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Ben Fleming: Prince of Peace, Luke 15:20-21

December 5, 2022

Audio Recording

It’s tempting to think of “peace” as an exercise in quiet. Bad guys and good guys alike have dedicated themselves to the pursuit of this still, silent landscape of being. This begs the question, “What is the Prince of Peace actually after?” The answer is wholeness. A reconciling of all creation to himself.

Ben Fleming: Prince of Peace, Luke 15:20-21

Sermon Transcript:

:00 You're listening to a live recording from Westside Church in Bend, Oregon. Thanks for joining us.

00:06 Good morning everyone. My name is Ben Fleming. I'm one of the senior pastors here at Westside Church, and I'm excited to get into the part two of our advent series today, pastor Steve Litoff this last week talking about a prophecy from Isaiah in the Old Testament and chapter nine. And if you really wanna delve deep into that whole story, you can go ahead and find that message I'm gonna read a lot of that privacy to you again today and the voice translation. And then we're gonna jump into the topic of the day. and that is peace. But really this whole series is built around these descriptors that Isaiah brings into this prophecy. and I, I love how Isaiah does it. one of the big objectives of prophets was to communicate this thing called God or something that was happening, right?

00:53 The coming in the Messiah and this instance. And Isaiah understands that in order to communicate this as clearly and as well as possible, pros won't do it. But instead, poetry has to enter into the picture. And so many Old Testament prophets tapped into poetry to try to create, to communicate this unbelievable, massive, incredible thing that is the word of God. And we get to jump into some of that poetry today in Isaiah nine, starting in chapter two. And I'm gonna read through verse seven. Here we go. It says, the people who had been living in darkness have seen a great light. The light of life is shined on those who dwelled in the shadowy darkness of death. And you, God will make it happen. You bolstered the nation, making it great again. You've saturated it with joy. Everyone in it is full of delight in your presence, like the joy they experience at the harvest, like the thrill of dividing up the spoils of war for as you did back in the day when Midian oppressed us.

01:53 You, you will shatter the yolk that burdens them. You will lift the load that weighs them down, and you will break the rod of their oppressor. It's true. All the fabric of war will go up in flames. The truth's, heavy boots that stamped us down and their blood soaked garb will be all be burned beyond recognition or use. There will be a new time, a fresh start, hope of all hope, dream of our dreams. A child is born. Sweet breath. A son is given to us a living gift. And even now with tiny features in Dewey hair, he is great. The power of leadership and the weight of authority will rest on his shoulders. His name, his name will know in many ways, he'll be called wonderful counselor, mighty God. Dear Father, everlasting, ever present, never failing. Master of Wholeness, the Prince of peace, his leadership will bring such prosperity as you've never seen before, sustainable peace for all time this child.

02:50 God's promised the David a throne forever among us to restore sound leadership that cannot be perverted or shaken. He will ensure justice without fail and absolute equity, always the intense passion of the eternal commander of heavenly armies will carry this to completion. Let's pray. Father God, we believe that your presence is with us today. We're so grateful that we get to engage in this time that we call Advent the arrival of our savior. Lord, help us to glean as many of the lessons as we, as possibly as we possibly can in this season. In Jesus name we pray, amen. Amen. I love Christmas. I love everything about it, really. I love the snow. I like the decorations. I like the old movies. I'm a big, white Christmas fan, home alone, elf, the list goes on and on and on. I'm, I like the snacks.

03:43 I like that we just leave food everywhere at Christmas time. It's just on everyone's tables. It's in these little bowls. really, really like the red and green m and ms. For some reason, they taste better this time of year. The peanut ones peanut, but my favorite is Muddy Buddies. The checks muddy buddies. Some of you guys call it puppy chow, which is offensive to me as someone who loves to eat it. well, it's just chocolate powdered sugar and peanut butter, and it's just, it's the best. and of course we get to celebrate, right? It's family and there's tradition and there's all these different things that go along with it. I encourage you to engage in as many as those facets as humanly possible. But of course, advent itself is about the arrival of the Messiah and what that means to the church.

04:26 And because it's about the arrival of the Messiah means, it's also about the waiting and anticipation of a Messiah. waiting is not anyone's favorite thing. We can have just about anything we want almost instantly. We can be entertained constantly. But I have found one of these few places in life where we have to wait. And, that is at restaurants. I love restaurants. I love, I love the whole song and dance of restaurants. I love that you, you get seated and then they ask you what you want to drink, and then they come back for your order and you get this massive list of options. I just, I get to pick and choose how the rest of my day is gonna be right here. And we got the appetizers, and then you got the small you got, and then the big entree and the, oh my gosh, it's just you guys restaurants.

