Turning guns into plows – Just a future vision? Or possible now too?

29 Nov

Image result for turning swords into ploughs

A vision of the mountain of God!  We’re studying prophecy during Advent 2016, and week 1 takes us to Isaiah 2:1-5, a glorious image of events in the last days.

The temple mount is in Jerusalem, and it is not all that high.  When you think of tall mountains around the world, you don’t think of Jerusalem.  But if you are thinking of the nation of Israel, you do.  It certainly isn’t the highest point in the nation, but symbolically for the people of Israel it is the high point.  Notice that in the vision we see that it will be raised above the hills?  Raised?  Physically? Is Isaiah’s vision saying that the temple mount in Jerusalem will go through a geological upheaval and be raised higher than Mt. Everest?

The temple mount is 2430 feet above sea level.  Everest is 29029 feet, ten times higher!  God could easily raise up the temple mount higher than Everest if he wanted.  But you’d think that would make it really hard for people to get there, which is a big point of this passage.

But maybe I’m being hyper literal, and I shouldn’t be.  This is where prophecy can get tricky.  Maybe all this vision in Isaiah 2 means is that God will raise the temple mount above the rest of the city and the hills nearby.  Could be, but I doubt that is how God intends for us to understand the vision.

I suspect this elevating of the temple is entirely symbolism!  No actual physical movement needs to take place.  The image of the mountain of God being raised above all other mountains, I think, is just a symbolic way that God is saying the glory and importance of the mountain will be raised in the hearts and minds of all people because of who is there.  God himself is there!  So God’s presence makes his mountain the greatest of all.

What is striking about this passage is what happens next at the end of verse 2: people from all over the globe make their way to Jerusalem. But why?  The answer is in verse 3.

The peoples of the world want to go to the mountain to be taught God’s ways, so that they may walk in his paths.  They show that they want to learn.  They are teachable and humble.  And what do they want to learn?  God’s ways.  Why?  They value God’s ways enough that they not only want to learn them, but they also want to be changed by what they learn, as they want to walk in his paths.

How about you and I?  Do we have a humble teachable desire to learn God’s ways and be changed by them?  In this passage we see a picture of the future, a day when people from all nations are seeking God, when many people desire to learn from God.  But what about right now?  Right now it is the church that should lead the way in streaming to God, desiring to learn from him.  We the church should be the example now, though only in small part, of what life in the Kingdom of God will look like world-wide in the future.  We the church should be showing the world what the future will look like.

The next thing we read in verse 3 is about the law and the word of God going out.  What does this mean?  What significance does it have?  Perhaps there is a connection between the going out of the law and the word in verse 3 and what happens in verse 4?  Take a look first of all at verse 4:  God judges and settles disputes.  He is bringing peace.  In his Kingdom there is peace.  Then notice the illustrations of this peace that are the remainder of verse 4:  The tools of war become tools of industry, farming.  What once was used for destruction of humanity has been retooled for the flourishing of humanity.  God’s word and law transform society.  Wars cease, and so nations do not need to train up armies for war any longer.

What an amazing vision of the future!

But we live in the here and now. When you read such a wonderful vision of the future, does it discourage you, because we see so much war around us now?  Think about it.  What we read in this beautiful picture in Isaiah 2 is so different from what we see in the world around us.  War and hatred prevail.  Darkness.  When you watch the news, it can seem like the world is a very dark place.

In Cambodia the darkness of the Khmer Rouge devastated the country in the 1970s.  Millions died in the Killing Fields.  Thankfully that era is gone, and Cambodia is a nation slowly allowing its eyes adjust to the light.  One beautiful picture of this is how survivors of trafficking are taking old landmines and turning them into attractive jewelry.  Learn more here.

So I love how Isaiah’s vision finishes in verse 5 “come, let us walk in the light.”

See the connection between verse 5 and 3?  Both verses 5 and 3 talk about walking in the way of the Lord.  In verse 3 it was through the teaching of the Lord that the people learn to walk in his ways.  This teaching ministry was a huge focus for Jesus.  He taught the people what life in the Kingdom of God looked like.  We can learn to live that way now, to walk in the light now as verse 5 indicates.

kingdom-of-god-is-likeThis is why on this first Sunday of Advent we remember that the first part of the mission of the Messiah, who was Jesus Christ, was that Jesus was teacher of the way of the Kingdom.  When you read through the four stories of his life, the biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, you see him spending a lot of time teaching.  He taught the crowds.  He taught his disciples.  He taught his enemies.  He taught individual people here and there.  He told stories.  Parables we call them.  Often the phrase that he used to start his parables was “The Kingdom of God is like…”

Jesus came to teach us about the true Kingdom of God.  It is a Kingdom that is not just far far away or life after death.  The Kingdom of God, Jesus taught his disciples in Luke 17:21, is among us.  We don’t have to wait for the Kingdom until we die; we can and should work towards the continual advancement of the Kingdom in the here and now.  This is the life of discipleship that Jesus taught.

So let’s imagine what the Kingdom of God could be like in the here and now as it grows among us.  As one person gives their life to follow the way of Jesus, they themselves are gradually being changed.  They are learning from Jesus how to live in the here and now.  For example, when they used to be selfish, they learn from Jesus to practice self-denial.  When they used to indulge in impurity, Jesus teaches them to be holy.  Where the ugly things of the world used to pour out of their lives, now the good things of the Fruit of the Spirit flow from them: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and self-control.

The Kingdom can impact us!  We learn from Jesus how to live and we start to look more and more like him.  His Kingdom is evident in our lives.

But it doesn’t stop there.  As we are following the way of Jesus, we also want others to follow that way as well.  As we are disciples of Jesus, learning from him how to live, we are discipling others to follow Jesus as well.  Every disciple of Jesus is also a disciple-maker for Jesus.  “Go and make disciples,” he told his followers.  So as the Kingdom reigns over us in increasing measure, so it expands and grows and reigns over other people as well.  Other people in our own families.  Our friends.   And most often that expansion, that growth of the Kingdom, happens because we the disciples of Jesus are actively allowing the Kingdom to grow in our own lives, and we are seeking its growth in the lives of others.

But it doesn’t stop there either.  As more and more people allow the Kingdom to rule and reign over their lives, soon society begins to change.  People no longer need to cheat and steal.  People no longer need to purchase the latest greatest gadgets in order to find fulfillment.  People no longer need to spend money lavishly on themselves.  People heal broken relationships.  People have renewed strength to fight and win over addictions.  Generosity is the norm.  There is plenty of money left over to feed the hungry, house the homeless, and clothe the naked.  People at war can’t remember why they are fighting because they are so overcome with forgiveness and love for one another.  Criminals stop their lives of crime.  Prisons start to empty and shut down.

This is the vision of the Kingdom in the future for sure.  The day when God’s rule and reign will be complete.  But it can also start here and now.  That was a large part of Jesus’ Mission as Messiah, to teach about how his followers can live out that amazing Kingdom here and now.   And you know what? That’s what we Christians are to do.  Take a look at Acts 2:42-47 and you see them living this amazing vision out.

Right after Jesus returns to heaven, what do those first disciples of Jesus do?  They seek to live out the Kingdom right there together.  And that is what we are called to do as well.

So let us walk that road of discipleship to Jesus together.  Let us earnestly seek to learn from Jesus how to live so that not only might we be transformed, but others and our society will be as well.  And it starts with us.

This Advent, what will it look like for you to say “Jesus, teach me how to live!”

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