The Prince of Peace
February 25, 2018
In the year 1532, a diplomat and philosopher by the name of Niccolò Machiavelli wrote a political treatise that would have a profound impact on many of the kings of his world back then and much of the political science of our world today. Machivelli’s work was titled “The Prince.” And in it, he wrote about many things. He wrote about the necessity of violence to gain and keep power. He wrote about how to use force to eliminate rivals and bring resistant populations to compliance. He wrote about deception and manipulation and the killing of innocent people. And perhaps most famously, he wrote about how ends justify means, and how it was better to be a ruler who was widely feared than greatly loved.
The sinful human mind, if left untouched, usually ends up with this kind of stuff… with this kind of “wisdom.” Just think about the television drama series Game of Thrones or any mobster movie or that painfully ruthless opponent in a game of Settlers of Catan. People can be violent and devious and evil toward their neighbors.
But the king of Israel was to be different.
In the book of Proverbs, a father speaks to his son about how to be a king in Israel. And here in chapter 3, verses 27-35, the father tells his son not to be a violent or devious or evil king. He goes on to tell him basically two things.
First, the father tells his son not to avoid people who are in need. Verses 27 and 28 read: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. Do not say to your neighbor, ‘Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it’ — when you have it with you.” The king of Israel was not to neglect what was required to the poor. He was not to turn the weak away from his help. He was not to say no to his neighbor in need when he had the power to say yes.
Second, the father tells his son not to wrong people who are innocent. Verses 29 and 30 read: “Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” The king of Israel was not to trick a person who trusted in him or go against a person who pledged allegiance to him. He was not to fight or frame someone who has nothing against him. He was not to use his power to destroy an innocent neighbor.
When you take a step back and look at all of verses 27-30, you will notice that the father’s words are about the king’s power. Allow me to go backwards. On the one hand, verses 29-30 forbid the misuse of power for the sake of evil. On the other hand, verses 27-28 forbid the non-use of power for the sake of good. Verses 29-30 are about sinning through comission. Verses 27-28 are about sinning through omission. Verses 29-30 is a teenager with a gun who entered a school in order to kill. Verses 27-28 is an officer with a gun who allegedly failed to enter a school in order to save. Verses 29-30 remind me of the robbers in the parable of the good Samaritan who stripped a man and beat him and left him half-dead on the road. Verses 27-28 remind me of the priest and the Levite who saw the man half-dead on the road and passed by on the other side. The king of Israel had power. But the question was whether or not the king of Israel would both command and control that power rightly.
When you take a step back and look at all of verses 27-30, you will notice that the father’s words are also about the king’s neighbors.
Neighbors were important. If the king of Israel did his job and wrote for himself in a book a copy of the law and kept it with him and read it all the days of his life (Deuteronomy 17:18-19), then he would have known that the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy contained numerous commands regarding one’s neighbor. For example, God said in Exodus 20:16, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” God said in Leviticus 19:13, “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him.” And God said in Deuteronomy 19:14, “You shall not move your neighbor’s landmark….” God spoke many words about how to be toward your neighbor.
And his commands regarding one’s neighbor were serious. In Jeremiah 9:4-9, we learn that God punished Israel because her king and her people altogether failed to obey God’s commands regarding one’s neighbor. Jeremiah declared: “Let everyone beware of his neighbor, and put no trust in any brother, for every brother is a deceiver, and every neighbor goes about as a slanderer. Everyone deceives his neighbor, and no one speaks the truth; they have taught their tongue to speak lies; they weary themselves committing iniquity. Heaping oppression upon oppression, and deceit upon deceit, they refuse to know me, declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts: “Behold, I will refine them and test them, for what else can I do, because of my people? Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbor, but in his heart he plans an ambush for him. Shall I not punish them for these things? declares the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?”
Neighbors were important. Commands regarding them were serious. And the king of Israel had neighbors. But the question was how he would be toward them.
Thus we see the father speaking to his son here in the book of Proverbs. The king is not to avoid people who are in need. He is not to wrong people who are innocent. The king is to watch his power. He is to watch how he treats his neighbor. The king is to not be violent or devious or evil.
