for us in his holy Church. The prophecy goes on:
Why are we content? Why are we not afraid? How can we be safe and secure in this world of violence and war? The mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken to us and we walk in his name. His word and his name identify us. When his word is spoken over us his name is put upon us and we become his children in Holy Baptism. This is not just an outward washing. It is a cleaning of the soul. First he forgives us and sets our hearts at peace. Then he gives us new lives to live defined by the peace we have received. We walk in his name.
The prophecy concludes:
The remnant is those who remain after the devil and the world have done their very worst. The church is attacked. She looks like she’s falling. Apostasy is everywhere. Those who hold onto the truth are mocked even by fellow Christians. The faithful are lame, outcast, and afflicted. They appear to the world to be losers. They trust in a spiritual truth that cannot be seen and so is despised. Religious folks from the left and the right promote their political version of salvation while they dismiss what we treasure as a spiritualizing copout, as if to rely on God’s grace in Christ is nothing.
But it is everything! To know that God sees us in our weakness and failure and misery and in seeing us at our very worst makes us his remnant and a strong nation is no pie in the sky imagining. It is the present reality we Christians enjoy here on this earth right now. We don’t need an imaginary thousand year reign of Christ in the future when all the evil in this world will be eradicated and humanity will win its wars against crime, violence, and injustice. That victory has already been won on the cross and we have already received its benefits.
Right now we rest under the grace that pours forth from Mt. Zion where Jesus took away the sin of the world. Right now we sit under our own vine and fig tree. The word we trust sets us at peace with God and one another and nobody can make us afraid. There is peace on earth. Heaven has come to this earth and made its home with us.
Rolf D. Preus