By now, at this time in the Christmas season, I suspect that most of us have seen some form of the Nativity pageant in our church, or at a school performance, or on television.
We have been told about the events that first Christmas Day over 2,000 years ago when the angels announced the birth of Jesus to the lowly shepherds who were tending their sheep in the field. The angels’ announcement is found in Luke 2:13-14 where we read:
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The King James Version of verse 14 says “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men”.
The Jews wanted a prince to restore a peaceful kingdom to Israel, so this angelic hymn was, quite literally, music to their ears! Even today, many people believe that true religion must bring peace. And, this proposition would be true if the message of Jesus Christ was universally received. It cannot be argued that any system of laws could be more suited to living peacefully in human society than the Gospel of Christ.
And he [the man] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he [Jesus] said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
Luke 10:27-28 [See also Matthew 22:37-41]
But, even a superficial glance at the daily newspaper shows, such love does not reign in our society or our world, and sometimes not even in our churches. Indeed, the fact of the matter is that love is all too often missing from our interactions with others. Road rage, murders, massacres, vehicles plowing down pedestrians, infants being shot while in a car seat in the family vehicle, people shot while praying in their church, wars and conflicts … and the list goes on. Hatred is everywhere and peace is hard to find.
Were the angels wrong when they said that this Babe would bring peace to our world? Absolutely not.
But, Jesus said that He did not come to bring “peace on earth”:
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Matthew 10:34 and again,
“Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.”
In these verses, Jesus is saying that He did not bring peace to the earth! This seems to be inconsistent with the angels’ message when He was born! But, the angels were not wrong or misinformed and Jesus was not ignorant of His mission. Quite the contrary. He did bring peace, just not the kind of peace that the people expected. The fact is that civil peace was not the purpose of the Babe’s birth.
In Matthew 10 and Luke 12, Jesus is talking about the dedication that following Him requires. It is not a shallow “liking” nor is it simply a willingness to do good things. He is also forewarning His followers that there would be persecution and that they needed to remain strong in their faith and dedication to Him. Indeed, following Him requires whole-hearted devotion, no matter what the cost, even if it involves persecution, even if it separates us from our family, even if it separates us from this life.
Matthew Poole, in his Commentary on the Bible, says this about Matthew 10:34-37:
Accidentally, through the corruption of men’s hearts, the consequent [result] of Christ’s coming into the world, and of his gospel coming into and prevailing in any part of the world, is (as Luke phrases it) “rather division”, which is here called a sword. Through men’s fondness of their idolatry, superstition, and lusts, and madness on them, their impatience of being outdone in religion and righteousness of conversation, the event [result] of Christ’s coming was division, wars, variances, … men taking up arms to compel all others to their idolatries and superstitions. And that natural antipathy [hatred] which men have to holiness, setting them at variance with [in opposition to] those who, embracing the gospel, live a life as becometh the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ,…
Jesus did bring peace. It was His heavenly peace for those who accept Him as their Savior.
Here are just a few of Jesus words giving His peace to His followers:
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
What does this have to do with Christmas? A great deal! Civil peace is almost a fiction. Rather, the peace that our Lord brought was His peace, heavenly peace. It is the peace that allowed Jesus to willingly go to the cross, to experience excruciating pain and torture without retaliation, and even to forgive those who were mocking Him while they nailed Him to the cross.
For the believer, His peace is real … it is part of the fabric of our faith and it covers the believer even in times of great distress. It may appear that Satan and his forces are winning the cosmic battle over the earth. But this is only an illusion that Satan wants us to believe. (Remember Job? Satan had to get God’s permission to hurt him, all for God’s purposes of which Job was unaware.)
God, the Creator and Sustainer, the Almighty Immortal Sovereign Ruler is in control. Make no mistake — God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is in control. He was in control when Satan had to get permission to act and He has not changed. He sent Christ into this world to exhibit peace and to bring that peace to His people.
The Christmas carol “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” expresses the despair that the conflict in our world brings but God is neither dead nor sleeping. He did bring His peace into the world on Christmas Day, and He is still in control even 2,000 years later. Listen to the carol as sung by the group Casting Crowns on their album Peace on Earth.
Christian, take heart. Rely on Jesus Christ and His peace this Christmas and all year long. He will give you grace to endure that which comes your way. His grace was sufficient for the Apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9) and it is sufficient for us today.
Father, I bow at this time of the year and thank You for the Gift brought to us through Your grace and mercy in the birth of Jesus Christ. When the sorrows of the world beset me, grant me the grace to rely on You in the sure confidence that even in times of difficulty, You are in control and I am in Your hand!