I apologize if you’re sick of hearing about this, but I have to assume that there are some folks just joining us. I love what I call “tension” verses and passages. These are verses that contain within them a perfect balance for us as believers. Martin Luther compared humanity to a drunk man on a horse, who falls off one side, brushes himself off, gets back on the horse determined not to fall off that side again, who then proceeds to fall off the other side. A perfect example of this is Psalm 127:1: “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.” To those who trust in their own building activities and guarding efforts, the psalmist tells us that it’s all useless unless the Lord is behind it. But to anyone who just wants to sit back and “let God take care of it,” this verse reminds us that he has to bless the work that we do. He won’t build your house for you, and he expects that you’ll put guards in place.
Today’s passage contains one of the most profound and moving verses I’ve ever read in the Bible. There’s a tension between believers of different stripes, and this verse can remedy much of that. Look at how the Lord is described in the first half: He is the “high and exalted One. . .whose name is holy.” What does the word “holy” mean? It means “separate,” or “different.” When we call him the Holy One, we mean that he’s utterly unique in the universe. There is nothing like him in all creation. He's different from us and everything else you can imagine. He’s not your buddy. He’s not your pal. He’s not a peer. He's so high and exalted that there are angels flying around the throne who dare not look directly at his face.
Quite frankly, American Christians are just about the only ones in the world who’ve seriously needed this corrective. In fact, most people throughout history—believers or pagan—would not need to be convinced that the Lord of the universe is holy and unique and can’t be approached any old way we please. It’s wouldn’t shock them at all that the Creator of everything is the high and exalted One. But the second half of the verse would be a shock to them. He lives in a high and holy place, but he has another dwelling as well. He also lives and indwells the person who's “contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” For someone who acknowledges their sin and utter moral bankruptcy before him, he’s right there. If we’re “lowly” enough to recognize that he’s God and we’re not, then he’s right there. If we belong to him, and we feel crushed by the burdens of life, then he’s right there: As close as a heartbeat, as close as the breath on our lips.
Of course, the full paradox and seeming contradiction was made flesh and dwelt among us. One of Jesus’ names is Immanuel, remember? Within that one name—meaning “God with us,” is contained all the mystery of what we’re talking about. He’s God—with all that entails—but he’s God with us. He identified with us as sinners, he lived among us for 33 years and experienced all that we experience (without sin): loneliness, fear, hunger, thirst, anger, frustration, pain, tiredness, humiliation, etc. And he identifies with us still, even at this very moment.
But again, we must not take this mercy and grace and “with us”-ness for granted. He offers us peace, but if we reject it, there’s no other source out there. People often wonder why world peace seems so elusive. The answer’s pretty simple, and it’s strongly hinted at in the last verse of today’s reading: “There is no peace. . . for the wicked.” Where people are doing things God’s way, there’s going to be as much peace as we can find in this world. As long as there are people out there who insist on doing things their own way instead of his, there won’t be any lasting peace. So if you’re waiting and yearning for world peace, you’re going to have to keep waiting until our Lord returns and sets up a Kingdom in which his word is obeyed eagerly and without question.
Until that happens, we’re going to have to concentrate on doing things his way in our personal lives and in our families and in our churches. And we can add to that peace by calling upon people to submit to him in faith and obedience. Wherever the Prince of Peace reigns in undisputed authority, you’ll see what you’re yearning to see. Wouldn’t that be nice?
Lord Jesus, I can’t bring peace to the world, but I can bring peace to my life and home. It starts by doing things your way. Pretty easy to say, rough to do. But by your grace, I want to see it.