Christmas time is a time when we think of peace on earth and goodwill toward men. But a quick look at the headlines on any given day shows us that peace on earth is not yet a reality.
Here are today’s headlines:
Knox Prosecutor Defends Case
Philippine official: Rebellion charges to be laid
UK’s weather service counters climate skeptics
Analysis puts Honduran turnout at 56.6%
Five held as investigators probe deadly Russian club fire
Expatriate Palestinians irate over revoked permits
Fire kills 20 at disco in Indonesia
Pakistani Taliban claims responsibility for mosque strike
Dozens missing after Egyptian ferry accident
Two killed in Pakistan chemical explosion
What did the angels mean when they announced the birth of Jesus then? Where is the promised peace? In short, it is still coming. It has not arrived in full yet. As we looked at hope last week, we saw that we hope for what we do not have yet. So it is with peace. Jesus birth ushered in an era where peace was finally possible but it has not been fulfilled yet.
In Luke 2, just after the traditional Christmas story, Jesus is brought to the temple on the eight day to be circumcised. There he is seen by Simeon, a man who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Simeon responds in Luke 2:28-35
28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
29″Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Jesus was divisive in His lifetime and He is divisive in our own lifetime as well. Basically everyone has a strong opinion about Jesus, regardless whether they know much about him. It doesn’t matter if they understand, they think they know all that they need to know and have enough to form a valid opinion. This is not true of Buddha, Confucius, Moses, Mohammed, or the Dalai Lama. Mohammed began a religion that has radical followers who are intent on killing Americans and anyone else who doesn’t follow Islam, he himself advocated killing those who did not convert, and he married his teenage cousin and yet not even he raises as much passion as the mere mention of the name of Jesus.
Jesus was a man of peace and He advocated peace. In the beatitudes he said that blessed are the peacemakers. But He also understood the nature of His coming and that it would cause turmoil. In Matthew 10:34-36 He tells His disciples:
34″Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
” ‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
36a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
Jesus is not advocating violence, and he certainly isn’t promoting turmoil amongst families. But this is what will happen because of Jesus’ coming. Children will have to decide whether to follow Christ or their parents’ wishes. Wives must decide if Jesus or their husband is more important in their life. We don’t think about it much here but in many countries around the world, becoming a Christian means leaving the religion you were raised in, the major part of your culture, defying your parents’ and even risking your life in order to follow Christ. This is not peace on earth.
So what is peace on earth? What did the angel mean when he pronounced peace? Perhaps we need to get a better definition of peace. Peace does not mean the absence of war or strife. We should strive for this. We should seek peace whenever possible. But it is also a reality that war will exist as long as sin exists because sin is the cause of war.
There are just wars. Peace at any cost is more of a sin than war in some occasions. I believe that I stand on pretty firm ground by saying that we should not have sought peace with Hitler and given him whatever he wanted in an effort of end war. Although many have conveniently forgotten it already, we made many concessions to Saddam Hussein in regard to weapons inspectors and he broke every deal and repeatedly kicked inspectors out. He may have never had the weapons he was suspected of having but he didn’t need to. He was able to terrorize people by making them believe that he had weapons. We’re seeing the exact same thing with North Korea today. Korea tests a missile and we offer concessions to get them to end their weapons program. Six months go by after we make concessions and they test another weapon.
I’m not saying that we should invade North Korea. I’m not saying that we should be in Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m saying that these are the realities of the world that we live in. The men and women who are fighting our wars do so at the request of our nation’s leaders and I believe that this is right for them to do so. There are just wars but I’m not going to be the one to publicly declare which ones are right and wrong. If a person believes that a war is being fought for immoral reasons as some claimed the invasion of Iraq was “blood for oil” then they have the right to oppose the war and seek a peaceful resolution.
Peace is more than just not fighting however. Peace has to do with our relationship with God first and foremost. Let’s look again at what the angel really said to the shepherds in Luke 2:13-14
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14″Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
There is a qualifier for the peace on earth. It is peace on whom His favor rests. There are two ways of looking at this. The whole earth is under the favor of God because Jesus was sent for the whole earth. Abraham was told this the whole world would be blessed through his offspring, looking forward to Jesus.
But the other way of looking at this is to decide who really rests in God’s favor. It is Christians who have been forgiven of their sins. The favor of God rests upon them and they have true peace. There is no more guilt from sin. The relationship between them and God has been mended. And it trickles down from there to our relationships with other people.
Last week we looked at hope in Romans 5. Let’s look at peace in this passage as well in the very first verse. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
We have peace with God because we have been justified through faith in Jesus Christ. But peace doesn’t just stop with our relationship with God. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit. It is something that should be manifested in the life of a Christian.
Old Testament saints were certainly capable of having peace in the life, but they were not enabled the way that Christians are today. Because we have the Holy Spirit, it naturally flows out of us. Romans 8:5-8 tell us the difference between life with and without the Spirit of God.
5Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.
This is truly where peace enters the world at Christmas time. It is through the Holy Spirit. It is in the hearts and minds of the followers of Jesus. In these few verses, mind is mentioned 5 times. What we do and who we are starts in the mind. If we are to be full of peace, we must have peace in our minds first. This is why it is so important to keep our minds focused through the study of God’s Word.
There is going to be a day when physical peace is achieved on earth. Jesus is going to return and rule from David’s throne and there will be no more wars. All rebellion will crushed. Romans 16:20 says The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.
Until that day, we can still celebrate that Christ’s coming means peace in our hearts. Jesus’ birth was the beginning of peace with God through the justification of our sins. And we can have peace in our life through the fruit of the Holy Spirit.