And the king is to do all of this because of the fear of the Lord. In verse 32, the father gives his son the reason for all of the above. And it is the simplest and most profound reason of all: the Lord. The Lord is holy. The Lord is abundant in goodness and truth (WCF 2-1). Thus, violence and deception and evil are all an abomination to him. And the king of Israel was to follow suit and consider it all an abomination as well. That is the fear of the Lord. The simplest and most profound reason for obedience is the Lord God. Wanting to please him. Wanting to love him. Wanting to obey him. Wanting to bow down to him as the ultimate king of kings.
Let it be noted that the fear of the Lord is not to be confused with the blessings of the Lord. In verses 33-35, it is true that the father talks about the blessing and the favor and the honor of the righteous and the humble and the wise. And I will speak about such things later in this sermon. But make no mistake, the primary motivation for the son’s obedience is not the blessing of the Lord. The primary motivation for the son’s obedience is the fear of the Lord. Wisdom does not come down to what you can get from God. Wisdom comes down to God himself.
And so the king of Israel was to be different. Different from a Machiavellian world filled with Machiavellian kings and their “wisdom” of violence and deception and evil means justified by evil ends. This was the desire from a father to a son. This was the call of the entire book of Proverbs. A king who could be perfect in wisdom and righteousness. A king who could crush the head of the serpent. A king who could destroy sin. A king who could lay hold of the tree of life.
Does such a king exist? Yes. Such a king has arrived. And you know him.
Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! He is the eschatological Son of the heavenly Father who fulfills the call of the entire book of Proverbs.
First, Jesus did not avoid us when we were in need of salvation. Proverbs 3:27 says, “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” Well, our Lord Jesus Christ did just that… but way better. Our king did not withhold grace and love from those to whom it is NOT due, for only wrath and punishment and death and hell were due to us. Our king did not neglect us in our spiritual poverty. On his sermon on the mount, our king declared: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). Our king did not turn away from us when we cried out for help. When the leper in Luke 5 fell on his face and begged Jesus, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean,” Jesus did not say, “Go, and come again, tomorrow I will give it.” Rather, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper and said, “I will; be clean.” Our king had the power to say yes to us, and he did just that. Though he was rich, yet for our sake Jesus became poor, so that we by his poverty might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9) - rich in forgiveness, rich in imputed righteousness, rich in adoption and rich in the inheritance of the new heavens and the new earth. Praise the Lord!
Second, Jesus did not do wrong toward us, though we did much wrong toward him. Proverbs 3:29 says, “Do not plan evil against your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you. Do not contend with a man for no reason, when he has done you no harm.” Well, our Lord Jesus Christ did just that… but way better. Our king did not plan justice against his ENEMIES, of which we were the worst. We were not his neighbors who dwelled trustingly beside him. We were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked, following another prince - the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience - among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3). We did so much wrong again the Lord. We did so much harm against the honor of Christ. But our king did not plan justice against us. Our king had more than enough reasons to contend with us. Our king had the power to destroy us. But our king did not give us justice. Our king gave us mercy and grace. Praise the Lord!
When you take a step back and look at all that Jesus did for us, you see his power. Allow me to go backwards. On the one hand, verses 29-30 forbid the misuse of power for the sake of evil. On the other hand, verses 27-28 forbid the non-use of power for the sake of good. Verses 29-30 remind me of when the tempter said, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” and when our king replied, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Verses 27-28 remind me of the power of our king’s life and the power of our king’s death, the power of our king’s active obedience and the power of our king’s passive obedience, the power of our king’s body and the power of our king’s blood, the power of our king’s resurrection and the power of our king’s return. Praise the Lord for his power!
When you take a step back and look at all that Jesus did for us, you see that he made us his neighbors. Our king has gone and prepared a place for you. Our king has a seat waiting for you at his banqueting table. Our king has has taken you back forever and calls you a member of his family. Our king gives you citizenship in his kingdom. Our king has secured for you peace and reconciliation with God. Praise the Lord for making us his neighbors! Now we can sing like Mr. Rogers: “It is indeed a beautiful day in the neighborhood.”
