December 8, 2019
I’m sure you’ve noticed, but Christmas brings lots of challenges, and I’m not talking about the so-called War on Christmas. You know, whether we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” or our Christmas cards mention Jesus, or governmental buildings have a nativity scene.
No, I’m talking about our own Christmas challenges. Besides the fact billions around the world celebrate Christmas without giving a thought to Jesus, even we who know Jesus – more, call Him Savior – are confused about Christmas. Did you know, for example, there is no mention of a Christmas tree at the first nativity? Oh, you probably knew that one, but did you know there’s no mention of Mary riding a donkey to Bethlehem? In fact, there’s no mention of animals at all – no cattle lowing while the baby sleeps, no ox and ass keeping time? Oh, no little drummer boy either. I know our nativity sets have them, but the wise men were probably not at the manger, and there were probably more than three. We get three from the gifts they brought – gold, frankincense and myrrh.
I could go on – no mention of angels at the nativity – they were out with the shepherds in the fields. Oh, which means, His birthday probably wasn’t even December 25 – that’s winter. Most agree Jesus was probably born in the Spring.
Well, I’m not trying to bash Christmas, mind you. But, it is true Christmas has some problems. Yes, it’s true Jesus was probably born in the spring of the year – more like March or April. Yes, it’s true December 25 was chosen so the church could compete with a pagan Roman holiday which celebrated the birth of their sun god. Yes, it’s true Christmas trees are pagan in origin from Germany. Yes, it’s true Santa Claus is a derivation of St. Nicholas who was born in Turkey and used to do nice things for poor people and children and has nothing to do with a fat man in a red suit, flying reindeer, or the North Pole. And of course, there’s the commercialism of the holiday such that perfect pagans can celebrate the day without ever thinking of Jesus. Sure, there are problems with Christmas.
But I’m not really even talking about all of that, either. Personally, as a family, we celebrate Christmas – we put up a Christmas tree, we give gifts, and yes, we do it on December 25. The problem I’m referring to relates to this second Sunday of Advent – a day on which we celebrate peace. Last week, it was hope. I can handle that one. Next week is joy, then love. But this week is peace – that seems to be a problem.
You see, in Luke 2, we read one of the two accounts of the birth of Jesus in the Gospel narratives. The other, of course, is in the book of Matthew. It’s a great story, one with which we’re quite familiar. Read it with me – Luke 2:1-14.
And there, to me, is the problem for the serious student of the Bible. “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peaceamong men with whom He is pleased.”
Really? Peace? What were they talking about? That sounds like a premature announcement to me. I mean, didn’t this angelic choir jump the gun a bit? Wasn’t this the wrong time? Didn’t they mean it later, when Jesus comes the second time and establishes a kingdom of righteousness and peace on earth? If we are to celebrate peace on this second Sunday of Advent – meaning, if the first advent of Christ, the birth of Christ, resulted in a heavenly host of angels proclaiming peace on earth among men – I only have one question – where in the world is it? What dominates our headlines today?
- What about global warming and the worldwide conflict that topic brings?
- Did anyone discuss politics at Thanksgiving a couple weeks ago?
- What about the great peace being experienced between Democrats and Republicans? Capitalist and Socialists? The US and Russia?
- What gun control and gun violence? Peace? Really? Have you watched the news lately?
I could go on – those all dominate our current headlines. If we were to expand our look over the past year, and the world, we could talk about war and hunger and famine and disease and, etc. Peace?
Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, the physicist who supervised the creation of the first atomic bomb, appeared before a congressional subcommittee. He was asked if there was any defense against this awesome new weapon. “Certainly,” was his reply. “And that is…” and he paused, looking over the hushed, expectant audience and said softly, “peace.” Tell that to North Korea and Iran.
