The ancient Hebrew concept of peace means wholeness, completeness, soundness, health, safety, and prosperity, carrying with it the implication of permanence. It’s rooted in God, who created humanity with a purpose and a particular vision of flourishing.
In the Torah, the story of Adam and Eve illustrates both God’s purpose and vision for humanity and why that shalom is now so hard to find. Adam and Eve were at peace with God and all He created. Their needs were supplied. Beauty surrounded them. They had important work to do in service to God and creation. And their relationship with God was unmarred by human evil.
And yet, even in that state of perfection, humanity failed to totally trust God. They succumbed to the fear that God might be holding out on them, and they gave in to the temptation to seize power through knowledge. And that small flame of rebellion soon spread into a forest fire of human evil that still plagues the world today. Humanity now finds itself out of sync with the creation we’re supposed to cultivate, frequently in conflict with the neighbors we are supposed to care for, and out of touch with the Creator who loves us.
Although shalom was lost in human rebellion and evil, God did not give up on his creation.
And yet, although shalom was lost in human rebellion and evil, God did not give up on his creation. He chose Abraham and his family as the starting place to restore peace in the world. God’s choice of Abraham, and Abraham’s willingness to trust God—though he often found it difficult (Genesis 15:7-8)—set a course for humanity that pointed to the renewal of shalom.
The story that the rest of the Tanach then tells is of a very rocky road toward shalom that is never fully realized. And this overarching narrative has a cliffhanger ending. When will the renewal of God’s peace on earth be realized? And what will it take for God to bring it about?
Jesus relived and fulfilled the story of Israel in his own life with perfect obedience to God.
This is the question that Matthew, the writer of the first gospel in the New Testament, was attempting to give a decisive answer to. God had sent Jesus, son of David and Son of Abraham, to bring about the resolution of the story of humanity and the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel in a surprising and counterintuitive way. As the anointed one, the Messiah, Jesus represented the people to God and God to the people. Jesus relived and fulfilled the story of Israel in his own life, but he did it with perfect obedience to God. And then Jesus handed over his life as a ransom for the people of Israel and people of all nations (Matthew 20:25-28).
The prophet Isaiah speaks to this very thing:
God has taken the first and decisive step to reconcile us to Himself. And through that reconciliation, we can then take our first feeble steps toward reconciling with one another and the world. If we are willing to accept it, the Scriptures show us that the pathway back to true shalom starts with reconciliation with God through Messiah Jesus.
With this in mind, Matthew’s gospel ends with a cliffhanger question of its own: Are we willing to trust in God’s anointed?
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