And our king did all of this because he loves us. His simplest and most profound reason for everything is you.
Let it be noted that Jesus’ love for you is not to be confused with Jesus’ blessings given to you. In verses 33-35, the father talks about the blessing and the favor and the honor of the righteous and the humble and the wise. Make no mistake, our king earned all of that. Our king was found in the confidence of the Father. Thus, when he was baptized by John the Baptist, the Father said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” Our king was humble and wise. Though he was in the form of God, Jesus the Son did not count equality with God the Father a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. And our king gives his blessings to us. Now that we are in Christ, the Father is pleased with us as well. Now that we are in Christ, we will enjoy exaltation and glorification as well.
Praise the Lord Jesus Christ our king for his love for us and for his blessings and favor and honor given to us!
Let us therefore be different from the world. The world is a very Machiavellian place. And we are challenged to have and keep the wisdom of Proverbs and the wisdom of our king. Your life may not look anything like the television drama series Game of Thrones or any mobster movie. I’m sure that most of you are fairly competitive but also very cordial when it comes to a game of Settlers of Catan. But the thing is that we are being sanctified. We are dealing with our old selves. And there can be moments when we are Machiavellian at school or at work or at home or at church.
But brothers and sisters, in the spirit of verses 29-30, let us fight the good fight and put off sin and foolishness and all things that are an abomination to God. Let us not plan evil against our neighbors or contend for no reason. Let us not go the way of violence or be devious or scornful toward others. Let us not commit sins of comission.
And brothers and sisters, in the spirit of verses 27-28, let us fight the good fight and put on holiness and wisdom and love. Let us care for other people around us. Let us give attention to people who are in need. Let us not question who our neighbors are, but instead let us consider how to be good neighbors to others, like the good Samaritan who showed mercy and compassion to the man half-dead on the road… and went to him and bound up his wounds and poured on oil and wine and set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him and paid for his full recovery. Let us not commit sins of omission.
In closing, we have a king. His title is Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). As Counselor, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ gives us his wisdom for our relationships and our love for neighbors. And as Prince, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has his own kind of political science, if you will. Read his book. Fear the Lord and love him. And if someone wants to trade their three sheep for your one ore - why not give him two?
Summary of Sermon
The father of Proverbs 3 tells his son not to be a king of violence, deception and evil.
The son is instructed not to avoid people who are in need. He is not to neglect the poor, turn away from the weak, or say no to his neighbor when he has the power to say yes.
The son is instructed not to wrong people who are innocent. He is not to trick those who trust in him, fight those who have nothing against him, or use his power to destroy his neighbor.
Much of the father's instruction comes down to the son's power and the son's neighbors. The son is to be careful not to misuse his power for the sake of evil (comission) or fail to use his power for the sake of good (omission). The son is to understand the importance and the seriousness of how he treats his neighbors.
And the son is to do all of this because of the fear of the Lord.
Praise be to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! He is the eschatological Son of the heavenly Father who fulfills the call of the entire book of Proverbs. Jesus did not avoid us when we were in need of salvation. Jesus did not do wrong toward us, though we did much wrong toward him. Jesus powerfully saved us and made us his "neighbors." And he did all of this because he loves us.
Let us be different from a world that can be a very Machiavellian place. Let us put off sin and foolishness and all things that are an abomination to God. And let us put on holiness and wisdom and love. For our Lord Jesus Christ is the Prince of Peace.
Questions for Discussion & Sharing
This world can be a very Machiavellian place. What are some examples of people in power committing violence, deception and evil against their neighbors?
There are basically two ways to incorrectly exercise power in Proverbs 3:27-35. One way is to abuse it for the sake of evil (comission). Another way is to not use it for the sake of good (ommision). What are ways in which we as believers can struggle to abuse power or fail to use it in our lives (at school, home, work, etc).
When you think about the word "neighbor," what comes to your mind? What are some ways in which you can grow in obedience to the Lord's command to love your neighbor?