05:14 God bless anybody in the food industry. And I went out with a few friends just a little while ago, and, and we did that whole thing. I got all excited about the menu. we, we, we made some drink orders. They came back and then we ordered from the menu. and then we, we waited. And what happened is that we kept waiting. And it got to the point where our conversation, our drinks had gotten a little bit low and our conversation had slowed down a little bit to a crawl. We weren't laughing and playing and telling stories anymore. Instead, all of us began to look around the restaurant and go, do you, did they get their food before us? They came in after us, and you start to do restaurant math, right? , all right. That was a party of two though. And they were, okay, well, they came in after, but they're, you know, alright, that's fine. Those four came in after us as well. But they sat at the bar. Maybe they're just doing drinks.

06:09 All right? This third group got their food before something is wrong, sound the alarm. This is a problem. And you have that one friend that finally flags down the waitress, right? It's like, excuse me, excuse me. I don't normally do this, but , but I gotta say, I, I think, I think you may have forgotten our order. And this waitress particularly at the time just went, oh, no. And then walked off. And we were like, we demand an explanation. There's an injustice happening right now and you won't do anything about it. And what I discovered in that moment is that we weren't waiting that long, okay? No matter how long you're at a restaurant, you're probably not waiting that long. But what the feeling that we had gotten that comes along with waiting is that we had felt forgotten and passed over, like other people were getting what belonged to us.

07:06 That is the difficulty of waiting. It's not simply the amount of time. It's wondering if you even ordered in the first place. It's considering if God is real and he's going to do what he said he would do. It's not just waiting for the things that you've wanted. It's watching your friends and your environment, and your coworkers and your family feel like they're all passing you by. That's the difficulty of waiting. And so this message, I hope today in this discussion on peace, we really wanna understand the depth of peace. But more than anything today, I want you to understand this advent season as we discuss the waiting and the arrival of crisis, that you have not been forgotten. You have not been passed over. And no matter how many other drinks and meals and opportunities and chances the world around you has gotten, it is not a commentary on whether or not God still loves you and sees you or not.

08:04 I don't understand why we all wait the way that we do, but I do know that it is part of the process. And I hope that we're encouraged today by the peace that God brings, that we haven't actually been passed over. So what about this peace? If Jesus is the prince of peace, what does that mean? Well, the Christmas story picks up in Luke chapter two, and in verse one, we'll do a little bit of reading. try to stay focused as best you can, and I will too. It says at the time, RO the Roman Emperor Augustus decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire. So is the first census taken when CORs was governor of Syria and all returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem and Judea, David's ancient home, and he traveled there from the village of Nazareth and Galilee.

08:53 He took with him Mary who, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child. And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger because there was no lodging available for them that night. There were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flock of sheep. And suddenly an angel, the Lord appeared among them, the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them. And they were terrified. But the angel reassured them, don't be afraid. He said, I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior, yes, the Messiah. The Lord has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David. And you will recognize him by this sign. You will find a baby wrapped at snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.

09:37 And suddenly the angel was joined by a vast host of others, the armies of heaven. Remember Isaiah spoke of the armies of heaven, a different kind of army praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth, to those with whom God's favor rests. And when the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, let's go to Bethlehem, and let's see the thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. They hurried to the village, found Mary and Joseph, and there was the baby lying in the manger. And after seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. And all who heard the shepherds story were astonished. But Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. And the shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.

10:24 It was just as the angel had told them, be peace on earth on whom the Lord's favor rests. How? Peace is an interesting word. If, if you were a historian here today, and I were to ask you about how many leaders have used this idea of peace to force their agenda on their people or their government or their time in history, they would say, without a doubt, almost every single big leader has used the term peace to push that. And there's no exception to the beginning of this story in Luke, where we meet the Roman Emperor Augustus, who was the heir to the throne after Julius Caesar. But Augustus was an adopted son to Julius Caesar. And so when Julius Caesar died, many in the kingdom of Rome thought this was an opportunity to go ahead and snag the throne because Augustus was seen as illegitimate.

11:18 And so what Augustus did was he launched a massive bloody civil war to destroy anybody that might be able to lay claim to the throne. And the biggest piece of marketing that Augustus had was that this is not for me to take control of the throne only. This is about the peace of the empire. We will have this war now an incredible amount of dictators in the world. And awful and horrible leaders as well as good ones have used peace for their own side. Darth Vader has used peace. I think the emperor palpetine used, peace so that they could bring order to the galaxy, right? Thanos destroyed 50% of everyone in order so that he could have peace. Peace is a complicated word if we look at how humanity has used it, which is why, of course, the peace that Jesus brings is different than the one that Augustus brought into the world.

