1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped Him in cloths and placed Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly 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 favour rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Almost two thousand years ago a group of shepherds were in a field outside the village of Bethlehem. It was just another routine evening until suddenly, a light shone all around them as an angel of the Lord appeared to them. Of course, they were terrified, but the angel reassured them by saying, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Then the sky was filled with heavenly beings, singing in a heavenly chorus. And their song was “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.”
Then as suddenly as they came, they were gone, and things began to return to normal, but for those men that night, things would never be quite the same as before that night.
Amazingly, they decided to go at once to Bethlehem to see for themselves what had happened. For shepherds to leave their sheep alone, especially at night, was unheard of, but they were irresistibly drawn to Bethlehem.
Some 700 years earlier the prophet Isaiah wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
About 100 years later came the prophet Ezekiel, and he wrote, “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant.” (Ezekiel 37:26)
In the New Testament Hebrews 7:2 calls Jesus the “King of Peace.”
Of all the announcements ever made from God to man, surely the proclamation of the angels in Luke 2:14 is one of the most wonderful: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” If you were to ask people to forget about material things for a moment and ask instead what one thing they wanted more of in their lives, peace would be right up there with things like joy and happiness.
The country singer Anne Murray wrote a song called ‘Christmas Wishes’. It starts with these words: “If I had my way this Christmas, if all I would wish could be, of all the great wishes in a wonderful world I'd only ask for three. And if I could have three wishes, and if my first wish came true, there’d be peace on earth, goodwill among men, and love in all that we do.”
Can you imagine a world like that? 1 Chronicles begins by telling the story of how the 12 tribes of Israel settled in the Promised Land, and 4:40 says, “They found rich, good pasture, and the land was spacious, peaceful and quiet.” Who wouldn’t want more peace and quiet in their lives?
Unfortunately though, that is not how the world works. As much as we may long for peace, we will never quite reach the point where we can honestly say there is peace on earth and goodwill to all men.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:6, “You will hear of wars and rumours of wars.” In fact, just 70 years after Jesus’ birth and the amazing proclamation of the angels, the Roman army burned the city of Jerusalem to the ground, including the temple where generations of Jews had worshipped.
We need to face facts: It is patently obvious that we cannot expect peace to reign throughout the world and all men to be filled with goodwill. Our track record over thousands of years proves that we are simply incapable of living at true peace with one another.
So then what did the angels mean that night? They clearly spoke about peace on earth – not eternal peace in Heaven, so what were they proclaiming?
The key is in the second part of their promise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favour rests.” JB Phillips, in his translation puts it this way: “Glory to God in the highest Heaven! Peace upon earth among men of goodwill!” Luke 2:14 is a promise of God’s peace, but only to those who have His good will - only to those who do His will. What this means is that peace on earth is a possibility, but only if all people on earth do the will of God. In Leviticus 26 God spoke to Moses: “If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will grant peace in the land, and you will lie down and no one will make you afraid.” But, as we know all too well, all people do not do the will of God. And before we get on our high horses and blame non-believers for all the chaos and heartache in the world, those of us who are Christians – who should in fact know better – need to take heed of Jesus’ reprimand to us in Luke 6:46. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
So peace will not reign through the world. It will not reign in every community and in every home. But there is something you can do about it – you can allow the peace of God to reign in your heart.
Just before Jesus went to the cross He said to His disciples, “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 14:27)
As Christians, one of our greatest desires for this life should be peace. Psalm 34:14 says, “Turn from evil and do good, seek peace and pursue it.”
God would not have given us one of the most wonderful promises in the entire Bible if it were not possible: Paul’s words in Philippians 4:7, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” He doesn’t say that God’s peace can guard our hearts. No, he says the peace of God will guard our hearts!
So what peace can we have, and how do we find this peace?
Firstly, we can have peace with God.
The moment humankind rejected God and His will for our lives, we became His enemies. An enemy cannot by its very definition live at peace with someone he is at war with. God’s amazing plan of salvation though, deals with this fundamental problem we have as His enemies. Romans 5:1 puts it best: “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” And in Ephesians 2:17–18 Paul also writes of Jesus, “He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through Him we have access to the Father by one Spirit.”