Peace has always been the answer. But, as Dr. Billy Graham once pointed out, in the last 4000 years, there have been less than 300 years of peace. In 1919, after World War I, President Woodrow Wilson said of his brain-child, “The League of Nations is the only hope of mankind.” World War II followed 20 years later. After World War II, the United Nations was formed in 1945 with the motto, “To have succeeding generations free from the scourge of war.” That’s worked well. Since its inception, there has not been one day of global peace. I read somewhere there are dozens of peace monuments all over Washington D.C. – we build one after every war.
September 21 was established in 1981 at the International Day of Peace. I find it intriguing. On that day, everyone around the world is supposed to stop fighting and observe a day of peace. September 22, you pick up your guns. The only peace the world knows is that brief, glorious moment when everyone stops, to reload. You see, the peace the world brings is external, it’s temporary – it is not real, it’s not lasting, it’s fake.
You can get people to put down their guns, but you can’t keep them from hating each other. You might be able to get them to quit hitting, but they’re still raging. You can get them to stop yelling and screaming, but you can’t make them love each other. You might even be able to reduce the crime rate by locking up criminals, but you can’t do anything about the depravity of the heart. And you can’t do anything about the inner, gnawing sense of unrest. While the world cries for peace, there is no peace. What, then, did the angels mean?
And the truth is, you don’t have to go to a global or even national level to find a lack of peace. Some of you don’t have to go outside of your own homes – beyond your own hearts, to know – there’s no peace. And so people try to distract themselves from that gnawing sense of unrest with work or fun or activity – stay busy at all costs, because if you slow down for even a minute, you’ll have to deal with the lack of peace. Others lose themselves in the things – and for awhile it works – the new car makes you forget – but then it returns – that gnawing sense of unrest. Some try medicate the lack of peace with drugs or alcohol or antidepressants, or others some illicit activity or relationship. How’s that working?
Truth is, things don’t seem very peaceful. So, in what way has Jesus become and been the Prince of Peace that Isaiah proclaimed He would be? In what way did His first coming bring this peace among men? Even Jesus Himself said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” (Mathew 10:34) That’s confusing; that doesn’t sound quite right, does it? Seems like He’s at odds with Isaiah and the angels.
What is this peace on earth? It gets a little more confusing, when Jesus was getting ready to leave, He told His disciples, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you…these things I have spoken so that in Me, you might have peace.” Which is it, Jesus? Did You bring a sword, or peace? Sure, it’s true the holiday season in Western countries bring a false sense of peace and security and warmth and joy. Holly, Jolly White Christmas and all that…but where is the peace the angels promised the night Jesus was born?
Is seems the Scripture and the angels must have a different kind of peace in mind. You see, we have tendency to think of peace as a cessation or absence of conflict – kind of an external peace that results when everyone gets along and no one says anything mean to anyone else and when we stop shooting each other. But is that peace? Not the kind the Scripture speaks about.
I’m suggesting the angels were not mistaken. The birth of Christ did bring peace on earth. Not only that – roll the clock forward about thirty-three and a half years. In Luke 19, we come to the Triumphal Entry. You know what that is – it was that brief moment when the people saw Jesus for who He really was – their Messiah. He rode into Jerusalem on a colt, the foal of a donkey. The people began praising Him, spreading palm branches and cloaks before Him. And this is what they said in Luke 19:38, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord; peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”
Did you catch that? That sounds a lot like what the angels said when Jesus was born – with a significant difference – when Jesus came to earth, not only did it mean peace on earth, but also peace in heaven. What is this peace Jesus brought? What is the peace we celebrate on this second Sunday of Advent? Three thoughts, three things I want to share with you as we consider the biblical concept of peace.
Let’s start with this one. I’ve already made reference to it, but first, peace is not the absence of conflict or tribulation. Look at some verses with me:
In John 16:33, as Jesus was preparing His disciples for His immediate departure, He said this, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” The peace Jesus came to give has nothing to do with conflict or tribulation in the world. In the gospels, in fact, throughout the NT, we find if we choose to be fully devoted followers of Jesus, we will face conflict, we will face trials, we will face persecution. From religious people, from governing authorities, even from our own families.
