1 Marshal your troops, O city of troops, for a siege is laid against us. They will strike Israel’s ruler on the cheek with a rod.
2 “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.”
3 Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labour gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites.
4 He will stand and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will live securely, for then His greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. 5 And He will be their peace.
“He will be their peace”. When the angels appeared to the shepherds after the birth of Jesus they said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” When we sing Silent Night, we sing “sleep in heavenly peace.”
All over the world today people are wishing each other a blessed and a peaceful Christmas.
But can there really be peace on earth? Someone who obviously has a lot of time on his hands worked out that since the beginning of recorded history some 3100 years ago, the world has been entirely at peace only 8% of the time. In over 3100 years of recorded history, only 248 have been without war. During that same period of time more than 8000 peace treaties have been broken as well. And what about personal peace? How many people can honestly say that they are genuinely at peace with themselves and are happy in their skin? How many can say that they are perfectly at peace at home, in their marriages, at work or with their financial situation?
Just watching the news these days can be a very depressing exercise. We are living in the midst of international and national uncertainty, and when you add to that the personal challenges we each face, can the hope of Christmas still deliver peace? Everyone just wants some peace and quite in their hectic lives at times, but is it really possible for there to be peace on earth?
The prophet Micah lived some 700 years before the birth of Jesus. We actually know very little about him, but we do know that he came from the poorer class of Israel. Because of this he experienced for himself and was acutely aware of the injustices of the rich towards the needy, so he knew first-hand what it was like to live with personal struggles. Micah also lived during a time of tremendous apostasy in Israel’s history. For years they had rejected God’s love and protection, and eventually they were conquered by the Assyrians because of their disobedience to God. He withdrew His protection, and the price they paid was a time of exile outside of the Promised Land.
However, Micah’s message to the people was that they should not lose hope. Following God’s discipline would come a time of tremendous blessings, and Micah directly connected those blessings with the coming of the promised Messiah. At some time in the future, he predicted, a woman will give birth to a child in Bethlehem. This child, proclaimed the prophet, “will be their peace.” The prophet Isaiah was a contemporary of Micah, and he called this promised Messiah the “Prince of Peace.”
Then one day, some 700 years later, in makeshift barn in Bethlehem, a virgin by the name of Mary gave birth to this promised Messiah who brought peace.
And the peace Jesus brings is very different from what we would understand as peace. As much as we’d all like to see an end to wars and personal struggles in our lives, what we really need is the peace of God that comes through Jesus.
There are countless differences between worldly peace and Godly peace, but the one thing that sets the peace of God apart more than any other is that when we experience His peace, we experience His forgiveness too.
That after all, is why Jesus came – to provide the solution to our sin problem and to give us the peace of His forgiveness.
St Jerome was an early church father who lived in the 4th century, and in his writings he records a dream one night in which Jesus visited him. In the dream, Jerome collected all his money and offered it to Jesus as a gift. Jesus said, “I don’t want your money.” So Jerome rounded up all his possessions and tried to give them to Jesus. Jesus responded, “I don’t want your possessions.” Jerome then turned to Him and asked, “What can I give you? What do you want?” Jesus simply replied, “Give me your sins. That’s what I came for; I came to take away your sins.”
Forgiveness of sins. That is the essence of the peace Christ gives, depicted most graphically on the Cross of Calvary. Isaiah in chapter 53 says, “He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:5-6)
There is one thing that every single human being has in common, and it is our greatest problem – we are all infected by sin, and the devastating effects of our sin, and without the forgiveness that comes through Jesus’ sacrifice you and I will never experience true peace. Once we accept Christ’s forgiveness, then we can experience His peace. And the peace He brings is characterised by three truths.
Firstly, the peace that Jesus brings is above circumstantial, worldly things. Happiness is dependent on what happens. Our circumstances go a long way to affecting our state of happiness, but true peace is the result of Christ living in our hearts. Peace is the assurance we have that we are safe in His hands, no matter what may be going on around us. Peace is trust in the midst of turmoil.
It is only the peace of Christ that gives us the confidence to echo the apostle Paul’s words in Romans 8: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:28, 38–39)
A second truth we find in the peace of Christ is that it is above and beyond human understanding. Philippians 4:7 says, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
How can a Christian lose his job and not worry? How can a believer look a terminal disease in the face and not flinch? How can a Christian keep going after the loss of a loved one, or a child, or some other tragedy? How can a believer give his own life if it requires not denying Christ? It is because of the peace Jesus gives you when you place your faith in Him.
I remember reading an article a few years ago on Christian funerals. It was written by a senior minister close to retirement, and in his 40 or so years of ministry he had quite literally conducted hundreds of funerals. In his article he was writing about the different emotions written on people’s faces. Sadness quite naturally, is very common. Anger was another, especially when dealing with a tragic death or the death of a child, but he said something that has always stuck in my mind. He wrote that without exception the greatest emotion that is almost tangible at funerals is fear. And the reason is that at a funeral we come face to face with the reality that one day it will be our turn. Death is our greatest enemy. It is the one thing we fear the most, but the peace of Christ transcends that fear. How can the peace of Christ rise above our greatest fear? It’s above human understanding. It is hard to put into words just how His peace, does that, but as believers in Christ we know with absolute assurance that it is there.
And thirdly, the peace of Christ is always available. It is a constant presence, particularly when life is hard and there doesn’t seem to be much peace. Before Jesus left His disciples He promised them that after He was gone the Holy Spirit would come and be with them, comforting, teaching, encouraging them. We need to remember that emotionally and spiritually they were extremely fragile then. They had experienced the trauma of seeing Jesus crucified, and three days later He rose from the grave, so these people had been through an emotional rollercoaster ride, only to be told that Jesus was going away again – but He promised them the peace and comfort of His Spirit. Just before His ascension to heaven He said to them, “The Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:26-27) The world cannot give us that kind of peace.
In Acts 2 on the Day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit did come. Now His comforting, teaching, and encouraging is available to all who believe in Jesus.
There is never a moment in which we are away from Christ’s peace. There is never a second when we need to worry, or need to be afraid. Psalm 29 says, “The Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.”
Someone once said that you are only as far away from the peace of Christ as you choose to be, for the simple reason that His peace is always there, always available.
So – is it really possible for there to be peace on earth and goodwill to all mankind? Sadly no. Human sin is an ever-present reality in this broken world, and each of us has contributed to the mess that the world is in. Despite all our good intentions to bring peace to the world, especially at this time of year, we will never really see worldly peace, but “the peace of God, which transcends all human understanding will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.”
Are you in need of this type of peace? Is your life characterised by anything but peace? Today Jesus is waiting to give you His peace. He came into the world to give you the peace that you need, and you will only find that peace through the forgiveness of your sins that you so desperately need. Your greatest problem is your sin, and your greatest need is to be forgiven for your sin. And God has offered you that peace. It is the greatest gift you will ever receive, but you do need to accept it. Without the peace of Christ you will always be looking for answers in places that will only bring you more questions, more confusion, and more turmoil.
Jesus Christ came to bring you peace. The prophet Micah wrote that God will be your peace, but you must choose to receive it.
My prayer for you this Christmas is that if you do not know the peace of Christ yet, that you would know it, and that you would be able to echo the words of Ephesians 2: “At that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace.” (Ephesians 2:12-14)
He came into the world to be your peace. He is the Prince of Peace.