12:15 So been very important to the leaders at the time as they juxtapose this savior and Messiah. And by the way, many thought that Augustus was the son of God because they thought Julius himself was God, but they juxtapose this worldly leader with this messiah that is Jesus. And one of the things that we are offered in the process is this better definition of peace. So what is this piece? There's two different kinds of peace reference in the New Testament. one is by the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans chapter 12, verse 17 through 21. Paul says this, don't repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it's possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Don't take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath. For it is written, it's mine to avenge I will repay, says the Lord.

13:06 On the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he's thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you'll heat burning coals on his head and do not overcome by evil. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. This use of the word peace that Paul uses is a, a stripped down kind of utility, utility version of the word he's telling people. You don't have to fight about every single thing that'll preach in some of our families and some of our friend groups. Not every argument is yours to take up. Lay down your weapons, don't fight about everything as best you can. Live at peace with these things you can live at peace with so that we can live in harmony together. This is a kind of quiet a let's go ahead and lay down our weapons and go ahead and bring down our voices, and instead do something different that is about the kingdom of God.

14:02 Instead of taking on every single argument, why not feed every hungry mouth instead of hating and fighting our enemies? Why not do something that's completely counter-cultural and go ahead and love them in a way that the world would tell you that they don't deserve? This is how the kingdom of God works. Now, this is a beautiful thing that we need to understand, especially in the day and the time in which we live. We can't fight about every single thing. I don't think that we're meant to be right about every single thing. And I doubt based on the history of humanity and the church and myself and my family that will ever arrive to a place where we know all the secrets of the universe and have answers for every single question. Because this world is big and it's massive and it's complex and it's difficult.

14:51 I was listening to a political pundit talk about the, the fracture and the divide between there's just red and blue, there's right and left, and we're fractured. There's this huge, massive thing that we have to cross in order to come together. And I was thinking, man, that sounds really optimistic because I've met, at least a few hundred of the people on this earth, out of the billions and billions of the people on this earth. And I gotta say that we're actually probably fractured into what is more like billions and billions of pieces. We have different experiences, different joys and different defeats and frustrations and sadnesses. Our lives are so complex and so particular to who we are. How on earth do we just by not arguing, are we able to actually bring together the people of the world under the banner of Christ? How do we do this with all of its difficulty and complexity? Well, the, the, the relief that we can understand is that this piece isn't just what Paul had referenced. So that's one way that peace is referenced in the New Testament. But every single other time peace is referenced. It's about shalom and a better direct translation for the word shalom is not peace. It's actually wholeness.

16:01 It's the bringing back to every together, everything that has been broken and fractured. Now, when I think of peace, I think of things that allow me to separate myself from the world that I'm currently living in. my, my family, my children especially are not a people of peace. They are a people of war and dysfunction. Any of you have a child. The the, what happens sometimes in the car somehow is that they create emergencies out of things that do not deserve to be spoken of at all. Dad, dad, dad, dad, dad, what? Slam on the break. my water. I just can't quite reach it. you raise your voice at me like that. So when I think about peace, all right, how would I bring peace into my life? So often it's like the vacation. I could take the hike that I could walk the time by myself that I could find, and it's a, it's a removal of myself from my current situation. Now, I wanna be clear. Some of you need a vacation. Go take a vacation. Disconnect. Separate yourself, take some time.

17:15 But the thing about peace is if we're talking about wholeness and the bringing together of everything, God does something completely different. He doesn't create a quiet environment. Instead, God enters into the picture of humanity as the Messiah, and he begins to bring wholeness because of God with us, not God without us. And if the church is to do a work of peace, which is wholeness in the world, it is not a if we could just remove ourself from our neighbor. Instead it's an engaging with our neighbor that is necessary. Let me show you in the story of the prodigal son in Luke chapter 15. Jesus is telling me this story to a group of people, and he's trying to describe the kingdom of God. He's trying to help them understand the gospel. It is the greatest story as far as I'm concerned, that has ever been told ever.