In fact, Jesus said those words I referenced earlier in Matthew 10:34, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” What? That sounds a little at odds with Christmas cheer. That sounds a little different than what the angels proclaimed. Jesus went on to say, “For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother…a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”
Think about it – the world thinks peace on earth means that one time in the year when I’m supposed to be jolly and nice – when I smile at people before I get in my car and try to run them off the road. When I say Merry Christmas to them before I elbow my way to Black Friday, or try to beat them to the check-out aisle. When I drop my extra change in the red bucket outside the stores to the sound of the tinkling bells before I get the bills in January and I wish I had the change back.
It’s obvious the peace Jesus came to bring has nothing to with temporary feelings of goodwill toward men. It has nothing to do with absence of conflict. Choosing to follow Christ brings conflict. In Romans 5, Paul talks about peace in verse 1, then, two verses later, verse 3, he says, “And not only that, but we also exult in our tribulations…” How can he go from talking about peace to talking about tribulations – conflict? Because the peace Jesus brings is not external. The external peace the world seeks is not real, it’s temporary, it’s a façade. You can choose not to shoot someone and still hate their guts – that’s not peace. (peace-keeping vs. peace-making)
One last verse – I love this one – just throwing it in for extra credit. Romans 16:20 says this, “The God of peace – that’s right, that’s who He is, the God of peace – the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet…” What a contrast. Does that sound like an absence of conflict to you? No, our God is a God of war in that He wages war against evil – and He will ultimately prevail. He will be the victor. That’s a clue to what peace on earth really means.
All that brings us to the second thing I will say about peace. If this peace is not external, it must be something else – and it is, it is internal.
Again, going back to the farewell discourse Jesus had with His disciples the night He washed their feet, gave them communion, on the night He was to be betrayed, arrested and tried, He said these words in John 14, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.” Jesus is about to be arrested. He’s about to be beaten, mocked, scourged, crucified. And He says, “My peace I leave with you.” No thanks, Jesus, I’ll find it somewhere else. Until we realize the peace Jesus brings is internal – it’s a matter of heart and mind. Notice, it is a non-troubled, non-fearful heart.
Does that sound like good news to anyone? That’s the peace Jesus came to give – a peace that affects the inside – that brings a calmness, a confidence, a courage, an assurance in the face of scourging, mocking, crucifixion. No fear, no trouble here. Does that sound right? Paul said it this way, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard what? your heart and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Do you see? It’s an internal peace that affects the heart, the mind. By the way, most of you know – Paul wrote that verse from prison. Absence of conflict. No way – his way of life brought conflict. But did he have peace? You bet – an internal, untouchable, unquenchable peace.
You see, it doesn’t really matter what’s going on out here. It doesn’t matter if we’re at war with Syria or Afghanistan or ISIS. It doesn’t matter if bombs are going off in Baghdad or Boone. We have an internal peace that the world can’t touch.
Okay, you say, but how do I get it? Well, we know what it isn’t – it isn’t an absence of conflict – it isn’t external. We know it’s internal – which means it’s unaffected by outward circumstances. But what is it? That brings us to the third thing I want to share with you: the definition of biblical peace, the peace Jesus came to bring. We cannot be confused about this. If it’s not peace treaties, if it’s not laying down our guns, if it’s not even necessarily smiling and saying Merry Christmas, what is it?
Two passages we need to examine as we seek the answer. The first, a very familiar one, but most important, is found in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” From this verse, we see the definition of advent peace – ready – here it is: peace is reconciliation with God, and that reconciliation comes through justification by faith. Having been justified, we have peace with God. That is the peace Jesus came to bring.
You see, there’s something you must understand. Before Jesus came, there was no peace with God. There was conflict, there was war, and it was a war between us and God. If you drop down a few verses in Romans 5, down to verse 10, we see “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.”