So peace with God is possible, but how do we find this peace? Again, by submitting to the will of God. Jesus spells it out for us in Matthew 7:21, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Without God, there is no real peace. Of course, strangers will wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy and Peaceful New Year. Most of us try to be a little bit nicer at this time of year, but unless you have peace with God as your foundation, you cannot experience peace with others and goodwill towards each other.
Any peace we have within ourselves or with others is totally dependant upon whether we are at peace with God first. There are many deluded people out there who are trying to be peacemakers in the world, but they are trying to do it without God, and there are many who think they have peace with God, but they are deceived because they are not doing His will.
So if we really want to experience peace, we need to start with God. Once we submit ourselves to His will for our lives, we will begin to find His peace, which in turn enables us to start finding…
Peace within ourselves.
The logical result of peace with God is peace within self. In Psalm 122:7-8 David writes, “May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, ‘Peace be within you.’”
One of the greatest obstacles in our interpersonal relationships is a lack of inner peace. I’m not talking about new agey stuff here, but rather a contentment we should have within ourselves. Are you “happy in your skin” as teenagers used to put it? Are you at peace with your past because you know that Jesus died for your past sins, or are you still haunted by the things you have done? Have you ever said that you find it hard to forgive yourself? Until such time as you do, you will struggle to find true peace. A lack of inner peace can cripple your relationships with your loved ones, and it can do serious damage to your self-esteem. Pride and ego is at the opposite end of the scale, but if you are struggling with issues of low self-esteem, then you need to know this. Jesus died for you. His blood paid the price of your sin, and because of the high price He paid for you, you are of infinite value to God. In Psalm 17:8 David prays, “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” If you are struggling to find inner peace, then make that your prayer too.
When we learn to completely trust God enough to put our lives into His hands, trusting that He will keep His promises to us when we seek to obey His will, He will give us true peace.
Again, this is a supernatural peace, and it is not dependent on outward circumstances, but on our relationship with God. A good illustration is the storms that the North Atlantic Ocean is well known for. During these storms huge ocean liners are tossed around like children’s toys, but the icebergs are hardly affected at all. This is because the vast majority of their volume is not on the surface but far deeper where the sea is calm. As Christians, when are souls are rooted in the peace of God, we find we are better equipped to deal with the storms of life. The world can never give us this kind of peace. Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Once we have inner peace, we are then able to live at true peace with one another.
Isaiah 2:4 says that a time is coming when “men will beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” Now of course, as we’ve seen, this does not refer to peace on earth in the sense that wars will cease, but rather it is a prophecy about the Kingdom of God coming on earth. We pray for this each time we pray the Lord’s Prayer. This peace is something that is brought about by the people of God as He changes our hearts. We are called to be peacemakers on earth. How different would the world be if the Church took seriously our call to be instruments of God’s peace on earth? What if we obeyed God’s command to us in Hebrews 12:14 – “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy.” Maybe the peace the angels proclaimed to those shepherds all
those years ago wouldn’t be such a pipe dream after all…
Through Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and because of Him, we should be striving for peace in our homes – with those nearest and dearest to us.
Someone once said that “the peace of God not only passes all understanding, but it also passes all misunderstanding.”
Secondly, we should be striving for peace in the Church. The one institution on earth that should be a beacon and a standard of peace for the whole world is sadly overrun by everything but peace at times. The world accuses us of being hypocrites, and if we’re entirely honest, very often they are right.
One of the most damning indictments I’ve ever read about the Church is a comment by someone who looked at an old Church with a cemetery on its grounds who said that the only peaceful place in that Church is where the dead are buried.
But once we’re able to seek peace in our homes and the Church, we are able to start taking the message of peace into the world.
Again, it is that message of hope and peace we have been commissioned with. As Paul writes in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”
We will go a long way towards world peace when we learn to love our neighbour regardless of the differences we see in each other. In the words of Vince Gill’s song, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”
So once again it’s that time of year when we wish for peace on earth and goodwill to all men. Maybe it’s not as hard to find as we thought – but it really does need to be begin by being at peace with the God of peace.
In Numbers 6 is the Aaronic blessing, and this is my prayer for each of us this Christmas season: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.”
I close with Paul’s greeting in 2 Corinthians 13:11, “Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.”