18:05 And so this son goes to his father and says, I wish you were dead. I'd rather have my inheritance now so I can live how I want. The father gives him the inheritance. He goes off, makes mistakes, lives wildly, loses everything, finds himself eating with pigs, which is tantamount to saying, I am no longer a human being because of who I have, what I have slept with and what I have eaten with. And he has this stop and then realization of maybe I could go home and I could simply be a slave for my father. And it says, so he returned home to his father. And while he was still a long way off, his father saw him coming filled with love and compassion. He ran to his son, he embraced him, and he kissed him. His son said to him, father, I have sinned both against heaven and you and I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

18:53 The son is convinced that there has been this massive fracture and this separation that cannot be made whole again. But the father's response, remember the beginning of this message, we talked about being forgotten. The father's response is not that he has forgotten. Jesus implies in this story because of how ready the Father is to go and receive his son. He's waiting on the front porch, hoping to see a body come over the hill that looks like his son. The Father has not forgotten about him. He has not written him off, and he has not sent him away and said that he no longer belongs and said, the Son has made decisions. And the father waits never, ever, ever forgetting. And then when he comes over that hill and begins to run up the driveway, he sprints toward him and he embraces him and he gives him all of his clothes back, his shoes, his name, and his dignity back. How does this happen again? Because of the father's rush and pursuit to the lost Son. I want you to know a couple things today that God hasn't forgotten about you. He's not left you behind. Sometimes we find ourselves wandering around in life and because of the environment that we're in, we feel like maybe God doesn't even exist anymore. And if he does, he certainly doesn't care about me. I gotta tell you, this dad is ready and giving that embrace and that clothing and that dignity all back to us, not because of the great things that we have done, but simply because he's with us.

20:20 Wholeness happens in this connection and in this embrace, this engaging between the two parties. So what does this look like really in our lives as peace kind of fits into one of those promises that is here now and not yet at the same time? So I've been comforted as, as I've been reading about peace and listening to people a lot smarter than me, I found hope in a few different things. Eugene Peterson describes this word peace, this word shalom, as this never ending wave that floods all of humanity and all nature and all history and all future. And it brings a wholeness and togetherness in places that we thought it could never do. So my family and I went to the coast, about a month ago, and we were lucky enough to be there for a huge storm

21:25 Dorm.

21:27 And we had a house that was just overlooking the ocean. And I liked it for a few reasons. Number one, I just don't care for the water ever.

21:39 And so when a storm happens, I go, nobody expects me to go into the outside. This is nice. And so we stayed and we watched, and after a while, it almost like watching a sporting event. You watch the waves and they would come over onto the shore and they would run and they would run and they would run and they would touch places on the beach. They would hit rocks in places that it never hits. And so me and my wife and the kids are sitting at the window going, look at that one. Look at this.

22:05 Oh my gosh,

22:07 New record. And it would go and go and go and go, go to seemingly impossible places because of the richness and the depth and the power of this storm, we can all rest in understanding that it is God's job because it's God's promise that something happens in the spirit realm when it comes to our history, our present, and our future, where God brings wholeness into places that we would never have expected. Things that God didn't intend to happen hurts and brokenness, things that happen, God somehow makes sense of them for us. And it might happen after you and I have passed on and the following generations remain. But God brings wholeness nonetheless because he is eternal and his promises are sure. And how does this look for each in every single one of us Individually, we can be a part and we can create our own wave of wholeness and peace in our world through the tools that God has given us. Now, remember the tools of Augustus, the sword, the army, the battalion, the strategy, the tools of Christ who is calling a real peace into our world, gives us the tools of love,

23:31 Joy, peace, patience, compassion, humility. It goes against our natural tendencies, but it is the way of Jesus. I wonder if maybe the greatest tool this holiday season isn't forgiveness. I wanna exhort you or ask you to offer forgiveness to somebody in your life that you have long felt like does not deserve that forgiveness. Now, I wanna be clear. I'm not asking you to reenter abusive relationships. I'm not asking you to spend time with people that are not trustworthy and unsafe for you in your life. But I wonder what could happen for you and some of these people around you. If you brought forgiveness into a place that has long been determined, unworthy of forgiveness. You can bring wholeness to the hearts and the people around you in ways that you never thought you could. And the waiting and anticipation of the Christ this season. Maybe hold on to the promise of this piece and of this wholeness. And may we never ever believe that we have been forgotten and left behind by God, but instead hold close to all of his promises and anticipation. I'm gonna pray this prayer over you and then we'll close.

25:00 This is from the Common Book of Prayer. It says, well, God, you've made one blood, all of one blood, all the peoples of the earth and sent your blessed son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near. Grant, that people everywhere may seek after you and find you. Bring the nations into your fold. Pour out your spirit upon all flesh and hasen the coming of your kingdom through Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.