We were enemies of God, and He made the peace overture – He extended the olive branch. He extended peace to us. He sent His Son to a manger, more than a manger – to a cross, so that through His death, we might be reconciled – we might have peace with God. That’s why at His birth the declaration was made by the angelic host: peace on earth; that’s how at the Triumphal Entry which began His passion week the people declared, unknowingly, there was peace in heaven. And you need to understand how important that is – we were enemies with God – we were, as it were, at war with Him. And if we were at war with God, who do you think is going to win that one?
We were bound for destruction. God’s wrath was rightfully poised to be unleashed against us. But Jesus, His Son, brought peace. He brought reconciliation. He appeased God’s wrath against us – He turned it away – the biblical term is propitiation – we don’t use the word anymore, but it’s an important one. God’s wrath has been appeased by Christ. And not only that, we have been justified – that is, we have declared righteous and have received the imputed righteousness of Christ. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might be the righteousness of God in Him, in Christ. So that, when God looks at me He no longer sees my foul and filthy sin, He sees me clothed in the very righteousness of His own Son. I have been declared righteous – talk about a declaration of peace.
How? How was this righteousness produced? Through the first Christmas story? Through a baby being born in a manger? Not exactly – that’s just the beginning of the story. The second passage I want you to see is Colossians 1:19-22.
19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, (that is, at the virgin birth – at the incarnation – Jesus coming in the flesh)
20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace [how?] through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.
21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds,
22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach…
Jesus came, as God in the flesh – all the fullness of deity dwelled in Him in bodily form – and through Christ God reconciled all things to Himself through the blood of the cross – through the Savior’s death. It is the gospel – the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus – that brings us peace. That’s why Peter told Cornelius in Acts 10 that he was preaching peace through Jesus Christ. That’s why Paul in Ephesians 6 calls the gospel the gospel of peace. That’s the peace the angels spoke about. That’s the peace He came to give.
There’s nothing wrong with Christmas – save the way we’ve polluted it and focused on man somehow reconciling with man. Advent peace is not man being at peace with man – it is God reconciling with man – peace on earth and in heaven.
This peace was produced, made available, through the reconciling work of Christ on the cross. But now, finally, and let’s not miss this – how is this peace acquired? Is this peace for everyone on earth? In a manner of speaking, it is – but it must be accepted/appropriated. Notice back in Romans 5:1, “Therefore, having been justified through faith, we have peace with God….”
Justification, being declared righteous; propitiation, appeasing the wrath of God us; salvation, being saved from sin and it’s eternal consequences; these are all appropriated or acquired by our faith in Jesus Christ. It’s a free gift of God’s grace to us – extended to all who will believe by faith – who will believe that what Jesus did on the cross is indeed true, His work was effective, and it is effective for you. And by turning from your sin – the sin that placed you squarely in the enemies’ camp in the first place – and by placing your faith and trust in Jesus as the Savior of your soul, you can be reconciled to God – you can be redeemed. You can know Advent peace.
Then, and only then, Ephesians 2 says we who are far off, separated from Christ, will be brought near by the blood of Christ, and then these words become true for us, “He Himself is our peace.”
So, as we close this morning, let me ask the question again. Where is this peace the angels heralded? First, advent peace is internal. It’s not necessarily to be found out here, with a cessation of wars and conflict. That’s not going to happen till the Prince of Peace comes on a white horse waging war with a sword and a robe dipped in blood that says, King of kings and Lord of lords. Rather, it’s found in here – in the hearts of men and women where the kingdom of God can be found. It’s evidenced in an untroubled, fearless heart. It doesn’t matter what challenges, what trials, what tribulations, what conflicts we’re facing, we can have an internal peace – a peace the world can’t touch. Paul said it this way, the Lord of peace Himself will continually grant us peace in every circumstance – an inner settledness, a calmness, a serenity, a confidence to face life’s challenges.
And all that comes as a result of being reconciled to God. I can offer you no greater message than this – you can know peace with God through justification – the knowledge of sins cleansed and forgiven – by faith. You can’t earn it, and it cannot be found anywhere else. But it’s yours for the taking. That’s what Christmas peace on earth, goodwill toward men, is all about.